Today, it has been an intense meeting as always.
We took an important number of decisions – not only discussing and analysing but also deciding. Important decisions which underpin the European Union’s resolve in supporting Ukraine against Russia’s aggression; defending peace and stability in the South Caucasus; and standing for human rights in Iran.
This could be a good summary: underpinning our resolve in supporting Ukraine, advancing peace and stability in the South Caucasus and other concrete decisions, and standing for human rights in Iran.
We had the opportunity of exchanging with Minister [for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine] Dmytro Kuleba, who addressed the Council via videoconference from a bomb shelter. I think it is the first time that we discuss with a Minister that communicates with us from a bomb shelter, while Russia was continuing its strikes on Kyiv. And I want to say clearly: supporting Ukraine remains our first priority.
Today, the first priority of the European Union is to support Ukraine facing this brutal invasion.
Putin is losing. Putin is losing politically and morally. In spite of that, he continues the escalation, including [through] indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets across the whole of Ukraine, as we have seen this morning.
We also took note of the vote at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) last week. This vote confirmed the international isolation of Russia. But we cannot take it for granted and we need to stay on the course of our triple strategy: supporting Ukraine, pressuring Russia and addressing the wider fall out of the war, because this war is affecting the whole world.
I talked about concrete decisions. Let me [be more] precise about these concrete decisions that we took today in order to support Ukraine:
First, we agreed on establishing a European Union Military Assistance Mission to support the Ukrainian Armed Forces, that will be happening on the European Union soil. Training will take place on the European Union soil. The Mission’s purpose is to train around 15,000 troops to start with. Maybe more, but the first objective is to train 15,000 troops. With the added value of doing that, all Member States together, in addition to the activities that many of them are already doing on their side.
Second, we also agreed to allocate another €500 million from the European Peace Facility to finance deliveries to the Ukrainian Defence Forces. As you know, this brings the military assistance of the European Union [for Ukraine] through this intergovernmental fund – I want to stress that it is not part of the European Union budget approved by the [European] Parliament, it is aside. It is a fund decided by the Member States together and managed by them. It amounts to a total of €3.1 billion. But once again, this is the tip of the iceberg – there is much more coming from the Member States.
We continue discovering mass atrocities and reports about systematic kidnapping of children from Ukraine by Russian forces. If confirmed, this would amount to another war crime. The fight against impunity must be strengthened. We have already discussed about how to do it.
[Apart] from Ukraine, the Ministers [of Foreign Affairs] also greenlighted the deployment of monitors from the European Union [Monitoring] Mission in Georgia to the Armenian side of the border with Azerbaijan. A team is already there, and according with the greenlight of the Council, we will deploy 40 monitors on the Armenian side of the international border with Azerbaijan in the next weeks, very quickly. I am really proud of how quickly we have managed the creation and deployment of this mission.
Our presence in the context of the conflict between these two countries is a significant signal of the European Union’s readiness to support stability in the South Caucasus. This has been based on the demand from the partners. As I said, a team is already on the ground in Armenia and the deployment will take place very quickly.
About Iran also we have taken decisions. Since yesterday night, we are following the situation in the Evin prison very closely. I personally conveyed my concerns and expectations to the Foreign Minister [of Iran, Hossein Amir] Abdollahian in the hours following the fire, in order to ensure the safety of all inmates, but also including some European – could I say – political prisoners.
We are certainly appalled by the still unexplained killing of Mahsa Amini, by the brutal crackdown of security forces against protesters who continue to die or be detained in the hands of the security forces. All Ministers expressed their strong concerns about these facts and this situation. The latest reports that the Council has been studying, coming from NGOs, state that over 100 people have died.
According to this fact, and according to the proposals of several Member States studied by the Ambassadors, the Council adopted today restrictive measures against 11 individuals and 4 entities, targeting those linked to the death of Mahsa Amini and to the repression of peaceful protesters. And, if needed, we are ready to add more names to this list.
I want to use this opportunity to call on the Iranian government to immediately end the violence, to release those detained, and to allow normal internet services and flow of information.
The issue of the use of drones by Russia – allegedly supplied by Iran – in the war in Ukraine has been also considered by the Ministers. Certainly, Minister Kuleba during his speech with the Ministers strongly expressed his concern, and he denounced the use of these kind of arms. We are following very closely this use of drones. We are gathering evidence and we will be ready to react with the tools at our disposal. As I said, we are advancing in gathering evidence.
Another big point on our agenda were our relations with China. We reconfirmed the validity of the multifaceted approach that you know [on China]: a partner with whom we must engage, a tough competitor, tougher and tougher, and a systemic rival.
The Council studied the report presented by the [European] External Action Service. There is full support among Member States to continue engaging on issues of interest for us – the most important one is climate change, but not the only one, avoiding to turn dependencies into vulnerabilities. Now we are talking about our dependency and vulnerability from the Russian gas, we have to avoid creating new ones. We need to strengthen our resilience. We have to increase our internal resilience and work with our partners. The debate on China will continue but it was symbolic that today, just one day after the speech of President [of China] Xi [Jinping] on the eve of the European Union Council discussing about our China relations, the Council received the first report, taking into account the messages sent by President Xi [Jinping] in his speech.
On Bosnia and Herzegovina, we discussed the last elections. The elections were overall competitive and well organised, according to the OSCE/ODIHR report, but they were also marked by quite a strong mistrust in public institutions. The final results have still to be certified. There are allegations of widespread electoral fraud [that] have triggered a recount of ballots of the Republika Srpska Presidential race. And this recounting will take place.
But we need to keep Bosnia and Herzegovina on the European Union path. That is why the European Commission recommended last week to grant candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the understanding that a certain number of steps are taken. And with that, we pass a clear message to the Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities.
First, they must be swiftly setting up – at all levels – both the governmental and legislative authorities, and secondly, they have to focus on delivering on reforms; this is a matter of absolute priority. There is a window of opportunity, a new push for the process of Bosnia and Herzegovina towards the European Union. This occasion has to be seized by the politically responsible authorities of the country.
We remain extremely concerned about the socioeconomic situation in Lebanon and the inability of its political forces to proceed with much needed reforms. We call on [the] Lebanese authorities to elect a new President before the end of the month. We welcomed the agreement between Lebanon and Israel on the delineation of their maritime border. In this moment, in this troubled world, this is certainly good news.
And last but not least, we discussed about the situation in Ethiopia, knowing that the situation on the ground has never been that bad, both on military and humanitarian fronts.
We reiterate our belief that there is no military solution, the only solution is a political one. We call for the cessation of hostilities. We call for the withdrawal of Eritrean forces. We call for an immediate and unimpeded humanitarian access to the Tigray. We call for accountability for Human Rights and International [Humanitarian] Law violations. We call on the government of Ethiopia and Tigrayan leaders to put in practice and to turn into concrete actions the invitation sends by the African Union to start peace talks. The long process of mediation has to continue and we are supporting it in close coordination with our international partners, but unfortunately we have to recognise that this mediation process, for the time being, has not delivered enough. We need this mediation process to be more proactive and deliver more. And for that, these long-announced talks have to start and be translated into concrete actions: opening humanitarian access to the frontline in Tigray and asking for a cease-fire, for the withdrawal of Eritrean forces and accountability for human rights violations.
This is my summary of this very profitable meeting with a strong agreement of Member States on a common evaluation of the situation on the different issues and adopting quickly this set of measures.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-231817