EU top diplomat promises ‘massive consequences and serious costs’ for Russia if it launches a military offensive against its neighbor.
The European Union’s top diplomat has visited the front line of Ukraine’s war with Moscow – backed forces, promising “massive consequences and serious costs” for Russia if it is a new military offensive against his neighbor.
Josep Borrell flew by helicopter to the eastern Luhansk region, the first high-ranking EU representative to do so since the outbreak of the conflict in 2014, as part of a Western diplomatic push in support of Ukraine.
Kiev and its allies have sounded the alarm in recent weeks over the build-up of tens of thousands of Russian troops and military equipment near Ukraine’s borders, sparking fears of an open war between the two former Soviet neighbors.
TV footage shows Borrell walking through a snowy landscape and meeting soldiers and civilians at one of the checkpoints separating government-controlled Ukraine from the separatist-controlled areas. The roofs of nearby houses were destroyed and had bullet holes in the walls.
“The conflict at the borders is about to deepen and tensions have built up with regard to European security as a whole,” Borrell told reporters.
The EU has a firm stance and a strong commitment “that any military aggression against Ukraine will have massive consequences and serious costs”, he added.
The Kremlin did not immediately issue a public response to Borrell’s visit. Moscow has previously denies planning a new military offensive against Ukraine and accuses Kiev of building up its own forces in the east of the country.
Russia pushed the United States for security guarantees that NATO will halt its eastern expansion. The two parties will meet in Geneva on January 9-10 for talks.
Ukraine has long sought assurances that no decisions on its future, including its right to eventually join the EU and the NATO military alliance, will be taken without its involvement.
Borrell also insisted that the security of Ukraine affects the security of Europe as a whole, and that the EU should be involved in talks with Russia.
“There is no security in Europe without the security of Ukraine. “It is clear that any discussion on European security should include the European Union and Ukraine,” Borrell said.
Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, who reported from London, said Borrell went on to say that the EU should take a more active diplomatic role regarding the tension.
“This is an unusual point with people who may not be familiar with the intense diplomacy involved, because Vladimir Putin has instrumentally avoided having any dialogue with the EU,” Borrell said.
“He agreed to talks with Joe Biden’s officials next week in Geneva and also to dialogue with NATO, but not with the EU, and that is a factor that Borrell is concerned about. He fears that there is a sideline going on. “
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who accompanied Borrell, welcomed the trip as “a very timely visit against the backdrop of Russian blackmail, escalation and threats”.
Relations between Kiev and Moscow collapsed after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and Moscow-backed forces seized territory in eastern Ukraine that Kiev wants back.