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UKRAINE

EU eyes more Ukraine arms aid and big Russia sanctions

The European Union on Friday eyed an extra 500 million euros in military support for Ukraine and fresh sanctions on Russia, as Moscow's war spurred vows to bolster the bloc's defences.

Ukraine servicemen praying
Servicemen of Ukraine's Azov Battalion pray in the Ukraine's second-biggest city of Kharkiv on March 11, 2022, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by Sergey BOBOK / AFP)

EU leaders meeting for a summit in France’s Palace of Versailles described Moscow’s attack on Ukraine as a wake-up call for the 27-nation bloc to take a tougher approach to ensuring its security.

“There’s no denying the fact that two weeks ago we woke up in a different Europe, in a different world,” European Council chief Charles Michel said.

The EU’s executive put forward a proposal to double its financing for sending weapons to Ukraine to one billion euros as the West scrambles to back Kyiv’s forces in the face of the Kremlin’s onslaught.

The bloc last month broke a longstanding taboo by agreeing to pay for arms deliveries to Ukraine after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of his pro-Western neighbour.

The move was part of a broad push by Ukraine’s allies to send weapons amid desperate pleas from Kyiv for air defence systems after calls to impose a no-fly zone were rebuffed.

Alongside further arms supplies, EU leaders also said they were readying a fresh round of economic punishment as they look to keep up pressure on Putin over the bloodshed.

The West has already hit Moscow with a barrage of unprecedented sanctions but the EU has so far failed to agree to follow the US lead in hitting Russia’s key oil and gas exports.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he would talk to Putin again in the coming hours with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Macron warned the Kremlin leader of further “massive sanctions” if he steps up the bombing or seeks to besiege Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.

“In that case, nothing is off the table, nothing is taboo,” Macron said.

“We will do whatever we deem to be effective and useful to halt Russia in its aggression.”

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen later said on Friday the bloc would ban the export of luxury goods to Russia, striking a “direct blow to the Russian elite”.

On Thursday, she said the 27 leaders agreed to explore ways to eliminate the bloc’s dependency on Russian fossil fuels in five years.

‘Invest more’
As the EU has broken new ground in sending arms abroad, it has also been shocked into reconsidering its approach to security after decades relying on US-led NATO to ensure Europe’s defences.

Leaders agreed in a declaration “to increase substantially defence expenditures” and bolster cooperation on military projects between member states.

“We must resolutely invest more and better in defence capabilities and innovative technologies,” the declaration said.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said the bloc was looking at issues such as whether to “procure common capabilities, for example, that are too expensive for any individual state to buy on their own.”

She also called for all EU members states — six of which are not in NATO — to mirror the military alliance’s commitment to spend at least two percent of GDP on defence.

Collective security in the European Union is primarily handled by the US-led NATO alliance, but France, the EU’s biggest military power, has been spearheading calls for an enhanced role for the bloc.

The assault on Ukraine has now prompted some about-turns.

Germany tore up decades of policy by agreeing to send weapons to Ukraine after the start of the war and has pledged an extra 100 billion euros ($110 billion) to help improve its armed forces.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday said countries were acting “dangerously” by backing the supply of arms to Ukraine.

Long road to EU
The EU leaders on Thursday doused Ukraine’s hopes of quickly gaining European Union membership, saying it was a long-term process, not a “fast-track”.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba said in a video message after Friday’s talks that Ukraine wanted the EU “to be more ambitious” in its commitments regarding possible membership.

But he insisted: “We Ukrainians know for 100 percent that Ukraine will be a member of the European Union,” he said. “Now it’s a matter of time.”

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Member comments

  1. NATO is old school cold war alliance but a new and improved EU army could work at addressing the security concerns of the bloc and even neutral countries could get behind it.

  2. NATO is old school cold war era alliance but an EU alliance could address the security concerns of the bloc inc with neutral countries.

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CRIME

Spain jails letterbomb suspect to avoid ‘flight to Russia’

The pensioner who allegedly sent letter bombs to Spain's prime minister and the Ukrainian embassy was placed in pre-trial detention on Friday on grounds he could flee to "Russian territory".

Spain jails letterbomb suspect to avoid 'flight to Russia'

The 74-year-old, arrested on Wednesday at his home near the northern town of Burgos, appeared before a judge at the Audiencia Nacional, Spain’s top criminal court, facing one charge of terrorism, court documents showed.

He is accused of having sent six letter bombs to targets including Spanish ministers and embassies to push Madrid into halting support for Kyiv in the fight against Russia’s invasion.

READ ALSO: Spain detains suspect over letter bombs sent to PM, Ukraine embassy

The home-made devices were sent in late November and early December to Spain’s prime minister and defence minister, the Ukrainian and US embassies, the European Union Satellite Centre near Madrid and to a Spanish arms manufacturer in the northeastern city of Zaragoza.

In his ruling, the judge said the suspect sought to “force” the Spanish authorities to “refrain from supporting Ukraine in the face of Russia’s aggression”, which made him a flight risk.”

The importance of his violent actions as a means of propaganda for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could facilitate his flight to Russian territory with help from Russian citizens,” the judge concluded

If convicted, the suspect could face up to 20 years in jail on terror offences.

But the judge said there were no indications of his involvement “with any other terrorist group.”

Nobody was killed by the devices but a Ukrainian embassy staffer sustained light injuries while opening one of the packages.

At the suspect’s home, investigators found a workshop containing soldering equipment, tools, metal parts and screws compatible with the letter bombs sent, and indications of preparatory work to construct more, the interior ministry said.

A Russian-directed operation?

The suspect was “very active on social networks” and had “technical and computer expertise”, it said.

Investigators had determined the letters were sent by the same person and found three of them were posted from Burgos, the ministry added.

They then narrowed it down by an “exhaustive analysis” of the stamps, envelopes and parts used to build the devices.

The suspect’s arrest followed a New York Times report which said Russian military intelligence officers had “directed” associates of a Russia-based white supremacist group to carry out the campaign in Spain.

Investigators suspect the radical Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) — which is thought to have ties to Russian intelligence and has associates across Europe — is behind the letter bomb campaign.

“Important members of the group have been in Spain and the police there have tracked its ties with far-right Spanish organisations,” the newspaper said.

After the embassy attack, Ukraine’s ambassador to Spain, Serhii Pohoreltsev, pointed the finger at Russia and Kyiv ramped up security at its embassies around the world.

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