The High Representative for Foreign Policy of the EU, Josep Borrell (on the left), talks with the Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, this Tuesday in Prague. MICHAL CIZEK (AFP)
The political course in the European Union starts with a reinforcement in the military support to Ukraine. Defense ministers have agreed this Tuesday in Prague to prepare a training mission for the kyiv Army. Support will no longer be limited to arms deliveries, financed even from the EU’s own budget. Now the community partners are going to train the Ukrainian soldiers in its use. “All the Member States agree to begin work to define our mission of military assistance to Ukraine”, said the High Representative for Foreign Policy of the EU, Josep Borrell, at the end of the meeting that those responsible for Defense have held in Prague.
The pulse between Brussels and Moscow, caused by the invasion of Ukraine, is increasing with the gradual return of the summer holidays. The EU Ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs, coordinated by the European External Action Service, led by Borrell, hold meetings from Monday to Wednesday. Both quotes are dominated by the war, its consequences, support for the attacked country (Ukraine) and punishment of the aggressor (Russia). They are informal meetings, as defined in community jargon to meetings in which decisions are not adopted but political agreements can be reached that later have a technical and regulatory development. That is what is happening these days in the capital of the Czech Republic, the country that chairs the Council of the EU in the second half of this year.
The agenda of these meetings shows that the EU has no intention of asking the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to sit down to negotiate an end to hostilities if he does not decide to do so. Rather it seems the opposite. kyiv has announced that it is going to intensify its offensive in the south of the country to recover part of the territory lost in the early stages of the war, and the EU supports its plans. In the Defense meeting, an agreement was reached to start designing a mission that trains the Ukrainian military in the use of the weapons that are given to them, military tactics and organization of the Army. “The flow of military equipment to Ukraine must continue and even increase. But they also need to regenerate their strength. It’s also about how war is conducted […] The needs are enormous and we have to guarantee the coherence of these efforts”, Borrell pointed out.
The high representative has also recalled that there are already training missions that are being carried out now. The most prominent takes place in the United Kingdom, through which nearly 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers have already passed. Several EU countries (Germany, Finland, Sweden and Latvia) were going to join these exercises, as announced a few weeks ago by the British Defense Minister, Ben Wallace, at a meeting organized in Copenhagen by some states that send aid to kyiv. .
With the step taken now, the EU tries to coordinate these efforts under its own umbrella. The consensus at the meeting was broad, although the premises under which collaboration with the Ukrainian Army must now take place were also pointed out. It will be the latter who has to specify their needs. In fact, the defense minister of the Zelensky government was at the meeting. In addition, duplication of resources offered will have to be avoided and, finally, training will have to be provided outside of Ukraine. The community partners do not want to deploy the military in the invaded country; they do not want, under any circumstances, to give Moscow an excuse to consider them a belligerent party.
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The training that could be provided would be at various levels. On the one hand, learning to use the weapons that are sent, increasingly sophisticated and more complicated to use. “For example, if France provides certain types of weapons,” Borrell clarified, to suggest that it is logical that the French are the ones who best provide the training: “They can provide this training better than anyone else.” And on the other hand, it would also be about advising on the organization of the Army so that it works better, the high representative continued.
A few days after the invasion began, a fund of 500 million euros was created to finance arms shipments. This was an unprecedented step, because up to this point the EU had never been involved in open conflicts. That initial amount was later growing in successive contributions of another 500 million, until reaching 2,500 million.
The beginning of the design of the training program, which will take at least a month to complete and even longer to deploy on the ground, is part of the support to the country under attack. On the side of punishing the aggressor, it is likely that this Wednesday progress will be made towards a restriction on the granting of visas to Russian citizens, especially tourist permits, without actually prohibiting them, according to several EU diplomatic sources, through the total suspension of the agreement signed with Moscow in 2007 that makes visas cheaper and faster. That pact is already partially suspended since the beginning of the war.
This could be the meeting point between the two positions that have been outlined in recent weeks. As Borrell himself declared at the entrance to the meeting, this time of Foreign Ministers, “there are different positions and I cannot anticipate the outcome of the discussions.” The differences are found, basically, between a group of countries (the three Baltic republics, Finland, Poland, the Czech Republic) that favor a total ban on the granting of visas, with exceptions for humanitarian reasons; and those who refuse this on the grounds that this option is outside the Hague Convention; it would reinforce Moscow’s victimizing discourse and treat all Russian citizens equally, regardless of their position regarding the invasion or their degree of collaboration. And, in fact, they point out that the EU has already restricted the entry of people from Russia, especially oligarchs who support the regime.
Spain is in the latter group, although the Minister for Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, was cautious upon arrival at the meeting: “We must maintain unity against Russia. I want to listen to the positions of the other countries and I hope that we reach a meeting point”.
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