KYIV -- EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell arrived in Ukraine on January 4 in a show of support for Kyiv ahead of a week of intense diplomacy over a Russian military buildup near the former Soviet republic's border.
"With Russia's increased military build-up, I am here to show EU support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Borrell said on Twitter.
Borrell’s three-day visit will include a stop at the contact line in eastern Ukraine where Russia-backed separatists have battled Ukrainian government forces in a nearly eight-year war that has claimed the lives of more than 13,200 people. It will be the first time the EU's top diplomat has traveled to the region since the conflict broke out. The visit comes amid Western concerns that the Russian buildup of around 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders could be preparations for a potential invasion, something Moscow denies. The European Union's top diplomat told Poland’s PAP news agency that the purpose of his trip is to talk to the Ukrainians about their concerns and ways to address them. He said the current situation is a threat to the stability and security of Ukraine and the whole region, and that it cannot be discussed “without all the relevant actors around the table.” “The EU cannot be a neutral spectator in these negotiations if Russia really wants to discuss Europe's security architecture,” Borrell said. Ukraine and its allies are working on a comprehensive deterrence package against Russia, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said after speaking to his British counterpart Liz Truss on January 4. "The deterrence package includes political, economic and security levels. I am grateful to the United Kingdom for its leading role in this process," Kuleba said in a statement. Borrell will hold talks with Kuleba during his visit, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said. Meanwhile, NATO announced it would hold a virtual meeting of foreign ministers from the 30 member nations on January 7 to discuss the crisis after Moscow demanded sweeping security guarantees from the United States and its allies.
The extraordinary meeting will be followed by talks between U.S. and Russian officials in Geneva on January 9-10 and a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council on January 12.
"Any dialogue with Russia would have to proceed on the basis of reciprocity, address NATO's concerns about Russia's actions...and take place in consultation with NATO's European partners," an official with the Western military alliance said in a statement to Reuters on January 4. The council, the main forum for dialogue between the two sides, has met only sporadically since 2014, when Russia invaded and annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. The NATO-Russia Council meeting will be followed the next day by discussions under the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which includes the United States and its NATO allies, as well as Russia and Ukraine. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed Russia’s "destabilizing" military buildup in a conversation on January 3 with nine eastern NATO members, the State Department said in a statement.
The talks between Blinken and the foreign ministers of the Bucharest Nine (B9) -- Romania, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania -- also touched upon "the need for a united, ready, and resolute NATO stance for the collective defense of Allies; and transatlantic cooperation on issues of shared concern,” it said. The U.S. top diplomat "stressed the U.S. commitment to continued close consultation and coordination with all of our Transatlantic Allies and partners as we work toward de-escalation through deterrence, defense, and dialogue,” the statement added. Russia’s demands include guarantees that Ukraine and other former Soviet countries will not join NATO and a rollback of the alliance’s military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe. The West has rejected Moscow’s ultimatums regarding NATO and threatened Moscow with severe sanctions and other measures if it launches a fresh incursion into Ukraine.