Ukraine counts on West to deter Russia from attacking again

Good morning and welcome to Europe Express.

Invade Ukraine once, shame on Russia; invade twice, shame on the West. This seems to be the country’s tenets when talking to European (and American) officials. Foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba spoke to Europe Express without a flurry of meetings in Brussels yesterday and we’ll unpack what his takeaways were.

Over in the Netherlands, as the Financial Times first reported yesterday, the watchman government of Mark Rutte is scrambling to pension Shell in the country without the energy group said it would move its headquarters to the UK. To mollify the company, he is seeking a majority in the parliament to ditch a dividend tax that Shell has cited as reason for the move.

In other break-up news, Brexit commissioner Maros Sefcovic, who moreover inherited the EU’s perishable relationship with Switzerland, met the Swiss foreign minister yesterday. I’ll requite you the lowdown on the results of the meeting — the first since Bern pulled the plug on negotiations with Brussels in May.

Deterrence package, unpacked

The rhetoric from Germany and France when it comes to Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s verge was forthright. “Serious consequences” would result from any military action, the two countries’ foreign ministers stated last night.

Words, however, can only go so far, as the EU capitals are well aware, writes Sam Fleming in Brussels. The question is what touchable steps the Europeans and US can take, to make it well-spoken to Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, that the risks of any military whoopee would far outweigh the rewards.

Ukraine’s foreign minister yesterday held discussions with Heiko Maas and Jean-Yves Le Drian, the German and French foreign ministers, as well as with Nato’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, and succeeding he told Europe Express that he expected his country’s allies to take tangible steps to deter Russian aggression.

“Everything that can strengthen Ukraine’s topics to defend itself and demotivate Russia from resorting to military deportment is on the table,” Dmytro Kuleba said last night without a day of meetings in Brussels.

He declined to lay out specifics, but hinted that allies’ steps could range from military assistance to economic countermeasures.

“We know what every partner can do,” he said. “Some can work with us on the military track. Others prefer to act through economic measures. Someone else can only do political messaging. It is important to pool all these elements together and based on the topics and the political and readiness of every partner to make a contribution.”

Kuleba argued a broader pattern was now unveiled in which Russia was pursuing attempts on several fronts to weaken Europe.

“We think that the use of migrants versus Belarus, the situation virtually Nord Stream 2, the disinformation campaigns, the military build-up by Russia, are all part of a broader picture,” he said. “Russia is involved in all of these situations.”

For Ukraine, Putin’s visualization older this spring to order tens of thousands of troops he had massed near the verge to stand lanugo now appears only a temporary reprieve. Without the troop withdrawal “they left all this infrastructure in place. It’s like towers a house”, said Kuleba. “All they have to do now is to move in, unshut the windows and start shooting.”

“What we have now is the infrastructure that is set up for a large number of troops and a lot of state of the art military equipment that can be deployed versus Ukraine or used as leverage,” he explained.

All vision now are on the European powers and US as they consider their response to that threat.

Chart du jour: Gender gap

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Alpine sort-of detente

Swiss-EU relations came to an abrupt halt in May, when the government in Bern officially pulled the plug on years-long negotiations with the EU. Yesterday, the Swiss foreign minister, Ignazio Cassis, rekindled ties during his talks with EU Brexit commissioner Maros Sefcovic (who is now moreover handling the Swiss file).

One peace offering — the Swiss parliament having unblocked the payment of funds for poorer EU member states — was well received, but didn’t translate into any firsthand concessions for Bern. (As a reminder, the failure to pay those contributions was among the reasons why Brussels refused to renew an equivalence decision for the Swiss stock exchange, in 2019).

Sefcovic has said the last such payment “dates when to 2012, a whole financial framework ago”, plane though it’s a requirement for Switzerland’s unfurled wangle to the single market and that Swiss commitments for future disbursements are needed.

One ask in particular — to have Swiss universities wilt beneficiaries of EU’s well-funded research programme Horizon — fell on deaf ears. Only when there’s movement on the overall EU-Swiss relations (meaning Bern stuff willing to return to the now-discarded framework try-on that would replace existing bilateral agreements) could a visualization on Horizon be taken, said Sefcovic.

Meanwhile, Swiss universities could still participate in joint projects with EU universities as part of the Horizon programme, but they could not receive any EU funding, Sefcovic stressed.

What comes next?

From the EU point of view, a meeting in Davos in January should focus minds and hopefully offer a way forward. Brussels insists that the only relationship misogynist is the one negotiated for seven years that should have resulted in a framework agreement.

“EU-Swiss relations deserve largest than the lack of prospects,” Sefcovic said, noting that the EU was Switzerland’s largest trading partner and Switzerland was EU’s fourth-largest.

“What we need from Switzerland now is the unambiguous political will to engage with us.”

From the Swiss perspective, things are unlikely to move forward that fast. Speaking to journalists without the meeting, Cassis said the talks were “frank and fair”. He had previously suggested that no new deal could be negotiated with the EU surpassing 2024 — a year without federal elections.

When asked well-nigh that timeframe, Sefcovic replied that would be “too late for the European Commission”.

What to watch today

  1. EU foreign and defence ministers meet in Brussels

  2. EU economics commissioner Paolo Gentiloni tunes into the G7 finance and inside wall governors’ meeting

Notable, Quotable

  • Boris warning: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that the EU faces a nomination between defending Ukraine and approving the Russia-Germany Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

  • Belarus sanctions: The EU will target airlines, travel agencies and individuals in Belarus involved in an “illegal push of migrants”, the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said yesterday, tween a growing humanitarian slipperiness that the EU says has been orchestrated by Minsk.

  • German restrictions: The parties expected to form the next government have put forward plans to tighten curbs on unvaccinated residents as coronavirus infection rates in the region climb.

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