Josep Borrell, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, admitted that the West had made mistakes in its relations with Russia.
Speaking to French channel TF1 on Thursday, Borrell said he was “ready to admit that we made a number of mistakes and missed the opportunity to get closer to Russia”. The EU’s top diplomat went on to acknowledge that there were things ‘we could have done better’, as well as ‘things we came up with and didn’t deliver, such as… promises that Ukraine and Georgia would be part of NATO. He said he was of the opinion that “making promises you can’t keep is wrong”.
He also noted that “following the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the Russians suffered a lot,” which he said gave rise to “a kind of grudge that Putin exploits.”
Most of the interview, however, was devoted to harsh criticism of the Russian military campaign against Ukraine, launched by Moscow on February 24.
Borrell described the Kremlin offensive as a “totally unjustified and gratuitous war that is becoming more and more brutal and totally unacceptable to the civilized world”. He warned that “we have entered a new page in the history of Europe, a new page in global geopolitics”, adding that he expected relations with Russia to be “radically different after what just happened.”
The diplomat went on to accuse Russian forces of ignoring the presence of civilians in their attacks on Ukrainian cities, adding that “Mariupol [was] definitely a war crime. He alleged that since Russia had so far been “unable to take the cities” due to what he described as “very strong” Ukrainian resistance, Moscow had instead resorted to indiscriminate bombing, just like “in Syria or Chechnya”.
When asked if he thought Vladimir Putin would ever face trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Borrell said that while such a scenario was largely hypothetical, he thought there was enough evidence. allegations to try the Russian president.
Borrell revealed his office was overseeing an EU-wide program to facilitate arms deliveries to Ukraine for the first time in the bloc’s history. He said that a “team of 200 officers from all European armies”, under the command of a French admiral and an Italian general, ensured that Ukraine’s request was met by the offer of the EU. Individual member states were supplying weapons and equipment, including ammunition, fuel and anti-tank missiles, he explained, and Brussels was taking note.
He, however, declined to go into specifics about the delivery methods and border crossings that were used for the shipments.
The Russian Defense Ministry has consistently denied allegations that its forces were targeting civilian infrastructure in Ukraine. He accuses the Ukrainian army and militias of taking up positions in residential areas and using civilians as human shields. Commenting on recent media reports of a Russian airstrike on a maternity hospital in the city of Mariupol, Moscow called the story “fake news”.
Speaking after talks with his Ukrainian counterpart in Antalya, Turkey, on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the West that the weapons he was shipping en masse to Ukraine, especially portable anti-aircraft missiles, could end up in the hands of terrorists, posing a threat to civilian aircraft.
Moscow attacked its neighbor in late February, after a seven-year standoff over Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements and Russia’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics in Donetsk and Lugansk. The protocols negotiated by Germany and France were designed to regularize the status of these regions within the Ukrainian state. Russia has now demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was unprovoked and has denied claims it planned to retake the two republics by force.