Putin threatens to release disputed Barroso call
Russia President Vladimir Putin has raised the stakes yesterday (2 September) by telling European Commission President José Manuel Barroso that if he doesn’t officially object, the Kremlin will release the full recording of a telephone call in which, according to Barroso, the Russian President said he could take Kyiv in two weeks if he wanted.
Vladimir Chizhov, Russia's ambassador to the European Union, said the Kremlin is prepared to release the full audio and written transcript of the phone call between Putin and Barroso from 29 August.
Italy's La Reppublica has published what appears to be the account of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, of an exchange held at the 30-31 August EU summit. Commission President José Manuel Barroso is reported to have told EU leaders that Vladimir Putin had informed him that he could take Kyiv in two weeks if he wanted.
>> Read: Putin: ‘I can take Kiev in two weeks if I want’
A Kremlin foreign policy aide commented yesterday on Putin’s statement. He didn’t deny that Putin had said the Russian army could capture Kyiv within two weeks, but said the words were “taken out of context”.
"It was taken out of context and had a totally different meaning," Yuri Ushakov was quoted as saying.
In his letter, Chizhov says the disclosure of a confidential conversation by Barroso "goes far beyond the bounds of the generally accepted diplomatic practice".
"I know that the Russian presidential administration has both the transcript and the audio recording of the mentioned phone conversation and, in order to remove misunderstandings, is ready to make its content public in full in case you do not voice your objections to it within the next two days,” Chizhov wrote, according to the Russian news agency Itar-Tass.
Barroso has to make a difficult choice, quickly. If he objects to the publishing of the controversial phone call, it could be assumed that his report of the conversation does not exactly correspond to the actual recording. But if the phone conversation becomes public, it may reveal that Barroso hasn’t been as bold with Putin as the European Commission communication suggests.
In a press release, the Commission says that in “a very frank exchange of views”, Barroso “expressed his deep concern with the current events and the situation on the ground in Ukraine, saying they were “in complete contradiction” with the efforts made by the EU to bring about diplomatic and pragmatic solutions to issues such as the implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, and energy relations between Russia and Ukraine.
The press release also says that Barroso conveyed to Putin his “firm condemnation of the evidence of significant incursions into and operations on Ukrainian soil by Russian military units”, and that he urged the Russian President to revert the current path, stressing that it is difficult to continue to argue for engagement when confronted with the recurrent escalation of the conflict.
The Kremlin has a less politicised reading of the conversation. According to the Kremlin website, Putin and Barroso discussed the follow-up of the Minsk meeting of 26 August, at which Putin and Ukrainian President petro Poroshenko made pledges to work on an urgent ceasefire plan to defuse the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko took centre stage at the 30 August EU summit and said that the Union’s heads of state and government had given his country broad support, since it had faced “open aggression” from Russia, adding that the EU's agenda from now on would largely revolve around Ukraine.
At the summit, some EU leaders spoke about the need of military assistance to Ukraine, many demanded tougher sanctions, but reportedly Slovakia, Hungary and Cyprus made it clear they oppose further sanctions which they claim would hurt their countries more than Russia.
Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini told the European Parliament on 2 September that the new sanctions, to be proposed by the Commission on 5 September, will not be of the category of “stage three”, but would expand the range of current financial sanctions targeting officials responsible for Russian military actions in Ukraine, restrictions on arms and dual-use materials, and technology.
In diplomatic jargon, “third level” sanctions refer to economic sanctions that are intended to hit Russia's major economic players.
- 5 Sept.: Commission to propose new sanctions