Former Eastern EU leaders warn Trump on Russia

Plevneliev was the only leader still in office to sign the letter. He has 10 more days as President. [European Parliament]

Seventeen leaders of EU member states, among which only Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev is still in office, wrote to President-elect Donald Trump asking him not to improve relations with Russia.

The 17 mostly Eastern European leaders include former Romanian President Traian Băsescu, ex-Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski, the former Presidents of Latvia and Estonia Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga and Toomas Hendrik Ilves. All are affiliated with the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP).

In their letter, they warn Trump it would be a mistake to end the current sanctions on Russia, and accept the division and subjugation of Ukraine.

Carl Bildt, Sweden’s ex-foreign minister, appears to be the source of the initiative.

Compared to older EU members, the Eastern European signatories are more critical of Russia, with the exception of Bulgaria.

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Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev however, who will step down before his successor takes office on 22 January, is considered a hawk. This has largely prevented him from attempting to secure a second mandate, as the majority of Bulgarians seem to prefer a normalisation of relations with Russia.

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During his campaign, Donald Trump indeed made statements about ending US sanctions on Russia and accepting its annexation of Crimea. At the December summit, EU leaders are reported to have discussed the unwelcome scenario of the US lifting the sanctions, which would erode unity among the member states and lead to the collapse of the EU sanctions as well, making a poor show of the Union.

“[Ending US sanctions and accepting the division of Ukraine] would demoralize those seeking a Euro-Atlantic orientation for that country. It would also destabilize our Eastern neighbourhood economically and give heart to extremist, oligarchic and anti-Western elements there,” the leaders tell Trump in the letter, published yesterday (10 January) by the Washington Post.

They further warn that the aftershocks of such development would shake American credibility with allies in Europe and elsewhere.

“The rules-based international order on which Western security has depended for decades would be weakened. The alliances that are the true source of American greatness would erode: countries that have expended blood, treasure and political capital in support of transatlantic security will wonder if America is now no longer a dependable friend,” they write.

The 17 ex-leaders had no way of knowing that the publication of their letter would coincide with today’s disclosure that US intelligence chiefs presented evidence last week to President-elect Donald Trump that Russian agents have compromising information about him.

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“Have no doubt: Vladimir Putin is not America’s ally. Neither is he a trustworthy international partner. Both of the presidents who preceded you tried in their own ways to deal with Russia’s leadership in the spirit of trust and friendship. Big mistake: Putin treated their good intentions as opportunities,” they warn Trump.

The 17 leaders further write that a deal between Trump and Putin would make war more likely, as, in their opinion, the Russian president views concessions as a sign of weakness.

“[Putin] will be inclined to test American credibility in frontline NATO allies, such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. He may use not only military intimidation but also cyber-attacks, energy and economic pressure, espionage, psychological warfare, disinformation and the targeted use of bribery,” the retired politicians write.

“We appeal to our American friends to strengthen, not weaken our transatlantic ties. Ukraine needs support; the frontline states need your constancy and resolve. And most of all, Russia must see that when we are attacked, we grow stronger, not weaker,” the letter concludes.

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