Russia’s strategy is to weaken the EU, Council President Donald Tusk said last night, following a five-hour summit discussion on the Union’s relations with Moscow, described as “tough” by diplomats.
Emerging from a protracted dinner with the 28 EU heads of state and government at 1.30am this morning (21 October), Tusk told the press that leaders had emphasised “all sorts of Russian activities”, from airspace violations, disinformation campaigns, cyber-attacks, interference in political processes in the EU and beyond.
“It is clear that Russia’s strategy is to weaken the EU. We have a sober assessment of the reality and no illusions”, he said.
Tusk said that increasing tensions with Russia was not the EU’s aim, and that the Union was just reacting to steps taken by Russia. He added that the EU is always ready to engage in dialogue, but it would never compromise its values and principles.
“That’s why leaders agreed to stay the course. And above all, to keep the unity of the EU”, he said.
Tusk made a specific point on the investigation of MH17, the downed Air Malaysia airliner over eastern Ukraine on 17 July 2014, killing all 298 people on board, of which 193 were Dutch nationals. He said leaders expressed their support in the Dutch government investigation.
All states that are in a position to assist the investigation and prosecution of those responsible must do so, he added.
Tusk said leaders discussed the situation in Syria and strongly condemned the attacks by the Syrian regime and its allies, including Russia, on civilians in Aleppo.
“The EU is calling for an end of the atrocities an immediate cessation of the hostilities”, the Council President stated.
He added that the EU would consider “all available options” if these atrocities continue, implying that further sanctions on Russia are possible.
However, the strong language by the Polish Council President may not reflect the views of all around the table. Poland and the Baltic countries had put pressure for adding Russian names to the EU’s sanctions list but they “did not push very strongly,” said a senior diplomat.
Also, the text adopted mentions no sanctions on the Syrian regime, although such sanctions were anticipated.
— Rikard Jozwiak (@RikardJozwiak) October 20, 2016
Reportedly, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had done preparatory work to defuse the push for further sanctions on Russia.
— Eric Maurice (@er1cmau) October 20, 2016
In the meantime, the UK, France and Germany had reportedly hardened their positions. In a separate presser after the dinner, Merkel said that the bombardment of Aleppo “is a disregard of the principles of humanity” and the EU leaders “cannot accept it”.
“We will have to envisage any conceivable measure to respond. We are not excluding any further measures”, she said.
Sources reported that the discussion on Russia had been tough and heated, but also going in all directions.
In a recent interview, the Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov denied that his country seeks to weaken the EU.