Wednesday, March 22

The EU prepares an “important training mission” for the Ukrainian army while discussing visas for Russians

An “important mission” of the EU to train the Ukrainian Army militarily. And address the debate about what to do with the Russians who continue to travel to Europe. On the first, the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, has already advanced, the consensus in the EU seems to have grown. But for the second, the general restriction of movement for the Russian population, there does not seem to be much appetite among the 27: Borrell himself has expressed opposition to it.

Damage caused by fighting between Russia and Ukraine forces the shutdown of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant

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This week the EU Defense Ministers meet in Prague –Monday and Tuesday– and the Foreign Ministers –Tuesday and Wednesday– to discuss the status of the Russian invasion of Ukraine when six months have already passed on August 24 .

The most relevant item on the agenda for the defense ministers is the idea Borrell launched a few days ago at a Menéndez Pelayo summer course in Santander: an EU training mission for the Ukrainian armed forces. “I don’t quite understand why we send training missions to the Mozambican army and not to the Ukrainian army,” he said.

In effect, the idea has taken time to mature because only six months ago the Eastern countries -especially Poland- and the Baltic countries -Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania- were the only ones that defended the idea, in the face of opposition from countries such as Germany, Italy Greece and Cyprus, for example, who feared that such a training mission would escalate tensions between the EU and Russia.

From that friction between the 27 a transactional one was born: to send money from the EU to Ukraine, instead of military instructors, through the so-called Instrument for Peace, which has already channeled 2,500 million euros in weapons.

“All the Member States, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States are supplying military material and some countries are also providing the necessary training to use that material. The United Kingdom does it”, said Borrell in Santander: “The European Union deploys military training missions with the armies of the countries with which we are in cooperation. We have been doing it in Mali until recently, we have started it now in Mozambique and we have done it in Niger, in Chad, in many countries. We have 17 missions deployed around the world and it seems reasonable that a war that is going on and looks like it will last, requires an effort not only to supply material, but also to train and help organize the army. That is what is being discussed among the Member States and is going to be discussed politically in Prague, within the Council of Defense Ministers, and I hope it will be approved”.

What would the mission be like? “Of course it would be an important mission,” says Borrell: “We are facing a large-scale war, a true conventional war, not an asymmetric war of guerrillas or terrorist attacks here and there. We are facing a war that mobilizes extraordinarily important means and hundreds of thousands of soldiers. Therefore, any mission has to be equal to the conflict. This is not a little war, as someone has said [en alusión al presidente cántabro, Miguel Ángel Revilla]. Ten million Ukrainians have left their country. It is as if 20% of Spaniards had left Spain”.

According to Borrell, the mission will not be carried out in Ukraine: “It will be in nearby countries where there are already training missions. Many Ukrainian soldiers have already been trained in Poland, the Czech Republic, the UK and France. When weapons are provided, there are weapons that are sophisticated and must be known to use. And that requires training. When France provides a specific type of weapon, Ukrainian soldiers must be trained to use it. But this mission will not be carried out on the territory of Ukraine.”

The head of European diplomacy explains that “the idea of ​​sending a military mission to Ukraine to help the Ukrainian army and train its soldiers and officers is old. It was proposed by the Balts and the Poles several months ago. Even before the war started this idea was on the table, and we had been evaluating how it could work.”

“I think the time has come to make a decision,” Borrell told the Austrian television channel ORF this Sunday: “We are training many armies around the world, and I think the time has come to make a decision because several states members are supplying weapons to Ukraine, and we must learn how to use those weapons. And it is being done, but it is better to do it in a coordinated way”.

“We have a duty to the rest of the world, and we have to commit to the rest of the world”, Borrell said this Monday at the European Forum Alpbach: “We will not be able to build walls along our borders high enough to defend ourselves from the rest . We cannot be the garden in the middle of the jungle. We will not be able to be the elegant garden in the middle of the jungle, and the jungle is growing.”

“Assume your responsibility”, the head of diplomacy told the Europeans: “Push the governments that want to build a united Europe because if we don’t unite, we won’t survive, it’s that simple. 5% of the world population divided into 27 parts with 27 armies is not fit for the 21st century. Take responsibility for him. Support those who want Europeans to work together, unite. And take responsibility towards the rest of the world, because the rest of the world demands a more European role. Every time I travel, people tell me: “The last time we saw a European authority was ten years ago. We need you, we don’t want the world to be this bipolar between China and the United States. We do not want a new Cold War. We need Europe. Europeans need Europe and the world needs Europe; build it.”

Russian tourists?

When the EU foreign ministers meet this Tuesday afternoon in Prague, they will have on the table the proposal to ban visas for Russians. The Czechs, who currently hold the rotating presidency of the EU, are pushing to ban visas for Russian tourists throughout the EU, an idea supported mainly by the Baltic countries but with resistance in other countries such as Germany and Borrell himself. , arguing that it could break EU rules and block escape routes for Russian dissidents.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis has said that Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Finland, which share a border with Russia, can act on their own to block tourists if the EU does not agree to a ban. throughout the Union, reports Reuters.

Russians enter the EU mainly through the land borders of the five countries since direct flights between Russia and the EU were suspended following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, according to Landsbergis. In mid-August, Estonia closed its border to more than 50,000 Russians with previously issued visas, the first EU country to do so.

The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, has again called this Monday for a general travel ban to be imposed on Russians.

“For me it is not a good idea to approve the ban on all Russians at any time and for any reason,” Borrell said this Sunday: “I don’t think cutting off the relationship with the Russian civilian population will help. And I do not think that this idea has the necessary unanimity. I think we need to review the way some Russians get visas, certainly the oligarchs shouldn’t have. We have to be more selective. But I am not in favor of stopping issuing visas to all Russians. We have to be selective.”