Ukraine's victory "whatever it takes," dialogue with opposition, and Kyiv's two battles. Speech by EU's top diplomat

Thursday, 8 February 2024 — , European Pravda
Josep Borrell's speech in the plenary hall of Ukraine's parliament. Photo by the European Union

On 7 February, Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, visited Ukraine for the fourth time since the Russian full-scale ivasion.

This time, in addition to undisclosed events and trips (for example, he visited two drone manufacturing plants), Borrell addressed the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine's parliament), and his speech is certainly significant.

The head of European diplomacy spoke about Europe's need to refrain from supporting Ukraine "as long as it takes," updating it to "Ukraine's whatever it takes".

He has also mentioned the not public amounts of European security support.

On top of that, he has hinted transparently to the Ukrainian government about the need to abandon the tactic of creating problems for the opposition, explaining how important that is for success.

* * * * * 

I am very much honoured to be here with you, once again, and thank you for flagging the European Union flag. Once again here in Kyiv. This is my sixth visit to Ukraine, the fourth since the start of the full-scale war. In this city, which for the last 10 years has been more conscious of its Europeanness than any other capital on the continent.  

As Yuri Andrukhovych – whose books are increasingly translated into many other European languages – wrote "Kyiv won the casting to become the scenario of the most beautiful of all revolutions: The Revolution of Kyiv, the Revolution of Dignity". 

We have just celebrated the 10-year anniversary of that Revolution of Dignity.  Many of the heroes of your Revolution died later on the front, fighting the Russian invader for your freedom. Like, for example, Roman Ratushny, the anticorruption activist. He did not even turn 25.  

Putin believed the war was going to last one week. Two years later, you are still there. 

(…) You did it – with old Soviet material, not yet with Western aid. You did it with the motivation of your army and your people.  And now you have liberated half of the territory Russia had captured and unblocked the Black Sea.

But I know that in each liberated town, your troops were greeted by people whose joy of liberation was equal to the pain they had suffered. (…). 

The war has taken the lives of many anonymous people. But let me name, for example, one of them. Victoria Amelina, a finalist of the European Union Prize for Literature. She worked as a war crimes investigator, and instead of seeking safety, she travelled to the East of Ukraine to immortalise the stories of the people living under occupation. 

Last summer, a Russian missile, like the ones that have been falling on Kyiv tonight, killed her while she was having dinner in a popular pizza restaurant. She was certainly a war target. She was only 37 [years old]. She has become "The one who flew away too soon", as she put it in one of her poems. I am mentioning her, but I cannot mention every one of the anonymous victims and heroes of this war. 

There are many tragedies like the one of Victoria Amelina. And all of them remind us what the Ukrainian people are fighting for. Ukrainians always know why they are fighting for. They are fighting for the freedom of their people and their land.

The Russian soldiers do not know what they are fighting for.

Soldiers are fighting for their very existence; the lives of their families; the future of their children; for their freedom, for your culture. So that the Ukrainian language may not fall silent and that your books – like Victoria’s books – may not remain unfinished.  

You know which is the real border? The real border today of Ukraine with Russia is the frontline, not only in the battlefields, it is the political frontline between a world governed by law, and freedom, and one where powerful people impose their will inside their society and with respect to third countries.

It is the frontline between democracy and authoritarian rule. Nothing less than that. 

A Ukraine that prevails against Russia’s war of annihilation would be a huge contribution to the security of Europe as a whole. And the best security commitments that we can do for Ukraine is making Ukraine part of the European Union. 

The European Union is not a military alliance.  

The European Union was built around the economy, to defuse conflict with negotiations and compromise. And it worked. After the two terrible World Wars from the last century, we have had peace in Europe for nearly 80 years now. The old antagonism between the European old empires has vanished. The borders have become invisible. That is also a reason why many Europeans mainly had forgotten that the world can be a terrifying place where force prevails. We made peace among us and we believed that peace was a natural state of things– and that is not true, unhappily. 

The natural state of things is the struggle between big powers, and Russia has not forgotten its own imperial illusion. 

That is why your war has been an awakening moment for Europe. Since 24 February 2022, (…) this has changed our mindset. Now, we need to change the complete institutional setting of the European Union to adapt it to this new geostrategic reality. It is no longer about making peace among us, it is to face the challenges in our borders. 

Exactly two years ago, I was in the Donbas on 6 January [2022], when Russia was already building up its troops at the border. And I met with the Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and he asked me:

"When they will invade us – because they will invade us – will you support us?"

We were talking in his office. "Are you going to provide us with the arms to defend ourselves?" I will never forget this question. I will never forget this moment in my life. "Are you going to help us?" And at that time, I was not able to give a clear answer, because the European Union had never before provided military aid to a country at war. 

But, when the invasion happened some weeks later, we responded in an unprecedented manner. So far, we have remained united, and we have provided – already done, not a promise, a reality - €28 billion of military support and almost €90 billion overall.  

And just last week, EU Member States – as you know - agreed on another €50 billion package – another – to provide you with predictable financing and to help to pay salaries, pensions and provide public services. Because you have to win the war and to win the peace, at the same time.  

(…) But I know that more is needed.

We need a paradigm shift from supporting Ukraine for "as long as it takes" to committing ourselves to support Ukraine for "whatever it takes". 

Not for "how long", but for "whatever it takes". It is not a matter of duration – the shorter, the better. 

And in order to be shorter, it has to be tougher. "Whatever it takes" for Ukraine to achieve victory. 

We need to challenge the claims that Ukraine cannot win. I hear this message from defeatism. "Why are you continuing supporting Ukraine if Ukraine cannot win?" That is not true. Russia has lost many wars in its history. 

And to the people who say that "Western support will not hold" - and I am measuring my words in this historical moment here in front of the representatives of the Ukrainian people, I am measuring my words to say that the ones who claim that Putin should be appeased, they are wrong.

They were wrong in 2022, and they remain wrong today.  

Because it is Putin himself who has declared: "We want to end this conflict as soon as possible, but only on our terms." And what are the terms? Denazification, demilitarisation, and dismantling. These three "De’s" are Putin’s recipe for Ukraine.  

And these words mean only one thing: surrender.  

He has been repeating that he is not negotiating in good faith, and he has consistently failed to honour the agreements. And he has clearly said that his war is against the entire West.  

So, instead of eying appeasement, we should remember the lessons we have learnt since 2022, avoid repeating mistakes and double down in areas where we saw success.  

Let’s face reality. Russia has achieved virtually no progress on the battlefield in 2023. Your armed forces successfully undermined Russia’s air dominance over the frontlines and broke the blockade of the Black Sea ports.  

You have forced Russia to withdraw most of its fleet from occupied Crimea and grain exports are reaching pre-war levels. (…)

And your people fought back with incredible inventiveness. Two years ago, Ukraine had seven factories to build military drones. Today, it has hundreds. I have visited two of them yesterday. What I saw is truly revolutionary. I saw it. How passionate young people with a lot of intelligence and creativity put their technical skills to work, transforming old factories into the birthplace of high-tech equipment. (…)

When I see these factories working, and people working, and young engineers creating new tools, when this war will be over, Ukraine will be among the world’s leading producers of the new tools of warfare. So, allow me to congratulate you and your people. 

At the same time, Russia is – if I may say - "cannibalising" its own future. Putin has mobilised its entire economy, society and political system for the war effort. Talents – when they can - leave the country and the demographic decline is deepening.

But, however, we have to recognise that they have adjusted to the war and their economy is more resilient than expected.

Yes, sanctions are taking a heavy toll on Russia’s economy and on its war effort. We cut 60% of our pre-war trade with Russia. We finished our energy dependency with Russia. Now, we are prioritising the fight against circumvention, which is a very difficult process, but we see that it works slowly but surely. The focus is on monitoring trade flows and blocking the reexport of goods that can be used on the battlefield. It is an everyday work. 

But most of all, we need an urgent renaissance for the European defence industry. I know that you have expected from us more military support; more ammunition; more of everything.  

But let me say that in the last two years, much of our military support came from existing stockpiles of our armies. Replenishing the stocks today and at the same time to continue providing you with more weapons and ammunition is a serious challenge for our defence industry, which was diminishing due to peace and during the peacetime production, we were not producing arms. 

But we have already reversed this trend. The production capacity of our industry has already increased by 40%. Now, we are reaching 1.4 million ammunition capacity by the end of the year.  

Frankly.  I know that on ammunition your needs are higher than that. (…) But we are hard at work, and we will have donated more than 1 million rounds before the end of the year. (…) We are giving priority to give supplies to Ukraine saying to our armed forces, "You can wait", and saying to third countries clients "You can wait because you are not at war. The priority is to Ukraine." And the complete figure has to be taken by adding up donations and exportations – and this makes much more than what the public opinion sometimes hears about.  

We have reached an important amount of military support: €28 billion. And for this year – 2024 - Member States are planning more than €20 billion in military assistance, both bilaterally, and through the European Union. 

You know, these figures, I want to remind them because it is important for the public opinion to understand the amount of our support.  

But there is another battle. There is the battle of narratives.

And I am also in charge of this battle, because the perception of this war in the rest of the world will be decisive in order to isolate Putin and make our sanctions work. (…)

For a large part of the world, the defining historical experience has been colonialism. However, paradoxically, many do not see Russia as an imperialist and colonialist power at all.  We must counter the Russian narrative. This war is not a matter of "The West against the Rest".  It is a war in defence of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and it is a war in defence of the principles of the United Nations Charter. (…)

To be able to counter the Russian anti-Western propaganda, we need to be consistent with our principles around the world and to avoid double standards. 

And to be frank, I am not sure that we have always been, and we have to be.  

(…) And it is also part of building a world that prevents "might makes right", where powerful countries change borders at will, and the weak fall prey to the strong. Because Putin’s strategy should proved not to be successful.

We must show that Russia is the last colonial empire in Europe. (…)  If a country does not know where it begins and where it ends, it is a serious challenge to their neighbours. Putin recently confirmed that assessment, when – in his cartoons propaganda for his next election – he said, "Russia’s borders don’t end". And as long as Russia has not resolved this issue, its political system will remain what it is: an authoritarian, nationalist and violent regime. 

Nobody knows that better than you, Ukrainians. For centuries, you have been on the receiving end of Russia’s imperialism, relegated to be considered as "little Russians" - a pure colonialist way of speaking - starved at the Holodomor or deported to Siberia.

And Russian imperialism remains a crude reality. That is why we once again see the deportations in occupied Ukraine.

We see the repression of your language and the terrible forced adoptions of thousands of Ukrainian children to be "russified" and make them forget about their Ukrainian roots, their parents and their families. 

But you are no longer the vassal of any empire.

You have repeatedly shown your will to be, through history, a free country. And as in history, the next chapter will be written together. With Ukraine as a member of the European Union. That is what you want. That is what the European Union’s leaders have agreed to last December. And this decision to be made into reality. (…) 

Today, I see, your European choice among political forces, among civil society, and businesses. But you have to preserve it, and you have to keep unity and consensus. This will be essential to your path to the membership.

It will require a lot of efforts and a lot of compromises

by members of the Rada, by government, but also by citizens, industry, civil society. It will require a deep and comprehensive modernisation of your governance, your economy, and your society. The European Union with Ukraine will be a different Union. And Ukraine will be a different Ukraine inside the European Union. It is going to be a way that will require efforts, you have to be prepared not to spare them. 

We will be supporting you along the way. But you – as any other candidate country - have to implement and enforce all current European Union rules. 

And let me say, frankly, that for many years, corruption was the weak spot of Ukraine’s society. It has cost you a major gap in your development for the last 30 years. President Zelenskyy was elected with a mandate to fight corruption. There has been recent progress(…), but more has to be done. 

Corruption undermines significantly the efficiency of the war effort, the efficiency of reconstruction, but it undermines also the goodwill and support you are getting from societies across the European Union. 

This process of accession will also have to be accompanied in coming years by a major reconstruction effort. (…) But more important than the bridges and roads, there are others kinds of infrastructures which are invisible. The invisible infrastructures that sustain democracies, that sustain the rule of law, plurality, political plurality. It should be evident.

It is not a partisan message.

It should be evident for everybody: separation of powers, inclusive governance, respect for human rights, social cohesion and equality. These are the invisible infrastructures that make a country free and united. It is at the core of democratic societies, and it is more difficult to build and maintain, than roads, bridges and ports – but it is the backbone of healthy societies. 

I know this is particularly difficult to achieve in a country at war. And that is why I said, at the beginning of my words, you have to win both battles at the same time. It is not one after the other, they have to be fought together. There is always a strong and understandable temptation to centralise power and limit freedom of expression when there is a war.  However, in times of war, checks and balances are more important than ever: respect for the rule of law and fostering democratic dialogue between government and opposition will add to your resilience, and the capacity of the country to win the war.  

Once again this is not a partisan message. 

Being a democratic and inclusive society is your greatest advantage in the face of Putin's dictatorship. You are facing a dictator regime, and you have to face it showing that you are a pluralist state and a democratic society.  

I know that there are popular Ukrainian sayings that are "for every two Ukrainians, there are three hetmans". In Spain, we say that for every four Spanish who have dinner together, they find five political bodies.  

But plurality of opinion is typical of European societies, it is our strength. And this is something that Putin will never understand. He will never understand, but it is important that we Europeans make this our absolute difference between the democratic and authoritarian regimes. 

And it is here, in the Parliament. I have been President of the European Parliament, I know what a Parliament means. This Rada needs to be the forum where this plurality - this strength - is being harvested. It needs to be the forum for discussion for reforms. It needs to be transparent, and it needs to make sure that all groups in society are represented. 

Just as you did when you all agreed on when and in which circumstances to hold elections, once the martial law is over. This was a very important signal for the nation and for the world. 

(…)

Next year, after the European elections, another generation of European leaders comes. (…) But I am confident that this next generation will remain with you all along your travel [towards] the European Union. 

Because – and this is the most important message that I will tell you: we know well that our own security is being defended by you on the Eastern borders of Europe. And when we say "For our freedom and yours", it means that we owe you a debt. A debt that will not be paid in casualties and young people being killed but it has to be paid by not succumbing to fatigue. 

The only ones who are entitled to be tired of this war, are you – and you are not.  

I do not see you succumbing to fatigue, and as far as you do not, we will not do it either. 

Thank you. 

Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

Kyiv, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine

7 February 2024

 
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