Borrell in Kiev: Europe Must Support Ukraine Whatever It Takes


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Borrell in Kiev: Europe Must Support Ukraine Whatever It Takes

Mr President, Members of the Rada, Ladies and Gentlemen,  

I am very honoured to be here with you in Kyiv once again. And I thank you for raising the flag of the European Union. This is my sixth visit to Ukraine, the fourth since the start of the war, and to a city that, over the last ten years, has been more aware of its European identity than any other capital on the continent.  

As Yuri Andrukhovych – whose books are increasingly being translated into many European languages – has written, “Kyiv has won the casting to become the scenario for the most beautiful of all revolutions: The Kyiv revolution, the revolution of dignity”. We have just celebrated the tenth anniversary of this “hidnist” revolution, dignity in your language, and I know that to defend it, you have paid and are still paying a terrible price.  

Many of the heroes of your revolution died later on the front, fighting the Russian invaders for your freedom. Like, for example, Roman Ratushny, the anti-corruption activist. He was not yet 25. 

Vladimir Putin thought the war would only last a week, but two years later, you’re still here. Some of your soldiers have been fighting on the front line since the war began. They were the heroes of the Battle of Kyiv, when Russian troops were 8 kilometres away. They were the heroes of Kharkiv, a name that everyone in Europe knows today. They did it – you did it – with old Soviet equipment, not yet with the help of the West. You did it with the motivation of your army and your people.  

Today, you have liberated half the territory that Russia had seized and unblocked the Black Sea. But I know that in every liberated town, your troops were greeted by people whose joy at liberation was equal to the pain they had suffered. Your soldiers saw death and devastation everywhere and discovered mass graves. I know, because I saw it for myself in Bucha.

The war has cost the lives of many people. But let me mention one in particular. Victoria Amelina, a finalist for the European Union Prize for Literature. She was working as a war crimes investigator and, instead of taking cover, she travelled to eastern Ukraine to capture the stories of people living under occupation. 

Last summer, a Russian missile, like the ones that fell on Kyiv last night, killed her while she was eating in a popular pizzeria. She was certainly not a legitimate target of war. She was only 37 years old. She became “The one who flew away too soon”, as she wrote in one of her poems. I’m talking about her, because I can’t talk about all the victims and heroes of this war. 

There are many tragedies like that of Victoria Amelina. And all of them remind us of what the Ukrainian people are fighting for: freedom for their people and their land. Russian soldiers don’t know what they are fighting for. The Ukrainian soldiers are fighting for their very existence, for the lives of their families, for the future of their children, for their freedom, for your culture. So that the Ukrainian language is not silenced and your books – like Victoria’s – are not left unfinished.  

Do you know what the real border between Russia and Ukraine is? It’s not just the front line on the battlefield, it’s the political front line between a world governed by law and freedom and a world where the powerful impose their will within their society and on third countries. It is the front line between democracy and authoritarian regimes. Nothing less. 

A Ukraine that opposes Russia’s war of annihilation makes a powerful contribution to the security of Europe as a whole. As High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, you can easily understand how close this subject is to my heart. This is not a rhetorical phrase to win your applause, it is the raw reality. Ukraine makes an enormous contribution to the security of Europe as a whole. And the best commitment we can make to Ukraine’s security is to integrate it into the European Union.

Let me remind you what the European Union is. The European Union is not a military alliance. The European Union was built around the economy, to defuse conflicts between Europeans through negotiation and compromise. And it has worked. After the two terrible world wars of the last century, the European Union has enjoyed peace for almost 80 years. The old antagonism between the former European empires has disappeared. Borders have become invisible. But this is also why many Europeans have forgotten that the world can be a terrifying place where might makes right. We have made peace with each other and have tended to believe that peace is the natural state of things – which is unfortunately not true.

The natural state of things is still the struggle between great powers. In today’s world, geopolitics is making a comeback and Russia has not forgotten its own imperial illusion. That’s why your war was a wake-up call for the European Union. Since 24 February 2022, this war has not just been a question of military and financial assistance for most of us, but above all a revolution in our way of thinking. We have become aware of how dangerous our world is. 

It has changed our mindset. Now we also have to change the whole institutional framework of the European Union to adapt it to this new geostrategic reality. The EU is no longer there to make peace between us, but to face up to the challenges at our borders. 

Exactly two years ago, I was in Donbass on 6 January 2022, when Russia was already massing its troops on the border, and I met Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal. We were talking in his office and he asked me: “When they invade us – because they will invade us – will you support us? Will you provide us with the weapons we need to defend ourselves?” I’ll never forget that question and that moment in my life: “Will you help us?” At the time, I wasn’t 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 took place a few weeks later, we reacted in an unprecedented way. So far, we have stood united and provided – it’s done, it’s not a promise but a reality – €28 billion in military aid and almost €90 billion in total humanitarian, economic and financial aid.  

Last week, the EU Member States – as you know – agreed on an additional €50 billion package to provide you with predictable funding for the coming years and to help you pay salaries, pensions and provide public services. Because you need to win the war and win the peace at the same time.  

Let me say that the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, deserve credit for putting together this budget package at the European Council and working hard to get it agreed by all Member States. However, the package still has to be submitted to the European Parliament, which is the Union’s budgetary authority. Agreement is needed between the Council and Parliament on the Commission’s proposal. I am confident that this will happen by the end of the month.  

But I know that we need to go further. I have already said that this is my sixth visit to Ukraine. We need to change the paradigm from supporting Ukraine “for as long as it takes” to a commitment to support Ukraine “whatever it takes”. It’s not a question of duration – the shorter the war, the better. And for the war to last less time, our support must be stronger. To do whatever it takes to ensure that Ukraine wins. 

We must reject the claims that Ukraine cannot win. I hear this message of defeatism. “Why continue to support Ukraine if it can’t win? This is not true. Russia has lost many wars in its history. And we must also respond to those who say that “Western support will not last”. 

And I measure the weight of my words at this historic moment, here before the representatives of the Ukrainian people. I am measuring the weight of my words by saying that those who claim that Putin must be appeased are wrong. They were wrong in 2022, and they are wrong today.  

It was Putin himself who said: “We want to end this conflict as soon as possible, but only on our terms”. And what are those conditions? Denazification, demilitarisation and dismantling. These three D’s are Putin’s recipe for Ukraine. And these words mean only one thing: capitulation.  

Vladimir Putin has shown time and again that he does not negotiate in good faith and that he does not respect agreements made. He has clearly stated that he sees his war as a war against the entire West. So instead of seeking appeasement, we should remember the lessons we have learned since 2022, avoid repeating the mistakes we have made and redouble our efforts in the areas where we have achieved success.  

Let’s face reality. Russia has made virtually no progress on the battlefield in 2023. Your armed forces have succeeded in weakening Russia’s air dominance on the front lines and breaking the blockade of Black Sea ports.  

You have forced Russia to withdraw most of its fleet from occupied Crimea and Ukrainian grain exports are once again approaching pre-war levels. The blockade on your grain exports is gone. And it has ended, not because of agreements with Russia, but because of your fighting and the solidarity lanes put in place by the EU, which have been a major support for your exports. 

Your people have fought with incredible inventiveness. Two years ago, Ukraine had seven military drone manufacturing plants. Today it has hundreds. I visited two of them yesterday. It’s truly revolutionary. I’m not saying this because someone told me so, but because I’ve seen it for myself. How passionate young people, with a lot of intelligence and creativity, put their technical skills to work, transforming old factories to create high-tech equipment. With drones costing 300 euros, they can destroy tanks. Ukrainian creativity is incredible. When I see these factories working with young engineers who are creating new tools, I am sure that, when this war is over, Ukraine will be one of the world’s leading producers of new military equipment. So let me congratulate you and your people. 

At the same time, Russia – if I may say so – is ‘cannibalising’ its own future. Putin has mobilised his entire economy, society and political system for the war effort. Talent – when it can – is leaving the country and demographic decline is accelerating. However, we must also recognise that Russia has been able to adapt to the war and that its economy is more resilient than expected.  

We need to face reality: yes, sanctions are taking a heavy toll on Russia’s economy and its war effort. They affect nearly 2,000 entities and individuals, and we have reduced our pre-war trade with Russia by 60%. We have got rid of our energy dependence on Russia. Today, we are giving priority to the fight against the circumvention of sanctions, which is a very difficult task, but we are seeing that this fight is working slowly but surely. We are concentrating on the precise monitoring of trade flows and on blocking the re-export of goods likely to be used on the battlefield. It’s a day-to-day job. 

Above all, we urgently need to revive the European defence industry. I know that you expect us to provide more military support, more munitions, more everything. Over the past two years, most of our military support has come from existing stocks held by our armies. Replenishing these stocks while continuing to supply you with more weapons and ammunition is a major challenge for our defence industry, which had been reduced to peacetime production. 

However, we have already reversed this trend. Our industry’s production capacity has already increased by 40% since the start of the war. We will reach a production capacity of 1.4 million munitions by the end of the year.  

I want to speak frankly to you. I have spoken to your military personnel and I know that your ammunition needs are greater than that. However, we are working hard on this issue and we will have given Ukraine over a million shells by the end of the year. This is in addition to the ammunition that European industry is selling to Ukraine. In fact, Ukraine is supplied in two ways: donations and exports. When we talk about a million shells, we are only talking about donations. This ammunition is free for Ukraine. But in addition to these donations, our industry is already producing and selling you a similar quantity of munitions – I can’t give you a precise figure because this is wartime. But the total is much higher than the figures the public generally hears about. 

We are trying to give priority to supplying Ukraine by telling our armed forces and our customers in third countries that they can wait because they are not at war. Priority must be given to Ukraine. 

As I said, with 28 billion euros, we have already achieved a significant amount of military support. For this year – 2024 – our Member States are planning additional military aid of around €20 billion, both bilaterally and through the European Union. You are familiar with these figures, but I would like to remind you of them because it is important for the public to understand the importance of our support.  

But there is another battle being fought in this war, a battle of narratives. The battle for brains. We need to conquer not just land, but brains too. This battle of narratives is taking place all over the world. The perception of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine in the rest of the world will be decisive in isolating Putin and making our sanctions work. As far as the European Union is concerned, I am also in charge of this battle.

People, not only in the Western world, but also in Africa, South America, or South-East Asia need to understand the root causes of this war. Why it is raging and why you are fighting. 

For much of the world, the defining historical experience has been colonialism. It is an essential part of the history of peoples, and we Europeans were the colonial powers. However, paradoxically, many of those who suffered colonialism do not see Russia as an imperialist and colonialist power. We must counter the Russian discourse. This is not a war of “the West against the rest”, of Western countries against the rest of the world. 

It is a war to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. It is a war to defend the principles of the United Nations Charter. In a world that is becoming increasingly transactional, it is more important than ever that these universal principles are protected, understood by citizens and respected by world leaders. 

It is because it stems from these principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity that Ukraine’s peace formula currently constitutes the only global framework for a just and lasting peace.   

If we are to counter Russian anti-Western propaganda, we must avoid double standards and be consistent with our principles throughout the world. To be honest, I’m not sure that’s always been the case, but it has to be.  

That’s why the European Union, and I personally, are so determined to put an end to the tragedy suffered by the civilian population of Gaza and to secure the release of the hostages held by Hamas. And then to finally implement the two-state solution that the international community has been advocating for decades.  

This is also part of our efforts to build a world that resists the law of the strongest, with powerful countries able to change borders at will, and the weak falling prey to the strong. So far, Putin’s strategy has been a failure. And it must remain so. If successful, it would embolden Russia and other autocracies to pursue their imperialist agendas against their neighbours.  

We must show Russia for what it is: Europe’s last colonial empire, an anachronism. As the Russian author Mikhail Shishkin wrote in his letter to an unknown Ukrainian: “My country is a country that has fallen out of time”. 

Today, Russia remains an imperialist power incapable of ridding itself of a colonial vision of its identity. Until this question of identity is resolved, Russia will remain a threat to all its neighbours in Europe. As Václav Havel once said: “Russia does not know where it begins and where it ends”. As long as a country does not know where it begins and ends, it remains a serious challenge to its neighbours. Putin recently confirmed this assessment in his propaganda posters for his forthcoming election, declaring that “Russia’s borders do not stop”. Until this issue is resolved, the Russian political system will remain what it is: authoritarian, nationalistic and violent.

Nobody knows this better than you, Ukrainians. For centuries, you have been the victims of Russian imperialism, relegated to the rank of “little Russians” – a purely colonialist way of speaking – starved during the Holodomor or deported to Siberia. And Russian imperialism unfortunately remains a brutal reality. Putin is obsessed with his fantasies of “historic Russian lands” despite the fact that you, dear Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, showed me maps from 1600 where Ukraine was clearly a sovereign nation. 

That is why we are once again witnessing the repression of your language and the deportations in occupied Ukraine. We see in particular the horrific forced adoptions of thousands of Ukrainian children to “Russify” them and make them forget their Ukrainian roots, their parents and their families. 

But you are no longer the vassal of some empire; you are not an object, you are a subject. Ukrainians are masters of their own destiny. Throughout history, you have repeatedly shown your determination to be a free country. And it is together that we will write the next chapter of this history. 

Dear Members of Parliament, 

Your future lies in the European Union. That is what you want. It is also what the leaders of the European Union decided last December. And this decision must now be turned into reality. 

This is not just talk. It is a serious commitment that must be implemented. But you too will have to make an effort.  

You have made your European choice on many occasions. And I understand your feelings. When I was a young Spaniard plunged into the darkness of a dictatorship, Europe was for me the beacon of political freedom, economic prosperity and social enrichment. Like you, I absolutely wanted to be part of this European Union. 10 years ago, Maidan Square was transformed into a sea of yellow and blue. The yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flags mingled with the yellow and blue of the European flags.

Today, as I have seen in my discussions, your choice of Europe is the consensus of political forces, civil society and business. But this consensus must be preserved. You must maintain this unity. It will be essential, because your path to accession will require a great deal of effort and compromise on the part of you, the members of the Rada, on the part of you, the government, but also on the part of citizens, businesses, civil society… It will require a profound and comprehensive modernisation of your governance, your economy and your society. With Ukraine, the European Union will be different. And within the European Union, Ukraine will be a different country. This journey will require a great deal of effort, and you must be prepared for it. We will support you every step of the way. But like any other candidate country, you will have to implement and apply all the current rules of the European Union. 

And let me be frank: for many years, corruption has been the weak point of Ukrainian society. It has caused Ukraine a significant delay in its development over the last 30 years. The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, was elected with a mandate to fight corruption. Progress has been made recently in terms of both legislation and law enforcement, and your position is improving in Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures the way in which a country faces up to the challenges of corruption. This is clearly a positive development, but there is still a long way to go. 

Corruption is significantly undermining the effectiveness of the war effort and, in the future, it would undermine the effectiveness of reconstruction, but it is also undermining the support you receive from companies across the European Union. 

The EU accession process will also be accompanied by a major reconstruction effort in the coming years. These two processes must go hand in hand. When you rebuild your homes, your roads, your bridges and your ports, you must do so in accordance with European standards, particularly in terms of energy efficiency. 

But even more important than the physical infrastructure are the invisible infrastructures that underpin democracies. The separation of powers, plurality and inclusive governance, respect for human rights, social cohesion and equality are the invisible infrastructures that make a country free and united. They are at the heart of any democratic society. They are harder to build and maintain than roads, bridges and ports, but they are the backbone of healthy societies.

I know that it is particularly difficult to achieve this in a country at war. That’s why I’ve already said that you need to win two battles at the same time: winning the war and winning the peace. These two battles must not be fought one after the other, they must be fought together. 

In times of war, the temptation to centralise power and limit freedom of expression is always strong and understandable. But respecting the rule of law and promoting democratic dialogue between government and opposition will strengthen your resilience and the country’s ability to win the war.  

Dear members of the Rada, this is not a partisan message. 

Being a democratic and inclusive society is your greatest advantage against Putin’s dictatorship. I know that there is a popular Ukrainian saying that “for every two Ukrainians, there are three hetmans”, or Cossack chiefs. In Spain, they say that for every four Spaniards who dine together, there are five political parties. Clearly, pluralism can sometimes be difficult to manage. But plurality of opinion is the absolute difference between democratic societies and authoritarian regimes, and it is the strength of European societies. This is something that Putin will never understand. 

I was President of the European Parliament and I know what a Parliament means. This Rada must be the forum where this plurality – this strength – is harvested. It must be the forum where reforms are discussed. It must be transparent and all groups in society must be represented. 

Just as you did when you agreed on the date and circumstances of the elections, once martial law has been lifted. That was a very important signal for Ukraine and for the world. 

Finally, ladies and gentlemen of the Rada. 

Just before arriving in Ukraine yesterday, I checked the number of air alarms that have sounded in your skies, in your nights, since the massive invasion of Russia. There have been nearly 40,000.  

40,000 times that the Ukrainian people have had to run for shelter – as we did last night, once again. 40,000 times children have had to read and do school exercises in basements. 55 alarms a day, in beautiful places like Kharkiv, Dnipro and Lviv. 

We foreign visitors come and go, but you stay – and you stay under this enormous pressure.

Next year, after the European elections, another generation of European leaders will be boarding trains to travel to Kyiv. Trains which, by the way, are never late, even under bombardment. These trains will continue to bring new visitors, sharing these difficult circumstances with you. But I am convinced that this new generation of European leaders will accompany you on your journey towards the European Union. 

Because – and this is the most important message I want to give you – we know that what you are defending is also our own security on Europe’s eastern borders. And when we say “For our freedom and yours”, it means that we owe you a debt. And that debt prevents us from succumbing to Ukraine’s weariness. The only people who have the right to be tired of this war are you – and you are not.  

Wars are won by the commitment and motivation of the people. Look at what has happened in many countries around the world, from Afghanistan to Spain against Napoleon. How many wars have been won by those with the least weapons? They were won by people who knew what they were fighting for. 

I don’t see you succumbing to war fatigue, and if you don’t, we won’t either. 

Thank you very much.

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Josep Borrell Fontelles, Borrell in Kiev: Europe Must Support Ukraine Whatever It Takes, Feb 2024,

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