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The Twenty-Seven worried about US-Russian security talks

At first taken aback and reduced to a supporting role, the Europeans hope for a continuation and a broadening of the discussions initiated this week by the United States and Russia on Ukraine and the security of the continent. This is the message they sought to convey, Thursday, January 13, in Brest (Finistère), on the occasion of a meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Ministers of the Twenty-Seven. « We are in a logic of firmness and dialogue », said Jean-Yves Le Drian, before welcoming his counterparts alongside the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell.

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A little earlier, the statements of Sergei Riabkov, the Russian Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, had nevertheless thrown a chill: « Without clarifying whether there is (…) reserves of flexibility on the other side on important matters, there is no reason to sit down at the table [des négociations] in the coming days « , he said, three days after opening negotiations on Monday with US Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. Since then, the NATO-Russia Council has come up against, unsurprisingly on Wednesday, the freeze on the enlargement of the alliance demanded by Moscow, which makes Ukraine’s membership a red line.

Double emergency

On Thursday, the Russian negotiator did not even wait for the last meeting of the week, the meeting of the Standing Committee of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to shower hopes of detente. While the rotating Polish presidency of this body invited to relaunch negotiations on continental security, the representative of Moscow in this forum lambasted « The lack of an appropriate response » Westerners. The Viennese stage had however been organized at the request of the United States to involve Ukraine in the talks. The only institution bringing together the east and the west of the continent, the OSCE is also responsible for supervising compliance with the Minsk agreements supposed to put an end to the fighting in the pro-Russian separatist regions of Donbass. In vain since 2014.

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For the Europeans, the urgency is twofold at this stage: to weigh as much as possible on the dialogue outlined, if it were to be prolonged, and to prepare for the hypothesis of a failure by elaborating, in contact with the United States , an arsenal of sanctions likely to dissuade the Russian leader, Vladimir Poutin, from attacking again the Ukrainian territories, seven years after the annexation of Crimea.

On the first point, the Brest meeting will have made it possible to close ranks, despite the traditional differences which persist on relations with Russia. « Security in Europe can only be discussed by Europeans, insisted the head of German diplomacy, Annalena Baerbock, in unison with her counterparts: EU members are central ” in the various fora, she recalled, in particular within NATO. Moreover, according to Mr. Le Drian, « The elements are in place to relaunch the“ Normandy format ” » – which brings together Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France, in order to appease the conflict in the Donbass. « It would be a strong sign », he assured.

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