Kyiv, 19 January 2023
Thank you very much, Mr President, dear Volodymyr. I am, of course, extremely moved to be, once again, on Ukrainian soil and in direct contact with you, and very touched by the trust which you are showing me today. And I am well aware of everything this represents in symbolic terms, but also in terms of the unwavering friendship which unites us, which unites Ukraine, the Ukrainian people, and the European Union. And I am also touched to be here at this moment, because I shall never forget the few hours that followed this attempt by Russia at launching a general invasion of Ukraine. As you probably remember, we spoke immediately on the telephone. You told me that you were facing a general, total, aggression across the whole territory of Ukraine and a few hours later, you took the floor, virtually, before the 27 European Heads of State or Government.
It will soon be a year now since that first speech and I have to tell you that I was personally greatly affected by your words, by the message you sent. All our European colleagues were very strongly affected, impressed by your courage, your strength, your sang-froid and your determination, and I would like to tell you that at that European Council meeting, almost a year ago now, on 24 February 2022, there was an immediate understanding that, of course, a foul and ignoble attack was being carried out by Russia against the Ukrainian people.
But beyond this attack, the war that was triggered, there was in fact also an attack on the values, the principles of European democracy, the principles of dignity and freedom. In reality, there was an attack on what is the basis for this European Union project set in motion by the founding fathers after the Second World War. This promise of peace, this promise of prosperity, this European dream, was, in a sense, battered and ruined by Russia’s action. That is what is at issue. And that is why, immediately, the European Union wanted to act on two fronts. On the one hand, by mobilising maximum support – I will return to this – for Ukraine, and on the other hand by imposing strong sanctions, to try, as far as possible, to stop the Kremlin’s war machine. That is the European Union’s persistent and constant strategy. And it is because we have had the opportunity throughout, you and I, our respective teams, the Member States and political leaders at all levels, to be engaged, that we have been able to try each time, as much as possible, perhaps not perfectly, but as much as possible, given the realities, to be able to deploy the support that was most suitable, needed and useful. And today we want to continue to strengthen our efforts, to build capacity.
In terms of support, of course, financial support is needed. Over the last few months, as you know, we have regularly mobilised macro-financial assistance and learned lessons by formally deciding, a few weeks ago at the European Council, to implement a predictable, guaranteed package of budgetary support of EUR 18 billion in 2023 to support Ukraine, which is holding its head up at this difficult time.
The second element is that when we set up, very quickly, the Solidarity Lanes to facilitate exports, since Russia had turned the Black Sea into a war zone, alternatives had to be found, to complement the UN initiative. This was done immediately with this solidarity lane to allow more than 40 million tonnes of goods to be exported, including 23 million tonnes of agricultural products, to bring financial resources to Ukraine, but also to provide responses to the food crisis which is threatening the world because of Russia’s brutal and absolutely unspeakable and unjustifiable decision.
The third element is that we decided very quickly, within a few hours in fact, because we heard the message you sent us, to deliver weapons from the European Union to Ukraine. This is a first in the history of the European Union. For the first time, in the days following the outbreak of the invasion, lethal weapons were delivered. Let us continue! We need to do even more. For that reason, we hear the message which has been sent: air defence systems, artillery systems, munitions. And, as I said to the European Parliament yesterday, I think it should be possible to deliver tanks. I repeat the appeal I made at the European Parliament yesterday: we want to support you as we know that the time ahead of us, the coming weeks, could be decisive, and that is why these decisions have to be taken now.
Finally, and for the first time, the European Union is mobilising unprecedented capabilities in terms of military training: EU initiatives will be and are already enabling the preparation and training of 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers. As you know, we are providing military support, financial support as well as humanitarian support for Ukrainian refugees, mainly women and children who have entered the European Union and for whom we want to guarantee protection and refuge. Importantly, we are providing political support, too. This political support is two-fold. Evidently – and I’ll come back to this – there is the support offered to third countries, those that were not automatically convinced of the choice that had to made and there is the effort needed to convince the world of the need to isolate Russia, a country that is brutally and flagrantly violating the United Nations Charter, the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. Even so, such support is stronger still on account of your decision, your choice as a free and sovereign people, to apply for membership of the European Union. I believe that this application for membership is in the spirit of the Maidan uprising, Ukraine’s free and sovereign decision to turn to democracy, freedom and the European Union. So I am proud that a few months ago we succeeded in securing agreement on granting Ukraine EU candidate status and I am absolutely determined to continue working closely with you, Volodymyr, with all your teams and with EU partners to drive this process forward. We all need to do our share of the work in order to move this process forward as quickly as possible. We are looking to the next step, very soon in the spring, namely the report that the European Commission will produce, as it has stated, on the accession process.
We will also have the opportunity in a few days’ time, in the context of the EU-Ukraine summit, to review the areas that we have been working on in order to increase EU support, so that it is faster, more efficient, more effective and more adapted to Ukraine’s legitimate short- and medium-term needs.
Lastly, there is another way in which to support Ukraine, and it involves taking a firm stance on the principles of international law, and on the need for accountability and for ensuring that justice prevails. This is the purpose of the work being done in international fora and with you to ensure that evidence is collected and the legal apparatus is put in place so that, in due course, justice can be done. In the same spirit, decisions are being taken to freeze the assets of individuals in Russia. I stress this point as I hope and sincerely believe that these frozen assets can be used for the reconstruction of Ukraine. It is only right that those assets should be used to give the Ukrainian people a future and be used for the reconstruction of the country. Here too, the European Council is working to make it possible to use the EUR 300 billion of assets that have been frozen by the European Union alone.
I am grateful to you that we had the opportunity again today to discuss in detail and, in my view, in a spirit of mutual trust, your proposal for a peace plan, an initiative that you proposed during the Bali G20 summit, and regarding which you can count on the support of the European Union. We support this initiative: we already took the opportunity to show our support in the European Council conclusions a few weeks ago. We will continue to work with you and with the rest of the world because we realise that, besides the need to mobilise as you are doing in military terms, this process also must be launched so that we can move towards peace, and towards the stability and security that we all want.
I shall finish by saying that I am touched by your appreciation and your friendship. I stand in front of you and Deputy Prime Minister Olha (Stefanishyna), who was with me the first time I visited Ukraine after the invasion. I visited Ukraine three times last year and you will certainly remember our visit to Borodyanka. At Borodyanka, I saw destruction, horror and tragedy. I don’t find this easy to talk about – we met a young Ukrainian boy, a ten-year old boy, who calmly told us of his experience of the horrors of the Russian occupation. He told us how his grandmother bravely stood up to Russian soldiers. No child should ever have to experience this in Ukraine or anywhere in the world. This is what the European promise is: peace, security and prosperity. You can count on the European Union. Our determination is unwavering. We will not fail and we are determined to stand by you as long as is necessary, honouring our promise on this. These are the dreams we share.
Source – EU Council