‘Has Russia been invaded’: Top EU official rebuts Sergey Lavrov on Ukraine war

Mar 04, 2023 02:11 AM IST

HT Interview: European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said it’s not a problem for us and good for India if they can buy Russian oil at a better price.

NEW DELHI: The European Union’s (EU) foreign and security policy chief Josep Borrell on Friday dismissed Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov’s assertion that countries are suffering because of the West’s reaction to the Ukraine crisis, saying it’s “incredible that someone could lie...in this manner”. Borrell, who was in New Delhi to attend the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting and participate in the Raisina Dialogue, also spoke in an interview about the reasons behind the EU’s efforts to forge stronger trade and technology relations with India. Edited excerpts:

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell (REUTERS)
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell (REUTERS)

You were part of an intense meeting of G20 foreign ministers that ended without consensus on a joint communique. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has blamed the West for the war in Ukraine and said other countries are suffering because of the West’s reaction.

Everybody knows it was the European fleet which is blocking the grain from Ukraine, everybody knows that our warships were blocking the grain from Ukraine, no? Who was blocking the grain from Ukraine? The Russian Navy. Who invaded Ukraine? Has Russia been invaded by someone? No. I think this is a complete denial of reality. Lavrov lives in a different world.

Who attacked whom? Who blocked food from Ukraine reaching the African people? Who has created trouble in the world economy?... the story that Russia was defending [against] the West’s attacks and the consequences are being produced by European sanctions – that’s incredible that someone could lie on this in this manner.

In light of the lack of consensus at the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting which was focused on Ukraine, do you worry it could detract from other challenges facing the G20?

This war didn’t come from a natural catastrophe, it has been caused by someone deciding to launch the war. So, let’s call it the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We know that apart from that, there are many other problems and catastrophes in the world, economic problems, inflation, prices rising for energy and food. The fact that we are engaging on supporting Ukraine doesn’t mean we are abandoning or not taking care [of other issues]. We continue doing the same thing that we have done before the war. But it looks like people take it for granted.

What we have done for Ukraine is on the top of not a single euro being diverted from someone else to go to Ukraine. It has been additional spending. We continue being committed to our engagement with everybody around the world and in particular, with our partners and the most vulnerable countries. We are the biggest banner in cooperation around the world. We are the biggest humanitarian aid supporter. We have the biggest funding for climate change.

Foreign minister Lavrov also said one of the reasons Russia didn’t sign up for a joint statement was that many things have changed since the G20 Summit in 2022 and the Bali consensus does not reflect today’s situation.

Well, things have become much worse. The difference is that the war has been raging and now Russia is destroying Ukraine. The Russian Army has been performing very badly and has been pushed back. Now, since they cannot conquer the territory, they are just destroying it and bombing every day. Maybe Lavrov mentioned that as one of the biggest differences between Bali and now.

India has ambitious proposals within the G20 process for helping the rest of the world, especially the Global South. How do you see the EU working with India to achieve these goals?

India is becoming a key geopolitical player. It’s quite evident because of its economic growth, its size as the most populous country, the 5th largest GDP. It is one of the geopolitical actors with which we would like to be a stronger partner. The fact that we are spending a lot of political, financial and military energies on supporting Ukraine doesn’t mean that we forget what’s happening around the world. We know which are the concerns of India with respect to climate change, digitalisation, growth and poverty. We were good partners of India before the war and we will be still better partners after the war.

India has a very strong strategic partnership and defence and energy links with Russia. Does the EU wish to help India diversify its sources of defence hardware and energy? Can the new India-EU Trade and Technology Council (TTC) help in such efforts?

We want to increase our links with India in technology and trade. But since you mention it, we are not worried at all by the fact that India is buying Russian oil. If they can buy it at a discounted price, better for you. Our purpose is to decrease and diminish Russia’s financial capacity, the income they get from selling oil. But we know the oil market has to be balanced and if everybody in the world was not buying Russian oil, we will be in trouble because the market will be very unbalanced. So, it’s not a problem for us and good for India if they can buy Russian oil at a better price.

But would you work to increase trade and technology links, maybe in terms of defence and new critical technologies through the TTC?

This is our will and the purpose of the TTC. We want to be a better partner for India and it’s in our interest. It’s not a matter of solidarity, it’s a matter of self-interest. We want to engage with an emerging power like India, understanding very well the world in which we are going to live is already a multipolar world, that India will be one of the poles of this multipolarity. We Europeans want to be a pole and if we want the world to be not only multipolar but multilateral, it means having the poles in good touch with each other to together build peace and prosperity.

The European pole has to have better relations, economically, technologically, politically, with the Indian pole because India is building geopolitical capacity. Now that there is this duality between the West and Russia created by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, we have to make everybody aware this war is not the war between Russia and the West, it’s not Russia defending against an attack that never happened. It is about the UN Charter, the rules that govern our peaceful coexistence. This is the core of the problem, and we call on everybody to make it clear to Russia that they are not supporting this act of aggression.

On the India-EU negotiations for agreements on free trade, investments and geographical indications, what has happened so far and do you have a timeline for concluding the talks?

I don’t think anyone has [a timeline]. I’ve been talking with my friend, the foreign minister of India. I know both parties are interested in this. On the new geopolitical landscape and this new multipolarity, these trade relationships will have to be developed while looking for complementarities and trying to avoid excessive dependencies. Because the global market has shown trade is good, when it improves the economic performance, it’s a win-win situation.

But we have to avoid dependency like the one that we had with Russia. One of the most remarkable things of this war is that we have been cancelling our strong energy dependency. Forty per cent of our gas was coming from Russia before the war and now it’s almost zero. I can say the same thing about coal and oil. We have to take care of complementarity in energy and digitalisation, which will be the privileged fields of cooperation that allow both of us to take advantage of our relationship without falling into dependencies that we have learned can be damaging.

An area of focus for both India and Europe is the Indo-Pacific. India also looks at the Indo-Pacific in terms of the challenges from China. How can India and the EU cooperate in this area and can the EU do anything to help India address these challenges?

The Indo-Pacific is going to be the theatre where history will be written in this century. It is no longer the Atlantic or middle Europe. The fault lines of humanity will be in the Pacific, which will be where the confrontation between China and the US will take place. We have presented an Indo-Pacific strategy which [shows how] we will engage with countries of the region. We don’t want to look at the Indo-Pacific just from the [angle] of confrontation between the US and China. I think there is also room for a lot of complementarity. The Indo-Pacific is not just China. [There is] Southeast Asia, vibrant economies, look at the capacity that some of the countries have been developing, like Vietnam for example. In this Indo-Pacific strategy, our relationship with India has an important role. Once again, we take note of the fact that India is the world’s most populous country and the 5th largest economy. By the end of this decade, it will be maybe the third-largest economy. So how can the Europeans not have India on their radar screen? Yes, we have it and we know our future will depend a lot on the Indo-Pacific region becoming a peaceful region, rid of the tensions that we have been living with on the European front, trying to calm and control and avoid the confrontation between the US and China. And the fact that China will be also a big geopolitical power. That this happens in a peaceful way, incorporating the new power that China and India will represent in the world. The whole order has to accept the fact that the world is no longer the world of 1945 when India was still a colony and China didn’t exist economically. You can see the incredible change the world has gone through in these 75 years. I think it’s the biggest transformation in the history of mankind, and the big shift of technological and economic capacity from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Is there scope for India and the EU to work together to ensure climate justice and climate transition, especially getting developed countries to help the Global South with funds and technology?

The energy transition needed to fight against climate change has to be a just transition. Otherwise, it will not happen. If we are not able to provide to the poor people of the world clean and affordable energy, they will use another one. We cannot ask two-thirds of humanity to stop their development because there is a climate problem. We have to offer a solution that combines both their development, which will require much more energy, with the fact that this energy has to be a different one. This will represent in terms of economics, a creative destruction. Some assets will lose value, some capital will be destroyed by technology changes. It means that something will be lost and if you lose something, it demands resources. We have to understand the fact that two-thirds of humankind needs to consume more energy. The solution will not come by the whole world consuming less energy. We, the developed world, can afford to consume less because we consume a lot in a very inefficient manner. But two-thirds of humanity needs to consume more because their level of development is so low that they cannot be further reduced. In Africa, there are 600 million people that have never seen an electric bulb. How can I tell them to consume less? I cannot consume less when I am consuming nothing. The key question is how do we provide energy which is both clean and affordable? The future of the climate fight will be decided by two-thirds of humanity that is still hungry for energy.

Do you worry that at the end of the day, the Ukraine war is going to suck out all the oxygen from all efforts to address the other challenges you referred to?

Well, Ukraine is not all the problems of the world. Unhappily, there are hundreds of millions of people not living in Ukraine and they have a lot of problems. But Ukraine represents a turning point in modern history. You know the day that my phone rang at 5am and a voice told me they’re bombing Kyiv, I understood history has turned a page and we were going to a different world, a world with strong competition, with war again a reality – for us Europeans, war was something that was forgotten, thank God. And that international relations will be much tougher. And power politics was coming in a way that could represent a big threat for humanity.

So no, not all the problems of humanity are represented by Ukraine. But Ukraine is a turning point of our history. The world will be a completely different one, depending on how the war will finish. But we will support Ukraine as much as Ukraine needs because the world should not accept and the world cannot afford the law of the stronger, the law of the gun. Because if this happens in Ukraine, tomorrow it will happen somewhere else. This is the most important argument that I have for all my interlocutors - if the aggressor wins, the world will become a very dangerous place.

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