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EU 'did not believe' US warnings of Russian war

October 11, 2022

Days before Moscow launched a full-scale attack on Ukraine, Washington warned Brussels the invasion was "going to happen." The EU's foreign policy chief said the bloc's officials were "quite reluctant to believe it."

European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a press conference during an EU-Ukraine Association Council meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels on September 5
Borrell castigated the EU's delegations for their hesitation in reportingImage: JOHN THYS/AFP

The European Union's foreign policy ​​​​​​chief has admitted to flaws in the bloc's security policies, highlighting Brussels "did not believe" the United States' warnings that Russia would attack Ukraine in the days leading up to the war.

In a speech to EU ambassadors on Monday, Josep Borrell said the bloc was not anticipating conflict, even though US Secretary of State Antony Blinken "phoned me and told me 'it is going to happen.'"

"And two days later, at five o'clock in the morning, they [Russia] started bombing Kyiv."​

Borrell: We should take more responsibility for security issues

The EU needs to be less dependent on others in terms of security, the bloc's chief diplomat told envoys during a speech in Brussels.

"We need to shoulder more responsibilities ourselves," Borrell said, according to a transcript of his speech. "We have to take a bigger part of our responsibility in security."

In the past, Washington took care of Europe's security, Borrell posited, but he emphasized that may not always be the case. 

Though he highlighted that relations under the Biden administration are "fantastic," he said the EU could not rely on ties staying that way. The foreign policy chief even began to wonder how the situation might be "different" in Ukraine if former US President Donald Trump "or someone like him" were in the White House.

In March, just a few weeks after Russia began its offensive, EU defense and foreign ministers adopted a new security strategy, known as "Strategic Compass," with the idea of creating a force of as many as 5,000 troops, which it is hoped will be operational by 2025.

While there is no EU army and defense remains a matter for the bloc's 27 member states, Brussels has in recent years taken steps to boost its security cooperation.

Ukraine just the tip of the iceberg

Borrell was keen to talk about issues elsewhere, not just in Ukraine. In his address to the EU Ambassadors Conference, he highlighted "security problems" in Africa's restive Sahel region.

Escalating protests against the West have been followed by a spike in jihadist activities and political upheavals that forced France to withdraw its troops from Mali in mid-March, putting an end to its Barkhane and Takuba anti-terrorist operations.

But the bloc's security chief also spoke of problems closer to home as he said "authoritarianism is, unhappily, developing a lot. Not just China, not just Russia. There is an authoritarian trend. Sometimes, they are still wearing the democracy suit, but they are no longer democracies. There are some who are not democracies at all — they do not even take the pity to look like democracies."

Can Russians who flee partial mobilization come to Germany?

Last month, lawmakers in the European Parliament voted to condemn Hungary's slide into authoritarianism, brandishing the member state under right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban as an "electoral autocracy."

Hungary has been a constant opponent of EU sanctions on Russia in recent months. 

Last year, Budapest signed a deal with Moscow agreeing to receive Russian gas via pipelines that would bypass Ukraine, such as TurkStream, a gas pipeline connecting Russia to Turkey via the Black Sea.

EU delegations frustrate Borrell

EU delegations did not escape Borrell's attention as he seeks to improve the communication lines between global diplomatic missions and Brussels.

"I want to be informed by you [the delegations], not by the press. Sometimes, I knew more of what was happening somewhere by reading the newspapers than reading your reports. Your reports come sometimes too late."

"You have to be on 24-hours reaction capacity. Immediately [when] something happens, you inform. I do not want to continue reading in the newspapers about things that happened somewhere with our delegation having said nothing."

Drawing a comparison with faster-paced work in national foreign ministries, Borrell told the envoys gathered he "should be the best-informed guy in the world, having all of you around the world."

Experts have long pointed out the problem inherited from the EU's diplomatic service structure.

The European External Action Service (EEAS), created more than a decade ago as the EU's foreign policy arm and now headed by Borrell, is the first diplomatic corps of its kind not created by a nation-state.

Edited by: Rebecca Staudenmaier

John Silk Editor and writer for English news, as well as the Culture and Asia Desks.@JSilk