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Josep Borrell: “It will not be unanimously, but countries can act on their own to cut off Russian oil and gas” | International

Every time the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell (Puebla de Segur, Lleida, 74 years old) calls him by an EU Foreign Minister and asks him where he is, he replies: “Buying gas”. The High Representative for Foreign Policy, one of the key people in the turmoil in Brussels since Russia put its boots on Ukraine, considers it essential that the Twenty-seven achieve energy independence from Moscow, but acknowledges that at the moment there is not the unanimity necessary to apply an embargo on oil and gas that feed the Kremlin’s coffers every day. As an alternative, he proposes looking at voluntary schemes to cut ties to fossil fuels. And he insists on supporting kyiv by sending weapons: “The war will have to be decided on the battlefield,” he said this Thursday in a telematic interview with media that are part of the LENA alliance, including EL PAÍS.

Ask. It’s been almost two months since the Kremlin started this war. How do you see the situation?

Response. Russia’s first attempt at blitzkrieg has failed. They have not been able to take kyiv. They have had to withdraw, change their tactics and concentrate all their efforts on Donbas. So far they have lost. For the Ukrainians the price to pay is very high: they have suffered heavy casualties, destruction of infrastructure, civilians fleeing and dying, but Russia has failed. Let’s see the next battle.

P. A phrase of his sparked controversy a few days ago: “Wars are won or lost on the battlefield.”

R. When the chancellor of Austria returned [de su reciente visita a Moscú] saying that Putin does not want to negotiate, and that he is preparing a major offensive in Donbas, he said that the war in this case will have to be won on the battlefield. It is the logical consequence. If someone says that he does not want to stop or negotiate and that he will continue to fight, then the war will have to be decided on the battlefield. I don’t see why people say, “My God, what he said!”

P. Would you go to a negotiating table with Russian President Vladimir Putin?

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R. I would go tomorrow. Now, the problem is that Putin is saying that he will continue the war. Even when? I do not know. Meanwhile, we have to commit ourselves to supporting the Ukrainians because they have been attacked, being aware that the more weapons we provide, the more we are committed.

P. There is more and more talk of more and more deliveries of weapons, tanks and planes. Are we at risk of being considered co-belligerents?

R. It is a delicate balance. We support one of the parties in a war without wanting to be part of it. We provide weapons, they suffer the consequences of war. As they say: they put the dead. We will continue to make this effort and increase it, without becoming belligerent. We just want the Ukrainians to be able to defend themselves.

P. Will they be supported to the point where Ukraine manages to recapture even Crimea, for example?

R. There are people who criticize us saying that sending weapons means that the war will be longer and will cause more deaths, and that it must be stopped. Yes, certainly: if Ukraine stops arming, the war will stop. Then what? Doesn’t matter how it stops? It is not only a question of when, it is also a question of how the war is stopped.

P. When will new sanctions including Russian oil and gas be approved?

R. I can’t give a date. Everyone can speculate; As far as I know, there is no proposal on the table, but there are options on the best way to do it: a tax? An import ban? the Iranian system? Many economists say that the rational thing would be to make gas and oil more expensive so that incentives are created to look for alternative sources. None of these proposals has achieved the necessary unanimity. It is a decision that belongs to the European Council [el órgano donde se sientan los líderes de los Veintisiete]. It is high level politics. And there hasn’t been an agreement yet.

P. What has to happen in Ukraine for the EU to completely sever these ties with Russia and not continue almost business as usual? An Auschwitz? Nuclear bomb?

R. Nerd. Nobody continues as if nothing. Let’s try to do a bit of pedagogy. The European Council has not given an orientation to approve a tax or an import ban [de gas y petróleo]. There are some Member States, you know which ones, that have clearly said that they will veto it. Whether this is the case, whether we like it or not, a unanimous decision cannot be made. I’m Sorry, but it’s like that.

P. Do you see any solution?

R. If there is someone who does not want to participate, others can. Unanimity is not needed to act voluntarily, following a plan. They can decide to act according to a collective decision, which is not officially an EU decision. It will not be unanimously, but they can act on their side. This is what is happening now and it is working. It will have no effect tomorrow, it is a reduction path. Germany has assured that it will get rid of Russian oil by the end of the year. And remember that Russia gets much more money from oil than from gas. It is already happening. The decrease in oil bought from Russia is very important. And we are replacing the gas with another from different sources. We don’t act like it’s nothing. We talk to everyone and push for everyone to act. When Germany says that by the end of the year there will be no more Russian oil, it is making a big effort.

P. And the gas?

R. Oil is much easier because it is not a raw material for industry. It’s just a power source. Gas is indeed a raw material; in the petrochemical industry it is irreplaceable. But it will happen. Russia will see how the money from the sale of oil and gas decreases. If we could have unanimity I would be more than happy, and I am pushing for it, proposing arguments, exploring possibilities, looking for alternatives. Every time I call a colleague at the Foreign Affairs Council and they ask me where I am, I say: ‘Buying gas’. I am somewhere in the world, in the Middle East, in the Congo, in Algeria, doing what? Buying gas.

P. How is the autonomy of the EU after the Ukraine crisis?

R. Autonomy is a very broad concept, not only military. It is the ability to act without being limited by others. And it is clear that in many aspects Europe lacks autonomy, and the most important today is energy. We are crucially dependent on supplies provided by someone with whom we have a very bad relationship today. So it is clear that Europe has to fight to have that energy autonomy, to begin with. This is the most important thing today. We can be criticized that it should have been done much earlier, when Putin took Crimea. Now we see the real danger. And the whole world is decreasing its energy consumption and dependence on Russia.

P. And in military terms?

R. Now everyone is going through their stockpiles to see what kind of material we have to provide to the Ukrainians. It’s a good check. What kind of military supplies to wage war do we have? What is its quality? It is a good lesson for building greater military capacity.

P. What effects will the war have on the rest of the world?

R. We are concerned by the narrative that sanctions against Russia are creating world hunger. Yesterday I was speaking with the Foreign Minister of Indonesia, whose country will host the G-20. And they warned me about how retaliation is perceived among emerging countries. They are going to suffer negative effects because energy and food prices will increase. Why? For the war. But Russia makes a great effort to spread – and China echoes – that this is a consequence of Western sanctions. We are going to witness a narrative battle like that of masks and vaccines.

P. What world will come out of this war?

R. It will be much more fragmented and this will create economic disruption. Wheat will also become a kind of weapon. Russia is already saying: “Our wheat for our friends; those who are not our friends will not have it.” There will be a new political landscape, with Russia and China on one side; West on the other. And a lot of emerging countries that will lean to one side or the other, depending on the circumstances. Remember during the Cold War, when we talked about non-aligned countries? We are witnessing the rebirth of a similar phenomenon.

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