Amid tensions with Russia and after a massive cyberattack, EU foreign ministers pledged additional support to Ukraine on Friday (14 January). France and Germany, meanwhile, aim to restart efforts to mediate between Kyiv and Moscow.

The EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell announced an urgent meeting of the EU’s Political and Security Committee and said the EU’s rapid response cybersecurity units were being activated to provide assistance to Kyiv.

“We are mobilising all our resources to help Ukraine deal with this type of cyberattack,” Borrell said.

Asked where he thinks the attack came from, Borrell refused to speculate without certain evidence. “One can very well imagine with a certain probability or with a margin of error, where it can come from,“ he said, however.

Acknowledging that it was “of considerable size”, he added: “I am very much afraid that it won’t be the last one.”

EU foreign ministers also warned Russia of a “robust” response to any military action against Ukraine, after a massive cyberattack against the country heightened fears Moscow could be preparing to send in troops.

They also agreed on a ten-point plan on how to deal with Russia – a mixture of deterrence and dialogue, for example on arms control.

Franco-German initiative

Ministers stated their determination that talks should be continued on as many channels as possible, whilst at the same time acknowledging that preparations are to be made in case they fail.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters in Brest that he and his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock plan to make a joint visit to Ukraine.

“Ms Baerbock will travel to Ukraine first on her inaugural visit and then prepare a joint Franco-German visit to the demarcation line,” Le Drian said. According to French diplomatic sources, this visit could potentially happen by February.

“France and Germany will continue their efforts to achieve a return to the implementation of the Minsk Agreements,” Le Drian added.

However, according to daily reports by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), ceasefire violations are happening on a regular basis.

The Franco-German diplomatic initiative comes as this week’s flurry of talks between Western and Russian officials has made no apparent breakthrough on defusing tensions between Moscow and Kyiv.

Talks in the Normandy format, which brings together Ukrainian, Russian, German, and French officials to help end the conflict between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, have stalled since November.

Senior French and German diplomats travelled to Moscow earlier this month to see how the format could be revived.

Baerbock said earlier on Friday there was still room for diplomacy with Russia.

“Especially in moments of crisis, diplomacy requires much stamina, patience and strong nerves,” Baerbock said.

As part of those efforts “to use every possible channel of communication“ and after her visit to Kyiv, Baerbock is set to travel to Moscow, where she will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday.

It is, however, unclear which format of talks would be the most suitable to achieve progress.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Tuesday (11 January) Kyiv was ready for a new summit between Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany.

“It is time to agree on an end to the conflict, and we are ready for the necessary decisions during a new summit of the leaders of the four countries,” Zelenskiy said in a statement.

However, Ukraine on Friday also proposed three-way talks with US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, yet again raising the questions among some EU diplomats whether this would be the preferred discussion format over a European-led one.

“We are still waiting for the reaction on this, I think, from the Russian side. But our American partners take our proposal with some interest,” the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Andriy Yermak, told an event in Washington.

EU back in the game?

Borrell said it was “obvious that Russia has tried to divide us by going over the EU’s head as if we did not exist. By ignoring us, it has tried to divide us“, responding to the criticism of the past week that ‘Europe was not at the table’ of the West-Russia talks.

“But the US did not play along – on the contrary, from the very first moment, they assured us that nothing would be discussed or decided without coordination and participation of the Europeans,” he added.

Asked whether he saw a rapprochement of the EU27’s positions on security issues after this week’s meeting, Borrell said this was “certainly the case”.

“When we discuss on a theoretical level, we allow ourselves more differences than when we face a common problem,” he added.

His remarks come as the EU moves towards agreeing on the bloc’s first-ever military strategy document, the so-called Strategic Compass.

Drawn up by the EU’s diplomatic service (EEAS) and national security agencies, the first part of the EU’s new military blueprint is meant to cover security risks and trends across the bloc and worldwide.

“I had the funny feeling that we were already operating the Strategic Compass during this informal meeting before it was even implemented, as we have been engaged since yesterday afternoon in discussions on central issues concerning our security,” Le Drian told reporters in Brest.

The EU is set to enshrine stronger support, including in security and defence, for its Eastern partners, according to the latest version of the upcoming military strategy document, seen by EURACTIV.

Asked by EURACTIV in Brest how such support might look, beyond financial aid, Borrell did not want to go into details before the final document will be adopted.

“We are not a military alliance, but financially and diplomatically, we are supporting Ukraine and Ukraine is very much aware of that,” Borrell said, pointing to financing by the European Peace Facility (EPF), an instrument which in December earmarked €31million in security aid to the country.

“I have to say that the current ambience has been helping us to continue pushing for the Strategic Compass and is proving us right,” Borrell said.

“Some more hesitant member states have recognised and taken this chance, just because they feel the context shows clearly that we need it,” he told EURACTIV.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald/Zoran Radosavljevic]