European leaders urged to halt Russian aggression in Ukraine

Forty-four European countries meet to show ‘message of unity’ in response to invasion of Ukraine and economic challenges

The leaders of 44 European countries were urged on Thursday to increase support for Kyiv and tighten sanctions against Russia to ensure that aggression from Moscow spreads no further than the borders of Ukraine.

The meeting at Prague Castle was the first summit of the European Political Community, which brought together a broad range of European countries in a bid to forge greater regional co-ordination.

“The whole European continent is here except two countries — Belarus and Russia — so it shows how isolated those countries are,” Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo told reporters as he arrived for the meeting.

The 44 leaders would discuss the “stability of the European continent, what do we do together to improve the security environment, how do we react if it would further escalate, how do we cope with the energy crisis and with inflation”, he said.

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The EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell said that it was necessary to “build a new security structure in Europe” without Russia. “Since Russia unleashed its brutal aggression against Ukraine, Europe has entered a new phase of our history,” he told reporters.

French president Emmanuel Macron, who first proposed the summit, said the objective was “to share the same reading of the situation”, whether the attending countries were EU members, former members, aspirant members, or non-members with no ambitions to join.

“We give a new message of unity in front of the aggressor, and solidarity towards Ukraine,” Spanish premier Pedro Sánchez told reporters.

The leaders were addressed by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who spoke to them over a video connection while Ukraine’s prime minister Denys Shmyhal attended in person.

Mr Zelenskiy described the summit as an “extremely powerful opportunity to restore peace in Europe”.

“Ukraine never wanted this war. Ukraine did nothing to provoke it ... we are forced to deal with a state that does not want peace. Which responds to all proposals for real peace with missile strikes, provocation of artificial crises and ridicule,” he said.

He warned that the aggression of the regime of Russian president Vladimir Putin would not stop at Ukraine, and accused Moscow of conducting “organised sabotage” and ordering killings throughout Europe, of “destabilising energy markets” and inflicting “nuclear blackmail”.

“Ukraine is only the first battlefield this state has entered. And it is in Ukraine that it is necessary to defeat it,” he told the leaders.

“So that Russian tanks do not advance on Warsaw or again on Prague. So that Russian artillery does not fire at the Baltic states. So that Russian missiles do not hit the territory of Finland or any other country,” he warned. “Such a threat exists.”

He urged the leaders to help Ukraine to win the war and to provide a guarantee of its security, to establish a tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the invasion, and to increase sanctions against Moscow.

In advance of the summit, the European Union announced it had adopted its latest round of sanctions against Russia.

The measures included an expansion of a steel import ban, and restrictions on the import of Russian products including paper, plastics, cosmetics and wood pulp.

The union also sanctioned individuals who organised staged referendums that provided a pretext to Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian regions, and banned EU nationals from holding posts on governing bodies of Russian state-owned or controlled bodies.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O'Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times