New German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met other European Union leaders on Thursday at his first summit in Brussels.
Russian antagonism on the Ukrainian border dominated the agenda after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday, as well as European Council President Charles Michel. Scholz met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday.
“We will stress again that the inviolability of borders is an important basis for peace in Europe, and that together we will do whatever this inviolability endures,” Scholz said ahead of the summit.
Scholz’s participation in the European Council meeting came the day after his inaugural speech in the Bundestag and with a number of crises facing the EU, including ongoing tensions with Russia and its ally Belarus, as well as the coronavirus pandemic and high energy prices.
State-sponsored murder in Berlin
Berlin’s strained relations with Moscow reached their peak on Wednesday after a court sentenced a Russian national to life imprisonment for the murder of a Chechen in a park in the German capital in 2019.
Prosecutors said the man was working on orders from Russian state security agency FSB.
New German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called point-blank shooting a “state contract murder” and spoke with Russian Ambassador to Germany Sergey Nechayev and Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs foreigners, Sergey Lavrov.
In response to the verdict, Berlin expelled two Russian diplomats. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Sakharova later said Berlin’s “unfriendly position” would elicit an “appropriate response”.
Speaking ahead of Thursday’s summit, Scholz said he was “absolutely right that the foreign minister responded with a clear answer.”
EU to discuss sanctions
The EU was already planning to discuss potential sanctions it might impose if Russia continued aggressive actions against Ukraine.
Zelenskyy on Wednesday called on EU leaders to introduce sanctions immediately rather than wait.
Russia occupied and annexed Crimea – a region of Ukraine that juts out into the Black Sea – in 2014, and has since reportedly supported pro-Russian separatist fighters in the eastern Donbass region.
Moscow intends to prevent Ukraine from getting too close to the EU and NATO, having repeatedly called for the possibility of membership to be taken off the table.
EU and NATO leaders rejected the request to rule out possible membership, but also said Kiev was still a long way from joining either organization.
ab / msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)