The Ukraine crisis dominates the EU summit in Versailles

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Versailles (France) (AFP) – EU leaders on Thursday will scramble to find ways to urgently address the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has threatened the bloc’s economy and highlighted the urgent need for stronger defenses.

The meeting at the Palace of Versailles was supposed to be the culmination of France’s six-month EU presidency, but President Emmanuel Macron will instead chair a crisis summit to respond to Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s brutal disruption of decades of stability in Europe.

“Russia’s war of aggression represents a tectonic turning point in European history,” says a draft of the closing statement of the two-day meeting.

Leaders will understand “how the EU can assume its responsibilities in this new reality and protect our citizens, values, democracies and our European model”.

The 27 leaders are meeting during a 15-day struggle in Ukraine, with more than two million refugees fleeing mainly to Poland but also to countries across Europe.

The heartbreaking conflict has sparked a wave of support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the EU, and leaders were expected to seriously consider the leader’s plea to join the EU quickly and escape the clutches of Russia To consider.

“Our first priority is to send a political message to Ukraine that it belongs to the European family,” said a French Presidency official.

“Biggest problem”

But diplomats said the main theme at Versailles was urgently finding ways to strengthen Europe’s self-reliance in a far more dangerous world, particularly in the energy sector.

“I think energy is the biggest issue on leaders’ minds right now,” said a source with intimate knowledge of the summit preparations.

The energy price shock caused by the invasion of Ukraine has threatened an EU economy recovering from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic and fueled heated discussions about how to protect consumers.

Western allies have unleashed waves of anti-Russia sanctions, the fallout of which has exposed Europe’s dangerous dependence on Moscow for gas and oil, a reality the meeting will seek ways to address.

Europe’s dependence on Russian energy even caused the first rift in the West’s unified response to Putin’s aggression, with the EU balking at a US-UK ban on Russian oil imports this week.

The EU imports about 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia, with Germany, Europe’s largest economy, which is particularly reliant on energy flows, along with Italy and several central European countries.

Around a quarter of the EU’s oil imports also come from Russia.

According to the meeting’s final statement, the 27 leaders will tentatively agree to “phase out” the bloc’s reliance on Russian gas, oil and coal.

‘Invest Resolutely’

EU leaders will also try to find ways for Europe to build its sovereignty in highly sensitive sectors, including semiconductors, food production and, most importantly, defence.

Collective security in the European Union is primarily handled by the US-led NATO alliance, but France, the EU’s largest military power, wants the bloc to play a bigger role.

Since Russia’s belligerence against its pro-EU neighbor, bloc members have approved a total of half a billion euros in defense aid to Ukraine.

With the announcement that it will invest 100 billion euros in national defense, Berlin has dramatically broken with traditional doctrine.

Faced with the challenges, “we must resolutely invest more and better in defense capabilities and innovative technologies,” leaders should say.

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