March 30. 2023. 2:51

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Russia threat to eclipse EU-Africa summit

EU leaders are gathering for a summit with African counterparts on Thursday (17 February), which is likely to be overshadowed by discussions on the ongoing tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

An ad-hoc meeting will be held just before the start of a long-planned EU-Africa summit around midday and likely run for an hour, European Council President Charles Michel’s spokesperson said.

It is difficult to imagine 27 heads of state and government discussing Russia and the risk of war in just one hour.

EU officials said the talks will be informal and have not been called as a reaction to any particular developments, but to exchange views. There will be no formal communiqué.

“The leaders are meeting in Brussels for the Africa summit, and they wanted to meet and discuss the crisis on the Ukrainian border, get updated, exchange information and views,” one of the EU officials said.

Over the past weeks, the idea for an extraordinary EU summit to discuss the risk of war was repeatedly floated.

Europeans, together with the US, the UK and other allies, plan to punish a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine with a far-reaching package of ‘swift’ sanctions, which could include export controls on components for the tech and weapons sectors, and sanctions against specific Russian banks and oligarchs.

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US and European officials are finalizing an extensive package of sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine that targets major Russian banks, but does not include banning Russia from the SWIFT financial system, according to US and European officials.

In return, Russia is expected to retaliate with counter-sanctions, which could hit some EU countries more than others.

The European Commission, which is drawing up the sanctions options and keeping them close to its chest, has been consulting with EU member states to mitigate their concerns.

However, some in the bloc, such as Italy, have in recent days expressed concerns about the impact further Russian sanctions will have on their domestic economies.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed a virtual meeting with top Italian executives on Wednesday (26 January), despite Rome’s opposition due to escalating tensions over Ukraine.

Any sanctions package would need to be agreed unanimously by all EU27, most likely after an emergency summit of leaders, which according to EU officials “could be called any time if needed”.

Western officials over the past days have warned that Russian military exercises were at their peak stage and the risk of Russian aggression against Ukraine would remain high for the rest of February.

Meanwhile, a NATO defence ministers meeting in Brussels, coinciding with the summit, will has discussed increasing the alliance’s military posture in Southeastern Europe and will meet with counterparts from partner countries Ukraine and Georgia on Thursday.

NATO accused Russia on Wednesday (16 February) of sending more troops to a massive military build-up around Ukraine, even as Moscow said that it was withdrawing forces and was open to diplomacy.

After the informal EU27 talks, it is expected that Russia will also feature in EU leaders’ discussions with African counterparts too as France is expected to pull troops out of Mali, where mercenaries from the Russian Wagner Group have been operating and undermining Western military missions.

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