EU foreign policy head Josep Borrell on a possible Russian coal ban and war in Ukraine

n Brussels, European Union leaders met to consider a ban on Russian coal, while U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken gathered with NATO alliance leaders to discuss the war in Ukraine. Josep Borrell, the EU's high representative for foreign policy, a position he's held since 2019, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now, for an official view from the European Union, Josep Borrell is the high representative for foreign policy of the bloc. It's a position he's held since 2019. He was also in Brussels, when I spoke with him earlier today.

    Mr. Borrell, thank you very much for talking with us.

    After seeing evidence of what the Russian military has done to Ukrainian civilians, is the E.U. this week going to agree to ban buying Russian coal?

    Josep Borrell, European Union Minister for Foreign Affairs: Russian coal, yes.

    The ministers will approve on Monday. And now the technical groups are working on that. But, certainly, it's going to be the first step. Well, in fact, in fact, it is part of our fifth package of sanctions. We have already taken a lot of them from the financial side, economic sectors.

    These are the first sanctions on the energy side.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And how much difference is this going to make in terms of decision-making by Mr. Putin and the people around him who are prosecuting this war?

  • Josep Borrell:

    Well, I am very much aware that an important issue for Putin is not coal, is mainly gas and oil.

    But we have frozen the reserves of the Central Bank of Russia in the bank of the G7 countries. And that's why they have to start paying back their debts denominated in dollars or in euros. They are obliged to pay back on their currency in rubles.

    And I am sure the investors will not be very happy with that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I do want to ask you about that. But on this question of how much the Russian leadership is going to change its thinking as a result of what the E.U. is doing, you yourself are pointing out this week that the E.U. — in a way, European countries have been subsidizing the Russians by paying for energy, I think you said 35 billion euros since the war — just since the war began.

    And that's contrasted with the sanctions that you're trying to impose, which are much less.

  • Josep Borrell:

    Well, we are not subsidizing. We are paying. We are paying for the gas and oil they're selling us.

    In essence, it's not a subsidy. It's the price that we pay. And we are thinking how to get rid of that. But, certainly, we cannot cut gas imports overnight. Just imagine the case of some member states which rely on Russian gas for more than 50 percent of their consumption.

    They will reduce. They will reduce quickly, but you cannot close it overnight. It will be impossible.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I understand it can't be overnight, but how quickly can it happen? This war has been going on now for all these weeks. It looks — you had a forecast just this week that it could go on for years.

    How does Europe sustain continuing to do business with Russia? How quickly can Europe send the signal that it's just not going to tolerate this?

  • Josep Borrell:

    Well, business is a large word.

    And from the economic and financial point of view, we are doing everything we can. On the energy sector, we hope that, in a year, the consumption will be almost vanishing. But it will depend a lot on how quickly you, the U.S., will bring us gas to substitute the Russian gas.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, in a year, that's enough time for the Russians to inflict just unimaginable not just death, destruction, even more than what we have already seen on Ukraine.

  • Josep Borrell:

    You know, the capacity of the Russian army, it doesn't depend on the gas they are selling. They're selling. They have enough resources, enough capacity to continue destroying for a while.

    The important thing is to arm the Ukrainians. And we are providing — all the member states are providing a lot of arms. And I think that, thanks to these arms — also the U.S., but the 27 member states — thanks to these arms, the Ukrainians are resisting.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, as you know, Mr. Zelenskyy, President Zelenskyy, is saying he's not getting enough in the way of weapons. He's asking for more anti-aircraft, anti-tank.

    You're going to be in Kyiv in coming days to talk to him. What do you say when he makes — continues to make this argument?

  • Josep Borrell:

    Well, if I were in his place, I would say the same thing. Nothing is enough. When you are fighting in a war, and you see what's happening to your country, you request for more.

    But we are doing everything we can in order to help Ukrainians without being part of the war. And you — and you also have limitations. There are some materials that it's very difficult to provide, planes, for example.

    But, without our support, without our support, the resistance of the Ukrainian army would have already reached an end. And, certainly, President Zelenskyy wants more. And we will provide more, as far as we don't get involved in a war.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Meanwhile, it's, as we say, inflicting unimaginable, terrible things on the Ukrainian people.

    You mentioned currency a moment ago, Mr. Borrell. I want to ask you about that, because Hungary is now saying Viktor Orban, its leader who's just been reelected, is saying they will pay Russia for energy in rubles, as Vladimir Putin has demanded. In other words, they're going to break away from the E.U.

    Should Hungary continue to be in the E.U.?

  • Josep Borrell:

    Well, the members of the European Union, it's not the same thing that the states of the United States.

    They have a much bigger degree of autonomy, and they can take decisions on their own on issues where there is not a concrete and binding decision taken by the union. I regret the Hungary will do that. But they have the possibility of doing.

    In any case, Hungary is a small country inside European Union. The quantitative importance of this decision is very small.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last question.

    When you see President Zelenskyy this week, if he were to ask you, is the European Union doing everything it can to help Ukraine, what would your answer be?

  • Josep Borrell:

    At our level, at the level of the union, we are doing everything we can, but we are ready to do more.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Josep Borrell, high representative of the European Union, thank you very much.

  • Josep Borrell:

    Thank you.

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