Europe's week: Ukraine crisis deepens & Brussels takes Beijing to WTOComments
It was another week of hectic diplomacy to avoid an all-out military conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Moscow once again denied having any plans to invade Ukraine, with Russia’s ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov telling Euronews fears of an invasion of Ukraine are a "bluff" and a "hysterical message" being spread by Western countries.
"Russia has no plans to invade either Ukraine or any other country. It's a bluff created not in Russia but in those countries that are now spreading this hysterical message across Europe and the world," Chizhov said.
"We believe in diplomacy, and I can only hope that our interlocutors here in Europe and beyond the Atlantic, stick to the same principle that any difference can and should be resolved by diplomatic means."
Ukraine received a shipment of US military equipment to shore up their defences, weapons, ammunition and other equipment.
European countries also made an effort, including the Czech Republic.
“The Government unanimously approved the proposal of the Minister of Defence to donate 4006 pieces of 152 mm artillery ammunition to the Government of Ukraine, in response to Ukraine`s request for support for its defence,” Jan Lipavský, the Czech Foreign Minister said.
On the shipments of arms to Ukraine, though, not everybody is on board in the European Union.
Germany, for instance, already soft on anti-Russian sanctions, refuses to go along, citing a long-standing political rule in that country, as explained by the German defence minister Christine Lambrecht.
"The German government has clearly agreed that we will not send any lethal weapons, no arms deliveries to crisis areas, because we do not want to fuel these conflicts even further. And I believe that this is also the right way in this case,” Lambrecht said.
The temperature was also cranked up a notch on Wednesday when Washington and NATO both rejected Moscow's demands for security guarantees in Europe.
Oleksandr Sushko, executive director of the International Renaissance Foundation in Kyiv, told Euronews that Putin’s demands on ending further expansion of the military alliance are a diversion.
“Stopping NATO enlargement is a kind of a smokescreen for Moscow. In fact, they are fighting against the overall impact of the democratic West in Eastern Europe. Moscow just wants to build its own sphere of interest where the only domestic and international policy of the neighbouring states will be closely determined by Russia,” Sushko said.
“So, NATO is just a small piece, a small item on the table, maybe the most symbolic one, but not the only one. And Russia is just seeking a way to undermine the entire credibility of the alliance and the entire West."
Brussels-Beijing trade dispute deepens
The EU launched a case at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Thursday over China's alleged targeting of goods from Lithuania over Vilnius’ relationship with Taiwan.
Brussels says Bejing is engaging in “discriminatory practices” against Lithuania by refusing to import goods from the EU member state.
China's foreign ministry denied in December that it was blocking imports from Lithuania.
"Launching a WTO case is not a step we take lightly. However, after repeated failed attempts to resolve the issue bilaterally, we see no other way forward than to request WTO dispute settlement consultations with China," said Valdis Dombrovskis, European Commissioner for Trade.
"The EU is determined to act as one and act fast against measures in breach of WTO rules, which threaten the integrity of our single market.
"We are in parallel pursuing our diplomatic efforts to deescalate the situation.”
Last November, Taiwan opened a de facto embassy in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius under its own name, which triggered an angry response from Beijing, which described it as an “extremely egregious act”.
The move prompted China to downgrade its relations with the Baltic country as Beijing considers Taiwan part of its territory.
According to sources, the EU has built up "substantiated evidence", which it says gives Brussels confidence it can win the case at the WTO.
Essentially it needs to prove that the alleged fingering of Lithuanian goods by Chinese companies and customs administration is attributable to government policy imposed by Beijing.
Brussels has backed Vilnius throughout the dispute, and the action at the WTO is taken with the unanimous consent of all EU countries.