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EU official discusses diplomatic de-escalation tactics in Russia-Ukraine tension


The French president is due in Moscow tomorrow and Kyiv Tuesday. Monday in Washington, President Biden meets with the German chancellor, who has announced his own trip to Moscow. The push to de-escalate tension at the Ukrainian border and avert a Russian invasion is in high gear. We're joined now by Peter Stano. He's the lead spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy for the European Union. Welcome.

PETER STANO: Good morning from Brussels.

SUMMERS: Good morning. Now, we've heard words like imminent coming from the Biden administration and elsewhere in the program today. We have a report from Kyiv on bunkers being refurbished in case of an attack. Last night, reports that U.S. intelligence has briefed American lawmakers, as well as European partners, that Russia is nearing the end of its preparations. Peter, is an attack about to happen?

STANO: We hope that - no, that this is the worst-case scenario, which will not be implemented, so to speak. I mean, in European Union, of course, we are prepared for everything. But since Ukraine and Russia - they both are our immediate neighbor, we are really interested, and it's our vital interest to find a solution to this current crisis through dialogue and through engagement. And this is what we are doing currently. There is a number of European officials travelling to Ukraine. There is number of European officials having contacts with Russian President Putin, trying to deliver the same message.

We stand united - the European Union and our trans-Atlantic partners - including United States, of course - in the facing of this challenge because this is one of the most serious challenges in the post-Cold War era. And it's an unprecedented challenge to the European security order. And we will not back down. We will stand firm in support of Ukraine and in defending the international principles which apply here.

SUMMERS: Right. You mentioned standing united, but the EU is a very large organization with 27 member nations, many of whom who have different interests at play in this conflict. How can the EU present a united front to Russia?

STANO: Well, we are 27 member states, and we are diverse, no doubt, in terms of interest, in terms of how we see the challenges. But here, we are united. We are strongly, firmly, decidedly united to face of this challenge because everyone in the European Union sees this as a very, very dangerous game Russia started to play. One needs to remind everyone that this was unprovoked. This is completely unjustified what Russia is doing - sending more than 100,000 soldiers to the Ukrainian border. There's absolutely no reason for it. Ukraine is not a threat for Russia. No one did anything in the past years or decades to threaten Russia. So this is totally unwarranted, unjustified.

And the European Union said very clearly, if Russia has concerns regarding its security, then we already have an established platform to deal with any security concerns in Europe. And that's the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the OSCE. So let's use these avenues. Let's not do these provocations and this intimidation because this has something to do with the values, with the principles, and we stick to them. And the European Union is based on respect for values and principles. And this is what unites us.

SUMMERS: All right. So earlier this week, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU had a package of robust and comprehensive sanctions that are prepared for Russia if it continues its aggression toward Ukraine. What would that look like?

STANO: Absolutely. We have said very clearly that if Ukraine would face further aggression and further violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity, our response this time would be much, much tougher than it was in 2014. 2022 is completely different in terms of our awareness and in terms of our preparedness. So we said there will be strong political consequences and massive economic cost on the aggressor.

Obviously, we don't have the habit in the European Union to disclose all the options which we have on the table because in the end, the sanctions are reactive. So they will come on the table in concrete forms only when we see what Russia did. Hopefully, they will not do anything, and we will not have to have this discussion. But in case they do and they undertake another aggression against Ukraine or against the European Union's interests, then we will react in a massive way through sanctions. And these sanctions are really wide ranging, and they are also coordinated with our partners - with United States, first of all, but also with NATO, with Canada. So we will hit Russia very hard in case they decide to violate international order and international rules again.

SUMMERS: Peter, in the time that we have left, I'm curious if you can shine any light on to what degree the United States is coordinating or involved with European Union efforts.

STANO: It's a very intense coordination. I would even dare to say that this is unprecedented level of coordination and cooperation we have with our partners in the United States right now, specifically on this crisis because this is a thing which basically united the whole Western community. I mean, this is in defense of countries and their free choices. This is in defense of international principles and security and stability in Europe.

SUMMERS: That's Peter Stano, EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Spokesperson. I appreciate you joining us today.

STANO: Have a good day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.