Commentary on Political Economy

Sunday 27 February 2022


EU officials have noted that the leadership of Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and particularly his intervention by video at the European council on the Thursday night, has been a key driver in a change in approach towards the crisis by the 27 member states and their leaders.

In his appeal for aid during the leaders’ late night summit in Brussels, Zelenskiy had told the EU’s heads of state and government that with Kyiv encircled it may be the last time they would see him.

An EU official said: “I think the intervention by president Zelenskiy will be part of history. It was very emotional, the leaders were deeply impacted, the silence in the room was impressive. A heavy atmosphere.”

They said: “it made the difference to create this dynamic that we see today with leaders approving the transfer of delivery of weapons, Swift being on the list, and my guess is that it will continue”. 

“Rational positions”, where leaders looked at their own interests, are also being moved by public opinion, an EU official said.

The consequences are that:

  • Zelenskiy asked Charles Michel, president of the European council, for military equipment on Saturday and 18 member states have made donations, according to an EU official.
  • Under the EU’s ‘European peace facility’ fund, the EU itself will now also fund the donation of “defensive weapons of a lethal nature” to Ukraine, under a proposal that will be put to member states. Those with an historically neutral status will be able to “constructively abstain” so that their financial contribution is spent on other projects.
  • Later today, a proposal on closing down the airspace above the EU for Russian air carriers and prohibiting landing in airports will be put to member states. Around three-quarters of member states have unilaterally done so, an EU official said. This had been resisted until now due to concerns that Russia would respond by closing down its air space to EU carriers.
  • The list of Russian banks that will be cut off from the Swift payments system is being coordinated by the European commission following a significant change of tack from the German government, an EU official said. The commission is seeking to have the move adopted by emergency procedure today.
  • There is no movement by the EU on so-called ‘correspondent banking’, where EU financial institutions act as an agent on behalf of Russian financial institutions. The US and the UK have prohibited all Russian banks from such arrangements. It would be a major step for the EU in killing its annual €80bn of trade with Russia. But the EU is acting to prevent the Russian central bank from converting its euro reserves into Russian roubles.
  • EU interior ministers will have a stock take on the capacity in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary to take in refugees from Ukraine. The EU official said the capacity is “quite huge”.

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