Strasbourg, France (dpa) – The European Union will defend its eastern borders if necessary, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned Russia Wednesday.
Relations between the EU and Moscow are at their worst level since the end of the Cold War because of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russia has been criticized for annexing Crimea and accused of supporting pro-Moscow separatists.
EU members Poland and the Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – have said they feel threatened by Russia’s stance on Ukraine.
“The security and borders of EU member states are untouchable, and I want this to be understood very clearly in Moscow,” Juncker said in his state of the union address to the European Parliament, adding, “Solidarity is not an empty word.”
“The Baltics and Poland are very important members of the EU, and they should not think that we would not be there if … their security and their borders would be in danger,” Juncker said. “We have an obligation to protect, if needed, the security of everyone.”
He did not spell out what steps the EU could take.
The EU is not a military alliance, in contrast to NATO, which has increased its presence along its eastern flank in response to events in Ukraine. Poland and the Baltic countries are also members of NATO.
EU attempts to resolve the conflict in Ukraine have focused on diplomatic initiatives and sanctions on companies and individuals.
The bloc is also supporting cash-strapped Kiev by providing loans in return for ambitious economic and political reforms.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has the “courage of action,” Juncker said, praising him for his efforts to reform the country in the midst of a conflict.
Juncker said he would push for a lifting of visa restrictions for Ukrainians visiting Europe if Kiev carries out the required measures.
“If the conditions are fulfilled, it has to be done,” he said.
The conflict, which began in April 2014, has killed nearly 8,000 civilians, according to statistics released by the UN human rights office Tuesday.