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Report by President Charles Michel to the European Parliament plenary session

Ladies and gentlemen,

Hijacking a plane is piracy. With 171 passengers on board, it is kidnapping. When these acts are carried out by the state, it’s hostage-taking and state piracy. For what? To get hold of a young journalist and his partner, whose free speech is intolerable for Mr Lukashenko. We had to react quickly. And strongly. And we did. We quickly agreed to adopt sanctions against the Belarusian regime commensurate with the gravity of the event. These include additional individual sanctions, targeted economic measures and a ban on Belarusian airlines. We also called on European airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace, a recommendation that was immediately followed. In the wake of this decision, the UK and the US took similar measures.

I would like to emphasise three clear messages.

The first is for Roman Protasevich and all political prisoners - the EU will not rest until you are released.

The second is for Mr Lukashenko - Mr Protasevich must be released immediately. We hold you responsible for his physical and mental health.

And our third message is to the Belarusian people and especially to those fighting for democracy, freedom of expression and media freedom - the EU stands by you and will continue our direct support for your struggle to choose your destiny.

Dear colleagues, as we did last year on China, we had a strategic debate on our relationship with Russia and we were unanimous in condemning Russia's illegal, provocative and disruptive activities. But above all, we have given ourselves time for a high-quality debate. And I would like to explain the method, the objectives and the first resolutions.

First, the method. The relationship between the EU and Russia is complex, and every complex and strategic choice must begin with building our collective intelligence. This takes time, but in the long run, it saves time. Once we share a common analysis, it's easier to take a collective decision. We are then stronger because we are more united. During our strategic discussion, the leaders shared their views and experience with Russia without reservation. Russia has created a string of conflicts in its neighbourhood and beyond, and faced with that, we have often reacted rather than acted proactively. Rather than reacting to what we do not want, we must first decide what we do want from Russia. We need to better define our strategic objectives and how best to achieve them. And this must be done in line with the five guiding principles that we have already agreed on. They remain as valid as ever:

  • implementation of the Minsk agreements,
  • strengthen relations with the Eastern partners,
  • strengthening the union's resilience,
  • selective cooperation with Russia on issues of interest to the union, and
  • the need for people to people contacts and support for Russian civil society.

We will continue this work at our next meeting based on the report we have requested from the Commission and High Representative. And this report will contain concrete options or scenarios.

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