European leaders meet in Iceland to count cost of Russia’s war

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European leaders on Tuesday pledged to hold Russia to account for its war against Ukraine and unveiled a mechanism to track the losses and damage inflicted by Moscow’s forces, convening in Iceland for a two-day summit.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak were among those who underlined their support for Ukraine in a rare meeting of the Council of Europe (CoE) rights body in Reykjavik.

They were joined via video link by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, on the heels of his tour of European capitals to secure more weapons and aid prior to an anticipated counteroffensive against Russian forces.

Zelensky took the opportunity to highlight Kyiv’s claims to have shot down Russian hypersonic missiles using newly deployed Western aid defenses. It showed the country, if united, was capable of anything, he told the summit.

“A year ago, we were not able to shoot down most of the terrorists’ missiles, especially ballistic ones,” Zelensky said. “And I am asking one thing now. If we are able to do this, is there anything we can’t do?“

Russia has denied deliberately targeting civilians in bombing Ukrainian cities, although dozens of town and cities have been laid to waste by its air strikes and artillery since the invasion began in February last year.

The Reykjavik meeting unveiled a new Register of Damages, a mechanism to record and document evidence and claims of damage, loss or injury incurred as a result of the Russian invasion.

The meeting also sought to address other issues, including the plight of thousands of children taken to Russia or Russian-occupied territories from Ukraine since the start of the war, in what Kyiv and its allies condemn as illegal deportations.

“The moment to push back is now. Democracies like ours must build resilience, so that we can out-cooperate and outcompete those who drive instability,” Sunak said in a speech.

“We will hold Russia accountable for the horrendous war crimes that have been committed and we must also learn the lessons of this war by being prepared to confront threats to our societies before they become too big to deal with.”

Echoing those remarks, Scholz said the council was important “to punish the war crimes of the Russian occupiers and to demand accountability for the enormous damage that Russia inflicts on Ukraine day after day.”

Macron’s office said the council is looking at how the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB) could help meet the needs of struggling Ukrainians.

CYBERATTACKS

Ahead of the leaders’ arrival, several Icelandic public institutions and private sector websites, including the parliament, government and supreme court, were briefly hit by cyberattacks.

The pro-Russian hacker group NoName057 claimed responsibility for the attacks in a post on Telegram, mentioning specifically the Council of Europe meeting and Zelensky’s speech.

It is only the fourth summit of the 46-member Council of Europe since it was founded after World War Two.

Its democratic values are upheld by the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, where citizens can take governments to court in case of human rights violations.

Russia’s membership was suspended the day after it invaded Ukraine. Moscow then left the body hours before a vote to expel it.

Turkiye faces removal from the CoE after it failed to implement a 2019 court ruling to release jailed businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala.

Sunak also met European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the summit. The leaders agreed to strengthen cooperation on migration with a new working arrangement between British agencies and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, a readout from Sunak’s office said.

Sunak will also make the case for reforming the European Court of Human Rights’ power to block British migrant deportation flights to Rwanda — plans that have been criticized by opponents, charities and religious leaders as inhumane.

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