The EU’s Eastern Partnership is crushing to the wall of Russian obstruction

Tiistaina, 8. huhtikuuta 2014     0 kommentti(a)
Kristi Raik
Vanhempi tutkija - Euroopan unioni -tutkimusohjelma

While pro-Russian separatists were moving ahead in the Eastern cities of Ukraine, foreign minister Lavrov reminded us again yesterday that Russia does not allow Ukraine to make its own choices about the country’s future. By now, this should not surprise anyone. Russia is determined to tie Ukraine to its sphere of influence. This is not easily achieved, as support for Western orientation has grown in Ukraine. Yet, Russia is able to spoil, at least in the short term, Ukraine’s chances of becoming a normal, democratic, stable European country.

The EU’s unwillingness to confront Russia threatens to destroy the Eastern Partnership policy. Faced with the most serious threat to European security for decades, the EU has responded with some surprisingly strong support to Ukraine. It has been focusing on things it is used to doing and is fairly good at: mobilizing economic assistance and expert advice, supporting the conduct of elections, promoting inclusive domestic politics and respect for minorities. This work has to continue.

However, the EU has proved unable and unwilling to address the Russian threat. As Russia is using all available means, including military force and aggressive anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian propaganda, the EU’s soft talk about how important it is to persuade Russia to dialogue simply does not work. Many European politicians want to avoid any confrontational language, let alone action towards Russia. Some think primarily about profitable trade. Some believe Ukraine is not worth defending. Some suggest Russia actually has a legitimate right to control its ‘borderlands’. Some are concerned about provoking a war.

It is clear that the West will not engage in military action to defend Ukraine. But the EU would be able to use its economic clout to put pressure on Russia. The European Council of 20-21 March stated that "any further steps by the Russian Federation to destabilise the situation in Ukraine would lead to additional and far reaching consequences for relations in a broad range of economic areas”. The Commission is preparing further economic sanctions. The EU should move on quickly now and be ready to impose additional sanctions if Russia does not de-escalate. Sanctions would not bring a fast solution, and they hurt the EU too. However, this is the only considerable tool the EU has to create pressure on Russia to engage in a diplomatic process.

The EU is committed to signing the Association Agreement with Ukraine (as well as Georgia and Moldova) in June, after elections to be held in Ukraine on 25 May. This is what the Ukrainian people want and have been fighting for. Russia can be expected to try to prevent both free elections and signature of the Agreement. The EU’s Eastern Partnership cannot move ahead unless it is coupled with a parallel policy aimed at stopping Russian aggression in the region. In essence, it is not about defending Ukraine, but about defending the core principles of a European security order.

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