Ukraine: How wrong was the EU

And what about  the looming sanctions? Is it a right step or not, and why? Read few comments.

Sean Roberts, Senior Research Fellow, The Finnish Institute of International Affairs

For too long, Brussels has given an ambiguous message concerning Ukraine, and this is one of the major flaws with the EU’s approach. The EU continues to see itself as an actor with ‘special values’, and so sets Ukraine ambitious conditions for deepening bilateral cooperation, such as democratic reform, but without spelling out clearly what will happen if Ukraine does or does not meet these conditions. This is also reflection of the limited ‘sticks’ and ‘carrots’ the EU has at its disposal, not only in its dealings with Kiev, but also with Russia – the main competing actor in the region and an influence on and within the EU’s Eastern Partnership states. As a result, the EU has a somewhat negative agenda, seemingly uninterested in Ukraine as a fully-fledged member of the EU, but keen to prevent Ukraine from hooking up with Russia and Moscow’s plans for an alternative economic bloc. In the meantime, the EU has been slow to condemn extremist elements among the protesters and has yet to publicly spell out to Yanukovych and his supporters the consequences of using force.

In terms of sanctions, the situation in Ukraine is so serious that both the EU and US are under increasing pressure to be seen to act. Sanctions may exert pressure on Yanukovych, depending on what they actually involve, but sanctions are the wrong tool to target individuals. Sanctions also need time to take effect, and unless they are so overwhelming that they elicit an immediate climb down from Ukraine’s leadership, they will not change the current situation on the ground. However, we should not forget that the protests, violence and the EU-Russia geo-political maneuvering over Ukraine have shifted attention away from the underlying economic problems that the country faces. Ukraine does not need sanctions, it needs money. Either way, with or without sanctions, money will need to be found from somewhere in the months and years to come, if we are to avoid state failure in Europe’s backyard.

Ulrich Speck, Visiting Scholar, Carnegie Europe

The EU member states failed to unify behind a threat of sanctions in the last weeks. Sanctions are most effective as a threat. They might have influenced the behavior of the regime in Kiev. Now it seems to late for sanctions to be effective. Yanukovych has already cut all bridges with the west. His fate is entirely in the hands of the Kremlin. The only way to pull Ukraine back from the brink – it could slide into civil war — for the West is to put massive pressure on Moscow. Only Moscow has enough leverage of Yanukovych to change his behaviour. But it looks very unlikely that the Kremlin will give up on Yanukovych and accept new presidential elections because it it through Yanukovych that Moscow can influence the political course of Ukraine, which is of course the Kremlin’s goal.

Jörg Forbrig, Senior Program Officer for Central and Eastern Europe, Director of the Fund for Belarus Democracy, German Marshall Fund

Sanctions – The EU will most likely approve a set of sanctions this afternoon, and they will probably look very similar to those the U.S. imposed yesterday – a mix of visa bans and asset freezes against those in the Ukrainian leadership who are directly accountable for policy brutality. This surely is a necessary step but I fear that it comes far too late. It will hardly stop the violence that has spun out of anyone’s control. Neither Yanukovych nor the opposition leaders seem to have a handle on the situation any longer. They agreed on a truce last night but no one sticks to it.

Maksym BugriyNon Resident Fellow, Jamestown Foundation

The targeted personal sanctions may be somewhat effective, but ultimately as Belarus example shows, the sanctions effectiveness is relative both in time and scope. The most important problem is the lack of the EU membership perspective for Ukraine. Such perspective has not been stated since the times of the former President Leonid Kuchma neither it was offered today. The membership perspective would facilitate both the crisis resolution and the issue of providing maroeconomic stabilization assistance for Ukraine and signing the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine.

Dominik Tolksdorf, Transatlantic Post-Doctoral Fellow for International Relations and Security (TAPIR), Institut français des relations internationales (IFRI)

I fear that given the current situation in which developments get completely out of control in Ukraine, sanctions are the only instrument that the EU can apply in order to demonstrate its concerns over the decisions of the Ukrainian governments. The foreign ministers are aware that the sanctions will only have long term effects when those politicians and government officials that have assets in EU member states and that would be targeted will understand the consequences of their decisions. Such sanctions have not had an effect in the Belarus, and I doubt that they will change attitudes among government officials in the dramatic situation at the moment. But sanctions are the only instrument that the EU has at its disposal, and they are also highly symbolic: Through these sanctions, the EU would clearly take sides for the opposition. However, it was from the beginning highly unlikely that the EU could serve as the appropriate organization for mediation efforts in Ukraine: No matter how diplomatically the EU has tried to avoid this perception, the EU has from the outset been regarded by the government as a supporter of the opposition. I think that organizations like the OSCE or the Council of Europe would therefore be better institutions for mediation efforts. If the EU decides on sanctions, it will, in cooperation with the U.S., play the role of the “bad cops” vis-à-vis the Ukrainian government.

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