Crisis in Ukraine: Defining moment for the EU at large?

Read few comments.

Questions:

1. In terms of EU’s CFSP would you say that Ukraine crisis is one on the crucial moments of CFSP or, not and why?

2. Could you please shortly assess how was the EU dealing with the crisis until now in your opinion?

Answers:

Björn Fägersten, Research Fellow, Swedish Institute of International Affairs

The crisis in Ukraine is a defining moment for the European Union at large and not only for its nascent Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). The actions by Russia not only challenge direct interests of the EU and Ukraine but also the idea that the EU is built on: functional cooperation and the resolution of transborder problems with peaceful methods within a common legal framework.

The impact on the EU, and the way the EU must respond, goes beyond traditional foreign policy and thus the CFSP. The EU must simultaneously send a strong signal to the Russian regime, it must find ways to support Ukraine to develop as a democratic and well-governed state, and it should redouble its effort to connect with the Russian people and civil society. These parallel tasks demand a coordinated approach incorporating energy policy, trade issues, internal market, educational, research and cultural programs as well as more traditional diplomatic tools. This is of course a tall order and it comes at a time when the EU has been occupied with economic crisis management and institutional navel gazing for quite some time. But if the European Union fails to act as a strategic union now there is little hope for it to do so later.

2. The EU’s approach to its neighborhood has been very technocratic, slow-moving and almost “unpolitical” – a sort of foreign policy driven as project management. This has been relatively successful in relations with close neighbors that 1) has a membership prospect and 2) have time and political space to transform according to their own time-table. It has been less successful in relations with neighbors that lack a membership prospect and especially where these is a third-party (like Russia) that has countering interests and puts pressure on the country. In such cases the EU must be much more agile and be prepared to respond to the geopolitical maneuvers of others – albeit not with the same methods.

Hylke DijkstraAssistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Maastricht University

1. Perhaps the positive thing is that the member states have mostly lined up, despite their significant differences, within the EU. They have mostly refrained from taking unilateral actions. That having been said, the EU response in terms of sanctions has been fairly limited. In addition, the EU does not play any role in terms of mediation. It has not taken any initiative and has been reactive, responding with too little, too late. It unfortunately still shows that if international relations become too tough, the EU is not a serious actor.

2. The EU has been dealing with the crisis poorly so far. It has completely underestimated the situation or the intentions of Putin. It has called high-level meetings, such as the extraordinary European Council on 6 March, at wrong moments. In addition, it has responded with little to show for. Establishing a travel ban for a limited number of Crimean and lower-level Russian politicians and freezing their assets has been wholly insufficient, particularly considering that the day after Russia annexed Crimea, thereby all but ignoring the EU. EU leaders now have to make a choice whether they are going to accept de facto annexation and live with it, or ratchet up the pressure on Russia to drawer a firmer line. Increasing sanctions seems a logical thing to do, but it will unlikely solve the situation. EU leaders need to strategically think in terms of end-games.

Paul Ivan, Junior Policy Analyst, Centre for European Policy Studies

1. It is most certainly a crucial moment for CFSP and for European Union. For the first time in many years international borders are changed in Europe through the force of arms.

International law is the framework for the practice of relations between states. The clear breach of international norms registered in the case of the Russian occupation of Crimea threatens the international order and security in Europe. It is a major test for the EU and the sort of situation when the Union needs to take a clear, firm and principled stand.

2. The EU doesn’t seem to have been prepared for such a scenario and has been slow to adapt to the rapidly deteriorating situation in Ukraine. EU member states have repeatedly misread president Putin’s intentions and have relied too much on a best-case scenario. More recently, by not properly supporting Ukraine and asking it to negotiate with the aggressor state (Russia), they have shown a clear lack of political will and imagination.

EU relations with Russia have started to worsen in summer 2013, after Russia strong armed Armenia to drop the Association Agreement with the EU. No apparent contingency planning regarding Russia’s behavior seems to have been developed since then. The EU’s response has also continued to be handicapped by the member states’ diversity of views regarding relations with Russia and the unanimity decision-making, lack of solidarity and an apparent lack of comprehension of the large potential leverage a united Europe can have over Russia.

Michael Smith, Professor, Department of Politics & International Relations, University of Aberdeen

Yes this is a major test of the CSDP and yes the EU failed it.  It did not have a credible strategy to deal with Russia, with energy security, or with a potential Russian intervention in Ukraine (as with the situation in Georgia a few years ago).  But NATO and the US have not done much better so far, so this is as much a failure of transatlantic Russia policy as it is a failure of EU policy.  Hopefully the US/EU/NATO will learn something from it.

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