Russia: What kind of approach the EU should/will take?

Read few comments.


1. What do you expect out of the debate at upcoming EU summit regarding Russia? A tougher stance, a softer approach or basically no big changes.

2. What kind of approach regarding Russia would you prefer and why?


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

1. Russia is one of the three main themes for discussion at the EU summit. The debate will be informed by the growing outrage in the last weeks over the Russian bombing campaign in Syria, which some EU countries have openly suspected to be war crimes. The debate will also be informed by the outcomes of the Normandy group summit in Berlin today. This duality of the Russian wars in Ukraine and Russia, plus the Kremlin’s posturing vis-à-vis NATO and its open interference in the domestic politics of Western countries, will further advance a trend among EU countries to see individual conflicts with Russia as connected and part of a broader picture. This is an important development in itself.

EU leaders will certainly issue a strong condemnation of Russia’s actions. Yet they are unlikely to agree on additional punishments in the form of new sanctions. The dynamic so far has been that the comparably tough position and sanctions imposed over the Russian aggression against Ukraine have steadily been questioned by some in the EU. Even a few weeks ago, it seemed as if EU unity was to falter altogether. Under the impression of the Syrian tragedy, critics have now been silenced. In turn, advocates of a harder line have indicated the possibility of additional sanctions. Chances are that this will lead, by and large, to a continuation of the existing EU position and punishments for Russia, just with the justification now expanded beyond Ukraine to also include Syria.

2. It is becoming increasingly clear that Russia is a global threat. It stokes instability and it does not even shy away from war crimes. This requires a much stronger and more multifaceted response of the international community, and of the West in particular. First, the West should call Russian actions by what they obviously are, without using softening or diminishing language for murder and war. Second, as a key element of a Western response, further sanctions are indispensable, and they should be refined and expanded in two areas: a broader range of individual Russians with clear responsibility for actions in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere should be sanctioned, and key generators of Russian state revenue, especially in the oil and gas sector, should see their business opportunities limited. This should include a moratorium on joint projects, such as Nord Stream 2. Third, the West must be much more proactive in putting up its own defenses. Especially with elections coming up in key EU states next year, Russian meddling in EU-internal politics will grow sharply. Strict controls of Russian media, interaction with European politics, financial flows is necessary and doable with existing legal and regulatory tools, which have not so far be utilized fully. In all these respects, a tougher line is needed but will be hard to achieve given very fragile European and transatlantic unity on Russia.

Sean RobertsLecturer in International Relations and Politics, University of Portsmouth

1. We know it will be difficult for the 28 EU member states to reach an agreement regarding EU policy toward Russia, as there are deep divisions. There is a school of thought that Germany in particular will be keen to resolve problems with Russia in order to focus attention on internal EU problems, including negotiations with the UK in early 2017. However, Russia’s vetoing of the French-backed UN resolution on Aleppo on October 8, followed by Putin’s cancellation of his visit to France, mean that the atmosphere at present is not conducive to a softer approach. In view of the situation in Syria and the tone of media coverage in the EU, it would be difficult for European leaders to justify big changes in their Russia policy.

2. Ukraine was a disaster for the EU and its eastern policy. Put simply, it didn’t need to happen, and the EU must take a large portion of the blame for the human cost and for worsening relations with Russia. However, the EU embarked on sanctions and a tough stance in order to mitigate perceived Russian aggression in Ukraine, so now the EU must establish a durable settlement with Russia regarding Ukraine before sanctions are lifted. If they back down now, then it will send the wrong message to Moscow and will extend the Ukraine crisis indefinitely.




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