The EU, Russia and Ukraine: a double track with no end?
NUPI Policy briefs
LE GLOANNEC Anne-Marie - Centre de recherches internationales (Author)
Oslo : The Norwegian Institute of International Affairs
NUPI Policy briefs : 17
In March 2014, Russia took over the Crimean Peninsula by stealth. Having annexed it on 18 March, Russia made further forays in the eastern part of Ukraine, principally in Donetsk and Luhansk, where it provided secessionists with manpower and know-how, weapons (including heavy weapons), information technology and propaganda, as well as political support. Discarding the idea that territory or history alone can explain Russia’s grab, we assume that, besides increases in gas prices and demands for changes in the constitution while stoking unrest and violating borders, the Kremlin has resorted to war in eastern Ukraine as a means to exert pressure on the Kyiv government. What matters for Moscow is probably to prevent democracy from taking root in Ukraine, or in Western Ukraine for that matter. To the Kremlin, a failed state would be preferable to a democratic state, divided or not. If this interpretation is correct, to what extent can the conflict be resolved? Must the interests claimed by the Kremlin be taken into account in order to bring peace in Ukraine and reset EU– Russia relations? What can the EU – and the West otherwise, i.e. the United States – do? This Policy Brief argues that a solution to the conflict is beyond reach, because the conflict concerns two opposing worlds. If the war is eventually a means for Vladimir Putin to stifle democracy in Ukraine and to strengthen his hold over Russia, there is no room for compromise. The history of EU–Russia relations and the structure that has characterized them since the demise of the USSR underline the how difficult it is for the EU to maintain, or indeed establish, a balanced relationship with an increasingly authoritarian and predatory regime based on one-man rule. The EU may have inadvertently played into the hand of the Kremlin – through lack of imagination and strategy, rather than contempt for a wounded power, as Putin has contended. Since the outbreak of the crisis in 2014, however, the EU has mustered the capacity to target sanctions at Russian individuals that bear responsibility for the war in Ukraine, and at specific sectors crucial to the Russian economy, all the while attempting to pursue political dialogue with the authorities – a ‘double-track approach’. But we must ask: What is the purpose of sanctions that do not bring about changes in the opponent’s political behaviour? or of a dialogue that does not lead to a solution? And is there anything that the EU and its member states can do?