Relations between the EU and Russia have been severely strained since 2014 as a result of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, Russian support for rebels in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s policies in its neighborhood, Russia’s disinformation and interference campaigns, and human rights abuses in the country. Tensions have also increased due to Russia’s intervention in Syria, Libya, and sub-Saharan Africa. Since 2014, the EU has regularly extended sanctions against Russia. The EU and Russia remain highly interdependent, and the EU is pursuing a “selective engagement” approach.
What is the Ukraine conflict about?
Ukraine is the largest state in Europe after Russia. Since declaring independence in December 1991, the presidential republic has faced the greatest challenges in its recent history. Developments in Ukraine have caused deep international concern and led to a low point in Russian-Western relations. First the protests on Maidan Square in 2013, then the ouster of the government, and finally Russia’s annexation of Crimea in violation of international law. For years, civil war-like conditions prevailed in the east of the country between separatists loyal to Moscow and pro-European forces. An end to the conflict is not in sight. Again and again, the clashes flare up, as in March 2021. The renewed massive buildup of Russian troops in the fall of 2021 is also a renewed cause for concern.
In November 2021, Russian forces concentrate again on the Ukrainian border. Against the backdrop of tensions between Moscow and NATO, the movement of Russian troops triggers concern in the US and the EU. NATO feels provoked and warns Moscow against military incursions on the border with Ukraine. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on Moscow to refrain from “any further provocations or aggressive actions.” “NATO stands by Ukraine, Stoltenberg stressed. Russia’s president, in turn, criticized military exercises by the other side. Fears that Russia could be planning an invasion are increasingly causing concern on the international scene.
On December 6, 2021 a video summit on Ukraine conflict between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin took place. Biden again threatened Putin with “strong economic sanctions” from the United States and its European allies in the event of a Russian invasion. Further, he announced that he would further arm Ukraine and strengthen NATO partners on its eastern flank if Russia invaded Ukraine. Putin, meanwhile, warned against NATO’s eastward expansion and called for a halt and binding legal guarantees that the Western military alliance would not expand eastward. The summit produced no rapprochement.
G7 sending clear signal to Russia
The G7 summit (includes Germany, France, Italy, UK, Japan, Canada and USA) also sent a clear signal to Russia. At the summit, the seven leading industrialized nations urged Russia to de-escalate the Ukraine crisis. They threatened massive consequences in the event of an invasion of the neighboring country: “Any use of force to change borders is strictly prohibited under international law,” the statement said. “We reaffirm our unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to the right of every sovereign state to determine its own future.”
The following day, Russia, for its part, toughened its tone. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov threatened military action if the U.S. and NATO did not provide security guarantees that the military alliance would not expand further east and would not deploy weapons systems near Russia’s border.
What is the next step of the European Union?
The EU, together with the US and the UK, is preparing possible retaliatory measures in the event of a Russian attack on Ukraine. They are examining which sanctions could be imposed in a coordinated manner, and when and how, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borell said on Monday, 13th of December 2021, on the sidelines of an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels. According to him, the main purpose is to show Russia that any aggression against Ukraine would have a high price.
Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said, “We are convinced that Russia is indeed preparing for an all-out war against Ukraine. And this is an unprecedented event – probably since World War II.” That means, he said, that the response of Western states must also be unprecedented.
Other participants in the meeting cautioned against arm-twisting. “What we really need now is a disarmament of words and actions from both sides,” said Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg. The line that one will not stand idly by if attempts are made again to move borders by force in Europe is clear, he said.
Earlier, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had made similar comments. “Aggression must have a price tag,” she said Friday at a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD). Foreign ministers from the leading Western industrialized nations also increased pressure on Moscow over the weekend. “We are united in our condemnation of Russia’s military buildup and its aggressive rhetoric toward Ukraine,” a statement from the G7 group, which includes Germany, said.
The EU now wants to first coordinate with the U.S. and the U.K. on when to impose which sanctions should Moscow order an incursion of its troops into eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin vigorously denies such intentions. Nevertheless, the troop deployment is causing alarm in Brussels, but not only there.
The opinions on this blog are of the authors themselves and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of ELfR.