The current political situation in Ukraine has once again received considerable attention from the media, as casualty numbers continue to rise, reaching over 4,000 according to the last casualty report on the conflict, despite attempts to enforce a cease-fire that date back to September.
The crisis raises some serious issues, particularly for the EU as the organisation has thus far failed to reduce violence in the region. EU ministers recently met in Brussels to further discuss sanctions on pro-Russian militants as well as Russian officials. During the meeting, the Ukrainian foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, expressed concerns for the security and welfare of not only the Ukrainian people, but also of the entire EU, were sanctions not to be applied against the Russians.
In addition, the responsibilities of the EU as an institution for regional cooperation facing the Ukrainian crisis were brought up during the G20 summit in Brisbane last week. Barack Obama met with EU ministers to reaffirm his belief in the necessity of sanctioning Russia for violating international law, an unsurprising stance taken by the North Americans. Obama, amongst other representatives, mentioned that it was the union’s duty to reprimand such behaviour and hold Russia accountable for its actions.
For some time now the EU has been pressured by the US over international security issues, and it never looks good to be lectured publicly by a major world leader such as Obama at such an important international conference, especially with the EU’s desire to counterbalance US hegemonic power on the international scene. However, with events such as the Ukrainian crisis, it seems to be incapable of acting efficiently without the help of their North American allies when it comes to conflict resolution. EU policies have essentially been reaction-driven by events and not by a concise long-term consideration of the issues that have led to the conflict itself. There is far too much hesitancy towards disciplining member states, particularly when this concerns big political actors such as Russia.
The Ukrainian crisis is affecting the EU’s reputation because it reveals incoherence within the organisation thus leading to a lack of tools and resources to effectively resolve conflicts – not just in Europe, but also all over the globe. The declining popularity of the EU following such events has attacked its political legitimacy as an effective institution. Furthermore, it does not help that Russia appears to be unaffected by western sanctions and warnings; Putin denies any allegations of its annexation of Crimea essentially equating to an invasion of Ukraine. The Russian leader is convinced that the situation is just another attempt from the West to lessen Russia’s sphere of influence in Europe, and that these sanctions prove to be yet another a feeble attack on the country’s economy.
Nevertheless, the EU’s imposing of sanctions on pro-Russia rebels and Russian forces might do more harm then good. It has been argued that the solution to Ukraine’s situation is rooted in a reassessment of its relationship with Russia, and the direct line of communication between Kiev and Moscow. There is reason to believe that the so-called ‘sanctions’ will amount to nothing if civilian security reforms are not undertaken in Ukraine. The country’s demography is made up of ethnic minorities, a fact that needs to be kept in mind whenever policies are drafted and implemented.
As there is an undeniably long history of tension between Russia, ex-soviet territory and western countries, it is worth noting that all efforts to reach stability in Eastern Europe should be based on peaceful cooperation amongst nations, through discussion and consensus rather than by force.
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