Thursday

5th Aug 2021

Opinion

EU must give full support to Ukraine to dissuade Kremlin

  • War-damage in Ukraine - a conflict that has now been dragging on for five years (Photo: Evgeny Kaplin)

In the war waged by Vladimir Putin's Russia against Ukraine, the objective reality is that Moscow is the aggressor, in breach of international law, and Kiev is the aggrieved party.

Unfortunately, this rather obvious statement has increasingly fallen on deaf ears in Washington since Donald Trump took office, most recently after the American president suggested he would support Russia re-joining the G7.

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Worse, European enthusiasm for safeguarding Ukraine's security and territorial integrity has, at least in some European countries, waxed and waned under pressure from Russia's economic and ideological influence over the continent.

Can the trend be reversed?

While the EU was indeed quick to express its solidarity with Ukraine in the wake of Trump's G7 comments, with Donald Tusk remarking that the reasons for Moscow's exclusion are more relevant than ever and suggesting it would be more appropriate to invite Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, the European bloc has been comparatively slow to weigh in on another dispute pitting Kiev against the Trump administration.

That conflict, as surreal as it is brazen, threatens not only Ukraine but basic norms of diplomacy.

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani has been meeting with Ukrainian officials - apparently with US State Department assistance - and pushing them to investigate Joe Biden, Trump's main rival in the 2020 presidential elections.

Giuliani's murky role

Giuliani has kept up steady pressure, even after the Ukrainian prosecutor clarified there is "no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe Biden or his son".

Aside from the tenuous nature of Giuliani's claims, this exceedingly cynical overture has put Kiev in a problematic position.

Good relations with the United States are pivotal for Ukraine -particularly while the Trump administration is holding up security funds earmarked for Kiev.

Giuliani claims to be acting as a private citizen, but the New York Times recently suggested he conditioned a meeting between Zelensky and Trump on Ukraine prosecuting Biden.

Samantha Vinograd, who served in both Barack Obama's and George W. Bush's administrations, considers that there is a true risk that Giuliani will "politicise diplomacy with Ukraine" and that Giuliani's highly unusual - and "likely illegal" - actions are putting pressure on Kiev to "support Trump's 2020 campaign".

In a far cry from Obama's days in office, Trump seems to be using Ukraine as a battleground on which to fight for re-election, a callous move which threatens our common security.

The European bloc should express its concern about Giuliani's use of his bully pulpit to pressure Ukraine's judicial system.

But this is hardly the only way in which the EU risks falling short of fully supporting Ukraine. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline is a serious threat to Ukraine, as well as to European energy security.

In spite of the compromise reached between Germany and the EU to force the project to respect European energy law, the project itself is a strategic surrender to Putin's Russia, while the resources it's set to generate could be a godsend for the Kremlin to intensify its war on Ukraine.

Incomprehensibly, France and Germany pushed for Russia to return to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) over Kiev strenuous objections and without securing concessions from Moscow.

Despite arguments that Russia needed to be allowed back in so that Russian citizens could bring cases to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Moscow's return won't necessarily help Russian human rights activists: a 2015 Russian law allows the Constitutional Court to declare that the ECHR's decisions violate the Russian constitution and are therefore "not-executable".

These renewed efforts at dialogue with Russia are likely part of a deliberate strategy to ratchet down tensions and aim to end the Ukraine conflict.

But it's unlikely to succeed.

The EU should not make the mistake of believing the Kremlin's narrative, which revolves around Moscow's alleged humiliation at the hands of Brussels and Nato.

Likewise, European leaders must not underestimate the willingness of the Kremlin, often expressed by Putin and his advisers, to destroy the EU, to spread illiberal values, and to undermine both international organisations and the very principle of international law.

Putin's Russia is a systemic threat and we should not waver as long as Putin remains in power. With Trump unable to fill the US's traditional role of standing up to authoritarian regimes—and his inner circle even putting pressure on Kiev to investigate the Democratic frontrunner - Europe should take a harder line.

'To Do' list

As the former Czech minister of foreign affairs, Karel Schwarzenberg, superbly stated, "The fate of Europe will be decided in Ukraine".

How Europe handles Ukraine says a great deal about the credibility of the EU of a geopolitical project.

Hence, the EU should clearly state that Putin's Russia can never be considered as a "normal" power as long as:

1.Russia doesn't withdraw from Donbas and Crimea, and the border between Ukraine and Russia isn't safe

2. the remaining Ukrainian political prisoners unlawfully detained in Russia are not released

3. Moscow continues to perpetrate war crimes in Syria

4. Russia continues its meddling in democratic life in Western countries

5. Russia fails to allow an international investigation into the downing of the MH17 flight. The end goal would be for a return to democratic practices in Russia itself, and full compliance with human rights principles.

We must not dissociate events in Ukraine from the unconventional campaign the Kremlin is waging against the West, the Balkans, the Middle East and in some parts of Africa.

The EU must continue to stick to its founding principles, which means not lifting sanctions, and passing Magnitsky Acts in all EU countries.

We cannot carry out 'business as usual' with Putin's Russia - this will threaten not only Ukraine's integrity and sovereignty, but the entire so-called free world.

Last but not least, the long-term perspective of Ukraine's adhesion to the EU and to Nato must not be decided in Moscow, but by Ukraine itself and the councils of those organisations.

Author bio

Nicolas Tenzer is chairman of the Paris-based Centre for Study and Research for Political Decision (CERAP), author of three official reports to the French government, including two on international strategy, and author of 22 books.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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