Tensions between Russia and Ukraine are threatening to spill over into armed conflict. In recent days, both the Russian government and NATO have published satellite images purporting to show substantial troop build-ups on both sides of the border. In Eastern Ukraine, government forces have been conducting “anti-terror” operations against armed pro-Russian separatists, drawing fierce criticism from the Kremlin.
The mayor of Kharkiv, a major city in Eastern Ukraine, was shot in the back yesterday and is currently in serious condition in hospital. Meanwhile, the US and EU have announced they will be increasing the list of individuals in Russia subject to economic sanctions. But will sanctions increase the pressure on Russia to dial down the tensions, or will they make things worse? What can be done to defuse the situation and prevent a war?
We recently spoke with Miroslav Lajčák, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Slovakia. We put a comment to him from Ironworker, who questioned whether there was really a common EU position towards Russia in the Ukraine crisis. When we asked a similar question to George Vella, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malta, he highlighted how divided European governments were over how to respond. What would Minister Lajčák say?
This crisis is too big and too close to be naive and expect that there will be a unanimous view among all 28 EU Member States. But, in the end, as is always the case with the European Union, we have arrived at a common position which was reflected in the formal conclusions published after our ministerial councils and prime ministerial council, and that is the official European Union’s position.
One of the reasons Europe is so divided is that some EU Member States are concerned that tough sanctions against Russia could have a negative impact on their own economies as well, not least because the EU is dependent on Russia for 40% of its gas imports. We had a comment from Giuseppe, however, who thought these fears were exaggerated. He argued that Russia earns a lot from the sale of gas and oil to Europe, and he doesn’t think they will be willing to lose their huge European revenues. Would you agree?
Yes, I would. Because, however tempting it might be, you can use the “gas weapon” only once. If you do it once, you are done, and no-one will trust you anymore in the future. And, as rightly stated, Russia needs its revenues from the gas exports as much as we need Russian gas. So, I don’t expect Russian gas exports to be misused in this ongoing confrontation.
Have the EU sanctions been tough enough? We had a comment from Alejo in Ukraine who believes the EU have done nothing to help his country. He thinks the EU visa sanctions have given the appearance that Europe is doing something, but sanctions have done nothing to change the facts on the ground. How would you respond?
It’s not the EU who should change the facts on the ground. You, in Ukraine, can change the facts on the ground in your country through consensual and common will – which I don’t see in Ukraine. Instead, we all see that Ukraine is very divided in assessing the current situation, what happened on Maidan and also where the country is heading. So, we are ready to assist Ukraine, but it’s also important that Ukraine assists itself first by introducing an inclusive political process so that no single citizen, no religious group and no national minority feels excluded from that process, and that they all support and understand what the government is doing. And, of course, Ukraine needs to introduce economic reforms – painful reforms – as well all did. And we are here to help, but there is only so much that we can do and the homework must be done at home.
What can be done to defuse the current standoff between Russia and Ukraine and prevent a war? Will stronger EU and US sanctions help pressure Russia to dial down tensions, or will they make the situation worse? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.