It has been a year since the beginning of the protests in Ukraine. They have led to a series of events, including the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by the Russian Federation, the knocking down of Malaysian airplane, and the bloody violence of an undeclared war. The European Union has contributed to the rise of the Ukrainian crisis. Ukraine’s determination for the integration into the EU is now a conscious choice, especially after the coming to power of a pro-European government. However, the outcomes of the recent events in Ukraine have a significant impact on the EU as well. Therefore, the latter one has played a significant role in the unrest in Ukraine by moving towards the Association Agreement. At the same time, the Ukrainian crisis had a considerable effect on the EU because the sanctions disrupted trade with Russia and led to retaliatory sanctions from the part of Russia. They have also had a damaging effect on the EU members.
The EU is caught between conflicting priorities in terms of its view on the ways to resolve the Ukrainian crisis. The most important decision the EU officials have to make is determine whether they want to see Ukraine inside the union or not. The indecision of the EU towards Ukraine is a crucial obstacle in resolving the Ukrainian problem. Russia is exactly aware of its ambitions about Ukraine. Meanwhile the latter one clearly knows what it needs from the EU. However, it appears that the EU does not have a clear goal, except short-term objectives. These ones are largely focused on dealing with the outcomes of the Russian aggression (Getmanchuk & Dokos, 2014).
On the one hand, a clear prospect of Ukrainian accession to the European Union could eliminate a widely supported argument among the pro-Russian groups that “no one waits for Ukraine in the EU.” The influential anti-EU groups are lobbying the ideas that the European Union only views Ukraine as a market outlet for its low-quality goods. Therefore, if the EU is not ready to offer Ukraine its membership, it should explicitly state what would come after the Association Agreement ratification. On the other hand, there are strong concerns about the conflict escalation. It occurs if the EU admits its plans to offer Ukraine its membership. Russia would view such declaration as a threat to its borders and most likely would react aggressively.
One may argue that the EU has been dragged unwillingly into the conflict with Russia. However, the European Union remains the major Western players in the Ukrainian crisis, rather than the US or NATO. The US government is a leading supporter of the sanction policy against Russia. However, it confines itself to symbolic support of Ukraine in its struggle against the aggressor. The US administration believes that the EU and Germany, in particular, should bear the main responsibility for resolving the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. It concerns the matter of its own security (Meister, 2014).
Within the third round of sanctions against the Russian Federation, the EU, along with the US, Japan, and other countries, has targeted Russian arms and energy sectors. It has imposed sanctions on the biggest banks Sberbank, Gazprombank, and others of Russia, a leading weapon manufacturer Rostec, and the largest oil corporations Gazprom, Lukoil, and Rosneft. The companies will suffer from a cutoff from a cash flow they have used to receive from European markets as well as from intensified restrictions on exports (Mohammed & Trott, 2014).
However, the sanctions create some risks for the EU of disrupting its eastward-looking economic ties. For example, Rosneft, which is a leading Russian petroleum company, is an influential player in the EU’s energy sector. The share of the union the imported crude oil used in the EU is around 90 percent. Russia’s oil estimates to the vast majority of the EU’s import. The sanctions do not seem have a direct impact on those economic ties. They would avert Rosneft earning money in European financial markets. However, since they largely transport oil by ships, so the EU could possibly substitute the losses in case the trade with Russia is affected. It would require additional expenses, but it is possible. Gas trade is different though because it is transported by a pipeline. The EU will have troubles compensating it with a trade by sea (Walker, 2014).
Another risk of new rounds of sanctions from the EU is that Russia threatens to impose retaliatory sanctions. The Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has claimed that the sanctions do not help to resolve the Ukrainian crisis. However, he notified, “If there are sanctions related to the energy sector, or further restrictions on Russia’s financial sector, we will have to respond asymmetrically. For example, we could impose transport restrictions. If Western carriers have to bypass our airspace, this could drive many struggling airlines into bankruptcy” (as cited in Lynch, 2014). Russian officials also note that they are hoping to resolve the conflict by diplomatic means, yet do nothing to ease the tensions in Eastern Ukraine.
As of today, Russia already has taken some countermeasures as a response to the EU’s sanctions. It has banned imports of foods from the countries of the European Union. Experts suggest that this ban can cost for the EU as 5 billion Euros a year. Emmott (2014) states that, “Russia is the EU’s second biggest food market after the United States.” It has banned European fruit and vegetables, dairy products and meat, which accounts for nearly 50 percent of what Russia buys from the EU. The major international fruit and vegetable sellers, such as the Netherlands and Poland, have already suffered from the Russian ban. The EU is looking for some ways to pay compensations to farmers or sell their products on other markets. Germany, in particular, has problems as it was supplying most of the EU’s dairy products and meat exports (Emmott, 2014).
Therefore, following the latest round of sanctions in September, the EU warns Russia that it would impose a new round of sanctions. Russia threatens to do likewise in return. However, not only that fact contributes to European countries, especially Germany resisting imposing them. Even if the EU does intensify its measures, Russia is likely to adhere to its current decision-making. Mearsheimer (2014) argues that the history shows that nations can absorb huge amounts of retribution when they aim to defend their main strategic interests.
Therefore, the Western countries are playing a dangerous game with Russia. They base their policy on several principles, which do not prove to be correct. The first fallacy is a belief that Putin will back down when he finds himself politically isolated. The second flaw is that the European Union’s sanctions will hurt Russia more than they damage European countries. The EU does not imply that the sanctions will have no impact on it or that the influence will be considerately smaller. However, it assumes that Russia will be the first one to give up. Lastly, the EU believes though officially supports a political settlement that Ukrainian army will resolve the unrest in its eastern regions by force. It is disputable due to a constant support of pro-Russian by Russia.
Meanwhile the question whether the EU should increase its pressure on Putin remains open. It is clear that the Union, i.e. Germany, in particular, has to overlook its policy toward relations with new Russia. Even in the most optimistic scenario, it is obvious that there can be no transformation partnership with the Russian regime (Meister, 2014). When Putin continues to destabilize the situation in Ukraine through aggressive tactics and wars, the issue of trust is especially acute. Therefore, German officials have not only to redefine their policy towards East, considering the new reality (Meister, 2014).
Another factor that slows obstructs the EU’s effective responses to Russia is that the Union acts as a coalition of separate European countries in the command of the entire negotiation process (Meister, 2014). The disunity between the EU members has been noticeable from the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis. First, Poland and Sweden were lonely driving forces of the negotiation process. Since the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and the beginning of pro-Russian unrest in Eastern Ukraine, the EU has faced with problems in agreeing on the extent measures taken against Russia and the ways of distributing the costs of sanctions (Fägersten, 2014).
The West-European interests are rooted to the plan of the NATO enlargement. Therefore, the EU has to confront Putin to secure the integration of Ukraine into the West, as a part of the Western larger strategy. The Union’s expansion also includes supporting the democratic movements in Ukraine, starting with the Orange Revolution in 2004. The core of the conflict resides in the Russian opposition to the NATO enlargement. The Russian aggression towards Ukraine indicates that Putin would not tolerate its post-Soviet neighbor taking pro-EU stance (Mearsheimer, 2014).
Therefore, one of the reasons that has contributed to the emergence of the Ukrainian crisis is the desire of the US and the EU to create an ally against Russia right within its borders. Given the outcomes, it would be a mistake to carry on such a policy (Mearsheimer, 2014). On the other side, some are concerned with the possibility of Putin regretting the collapse of the Soviet Union. Thus, he will attempt to inverse it by capturing more territories. This view suggest that by annexing Crimea, Putin was testing whether he can move forward and conquer entire Ukraine, or at least the East of the country. From this point of view, the EU should take an aggressive position against Putin’s actions, since, eventually, he may want to conquer the other neighboring countries. However, opposing this perspective is the lack of the Russian army’s capability to easily defeat and occupy Eastern Ukraine, not to mention the whole country. Approximately 15 million Ukrainians live in the Eastern part of Ukraine that borders with Russia. A vast majority of them want to remain the part of Ukraine. Since the Russian aggression, some of them have formed strongly anti-Russian views. Therefore, they would certainly resist a Russian occupation so Putin will not be able to act in accordance with its Crimean plan (Mearsheimer, 2014).
To conclude, the EU has played a great role in contributing to a rise of a conflict between Ukraine and Russia by offering the former Association Agreement. Russia has perceived as a possible threat to its borders. In turn, the Ukrainian crisis had a significant effect on the EU member states and Germany, in particular. The latest round of sanctions targeted Russia’s energy sector, and consequently, disrupted the EU’s trade of crude oil and gas with Russia. The EU would be able to substitute the export of these resources but only partially. In addition, Putin has imposed retaliatory sanctions against the EU, banning European fruit, vegetables, meat, and dairy products, resulting in billions of lost revenues. However, the main problem remains the indecision of the EU towards Ukraine’s status in the EU-Ukraine relationships, as well as the sound policy against the Russian aggression on the East. It is clear that the EU has to overlook its policy toward relations with Russia. If Putin continues to destabilize the unrest in Ukraine through the support of separatists, the EU should response with effective actions. It should consider, however, the security of the EU and Ukraine.