Updated: Feb 23, 2022
EU Actions Ranging from Sanctions to Military Threats
Over the past few weeks, the Russian President has initiated a “guessing game” over Ukraine’s future, materialising what many have termed “the West’s worst fears” (Karnitschnig 2022). By amassing more than 100,000 troops and military equipment along Ukraine’s border, Russia is signifying its willingness to invade. This will likely result in either the most serious military conflict since World War II, or the calling of Putin’s elaborate bluff to show the West that he is as dangerous as ever (ibid.). Putin’s actions have been met immediately by NATO’s own military build-up in Eastern Europe, as several members of the defensive alliance have sent ships, jet fighters, and aircrafts to Ukraine and its closest neighbours (NATO 2022). NATO has stressed that an attack on one ally will be considered an attack on the whole Alliance. They justify its increased presence in Eastern Europe as a response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 (ibid.). In light of this, what does the EU’s response look like? What position will they take in the midst of the heightening NATO-Russia tensions?
What is the EU Doing to Deter Russia?
The EU did not hesitate to show strong opposition to Russia’s actions. It threatened “massive
consequences” and “severe” coordinated economic sanctions should Russia proceed to invade Ukraine. These firm, yet still vague assertions were adopted during a special European Council summit (Herszenhorn and von der Burchard 2021). However, perhaps this “tough talk” is hiding continuing disagreement among the 27 Member States on what these actions would entail in practice (ibid.). These concerns relate to the current energy crisis: Moscow has been accused of exacerbating the global gas supply shortage by withholding imports (Mathiesen 2022). Moreover, Russia’s Deputy Minister Alexander Novak has already stated that the EU is to blame for its own energy crisis, mentioning the EU’s deliberate move to shift away from long-term contracts to reduce their dependence on Russia (ibid.). How will the EU balance their need for Russian natural gas with their disdain for Russia’s severe military threats against Ukraine?
These concerns have been amplified by Europe’s seemingly marginal role in NATO-Russia summit discussions to achieve a diplomatic solution. Despite the fact that EU officials drew up possible sanctions against Russia in case of invasion, they had no formal role in the diplomatic talks (ibid.). This exclusion makes the EU look sidelined in an issue relevant to its own territory. Russia further cut out the EU by barring several EU officials from entering the country as a response to the restrictive measures set on Moscow (DW 2022). However, EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrel, stated that this move should not have a significant effect on the EU’s role in resolving the tensions. This confidence results from the US’ reassurance that no deal will be agreed upon without EU strong cooperation, coordination, and participation (Mathisen 2022). Although Borrel’s statement might be comforting, the exclusion still worries many foreign ministers who are urging Member States to prepare contingency plans independently of US aid.
EU leaders have been in constant communication with Vladimir Putin. French president Emmanuel Macron recently discussed the possibility of a diplomatic solution to the military crisis with him (Herszenhorn and Leali 2022). The European Council has expressed its support
for the Normandy format, “a four-way dialogue between Paris, Berlin, Kyiv and Moscow”, in hopes that it will lead to a breakthrough during peace talks and achieve the implementation of the Minsk 2 peace accord (Herszenhorn and Burchard 2021). So far, there have been no conclusive results; the threat of military conflict still hangs in the air. As the security and sovereignty of Ukraine continues to be threatened the stability in Europe is slowly being chipped away, with numerous disputes amongst nation-states and the prospect of a destructive energy crisis taking its place.
What to Expect Going Forward?
As Russia continues denying any hostile intent while simultaneously building up its military strength on the ground, the EU still has yet to claim its right to have a hand in the resolution of the tensions. Its involvement during peace discussions has often been limited, with internal disagreements frequently hindering efficient decision-making. The future of Europe, and of the entire world, remains uncertain as peace talks continue. Nevertheless, the EU's stance against the militarization of the Ukrainian border and support for NATO seem to remain strong. It has vowed to continue to stand by Ukraine’s side and offer financial aid. However, if that will be enough to diminish interstate agitation, and thus prove its relevance in the Ukrainian conflict remains to be seen.
Written by Taisia Fusea & Antonio De Carluccio, Amsterdam Chapter of European Horizons
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Herszenhorn, David M., and Giorgio Leali. 2022. “In Call with Macron, Putin Slams West for
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