Europe was lost in action in the conflict in Ukraine – it does not have to be that way

  • In the matter of Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, Europe was sidelined and the United States entered the main stage, writes the author
  • And he adds that it is deeply disturbing that the issue underlying European security is being dealt with only on the other side of the Atlantic.
  • The Union is far less active externally than in previous years, even as it was torn apart by the debt crisis, migration and Brexit, writes Tocci
  • Tocci: The Union cannot afford to be absent from such a crisis moment, its leaders must step in and participate in solving the crisis on its border
  • Negotiations need to be resumed in the Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany format and co-opted by the USA, Great Britain and Italy, concludes the author

Original article on POLITICO.eu website

When it comes to tough power, Europeans have long played in the shadow of the United States. But that hasn’t stopped them from taking a key role in the Ukrainian game in the past.

The European Union’s deep and comprehensive free trade agreement with Ukraine is the quintessence of a European geostrategy that has irritated Moscow perhaps even more than the promise that Ukraine (and Georgia) will one day become NATO members.

Paris and Berlin brokered the Minsk agreement on Ukraine, whether effective or not. But now Europe has been sidelined while Russia and the United States have stepped onto the main stage.

While Europeans may feel reassured that the US’s reorientation towards China does not translate into an abandonment of the continent, there is something deeply disturbing about the fact that the issue underlying European security is being dealt with only on the other side of the Atlantic.

US President Joe Biden sincerely assured Europeans that in dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin, his principle of operation is: “nothing about you without you”. But while it regularly consults Kiev, Berlin, Paris, London and Rome on the crisis, consultation is not enough.

Where is this Union?

So the question is why? Inside the Union, the pandemic gave her a new sense of purpose. And yet the community is far less active outside than in previous years, even when torn apart by the debt crisis, migration and Brexit. Besides Putin’s preference for cooperation with Washington, what explains Europe’s passivity in Ukraine and European security?

Part of the answer, of course, lies in wars over foreign policy influence and the institutional weakness of Brussels. The fact that the EU is in a transition period when it comes to leadership does not help either – the new German government has yet to settle down, the presidential elections in France are fast approaching, and Italy’s newly found credibility is again undermined by quarrels in parliament over another the president of the country.

But while these may be reasons, this is not a translation. The Union cannot afford to be absent from such a crisis moment. The time has come for its leaders to step in and make a significant contribution to resolving the crisis on their frontier.

Revive the Normandy format

They should start by reviving – and expanding – the mediation format that until recently dealt with the conflict in Ukraine: the Normandy format. The previous participants, representatives of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine, should be joined by diplomats from the USA, Great Britain and Italy, with whom the United States is formally consulted on the crisis.

It is important that Kiev formally participates in the negotiations, which was the greatest value of the Normandy format, and was not merely consulted on other people’s interests with Moscow. Regardless of the outcome of the talks, it will be important to clearly show that Ukraine is a sovereign state whose fate is decided by Ukraine itself.

It is also crucial to seal the US participation in mediation. The Biden administration’s commitment to Ukraine and European security must continue.

The revitalized and expanded Normandy format should also aim to overcome the stalemate on the Minsk agreement. Parties should avoid separating security chapters from political chapters. Also, under the “security first” approach, they should broaden the scope of the issues discussed to include both the withdrawal of Russian troops and the geostrategic positioning of Ukraine and security guarantees.

The future of Ukraine has a meaning that goes beyond that country’s fate or the dispute between Moscow and Washington – it lies at the heart of European security. Europeans may not yet be able to manage their security on their own, but that does not mean they can afford to be dealt with without them.

Nathalie Tocci is the director of Istituto Affari Internazionali, a member of the ENI board and author of the POLITICO’s World View column.

Editing: Michał Broniatowski

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