From Brussels to Kiev : the mute European Union

Ukrainian Prime Minister  speaks at EU emergency meeting on Ukraine on March 6th.  CC/Flickr/European Coucil

Ukrainian Prime Minister speaks at EU emergency meeting on Ukraine on March 6th.
CC/Flickr/European Coucil

Four days after the entrance of Russian troops in Crimea, diplomats from all nationalities are scrambling like a pack of disturbed ants.

The frenzy has even spread outside of the embassies. Hilary Clinton compared the decision of President Vladimir Putin to Hitler’s annexation of Sudetenland prior to World War II. The image is strong, and it is meant to be. What is at stake here is a power play between the world’s leading powers.

So far, it is the United Stated who has spoken the loudest, and acted in consequence. It is President Obama who led the G7 effort to issue a press release condemning Russian intervention in Ukraine. It is US Secretary of State John Kerry who threatened Russia with isolation and promised a billion dollars in loan guarantees to the new Ukrainian government. It is the American presidential delegation who has decided not to take part in the Winter Paralympics games of Sochi. It is finally the American Representative to the UN Samantha Power who ridiculed the justifications presented by Russia to the Security Council last Tuesday.

As I said in our last session, Russia’s actions speak much louder than its words. What is happening today is not a human rights protection mission and it is not a consensual intervention. What is happening today is a dangerous military intervention in Ukraine. It is an act of aggression. It must stop. Samantha Power, March 4th 2014

In a way, Putin echoes its critics by using the ghost of fascism to describe the Ukrainian new government, and its dangers from the Russian minorities of the contry. The fact is that protection of civilians has never been high on Putin’s list of reasons to infringe another’s state sovereignty. It is the argument Russia used to prevent a UN intervention in the Syrian Civil War at the end of last year.

Worse, it is a justification even China, who was Russia’s ally on the Syria question, cannot reasonably support. The principle of non-interference is deeply rooted in Asian international relations, and is particularly dear to a country which has been criticized on the way it treated civilians in the Tibet and Xingjian provinces.

In this power play, the European Union has failed to provide the region with much needed leadership. The Ukrainian crisis lasted for months before the Union was able to have any influence on the behavior of the previous government. Even at the worst of the Ukrainian civil war, it was the foreign affairs ministers of France, Germany and Poland who flew to Kiev to negotiate for peace.

Several analysts have applauded the scrutiny the Russian representative faced in Tuesday’s Security Council meeting, but this has only proved two things: first, that world powers do try to justify themselves in the UN arena when they break international law. Yet in the big picture, even a united Security Council has no power when opposed to one of its five permanent members.

Because of the veto rule, the UN is simply irrelevant when it comes to conflict resolution involving powerful countries. This is where regional entities have a chance to make a difference. The European Union has been created to give the region a common economic and political clout.

A EU sanction bundle might prove much more effective than American threats. The USA merely represents 2 percent of economic activity in Russia, while the EU is one of its biggest trade partners, especially when it comes to energy.

Yet during this whole crisis, the European member states have revealed their inability to speak with one voice. Even now, they cannot agree on significant sanctions to be imposed on Russia.

Baroness Catherine Ashton.  CC/Flickr/FriendsOfEurope

Baroness Catherine Ashton.

EU Foreign Affairs representative Catherine Ashton may not be missing in action, but is indeed missing the negotiations. Even when she meets with the Russian Foreign Affairs minister, it feels like she is the representative of a small, insignificant country. There are no significant advances, and no communication.

The only leader we hear loud and clear is the distant United States, and the organizations it has promoted in Europe, such as the all-mighty NATO.

How long will Europe accept to be a mere chessboard in the feud between the United States and Russia?