by Timothy Ash.
Ukrainian servicemen patrol on their APC on September 8, 2014 in Avdeevka, 5 kilometres north of Donetsk. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Monday that Kiev had managed to “free” 1,200 people taken captive by pro-Russian rebels during their five-month separatist uprising AFP PHOTO/ANATOLII STEPANOV © AFP
The European Union is only really as strong as its weakest link on these kind of things, which frankly makes it very, very weak – with a very clear appearance of dithering and double standards.
Yesterday various EU member states were attempting to deny they were stalling the introduction of the next wave of sanctions, but the reality is that there are more than a handful of countries in the nervous camp, eager not to overly antagonise Russia and thereby damage important business interests.
The above said, where was the US on sanctions yesterday? Seemingly hiding under the EU’s coattails.
Trying to put some logic behind the above.
The EU, and presumably the United States, want to give the current ceasefire a chance to work – albeit note the less- than-encouraging comments from the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe,which was the organisation that brokered the ceasefire in the first place in Minsk.
I guess imposing additional sanctions now could enable “unwilling partners” to the peace process to pull back and revert to fighting.
Obviously though the question is when the EU will decide to agree to implement the latest round of sanctions – will they be continuously kicked down the road/delayed?
There is mention of monitoring of the ceasefire terms. I think therein the EU will want to see more of the parts of the 12 point plan implemented, and perhaps particularly, evidence that Russian troops and fighters in Ukraine are pulled back across the border into Russia.
Yesterday what was significant was that Ukraine’s military spokesman, Andriy Lysenko, noted that for the first time in weeks additional Russian troops had not been sent across the border into Ukraine, and this is progress of sorts. That still leaves the question of the estimated 4,000 to perhaps 10,000 Russian fighters and troops actually in Ukraine at present.
Meanwhile, it will be interesting over the next week to see if the European Parliament votes to ratify Ukraine’s association agreement and deep and comprehenseive free trade agreement with the EU – committee members approved its ratification yesterday, but let’s see whether members of the European Parliament get cold feet.
Ratification by the European Parliament would allow provisional implementation pending final ratification in EU 28 parliaments and also by the Rada. There is much talk that if the West is unwilling to give military assistance to Ukraine, then it has to help Ukraine in the economy sphere – well this will be a key test, and remember that the AA/DCFTA started this whole crisis, and ultimately stronger relations with EU, and a move towards Europe is what most Ukrainians want and what they seem willing to fight for.
As if still to underline the strained relations between the West and Russia, note the Financial Times report over Russia trying to get in the way of reverse gas flows to Ukraine, and potentially therein disrupt gas supplies to Europe, or at least reduce these flows so as to ensure that the likes of Poland, Hungary and Slovakia lack sufficient spare gas to supply Ukraine.
And, the spat over the detained Estonian intelligence official by Russia, is continuing.
Cynics would argue that this is Russia just making the point that despite U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to the region last week, and assurances to countries such as Estonia, NATO’s Article 5 clause does not mean very much in practice, when faced by a determined opponent and weakness in the ranks of both the EU and NATO. The message is meant to be that this is Russia’s backyard and it can do what it wants, when it wants, so you have to negotiate with Moscow.
(Timothy Ash is the head of emerging market research for Standard Bank in London).