SilenceJuly 23, 2014
Today sees another European Council meeting – the 28 Foreign Ministers of the EU – gathered to discuss and respond to Kremlin action in Ukraine once more.
The meeting began with a minute’s silence for those who were murdered on flight MH17.
We started the meeting of EU FM’s with a minute of silence for all the victims of the tragedy and crime of MH17. A long minute of silence.
— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) July 22, 2014
For many, it now begs the question, just when that European minute’s silence will end with regard to anything more than rhetoric, and herald the introduction of painful sanctions toward the Kremlin. Today that silence seems very likely to continue with no new sanctions forthcoming.
Whether you consider the downing of MH17 a “game changer” or not – and that is very much a question of perception when considering that any new sanctions seem hardly likely to change the Kremlin’s goals regarding Ukraine – some form of action would certainly be deemed appropriate by many capitals.
Whether those more hawkish European capitals can convince the somewhat more dovish European capitals of a far more robust cost to the Kremlin due to continued shenanigans remains to be seen. Thus the minute’s silence at the European Council’s meeting today may actually turn into a week’s silence whilst pressure is put to bear. Perhaps even longer.
The EU as a collective is not a nimble body. The 28 Hydra heads all have varying opinions. It is not as swift and agile as the USA or Russia due to its internal mechanics of decision making.
The EU is far better at assisting in the delivery of softer solutions than it is in making hard choices. As such, the EU is far more at ease in supporting Ukraine than it is at sanctioning The Kremlin.
This is clearly seen by decisions such the creation and deployment of a civilian mission to advise on sector security reform (rule of law) at today’s European Council meeting – a wholly welcomed outcome it has to be said – but one that will not make any headlines or be perceived as “European unity” either internally of Europe, or of unity with Ukraine, by many.
The media will claim that the Europeans “bottled it” again – should nothing robust by way of sanctions be forthcoming today in the post MH17 situation. And let us be blunt – they will have “bottled it” in that regard if and when that proves to be the case – which seems most likely .
However, the two most pressing issues for the Ukrainian leadership are securing its borders with Russia, thus making it far easier to deal with the troubles in the east, and rule of law – or the absence of it – from where almost all societal ills and complaints spring forth and can be cured.
If the EU Member States cannot find the collective will to act in tandem with the USA regarding severity of sanctions and the cost they impose on The Kremlin (and themselves), then perhaps a far smarter division of labour should be considered between the western nations. The Europeans cannot be excused their obligations with regard sanctions, but their limitations are all too clear. A complete and flagrant breaking of the law regarding Crimea is easily sanctioned, meddling by supposed proxies in eastern Ukraine, apparently not.
Perhaps the Europeans should be primarily directed at assisting Ukraine and supporting the USA led sanctions as best they are collectively able – not that it removes the ability to unilaterally act with integrity by individual nations within Europe – whilst the USA supports the Europeans where necessary in direct Ukrainian assistance, but leads the way on sanctions.
Such an arrangement would remove a lot of frustration between the western parties and also give the appearance of “western unity” as each plays out the part they are most capable of and comfortable in, regarding differing forms of assistance to Ukraine.
One of the key tactics of Kremlin policy is to drive wedges into perceived splits in unity. However, by putting the players into the roles in which they are most effective and comfortable would certainly reduce any apparent splits – and either which way, Ukraine continues to get the help it needs.
It is an idea – not one particularly palatable as it hides European weaknesses whilst playing to its strengths – but it may be one of the few ways to continue to show a “united front” to The Kremlin in rebuffing its designs on Ukraine.
In the meantime, the sound of silence will continue regarding harder sanctions within Europe.