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Steinmeier and Hammond Foto: EPA/OLIVIER HOSLET
Image: picture-alliance/epa/O. Hoslet

Seeking new strategies

Barbara Wesel / db
November 17, 2014

The EU isn't interested in tougher sanctions against Moscow, but in fresh talks - while Kyiv is expected to launch reforms to move the country closer to the European Union.


Whoever imagined that, following the heated words directed at Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit, the EU foreign ministers would strike a harsher tone on Ukraine were mistaken.

On the contrary - at the start of the meeting in Brussels, Europe's new chief diplomat Federica Mogherini was content to signal a multi-pronged approach. A debate on sanctions is on the agenda, but so is the question of how to revive the dialogue with the government in Moscow. The EU gathering is the first ministers' meeting headed by the Italian foreign affairs chief.

Expectations of Mogherini are high in the wake of her predecessor Catherine Ashton, widely regarded as weak.

Mild words

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn set the tone of the talks, by saying, "Russia is a big, important country that deserves respect." It doesn't make sense, he added, to continue to turn the screws and end up with a confrontation that can't be repaired. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier would likely agree wholeheartedly: over the weekend, he announced tougher economic sanctions aren't the aim at all, though he added the names of several eastern Ukrainian rebel leaders to the list of people to be slapped with frozen bank accounts and travel bans. So the EU's reaction to Russia's aggressive acts over the past week and a half in eastern Ukraine is very cautious. Steinmeier conceded the situation has come to a head: "We must be very careful not to lose control."

Steinmeier appears intent mainly on softening a debate that has become increasingly acrimonious: European diplomats must consider what they say in public, he said, adding that we have no option but to "see whether we can contribute to de-escalation." With that in mind, he's looking for a new framework for talks: perhaps representatives of the newly-founded Eurasian economic union and the EU could get together to create a forum for joint economic talks. In any case, he said, Europe must try to prevent violence from spiraling yet again in Ukraine.

Klimkin and Mogherini Photo: REUTERS/Eric Vidal
Basic agreement: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Klimkin and EU foreign affairs chief MogheriniImage: Reuters/E. Vidal

Ukraine must implement reforms

At the same time, the EU wants to forge ahead with its demands on Kyiv: political and economic stability in Ukraine. This goal will cost Europe billions of euros. A pact for growth and domestic reform is designed to ensure that funds don't vanish in Ukrainian state operating costs.

"The EU links expectations to the economic support of Ukraine," Steinmeier said. The question is, how promising are attempts to push the Poroshenko government toward reforms while a war rages in the east of the country?

"That's the key question," said Jan Techau,:link:http://carnegieeurope.eu/#/slide_3785_new-ambition-for-europe-memo-to-european-union-foreign-policy-chief# director of Carnegie Europe. Sanctions aren't the West's main leverage, he argued: it's about stabilizing the rest of Ukraine, and making it successful. That's why the West is putting pressure on Kyiv to really get started and signaling willingness to help, the security expert said.

"The jury is still out on how realistic all of this is," Techau said, adding that some say the country is basically ruined, while others say it's not that bad, but it will take at least 15 to 20 years to rebuild. "The key factor is whether the West will keep at pushing for reforms in Ukraine," he said. Russia's president is gambling that the pendulum might swing toward a pro-Russian leader. That would be everyone's loss, according to Techau: the Ukrainian people's, Poroshenko's, and the West's.

Jan Techau Photo: Bernd Riegert, DW
The West must keep on pushing, says Jan TechauImage: DW/B. Riegert
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