By Li Hai
Ukraine has come under the spotlight lately, getting Russia and the US locking horns, the UK, Japan and several other countries fanning up flames on Washington's side, and the EU on the fly to chill down the situation. Many European countries, which are both NATO and EU members, are taking cautious military measures.
While Washington has called back its diplomats at its embassy in Ukraine, EU's diplomatic missions are still running normally in Kyiv. Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said the union will continue to make collective diplomatic efforts and persuade Moscow and Washington to resort to the path of dialogue. Political figures of France and Germany, the dual cores of the union, were busy conducting shuttle diplomacy among the US, Russia and Ukraine, and trying to get the last two back to the Normandy format, a four-party diplomatic group, and put the Minsk Agreements into practice as soon as possible.
Why is EU so eager to make peace?
First, it doesn't want the Ukraine situation to embroil itself, which will bear the brunt once war broke out between Russia and Ukraine, in which case it will not only have to take in refugees rushing in from the warring countries but its cooperation with Russia in energy, economy, trade, and technology will also be halted because of the US's "security-kidnapping". That will add fuel to the already burning flame of the pandemic, soaring energy price and inflation that are troubling the European economy at the moment, with the possibility of causing serious social and political crises.
Second, it wants to cast a figure in the international community. Having a bigger say over European security will help the union achieve "strategic independence". Commenting on the Ukraine situation lately, Borrell said "we are no longer in Yalta times... Spheres of influence for two big powers do not belong...in 2022", adding that the absence of the EU on the negotiating table concerning Europe's security is "unacceptable". Macron said the Europeans should talk with Russia through a separate channel.
Third, French and German leaders want to augment the clout of their countries and themselves. Macron's hands-on approach to the Ukraine issue reflects Paris' "sense of responsibility" as the rotating chair of the union and will give a boost to his presidential election in the coming April. The newly elected German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also wants to take the opportunity to prove himself capable of being the helmsman for Germany and the EU in the post-Merkel age.
The EU and US' obviously different stance and moves on Ukraine indicate that the EU is reflecting on and adjusting its previous policies and trying to moderate the situation through open communication with all relevant parties. But it won't see much real effect without a tough fight.
For one thing, its strengths and capacities are being questioned. Russia and the US are still dominating the show in Ukraine, leaving little room for the EU to make much of a difference. Moscow publicly doubted France, indeed the EU's ability to act independently, while Washington cannot put up with EU daring to disagree or even take any "unauthorized" move, claiming itself to be the key player in the issue. Washington's politicians and media also accused Berlin of being intimidated by Russia’s superiority in natural gas into forsaking solidarity within the West…
For another, it has to reverse its ideological bias. EU's incessant eastward expansion under the ideological banner and ceaseless efforts to stir up "democratic transformation" or even "color revolution" in former Soviet Union member states is a key reason for Russia's distrust. For the EU-Russia relation to return to a "cooperative, not confrontational" tone, the EU must take practical steps to increase mutual understanding rather than hold up its own values as the yardstick.
Moreover, it has to cement unity within the union. While western European countries are for a mild stance toward Russia, Central and Eastern European countries that joined the union later, harboring deep-seated hatred and horror toward Moscow, strongly demand a larger military presence of the US-led NATO on their soil, support its eastward expansion, and clamor for Ukraine to join the western family. These strategic and cultural divergences rooted in geopolitics make it hard for the EU as a whole to have constructive dialogues with Russia on the Ukraine issue.