Ukraine and Russia: What’s the EU doing?

Copyright: European Union

by Yves Lacroix and Lena Tomalik

This past week, reports have amassed on Russia increasing its deployment of troops near the Ukrainian border. It is estimated that this constitutes the largest deployment since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, with heavy equipment and artillery being towed from as far as Siberia. According to Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov, the build up is nothing more than an exercise but military experts say the troop movements paint a different picture. 

The situation between Russia and Ukraine has been tense ever since the so-called Ukraine crisis in 2014. Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists continue to clash in the Eastern Ukrainian Donbas region, despite the existence of a ceasefire agreement (which appears to exist more on paper than in reality). The EU responded to Russian aggression by imposing wide-reaching (economic) sanctions, but these do not seem to show the desired effect. Moreover, France and Germany took the lead in negotiating the Minsk II Agreement with Ukraine and Russia, designed to end the conflict and de-escalate the situation. However, Russia has fallen short of implementing this agreement and the most recent news seem to confirm this assessment. So, how has the EU responded to the new situation at the Ukrainian border? 

Several world leaders have already expressed their support to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky but the EU seems, apart from a few conversations and phone calls, to be awfully quiet. On 12 April, G7 foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as European High Representative Josep Borell, expressed their concerns over the build up of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border. The group said the troop movements represent threatening and destabilizing activities and called on Russia to cease its provocations immediately. The same concern was expressed during a meeting between US secretary of state Antony Blinken and EU high representative Josep Borrell on the 13th. In addition, Council President Charles Michel had a phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky. In the call, Michel reconveyed the EU’s unwavering support to Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. 

EU foreign ministers will come together on Monday to exchange views on the topic as well as meet with Ukrainian minister of foreign affairs Dmytro Kuleba. It remains to be seen whether the EU’s engagement extends beyond mere expression of concerns.