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Europe sidelined as U.S. tries to stop Russia-Ukraine war

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Mariana, 52 years old, is a marketing researcher. Mariana trains Saturdays in a forest in Kyiv on January 22, 2022.

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While crisis talks between U.S. and NATO officials continue, Europe is conspicuously missing from last-ditch negotiations to prevent tensions between Russia, Ukraine, and other countries from spiraling into conflict.

Analysts believe Europe is being “sidelined” on its turf. Eurasia Group’s Emre Petker and Alex Brideau, both from Eurasia Group, criticized the bloc’s inability to play a leading role during the negotiations.

The EU is not able to unambiguously support a strategy against Russia’s growing aggressive posture towards Ukraine and it will continue to struggle to do this going forward. They noted that this will leave Brussels behind while the U.S., Russia and Europe discuss Europe’s future security architecture.

Numerous European officials complain that the EU was left out of discussions about Ukraine between U.S.-Russian officials. Ukraine, however, has complained it too has been excluded from talks that place it at the center and are its main concern.

However, the European Union is having difficulties dealing with Russia’s aggressive neighbor. There is also division in the bloc regarding how to approach Moscow. Some countries are more cautious about Russia than others (e.g. France or Germany), while other countries, like those from Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union members, tend to be more optimistic.

The EU is dependent on Russia in large part (around 40%) for its natural gas supplies. This means that Russia could use the resource to its advantage, especially during winter. Germany, in particular, is facing a problem because Nord Stream 2 will be able to transport natural gas directly to Germany. It is intended to increase Russian gas supplies to Germany.

A second problem is the lack of consensus within the EU about its future security environment. France is one of those countries that wants more strategic autonomy from NATO. Other nations (e.g. the ones in Eastern Europe or the Baltics) would rather remain within the NATO umbrella.

Europe will not act “unless there is an invasion”

“Barring invasion, Europe can’t and won’t mobilize,’ Eurasia Group’s analysts warned, predicting that the EU “will struggle to bridge internal divides between Russia hawks and doves over Ukraine tensions.”

Peker and Brideau stated that these dynamics would put another nail in EU defense integration’s coffin, and increase the bloc’s split into pro U.S. security camps. This effectively means that the “U.S. – Russia talks” will ultimately decide Europe’s future security architecture. The EU will then follow.

For several weeks, crisis talks between Russia’s officials and the West have been going on. These discussions follow high-profile conversations between Joe Biden (the U.S. president) and Vladimir Putin (the Russian counterpart).

Russia’s conduct toward Ukraine has raised concern after reports claimed that the country had sent around 100,000 soldiers to various locations along its Ukrainian border. Intelligence reports suggest Russia may be planning an invasion.

Russia repeatedly denies these claims.

Russia demanded legal guarantees that Ukraine would not be permitted to join NATO. Putin wants to prevent any expansion to the east of NATO and pushes NATO for a reduction in deployments in Eastern Europe, the Baltics, and Eastern Europe. These demands have been refused by NATO and the U.S.

The military alliance does not have to protect Ukraine because it is not part of NATO. This raises the question: just how far the U.S. and EU are willing to go to defend the country — one that aspires to both membership of the EU and NATO. These aspirations are strongly opposed by Russia.

The U.S. and NATO are all tough on Russia. They have all promised “massive consequences”, as U.S. Secretary Antony Blinken stated on Sunday. If Russia invades, it seems like the first response by the international community would be more sanctions against key Russian sectors.

While the U.S. and U.K. have sent military equipment to Ukraine to help it defend itself, the response from EU nations has been more nuanced — Germany has refused to provide Ukraine with direct military support and reportedly blocked Estonia from sending German-made weapons to Ukraine.

NATO itself has been strengthening its military capability in Eastern Europe, by placing forces on alert and sending more fighter jets and ships to the region. Some European nations, such as the Netherlands and Spain, announced that they would send military hardware in order to strengthen NATO’s defense capabilities.

On Monday, the Kremlin charged the U.S. with escalating East–West tensions. It announced plans to increase NATO forces and it’s decision to evacuate families from the U.S. embassy in Ukraine.

Europe prepares for conflict

Monday’s statement by the EU indicated that they will stand with Ukraine. Diplomats continue to work for peace in Europe, even though there are preparations to conflict.

This week has seen a flurry diplomatic meetings in the region, including the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council meeting Monday and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg having talks with foreign ministers from Finland or Sweden.

Biden held an afternoon video conference with several European leaders as well as NATO chief Stoltenberg on Monday.

The European Commission stated that the meeting was “aimed to coordinate the collective response to Russia’s aggressive behavior with regard to Ukraine.” All leaders agreed on how serious the situation is. Although they wish for diplomacy success, the leaders are making preparations to handle any eventuality.

The statement added that the EU was working on “a large array of sectoral, individual and collective sanctions in case of Russian military aggression against Ukraine,” and also worked with EU countries and allies to prepare for any eventuality.

The EU has announced Monday a new package of financial aid for Ukraine, totalling 1.2 billion euro ($1.36billion). It includes an emergency financial assistance program and additional grants of 120 million euros. The aid is meant to help Ukraine address its financial needs because of the conflict, according to Von der Leyen, President European Commission. It can make its own decisions. It will always have the EU’s support.”

European leaders also want to work with their political advisors this week in an effort to make Russia and Ukraine more friendly. Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany due to hold “Normandy format” talks on eastern Ukraine in ParisDienstag or Wednesday

Such talks have in the past produced the so-called ‘Minsk Agreements’ — peace deals to stop the ongoing lower-level conflict in eastern Ukraine — but the accords did not stop ongoing skirmishes and some fighting in the Donbass region between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian troops, and both sides have accused the other of flouting the agreements.

There is little hope that Normandy negotiations will succeed. Bluebay Asset Management’s senior sovereign strategist for emerging markets, Timothy Ash said that the “Normandy” and “Minsk processes were dead”, with Moscow showing “zero interest in continuing peace negotiations.

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