Event ReportsPublished on Apr 10, 2015
The past 18 months of the crisis in Ukraine has brought back memories of the Yugoslavian crisis, says Mr. Césare Onestini, the Deputy Head of delegation of the European Union in India.
Ukraine-like change not acceptable to EU, says official

The past 18 months of the crisis in Ukraine has brought back memories of the Yugoslavian crisis, according to Mr. Césare Onestini, the Deputy Head of delegation of the European Union in India.

Participating in a panel discussion on the current situation in Ukraine and the European Union’s perspective of the crisis at Observer Research Foundation on March 30, Mr. Onestini said that there has been a continuous change in the nature of the crisis. According to him, the determining moment of the crisis for the EU was the illegal annexation of Crimea and the following referendum which was not in line with international norms.

Mr. Onestini emphasised that it was not acceptable to Europe to have such a change in international order. He said the EU has been quite clear in seeing the Minsk agreement as the basis for a ceasefire.

He went on to outline EU-Russia relations vis-à-vis EU-Ukraine relations and delved into how the dynamics have shifted post the Ukraine crisis. Speaking about the EU’s initiative for enhancing the "Eastern Partnership", he emphasised that it is "not about spheres of influence or a choice between East and West". He observed that the purpose of the Eastern Partnership was to develop stronger links with the European Union’s eastern neighbourhood.

Mr. Onestini reiterated that a developing cooperation between these countries and the EU and does not hamper EU relations with other partners. He compared EU’s partnership with the East to that with Russia and remarked that EU’s partnership with the latter has been much more structured and detailed. He admitted that the economic activities between EU and Russia have almost stopped since the crisis in Ukraine, but there remain some areas (like research and education) which continue in spite of tensed relations.

He defended the sanctions by pointing out that "sanctions are part of the diplomatic approach", which have economic consequences. While he acknowledged that there are no winners and losers in the sanctions game, yet he believed that the latest (February 2015) Minsk agreement should be given a chance to succeed. He said that fundamentally the EU considers Russia’s actions in Crimea as a breach on international law.

Mr. Onestini concluded by remarking that the European Union has been an open project of pulling sovereign states together but it isn’t aimed against anybody. Its sole motive is to build intra European relations.

Speaking next, Senior Fellow in Germany-based think tank SWP, Mr Christian Wagner, emphasised the changing security scenario in Europe post the end of Cold War. He underscored that Europe is affected not only by the situation in Ukraine but also the developments in Middle East and northern Africa among others. With respect to Russian policies vis-à-vis Ukraine, he noted that within Germany there is growing suspicion of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s policies.

He said that the debate in Germany is all about European defence. Europe has from the beginning had the idea of a common European army but remained divided between NATO and Common European army. This dormant sentiment has again surfaced in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis. While Europe is yet to take a final call on this, a kind of return of traditional defence policy is already underway. The question of command in a Common European Army is a matter of great difficulty. Hence, until it achieves a consensus on this issue it will have to depend on the NATO.

Former Indian Ambassador to Russia, Mr. Prabhat Shukla, spoke about the new land linkages that came about because of the breakup of USSR. He opined that the eastern parts of Ukraine must be free to express their strategic outlook. He also discussed the possibility of Ukraine being a member of the broader Eastern partnership while having some ties with Russia.

Mr. Shukla also observed that though Crimea referendum was a defining moment, yet it was the shooting down of MH 10 that led to an ugly turn of events. He showed little hope in the Minsk agreement and exclaimed - "There is a ceasefire but there ain’t!"

Mr. Shukla said that Russia’s economy is in bad shape, but that according to him is more because of the falling oil prices than the sanctions. He remarked that Russia still has enormous reserves and domestic popularity of Mr. Putin is still high. He concluded that the more isolated Russia becomes from the West, the closer it grows with China with which it itself is not very comfortable.

Mr Shukla concluded by saying that from a policy point of view, it is best for India to stay neutral as both the west and Russia are important for her. However, he also said that India could and should try playing a bridging role between the two.

Prof. Sanjay Pandey from the Centre for Russian Studies in the JNU opined that it is not in the best interests for Ukraine to be completely aligned with Europe. According to him, a Ukraine, which is equidistant from both Europe and Russia, would meet its interests best.

Chairing the discussion, Mr. Nandan Unnikrishnan, Senior Fellow, ORF, highlighted the problems of perception that prevail in the Ukraine crisis. He termed the tiff between the West and Russia as ’pedagogical’, where both sides are attempting to preach to each other and teach the other a lesson. Unless they are able to disengage from their current modes of viewing the conflict no ’Minsk agreements’ are going to succeed, he said.

(This report is prepared by Himani Pant, Research Assistant, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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