Nathalie Tocci is director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali, member of the board of directors of ENI and author of the World View section of POLITICO.
There is a slow motion drama unfolding on the European continent, but in there Europeans are nowhere to be found. The European Union played a role in escalating the crisis between Russia and Ukraine at best. But it doesn’t have to be. After all, he has played a starring role in the past.
When it comes to hard power, Europeans have long played in the shadow of the United States. But that did not prevent them previously from playing a crucial role in the Ukrainian saga. The EU’s Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with Ukraine was a quintessentially European geostrategic initiative, which had perhaps angered Moscow more than Ukraine’s (and Georgia’s) promise to someday become NATO members. The Minsk agreement, effective or not, was negotiated by Paris and Berlin.
But now Europe is backstage as Russia and the United States take center stage. While Europeans can be reassured that the reorientation of the United States towards China does not translate into abandonment of the continent, there is something deeply troubling about the fact that an issue at the heart of European security is dealt with exclusively. across the Atlantic.
US President Joe Biden has, in all honesty, reassured Europeans that when he engages with Russian President Vladimir Putin, his operating principle is “nothing about you without you”. But while he has regularly consulted Kiev, Berlin, Paris, London and Rome on the crisis, advice is not enough.
The question then is why? Internally, the pandemic has given the EU a new raison d’être. And yet the bloc is much less active abroad than in previous years, even when it was torn apart by the sovereign debt crisis, migration and Brexit. Beyond Putin’s preference to engage with Washington, what explains Europe’s passivity vis-à-vis Ukraine and European security?
Part of the answer, of course, lies in turf wars in foreign policy and institutional weakness in Brussels. It also didn’t help that the bloc was in a period of leadership transition, with the installation of the new German government, the French presidential election looming and Italy’s new credibility questioned as his parliament is competing for the next President.
But while these may be reasons, they are not excuses. The EU cannot afford to be absent at such a time of crisis. It is time for its leaders to mobilize and make a significant contribution to resolving the crisis at its border.
They should start by revitalizing – and expanding – the mediation format that has dealt with the conflict over Ukraine until very recently: the Normandy format. Previous participants in the format, representatives from France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine, are also expected to be joined by diplomats from the United States, United Kingdom and Italy, whom the United States have formally consulted on this crisis.
What is essential is that Kiev be officially part of the negotiations rather than being consulted on the relations of others with Moscow – this was the greatest value of the Normandy format. Whatever the outcome of the talks, it will be a question of demonstrating unequivocally that Ukraine is a sovereign state, the fate of which is determined by Ukraine itself.
Sealing the United States’ participation in mediation is also crucial. The Biden administration’s commitment to Ukraine and European security must continue.
A revitalized and expanded Norman format would also seek to break the deadlock over the Minsk accord. The parties should emerge from the chicken-and-egg situation they find themselves in by decoupling the security and political chapters and, in a security-focused approach, broaden the range of issues addressed to include both military withdrawal of Russia, as well as Ukraine’s geostrategic positioning and security guarantees. .
. – The future of Ukraine has an importance which goes beyond the fate of this country, or the confrontation between Moscow and Washington – it is at the heart of European security. Europeans may not yet be able to manage their security on their own, but that doesn’t mean they can afford to let it run without them.