AMSTERDAM, March 24, 2014 — Today the G7 leaders will have a brief summit to discuss the situation at Crimea and in Ukraine.
There is some truth in the saying that America is from Mars and Europe is from Venus. Europeans are less likely to use or approve military force than the U.S. is. Many will argue that military force is not an acceptable instrument at all, and there are only few extreme circumstances that would allow the use of force.
This European stance has it roots in the last century, which brought two devastating wars to Europe with millions killed, countries destroyed and lasting hatred between countries as result. This remains a strong lesson for Europeans and guides the European reaction. Military action is only the very the last resort and only in extreme situations. On top of that, 2014 is 100 years after World War I started, and memory is especially alive.
A European strategy would have two main focus areas: Ukraine and energy dependency.
The first focus has to be Ukraine itself. The land has to be stabilized and there can can be no new excuse for Putin to deplore further actions. This means on one hand support to avoid a financial collapse of the country and to boost growth. The people need a perspective. One reason for the support for Putin in some parts of the country is that Russia promises money. People in Ukraine are poor, and if there is no credible perspective for the future, it makes it easier for spoilers to set the people up against the central government and to create an unstable situation.
On the other hand, there needs to be credible protection of minority rights. Sending OSCE observers was a good first step. Next should be changes to the Ukrainian constitution to enshrine the rights of (ethnic) minorities. Another option is to create a federal state with more freedom for the regions to create their own policies. This will help to reduce the potential for future propaganda about “threatened minorities.
The second focus is energy. Europe is still quite dependent on Russian oil and gas. Efforts should be increased to reduce its (and Ukraine’s) dependency on Russia. There are no short term solutions for this, but it has to become a focus. The U.S. can support this effort by exporting LNG to Europe. This will reduce Russia’s ability to hold Europe hostage while at the same time hurting Russia’s economy, letting Moscow know there is a price for annexing Crimea.
While the reality is that the only way to reverse Russia’s annexation of Crimea is through the use of military force, which is not an option for Europe, it has to be clear that there are consequences. Some of those will be diplomatic and some economic, as e.g. importing less gas and oil from Russia, and the already implemented blacklist of some Russians.
The most important issue for now is to avoid any new excuses for Russia for any additional land grab in Ukraine. Focus for now is de-escalating the situation and avoiding any new aggressive steps. Russia will at the end pay a price for this action – being more isolated in the future and having less economic power. Additionally, Ukraine will now turn westwards. With that, Putin managed himself to castrate his vision of a revival of the union of former Soviet states and to reduce the Russian sphere of influence.