The Ukraine Crisis That Could Have Been Averted, With a Little Help From the EU

Much of the turmoil in Ukraine could have been avoided if the EU had tried to reach an understanding with Moscow over expansion eastward into Russia’s backyard. Ukraine having developed into a democratic country wouldn't have hurt, either.

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Relatives mourn in front of the casket of a person killed during clashes between Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces during a burial service in the center of Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, on May 7, 2014.Credit: AP

The turmoil in Ukraine, the growing tension between the U.S., the EU and Russia raises the question of the origin of this fast-developing crisis. How did it start, who is responsible, and how can further bloodshed and an escalation be avoided?

At the intersection of forces with contrary interests are the European Union, backed by the US, and Russia. The background to this confrontation between the EU and Russia, are countries on Russia’s western border, some of whose borders were drawn arbitrarily and even capriciously decades ago by the rulers of the Soviet Union. With the breakup of the Soviet Union, millions of Russians found themselves within a sovereign Ukraine, constituting a majority in the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine.

Two things could have prevented the present crisis. First, had the Ukraine developed into a democratic country, with a clean government and a progressive economic policy, the Russian population there might have preferred staying in the Ukraine’s borders rather than longing to return to “Mother Russia.” That did not happen. Second, had the EU leadership understood that tempting the Ukraine to join the EU would be perceived as and affront by Russia, and if entry into the EU were to be followed by joining NATO, a sister organization of the EU, it would be seen in Moscow as a veritable danger to Russia, the EU might have preferred reaching an understanding with Moscow over expansion eastward into Russia’s backyard. That did not happen either.

Maybe it was too much to expect of the corrupt Ukrainian leadership to lead the Ukraine to true democracy and economic progress, but how did the EU leadership make this fateful mistake? After all you don’t have to be an admirer of Vladimir Putin to be aware of Russian sensibilities on this matter.

EU foreign policy leadership is not in Berlin, Paris, or London, and certainly not in Warsaw. It is in Brussels, as is the headquarters of what has become EU’s military sister organization, NATO. The creation of the EU and its rapid expansion has spawned a large bureaucracy in Brussels which seems to have taken on a life of its own when it comes to determining the EU’s foreign policy. It is headed by Catherine Ashton, the representative for foreign affairs and security policy of the EU.

Until the Ukraine crisis, Israel bore the brunt of the major mistakes made by this bureaucracy. Rather than promoting good relations between the EU and Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, a country sharing what are presumed to be the values and ideals of the member countries of the EU, in the past few years the Brussels bureaucracy has waged a campaign of hostility toward Israel, initiating measures of economic sanctions and boycotts, steps which certainly did not have the support of many of the countries belonging to the EU. Paying little attention to the activities of Islamic terrorist militias and the bloodbath taking place in Syria, Lady Ashton made it a habit to castigate Israel at regular intervals.

By now it should be clear even in Brussels that Israel is not about to sacrifice its security interests to the prejudices of the Brussels bureaucrats. Nor is it going to collapse even if Brussels were to use whatever economic punitive measures against Israel it may still have in its arsenal.

On the other hand the Ukraine crisis is becoming more serious from day to day, and should not be left to the bureaucrats in Brussels. It is now up to Barack Obama to deal with what has developed into a full blown confrontation and daily casualties on the ground. It is not likely to be resolved by an exchange of sanctions between East and West. Needed are intensive negotiations at the highest level.

Pro-Russian gunmen carry the coffin during a commemorative service in the center of Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, on May 7, 2014.Credit: AP