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In this week’s edition: Western diplomacy over Ukraine, Belarus’ food embargo weapon and EU foreign intelligence ideas.


“It’s about more than Ukraine,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said earlier this week when visiting Kyiv.

Moscow’s aggressive behaviour could call into question the fundamental principles on which the entire international system is based, he said, adding that a nation cannot simply change the borders of another by force.

If that were allowed to happen, “we’re opening a very big Pandora’s box, and the whole world is watching what’s happening here,” Blinken warned.

Likewise, one could make the same case in saying Europe will only find its voice in the European security talks if it understands that Russia is interested in more than just another chunk of Ukrainian territory.

Eastern Europe and Western countries that decided to supply arms and assistance to Kyiv seem to have grasped that. Because if Russia can do this to Ukraine, and get away with it,  what will stop other countries stop doing the same to their neighbours?

So what will it look like if Putin decides to stage a new offensive in Ukraine?

According to experts and analysts, the scenarios vary, and everything depends on the degree of escalation chosen by Moscow.

Most still see the worst-case scenario of a “full-scale” Russian invasion of Ukraine as unlikely. Instead, many of the potential scenarios floated now stop short of actual combat.

They include capturing strategic territory in Ukraine’s east, likely to create a land bridge from Russia to occupied Crimea, hybrid warfare with cyberattacks targetting critical infrastructure, or missile strikes without troop involvement. 

Another possibility is a small incursion or simply sending Russian mercenaries and military equipment to the already occupied territories of Ukraine to expand existing separatist-held areas.

Then there is the option of just keeping up the pressure by amassing more troops or flexing muscle in Belarus.

The best-case scenario is for diplomacy to prevail, as promoted by ‘moderate’ Europeans such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Greece, exhausting ‘any room for dialogue’ with Russia. Potential talks in the so-called Normandy format, including Berlin, Paris, Kyiv and Moscow, are an example of another diplomatic approach.

Hope also lies in winning time (and reason) in talks over Russia’s security proposals. Although talks in the past two weeks have not yielded any breakthroughs, there is a commitment to continue talking.

Blinken said he expected to share US “concerns and ideas in more detail and in writing next week” with Russia, meaning before the end of January. Additionally, NATO talks are due in February, with the Alliance remaining steadfast in rejecting Russian demands.

While Biden was quick to retract his comments (though he kind of stated the obvious) and Macron’s ideas were largely dismissed as ‘irresponsible’ by experts and EU diplomats, Germany has become the new-old prime irritant in the current diplomatic efforts.

Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba blasted Germany’s refusal to export weapons, the veto of a weapon systems purchase by NATO’s Support and Procurement Agency, and the inclusion of the financial payment system SWIFT into potential future Russian sanctions.

On Saturday, this came to a head when Germany’s navy chief stepped down following comments made during a trip to India. He elicited criticism when he said Russian President Vladimir Putin deserved respect and Kyiv would never win back annexed Crimea from Moscow.

In Brussels, it’s not only about the mediation of a conflict somewhere in Eastern Europe, but about the EU asserting itself, an ambition that so far has not worked well despite the bloc’s first shiny new military strategy being in the works.

On Monday (24 January), EU foreign ministers are set to discuss current security tensions in Europe. EU diplomats and officials agree unequivocally that there will be ‘one, two rough weeks ahead’. 

Blinken is expected to join the discussion virtually later in the day to reaffirm transatlantic coordination and the West’s stance on ‘massive consequences’ if Russia decides to move in on Ukraine. 

Behind closed doors, some Euro-knuckle rapping can be expected.


EU IN THE WORLD

BELARUS WOES | Several EU interior ministers gathered in Lithuania to discuss how to step up the protection of EU external borders but failed to agree on a common approach, with options ranging from building fences at the borders to strengthening Schengen and migration legislation.

Poland’s Supreme Court, meanwhile, has said that a ban on media access to the border with Belarus is “incompatible” with the law, a ruling that could allow journalists to challenge the restriction.

At the same time, EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski has branded the food import embargo instated by Belarus a ‘weapon’ that is part of a hybrid attack against the EU and vowed to support the member states most impacted by the restrictions.

CHINESE PRESSURE | Over the past month, China has used coercive trade measures on Lithuanian companies and international firms with operations in the country. Businesses themselves, however, are reluctant to speak up.

Meanwhile, Slovenia has moved towards joining Lithuania in its pro-Taiwan policy, at a time when the EU is still struggling to find a unified message on China’s coercive trade measures against Vilnius. And France feels Beijing’s wrath over the French parliament’s genocide declaration.

PRE-AFRICA SUMMIT | The EU needs to ensure that African states do not bear the brunt of its carbon border levy Senegal’s President has warned EU leaders, in the run-up to next month’s EU–African Union summit in Brussels.

DEFENCE CORNER

FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE | The EU should develop its own foreign intelligence services to provide itself with credible information about possible foreign threats, according to an upcoming European Parliament proposal, previewed to EURACTIV.

FINLAND & NATO | Finland does not plan to join NATO in the near future but is ready to stand with its European allies and the United States by imposing tough sanctions on Russia if it attacks Ukraine, Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin said this week.

MALI PRESENCE | A group of NGOs has urged the EU and broader international community to exempt humanitarian aid from sanctions imposed on Mali’s military government, warning that 1.2 million Malians face a food crisis.

Last week, EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell and French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said they would follow the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) lead and impose sanctions against Colonel Assimi Göita’s government and reconsider the EU’s military missions.

EURASIA DIGEST

KAZAKH UNREST | Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi said earlier this week the situation in his country was normalising, following the unrest that shook it in the first days of the new year, and Russian troops, which he said helped prevent a possible coup d’etat, were withdrawing.


WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 

ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT FEW DAYS…

  • Foreign Affairs Council on Ukraine (featuring Blinken), Indo-Pacific, Mali, Sudan, Syria, Libya
    | Monday, 24 January 2022 | Brussels, Belgium
  • NATO chief Stoltenberg meets Finland’s/Sweden’s FMs
    | Monday, 24 January 2022 | Brussels, Belgium
  • Political advisors meet for Normandy format talks
    | TBC, likely between Monday and Wednesday | Paris, France
  • European Parliament’s AFET Committee on Strategic Compass, exchange of views with French FM Jean-Yves Le Drian, Kazakhstan
    | Mo-Tue, 24-25 January 2022 | Brussels, Belgium
  • Scheduled start of Belarus border wall construction
    | Tuesday, 25 January 2022 | Polish-Belarussian border
  • European Parliament’s SEDE Committee on Mozambique, launch of the new EU-US Security and Defence Dialogue, security in the Eastern Partnership area
    | Wed-Thu, 26-27 January 2022 | Brussels, Belgium

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