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War in the Black Sea: from demanding Ukraine to fragile Europe

While all wide diplomatic efforts failed to prevent war, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, the West, especially the US, ‘s soft power continues to fan the flames of war and pressure Russia. In doing so, Joe Biden had told his Ukrainian counterpart in a phone call that diplomacy and deterrence against Russia would continue.
February 2022
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Ali Beman Eghbali Zarch

 While all wide diplomatic efforts failed to prevent war, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, the West, especially the US, ‘s soft power continues to fan the flames of war and pressure Russia. In doing so, Joe Biden had told his Ukrainian counterpart in a phone call that diplomacy and deterrence against Russia would continue. He also, over and over again, vowed a swift and decisive response in cooperation with his allies in case Russia invaded and convinced the Ukrainian president that Washington would support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Zelensky, too, hinted at the importance of the US efforts for strengthening international support for Ukraine and thanked the US cooperation in security and defense terms which would help in strengthening the capabilities of Ukraine’s forces.

At the same time, Europe took its chance to deescalate tensions, but in doing so, Macron’s diplomatic efforts and several rounds of phone negotiations with Valdimir Putin, Olaf Scholz, Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Joe Biden, the US president,  for preventing escalation of tensions in Ukraine were futile and what is interesting is that the Russian president had aggressively told Macron that dispatch of western arms to Kiev would pave the grounds for military action in the Donbas. However, the French president stated that they wanted to preserve a strong and coordinated position with the perspective of sanctions against Russia in case Russia invaded and the goal was shoring up Ukraine’s sovereignty and security.

France, as the first military and diplomatic power of the EU, has plenty of motives for its activities in the Black Sea , and concerning the Ukraine issue and the strategic arrangements of the eastern borders of the EU, because France’s position as a world power does not allow it to be uninterested in such a crisis, especially that it is situated on Europe’s gateways along the Eastern Mediterranean, a region that is one of Paris’ security and foreign policy priorities and the intention to send troops to Romania shows France’s capacities to be present in the regional strategic balances. Meanwhile, this approach is a part of this country’s strategy for undertaking extra responsibilities in the EU and filling the vacuum left by the Brexit.

But circumstances are different for Germany, the economic and industrial engine of Europe, which through the signals sent, obviously showed it wanted to preserve its vital interests of cooperation with the Russian Federation. Revoking banning of arms exports to Ukraine is a greatly-valued    signal. But Russia and Ukraine’s negotiations in Moscow, despite giving a calming air to the crisis, failed to prevent war. Therefore, Germany, under pressure from the EU, joined the sanctions and will soon agree to close the SWIFT and its airspace to Russian airplanes.

About smaller countries, Italy is less concerned, because a large part of the trade and political sectors of it is pro-Russian, which prevents unconditional support for Ukraine and in a way keeps open windows  for finding a compromise with Russia. Among the lesser neighbors, on one side Hungary has been active especially in the Black Sea crisis and the Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s trip, along with his foreign minster, was meant to transfer the peace message to the leaders of the Kremlin. Meanwhile, the number of the economic agreements signed bears in the first degree the outstanding political importance in such a crisis, and on the other side, Poland, despite presence in the Visegrad Group and ideological proximity of Mateusz Morawiecki and the Viktor Orbán’s government was in a different situation.

Since the intensification of the crisis, the Polish president has hosted his Ukrainian counterpart to declare solidarity and support. Also, he has visited Georgia, another country vulnerable to any crisis between the west and Russia. Regional efforts and the active role of warsaw by inviting the US president Joe Biden to participate at the negotiations with major European allies as well as reactivating the Germany-France- Poland axis can be vividly witnessed and no doubt Poland will spare no efforts to back Kiev. Also, the regional trip of Mark Rutte , the  Prime Minister of the Netherlands, to Kiev and Kishinyov was noteworthy. There is the possibility part of the Netherland’s wider strategy following the Brexit is to appear as a go-between power to strengthen its European appearance. Also Bulgaria and Romania declared complete solidarity with Ukraine by allowing in wide Nato arms and holding political negotiations with the European and American authorities, and playing a major role by transferring Nato weapons to Ukraine in the war days inside the Ukraine’s geography. Meanwhile most of Ukraine’s western neighbors have opened borders to the Ukrainian refugees and provided facilities to accommodate them.

Generally, military occupation in the third millennium has been less successful and one significant reality is that in recent years the European Union has witnessed differences and instabilities and lacks a joint foreign policy, making it unable to swiftly and easily improve the critical war situation of the Ukrainian borders. While the president of the European Council and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs has declared his support for Ukraine and warned  Russia with threats of crippling sanctions, the approaches of France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Hungary in Nato, despite complete solidarity of the Nato,  have been as varying; a subject that was raised in the interview of Nato’s Secretary with France 24.

However, the European Axis’ soft support led the Ukrainian authorities to pursue more of a diplomatic solution, even temporary, than hard confrontation with Russia, although with the continuation of war the remaining windows for negotiations are closed. Last word, if Ukraine can resist the Russian army for another couple of days, the conditions will certainly will be more conducive for a war of attrition and the intensification of western military help will render the conditions for Russia and full occupation of Ukraine more and harder. More importantly, the impacts of the financial and economic sanctions will become more tangible, a matter that may trigger anti-war movements inside the Russian civil society.

Ali Beman Eghbalizarch, Senior Expert of Europe    

     (The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)          

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