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Russia and Europe: A Love-Hate Affair

Russia and Europe: A Love-Hate Affair

By Archish Mazumdar

Edited by Shambhavi Singh

Exactly a fortnight has passed since the historic landing of Philae. The Rosetta Mission sent up by the European Space Agency (ESA) did not only achieve the seemingly impossible, but it also opened new doors for mankind. And although Philae had its fair share of controversies (both as much to do with the mission as to do without it), they remain as stories for another day. On the surface, however, the European Union continues to struggle to exert influence over its own domain.

Federica Mogherini, the new high representative of foreign policy is only just beginning to realize the enormity of her responsibilities and Russia will prove to be her biggest challenge yet.  Russia’s intervention in Ukraine was for her as well as for everybody else as sudden as they can get. With NATO reports coming in regarding the renewed build-up of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, the situation doesn’t look too pleasant.

The question remains however, that how did Europe allow for such destruction? Officials claim that the primary reason was Ukraine. The country that was once financially stable is three times as poor today as Poland. It was probably this reason why protestors had taken to the streets in the first place. Their demand was of a modern European state, devoid of corruption ad thievery that defined the country post its Independence. Instead, Ukraine became a bloody war zone.

But, the trickiest problem remains Russia. Vladimir Putin’s ambush has been unpredictable and opportunistic, filled with national ideology. His Eurasian Economic Union plans to one day rival the EU, with its present members being Armenia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

The scales though seem to have certainly fallen. On November 16th Vladimir left a G20 summit early after being questioned by his fellow leaders. Soon afterwards Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, issued an unusually forthright assessment of the Russian threat, not only to Ukraine but also to Georgia, Moldova and the Balkans. Putin’s willingness to escalate in Ukraine has outstripped Europe’s ability to respond, notwithstanding the sanctions the EU has put in place.

Ms Mogherini though at present faces the twin task of not only convincing her critics but also maintaining unity among member countries. Many complain against the damage that they claim sanctions on Russia are causing to their economies. With Europe’s larger countries, now including Germany, increasingly forging their own foreign policy it is not clear what difference Brussels can make anymore.

Yet the EU is not completely toothless. Ms Mogherini has many “instruments” at her disposal, including a well-staffed diplomatic service and the European Commission’s financial clout. A commission vice-president, who despite her peripatetic job promises to attend every weekly meeting of the college. Senior officials, on the other hand hint that they are ready to provide more economic assistance if the Ukrainians get serious about judicial reform and business liberalization. Yet it is hard to think of a country in which Europe’s money, or the power of its example, has proven transformative without there being an offer of membership, however remote. It is not clear if it can work any better in Ukraine.

Ms Mogherini’s best hope thus may be to buy time. Mr Putin’s endgame still remains in the dark, perhaps even to himself. While some fear that he wants a land bridge to Crimea, still others suggest that, despite appearances, he may be starting to engage more with the West. Andrew Wilson, a Ukraine expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, suggests that Russia may then be more vulnerable to pressure, particularly if oil prices stay low. But will Ukraine’s economy last that long?

Archish Mazumdar is your normal everyday college-kid, currently in his third year of college, pursuing a BS in Economics from IIT Kanpur. His passions in life include quizzing, debating and food! Quick in both words and actions, he usually finds solace while writing (mostly poetry). He spends his free time reading vociferously, watching movies (plenty of them) and listening to Bob Dylan. When not doing the usual stuff, he is mostly found convincing people that he is not actually jobless.

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