Brussels (Brussels Morning) Tensions have been rising in Eastern Europe due to a build-up of an estimated 100,000 Russian soldiers near the border with Ukraine. Recently, there have been various talks between Russia, the US, and NATO, with Russian counterparts insisting that there are no plans for invading Ukraine. However, many remain skeptical.
For example, there has been no explanation as to why the troops are there, and, since President Putin has been threatening “retaliatory military-technical measures” if his demands are not met, tensions remain high. Although the European Union has not been directly involved in the talks, it is working with allies in hopes it can stave off the threat of war.
What are Russia’s demands, and who is negotiating?
The primary demand is that NATO stops any expansion eastwards, including into Georgia and Ukraine. There’s a list of other demands, such as the end of military activity in Eastern Europe, including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania. Essentially, Moscow wants NATO to return to how it was before 1997. Another demand includes a ban on all US nuclear weapons in Europe.
As noted, the negotiations have mostly been between Russia, the US, and NATO. There will also be talks at the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Meanwhile, the President of Ukraine has called for a summit to deal with the issue involving the so-called Normandy format of France, Germany, and Russia.
Much to its chagrin, the European Union has been largely excluded from the talks, although all parties involved have stated they are working with the Union. EU leaders have also been strongly encouraging the Normandy format discussions.
Some observers believe that the troop build-up and rhetoric were necessary to bring the US to the negotiating table. The US is, after all, the main deterrent against Russian aggression and expansion. Its military budget is triple the defence budget of all EU members put together.
How is the West reacting to the threat and the demands?
All parties involved have been open to negotiation but have largely rejected the demands. Some, such as Russia has a veto on Ukraine joining Nato, have already been refused. The US has stated it will not deploy troops if there is an invasion but insists that there would be significant economic retaliatory measures.
The EU has publicly stated that if there is further aggression toward Ukraine, there would be “massive consequences and severe cost in response, including restrictive measures co-ordinated with a partner[s]”.
No sanctions or responses have been made official, but EU leaders in Brussels have been working on policies that should cause Russia to think twice about an invasion. Chief among these would be cutting off Russian banks from the SWIFT network, which would seriously hamper Russian business dealings with other countries.
Other measures suggested have included sanctions against Russian banks, injunctions against oligarchs, and restrictions on certain technologies – particularly those dealing with communications and/or chemicals.
The problem for the EU is reaching an agreement among its members. Several parties among its members are at odds with each other. For example, countries in Eastern Europe such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland are understandably wary and more hawkish in their approached to Russia. The situation is further confused by many countries, especially Germany, being heavily reliant on Russian gas supplies.
Although the EU has been somewhat side-lined in the current negotiations, it is still a significant player. However, to truly make itself felt, it needs to be more unified in its approach. The hope is that the prevailing situation is a bluff, but if it isn’t, the West needs to show a united front.