The European Union finally got something right. The Wall Street Journal reports: “The European Union and Ukraine on Friday signed part of a broad political and economic agreement that sparked the West’s escalating conflict with Russia. . . . EU leaders also agreed to bring forward the deadline for finalizing political and trade accords with Georgia and Moldova. Those agreements, which would bind the two countries into much closer ties with the 28-nation bloc, were previously due to be signed by August.”
The EU also agreed to sanctions on Russian individuals and one Russian bank, similar to those the Obama administration passed, but (also like the U.S.) refrained from passing broader sanctions for now:
European leaders also canceled an EU-Russia summit planned for June and said individual countries would cancel their own meetings with Russia. If Moscow continues to block a monitoring mission to Ukraine by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, they said, they would organize their own EU mission.
The leaders also said they had asked the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, as well as individual member states, to draw up plans for “targeted economic measures” if Russia continues to destabilize Ukraine.
They declined to specify what specific Russian actions would trigger such broader measures, such as embargoes.
The positive news here is that Europe is trying to deny Russia the latter’s original objective — to prevent Ukraine’s integration into Europe. In doing so, and in extending its open hand to other former Soviet states, the EU is at least sending a signal that the rest of Europe will remain (almost) whole and free. However, in order to cement these moves, prevent further Russian aggression and extract a price for Vladimir Putin’s invasion, the U.S. and its allies have more work to do. The idea that including Georgia and Ukraine into NATO would only provoke Russia has been discredited; we should proceed with a clear roadmap for integrating as many former Soviet states into as many U.S.-European institutions as possible.
In order to buck up the Europeans and deal a blow to Putin the obvious step now is to attack Russia’s energy grip on Europe. In an op-ed in USA Today, Speaker of the House John Boehner (Ohio) writes that “Russia has become the world’s largest exporter — a key reason why President Vladimir Putin felt confident that he could seize Crimea from Ukraine and get away with it. Russia supplies 30% of Europe’s gas needs, making it hard for European leaders to muster the resolve to resist. The good news is that the West can turn the tables on Putin, freeing Europe from its dependency and in the process making Russia pay dearly. That can’t be done fast enough to neuter the current crisis, nor will it come cheaply. But if Putin believes his actions will drive Europe toward energy independence, he’ll have to think twice.” He recommends Europe produce more of its own energy and the U.S. “export liquefied natural gas to both Europe and Asia. There are many good reasons for this. The USA has 100 years to 120 years of proven reserves and could significantly boost its economy with the billions of dollars a year that would pour in from a significant export program. The specter of Putin using natural gas spigots as a way to dominate Ukraine, while keeping other nations at bay, is all the more reason to get going.” Europe can also accelerate develop construction of its own pipelines and gas terminals to lessen its dependence on Moscow.
The irony here is that the president who came to office touting multiliteralism has been delinquent in binding the U.S. and Europe together through a range of political and economic structures. It’s not too late. But first the president must shake himself from his slumber, recognize the Russian threat and lead the West — from the front. Multilateralism isn’t a bad thing, but it doesn’t happen or become effective without leadership. Like it or not the U.S. is and cannot be one of equals. It can however induce friends and allies to work together to further common interests. Call it “smart diplomacy.”
UPDATE: A bipartisan letter from more than 50 foreign policy experts to the president suggests a number of the steps described above.