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Ukrainian Crisis Is One of EU’s Biggest Challenges

“The Ukrainian crisis is one of the biggest challenges for the European Union today… [It] does not only influence the international relations and stability of one partner country…but the stability of the whole Union.”

That is one conclusion reached at a conference organized in Belgrade recently by the Center for International Relations and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

Conference participants were drawn from Kiev, Berlin and Belgrade and one among several, varied conclusions was that “Relations with Russia have been disturbed and the EU is not able to develop a stable and coherent policy toward that country at the moment”.

Here in lightly edited form, are various views expressed by some of the participants.

Boris Bazylevsky, former Ukrainian Ambassador to Ireland and today an expert at the Center for Russian Studies in Kiev, said, “Russia is conducting an undeclared war against Ukraine”.

He continued:

“It is a war between Ukraine and Russia, a war between Russia and the West that is being waged on the territory of Ukraine…I would add it is a war between those supporting democracy and those who do not accept democratic values… The war in Ukraine shows that Donbas is not only the future of Ukraine, but the future of all of Europe and the whole world. The order is in jeopardy and I would say this is not about the crisis in Ukraine, but about the deepening crisis in Europe.”

The EU has decided to extend sanctions against Russia and to connect them with full implementation of the Peace Agreement in Minsk.

Knut Fleckenstein, a member of the European Parliament and a representative of Germany’s Social Democratic Party, said Europe must stick to the sanctions to putpressure on Russia.He continued:

“I do not know what kind of influence [sanctions] have on the Russian Government, but I do think they are something we can rely on and what might be efficient. Russians must leave Ukraine and they must withdraw their weapons.”

Viktor Zamiatin, an expert at the Kiev-based Razumkov Center, pointed out that relations between Ukraine and Russia have deteriorated and he does not harbor hope they will improve any time soon.

“Public opinion polls conducted two, three, four or ten years ago, showed a positive trend – some two thirds of Ukrainians deemed Russians to be very friendly people. But now, after the latest conflict, we have many negative opinions and we do not think the … [attitudes] will be [changed] in the near future. Our society has had many dramatic human, territorial, economic and other losses. We are bearing heavy psychological trauma and the experience does not allow us to say we expect any positive development,” he said.

While the world is closely following whether and to what extent the Peace Agreement of Minsk is being implemented, an editor of Radio Free Europe, Dragan Stavljanin, the moderator of the conference, warned that the crisis is fraught with a risk of sliding into a new cold war in Europe.

Stavljanin said: “Needless to say that the Ukrainian predicament, which started more than a year ago, represents the gravest political crises since the Cold War ended, at least in Europe, and many fear we’re on the verge of, if we have not already slipped into a New Cold War.”

That fear was shared by Heinz Albert Hutmacher, director of the Belgrade office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

“The current crisis today represents one of the biggest challenges for the EU,” Hutmacher agreed.

He continued: “It does not only reflect [a threat to] the international relations and stability of one of the countries – an EU partner – but also on the stability of the whole EU.Ukraine has become a political and military battlefield between Russia and the EU. Germany fears that the Ukrainian crisis might endanger peace of all of Europe as we know it today.”

Nikola Petrovic, director of Belgrade-based Center for International Relations, included Serbia in those countries facing great challenges because of the Ukraine crisis.Petrovic said. Serbia, he said, because of its special relations with Russia and, at the same time, its aspirations to join the EU, is caught between the two major international players it has partner relationship with.

Which is why Serbia still has not aligned its foreign policy with the EU. He said that Serbia’s actions are being monitored from several sides at the same time it is playing an international role because it currently holds the presidency of the OSCE. He said:

“Of course, there is also the traditional friendship between Russia and Serbia, and long-term friendly relations Serbia has with Ukraine, which means we are certainly now between not two fires, but more.”

Former Serbian Ambassador to Washington Ivan Vujacic countered that situation by saying that the historically traditional friendly relations between Serbia and Russia are not as strong as the authorities present them and that the position of Serbia is not as complicated as it seems. He said:

“Basically, the Serbian government and parties in the Parliament are oriented towards the EU, and Brussels is their first concern. I believe that generally defines the position of Serbia. However, that does not mean we will impose sanctions against Russia tomorrow, and it does not mean we will endanger our conditionally good relations with Russia, but it does mean we are on our way to Europe. Another aspect of our relations with Russia is something that I believe changed drastically recently – that is the interruption of South Stream. After South Stream was cancelled, I believe the whole situation of Russian influence,--using quotation marks-- turned around.”