The EU has occasionally looked naïve during the Ukraine crisis—but that's allby Charles Grant / May 26, 2016 / Leave a comment
Read more: Book review—Prisoners of Geography
Many of those demanding Brexit blame the EU for blundering into Ukraine and setting off a chain reaction that led to bloody civil war. They accuse EU leaders of imperial over-reach in trying to drag Ukraine into an association agreement. Thus Boris Johnson declared on 9th May: “If you want an example of EU foreign policy making on the hoof, and the EU’s pretensions to be running a defence policy, that have caused real trouble, then look at what has happened in Ukraine.”
The Russians never liked the EU’s “eastern partnership”—launched in 2008, and designed to thicken the ties between Brussels and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. They viewed the partnership, together with the association agreements and trade agreements it entailed, as a scheme to undermine their sway in Eastern Europe. There was some truth in that, but the EU cannot be held responsible for Russia’s illegal and violent response to events in Ukraine.
Within Ukraine, there was a political consensus—extending to Russian-leaning politicians like Viktor Yanukovych, president from 2010 to 2014—in favour of negotiating both an association agreement and a trade agreement with the EU. And Russia itself was fairly relaxed about these negotiations, during the presidency of Dmitri Medvedev. At the regular EU-Russia summits, the European Commission tried to discuss the Ukraine deals and their implications for Russia, but the Russian side was not interested.
This changed when Putin returned to the Russian presidency in 2012, for a third term. He planned to turn the customs union that linked Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia into a much grander “Eurasian Economic Union” (EEU), which he hoped would become a strategic counterweight to the EU. He needed Ukraine to give the project weight and credibility. In…