As was the case during last summer's Georgia crisis, the EU has once again responded to the first international challenges of 2009 by sending observers, this time to monitor the borders between Gaza and Egypt, and Russia and Ukraine to supervise the supply of gas intended for Europe.
Almost simulateneously, it emerged that the Union will dispatch observers to deal with the two crises in a bid to reassert the perceived success of Europe's so-called 'soft power'.
Firstly, the Union made known that it will dispatch observers to monitor the border between Egypt and Gaza, hoping to put the ongoing Gaza violence to an end (EurActiv 05/01/09). The border is laced with a network of hundreds of tunnels, bringing not only food and commodities to Gaza, but weapons too.
Next, yesterday (7 January) the EU finally agreed to send observers to monitor the supply of gas earmarked for Europe, amid a gas row opposing Russia and Ukraine whereby Moscow accuses Kiev of siphoning off gas destined for European networks. Analysts had been tipping Russia to suggest such a move for some time. At first, the EU appeared reluctant to get involved in what it saw as a bilateral dispute, but its position changed after the situation began to deteriorate (EurActiv 07/01/08).
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso revealed yesterday in Prague that following a series of telephone conversations with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Timoshenko, an EU monitoring mission will be sent to monitor gas flows.
Gazprom Deputy CEO Alexander Medvedev said yesterday in a telephone press conference that Russia will stop gas supplies to Ukraine completely, because the gas was "disappearing" inside this country instead of being exported to the West. The Russian position now appears not to favour the restoration of supplies until international monitors are put in place in Ukraine.
Commission spokespeople said yesterday that although the mandate of the observers to be sent to monitor the gas row had not yet been determined, the Union would able to dispatch them fairly soon.
Despite the challenging circumstances, the Union recently managed to send a 200-strong observer mission to monitor borders along the breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia at short notice (EurActiv 15/09/09).