EU shunned from US-Russia meeting on Ukraine


A high-ranking European Union diplomat regretted that no EU officials were invited to a London meeting today (14 March) between US State Secretary John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, described as a last-chance opportunity before Russia annexes the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.

Pierre Vimont, a French diplomat who heads the bloc's foreign policy department, the EU External Action Service (EEAS), admitted failures in the Union’s handling of the current confrontation between the West and Russia over Crimea.

Speaking in Brussels yesterday (14 March), Vimont said “the EU should also be there" when John Kerry meets Lavrov.

“We need to call for this," Vimont told a conference organised by Carnegie Europe. "I don’t think we could be successful but I think that’s what we should do,” said the EU's highest-ranking diplomat after foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

“After all, the whole thing started because of the DCFTA and I think we should definitely be there”, Vimont said, referring to the deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), which is integral part of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (AA).

The EU is due to sign the political chapters of the AA very soon, most probably over the 20-21 March Spring summit of the EU heads of state and government. But in an apparent concession to Russia, the DCFTA will likely be signed later because EU leaders had promised Russian President Putin to overcome “different interpretations and misunderstandings” on this pact.

>> Read: EU blamed for mishandling Ukraine trade pact agreement

Vimont said Russia perceived the EU’s Eastern Partnership (EaP) initiative as a threat.

“As long as we are not able to answer the question of NATO, EU membership for Ukraine, we will not be able to stabilise our relations with Russia,” the diplomat said.

The AA stoops short of offering Ukraine an EU membership perspective, but the leaders of the centre-right European Peoples’ Party, which counts German Chancellor Angela Merkel among its members, recently backed offering EU membership perspective to Kyiv.

‘Start something different’

The French diplomat appeared to rebuff the European leaders' hostile stance towards Russia, saying confrontation has never been the aim of the EU’s neighbourhood policy.

“We are pushed into the wall by Cold War reflexes,” Vimont said, adding that Cold War was “outdated” in a globalised economy. He said both Russia and the West should stop behaving in the way they have been behaving, on both sides.

“We should stop looking at each other in the old way. We should start something different”, the diplomat said.

However, he conveyed the message that the Brussels bureaucracy was putting brakes to a more innovative approach of the EU neighbourhood policy which would involve Russia.

Stefan Lehne, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, indicated that the confrontation started when EU officials said the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine was incompatible with the Russia-led Customs Union and Eurasian Union.

But Vimont suggested that this choice was not as “inescapable” as initially thought.

“What strikes me is when we ask is this really incompatible as it’s really said, we discover, discussing with our experts, that maybe it’s not exactly that, and we can find a common ground," the diplomat said, adding that the idea of holding trilateral meetings at the highest level between the EU, Ukraine and Russia had been discussed after the failed Vilnius summit in November.

“What strike me is that we had our whole bureaucracy saying we should not do things that way,” he said.

The trilateral meetings were rejected by EU officials who believe Russia should not be offered a veto right on the Union's relations with an 'Eastern neighbourhood' country. But the French diplomat said fresh ideas were now needed, like development of a trans-European area from Lisbon from Vladivostok.

At the last EU-Russia summit on 28 January, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said that an important way to foster trust was to work on the “most important strategic and shared objectives,” namely to create a common economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok.

This idea of a free trade area from Lisbon to Vladivostok was first described by Russian President Vladimir Putin back in 2010.

“It may seem a dream, but dreams can become reality”, Barroso said.

Another speaker at the event, Rosa Balfour, head of the Europe program at the European Policy Center in Brussels, called the 28 January EU-Russia summit a “missed opportunity” which largely contributed to the present tensions, reminiscent of the Cold War. 

  • 14 March: US State Secretary John Kerry meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in London;
  • 16 March: Crimea holds referendum to become part of Russia;
  • 17 March: EU ministers meet in Brussels to decide sanctions on Russia;
  • 20-21 March: EU leaders hold regular Spring Summit in Brussels, Ukraine may sign political chapters of EU Association Agreement. 
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Babeouf's picture

Of course Europe isn't there why would a US colony be present.

John's picture

For Europe's major partners like the US and Russia, they see the EC/EP as irrelevant, slow, and meddlesome. The US prefers to coordinate issues with European capitals -- like Paris.

The European's picture

John...i dont see Paris or London decison makers invited either...i dont think it is anything to do with EU instituions...

Lech's picture

US and Russia meeting in London shouldn't be surprise
to EU leaders, as they don't so far formulate, any policy towards Eastern Europe.One can assume, the
initiative should be in the hands of Brussel, but it is
not. For Lavrov it is easier to talk to Kerry on Crimea.
USA is far away and don't understand all European nuances. It looks, as the cards now are in the hands of Sergey Lavrov.

philipspain's picture

Well at least we all know what two super powers think of the EU.......irrevelent! Nuch the same as millions of people who are forced to live under its undemocratic rule. As for Ms Ashton she was over promoted the day she was put in charge of EU paper clips!

dpb's picture

oh, that will hurt the narcissists in Brussels. Maybe give pause for thought too though I won't hold my breath.

peter george xuereb's picture

I do not agree with Vimont. It seems to me that the External Actin Service has failed to promote the EU's potential. Egos are bruised, but the result for the EU in terms of its global role is far worse. Not because the EU is not at the meeting. It should NOT be there. But because the Russians are not about to bother with a separate meeting with the EU after this one. The EU should by now have been playing ITS role. As an academic and citizen who had high hopes of the new EU structures I am disappointed in the people staffing them.

Gerry's picture

I think the EU should get back at them and simply lose interest. The outcome here is already set, ready to go, but what has not been determined yet is how upset we are all going to pretend to be.

tony a's picture

If it wasn't for the meddling EU trying to get Ukraine away from Russia by making promises they couldn't keep the crisis would never have happened. The EU's finger prints are all over this mess & once they figured out they may have just started the next big war & are way over their heads they ran straight to the USA for help.

peter george xuereb's picture

Dear tony a

I know what you're saying. There is an element. Bears much thought.
But surely if the Ukrainian people want to work with the EU then they have the right to do so. Ukraine is a sovereign state, after all. At least up to the time of writing. My main concern is not that Europe cannot dictate things. We should not want to. But we have values do we not? My deep worry and sadness is that Europe is hardly a witness to those values even in Europe. Where is Europe's combined MORAL weight? Where is the outrage? the anger? I do not expect Europe to roar. But I do expect it to scream. Europe squeaks.


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