In response to the Crimea crisis, the European Union should adopt an immediate ban on arms exports to Russia, including stopping France's sale of two amphibious assault ships to Russia, and elevate EU-NATO cooperation to a new level, Roland Freudenstein told EURACTIV Poland in an exclusive interview.
Roland Freudenstein is deputy director Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies in Brussels. He spoke to EURACTIV Poland’s Senior Editor Maria Graczyk.
What‘s the Kremlin plan with Ukraine? Is Russia so strong, or is the democratic Western world so weak?
That's what Putin, and unfortunately a lot of other Russians, really believe. The Russian government wants to annex Crimea, destabilise the Ukrainian government, have a say in the composition of any future Ukrainian government, and get the de facto approval for future military aggression 'protecting' Russian speakers in any country of the former Soviet Union. And they believe the West will let them get away with all that. Let's prove them wrong!
Throughout the Crimea crisis, Ukrainian civil society has been calling for help from the EU and the international community. What can the EU and the Western world do?
The West, first of all, has to act as one. That means more strategic coordination between Europeans and Americans. At the same time, Ukraine has to be stabilised against Russian aggression, which is already going beyond Crimea. This means saving the government from default, but also setting up a long term recovery program of financial assistance and know-how transfer. In the latter, the eastern EU member states should play an important role. Ukrainian civil society should receive all the help it needs from NGOs and political foundations in the EU. Ukrainian calls for military help, at least arms sales, against impending Russian aggression in the southeast, should be taken seriously.
The European Union is preparing to impose travel bans, asset freezes and other restrictions on a dozen of people involved in the conflict. What more should or could be done?
An immediate ban on arms exports to Russia. That includes stopping France's sale of two amphibious assault ships to Russia which was a scandal to begin with. Besides, NATO's eastern member states, especially Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, must be reassured by further military reinforcements. Russia's international diplomatic isolation should be increased as well. That does not mean that we stop talking to Russia, but it certainly means banning them from membership in organizations such as G8, OECD etc.
Isn’t the Ukrainian crisis showing that the EU should strengthen its foreign and security policy? What would be the best way to do it?
Yes, the EU must become more efficient in foreign and security policy. But as the 21 February agreement [signed between the opposition and the then president Yanukovich, and co-signed by the German, Polish and e French foreign ministers] in Kyiv showed, strong member states can still achieve a lot. Besides, there is NATO, and the EU should never replace it. But NATO-EU cooperation and coordination should be elevated to a new level.
Events in Ukraine have highlighted European reliance on Russian oil and gas. Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk has warned German Chancellor Angela Merkel against Russian gas addiction. He asks her to reduce European dependence on Russian gas to avert "potential aggressive steps by Russia in the future". Do you think this is possible?
Prime Minister Tusk is absolutely right. But Germany's dependence on Russian energy can only be diminished in the medium term. That requires importing more energy from the US, and probably also exploiting more shale gas in Europe itself.
Aren’t the Russians re-opening the frozen Chechen conflict?
Actually, the Chechen conflict is not so frozen. Of course, all sorts of ethnic groups and autonomous areas of the Russian Federation will look at Crimea and demand the same right of secession.
What can Europe learn from this crisis?
Never trust a sleeping bear. No, seriously, two things: Russia will be a threat to its neighbours, and the whole of Europe as long as it remains a sleazy autocracy. That means, we'll only be safe after Russia itself has fundamentally changed into a full democracy, with the rule of law and a functioning market economy. Secondly, the West is only strong if it acts in a united way, and on the basis of its core values.