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Closing Europe’s Strategy Gap

MADRID – The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has been a hot topic of analysis for almost a year. But one question has largely escaped thorough examination: what Russia’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine indicates about the European Union’s foreign policy.

During the early stages of the crisis, Germany, which had bet heavily on Russia’s modernization, was averse to taking any consequential action. But, as the crisis deepened, German Chancellor Angela Merkel worked to persuade her European counterparts to implement a broad and biting sanctions regime.

This certainly was a step in the right direction, but it did nothing to address the foreign-policy failings that helped spark the Ukrainian crisis and continue to undermine Europe’s response – namely, the EU’s misguided Neighborhood Policy (ENP) and its muddled approach to energy. On both of these fronts, the EU’s lack of strategic vision has created the impression that Europe is repeatedly being outmaneuvered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It increasingly appears that Ukraine is becoming locked in a “frozen conflict” – Russia’s foreign-policy specialty. Indeed, the situation in Ukraine represents a tactical victory for Russia, with the fragile but enduring ceasefire – and accompanying legislation that grants Donetsk and Luhansk considerable political autonomy – allowing Russia to entrench the conflict near the EU’s border. Moreover, the delayed implementation of key elements of the EU’s association agreement with Ukraine is clear evidence that, at the moment, Russia dictates the terms of EU-Ukrainian engagement.