How Russia is dividing the EU over Ukraine
Opinion: Europe needs a united energy plan
Dividing the EU has been a long-standing Russian goal, and President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive tactics appear to be succeeding in the goal of dividing the EU, in a way that previous Russian efforts have failed.
At one end of the spectrum, countries such as Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Spain, Italy and Hungary are relatively accommodating towards what Russia is doing, while others, such as Lithuania, Poland, Estonia and Latvia, are alarmed and looking for resolute action. The bigger EU states are, painfully and unsuccessfully, trying to balance commercial interests against professed principles
The talks in Geneva this week have had two important tactical outcomes, the fact that Russia appeared to do business with the new Ukrainian authorities at all, and that it agreed to a request to all armed groups to desist from forcibly occupying official buildings. This will presumably apply as equally to the Maidan protesters in Kiev as to the pro-Russian protesters in eastern Ukraine. But as Russia does not accept any responsibility for the pro-Russian protesters inside Ukraine, Russia will be able to wash its hands of responsibility if the occupations continue.
The key test will be whether the presidential elections take place peaceably and fairly in May, and whether outside election observers are allowed to do their work.
Putin has shown he is capable of moving fast and of changing direction unexpectedly to suit the needs of the moment, while Europe is still laboriously scratching its head.
As 28 nations, the EU will never be able to move with the dexterity of an autocracy like Russia, but if it is not to have its policies dictated in the Kremlin, as a result Russian pressure on energy supplies, it needs to make a radical change in its own energy policies. It needs to build a proper energy union in Europe, independent of Russia, with complete interconnection of its energy distribution grids. That will require a lot of investment and the diversion of funds from current consumption. But a long-term decision like this would create a new momentum which Russia could not ignore.
John Bruton is a former taoiseach and former EU ambassador to the US