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Cooperation on European security issues

50 - Relations with the US on Russia and Ukraine

Grade: A-
Unity 4/5
Resources 4/5
Strategy 4/5
Impact 4/5
Total 16/20

The EU led the diplomatic effort on Ukraine, with the support of the US

The management of the Ukraine crisis has been a significant success for European relations with the US (whether it has actually produced an effective policy on Ukraine is a separate debate). Germany fashioned and led a consensus in the EU to maintain sanctions and pursue a diplomatic solution to the crisis. The US welcomed and facilitated the EU’s bid for leadership, announcing its sanctions shortly after. This stands in stark contrast to previous European security crises, where the US took the lead and Europeans were compelled to follow suit.

The centre piece of European diplomacy in 2015 was the Normandy format (talks between France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine), which led to the Minsk II ceasefire agreement in February. The fact that the US remained an observer enabled European leadership in a way that might not have been possible had it joined as a formal member. The agreement was imperfect, but full compliance served as an important transatlantic metric to judge when sanctions could be lifted.

However, there were some bumps along the way. The election of the Syriza party in Greece in January raised the prospect of a pro-Russian government seeking to disrupt European unity on Ukraine, though this danger did not materialise in the end. The EU remained united and extended its sanctions in June, though by the end of the year Italy was seriously calling the prospect of renewal into question. Russia’s intervention in Syria and the terror attacks in Paris raised the question of whether sanctions on Russia could be eased in exchange for its cooperation on the Middle East. The US firmly opposed any deals of this kind, as did many European governments.

In early 2015, the question of whether to provide lethal military assistance to the government of Ukraine became a topic of debate in the US. An expert report signed by former Obama administration officials recommended such a policy, but the administration opposed it, partly because of diplomatic pressure from Germany and the EU.