Mr. Renzi Goes to Washington

Photo by Olivier Douliery/UPI
Photo by Olivier Douliery/UPI

A year ago, President Obama and Matteo Renzi were meeting in Rome. On Friday, April 17, Matteo Renzi, Italian Prime Minister, was in Washington D.C. meeting President Obama in his first trip to the United States as the head of the Italian government. In the statement delivered by the White House’s Press Secretary on March 17 announcing the visit a series of issues were highlighted such as “support for Ukraine and continued U.S.-EU unity on pressuring Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine to adhere to the Minsk agreements; the situation in Libya; and the need for the international community to continue efforts to counter ISIL and other extremists throughout the Middle East.” Even though the issues on the table are the same ones discussed last year in Rome, Matteo Renzi came to D.C. with a very different aura considering the results already obtained thanks to his policies.

Matteo Renzi – Changing Italy’s Future

Matteo Renzi came to D.C. at the right time considering the solidification of his power at home and in Europe. Renzi has worked on rebuilding domestic trust and in reestablishing Italy as a core and central country of the European Union. The years under Silvio Berlusconi contributed to the decline of Italy from what used to be an axiomatic EU Member State. So far it seems that Matteo Renzi is succeeding on both fronts. Domestically, he has established himself as the man of the situation by ending years of political instabilities. Politically, Forza Italia, right wing political party, has been kept under control after the disastrous years under Silvio Berlusconi. Economically and fiscally, yes the Italian overall debt remains massive representing 126% of the GDP. But on the bright side, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) project that the Italian economic outlook should be promising for 2015 with an expected growth of 0.6%. Even though the growth seems at homeopathic dosage, it would be the first time since mid-2011 that Italy would see some types of economic growth. Italy has been in recession for over three years now. All the cuts possible won’t be enough in order to lower the overall debt without growth; Italy must re-familiarized itself with economic growth.

At the European level, Italy is becoming relevant and an active member once again. The federicamogherinimatteorenzigovernmentyf0fx-kziyglmost obvious example was the appointment of Federica Mogherini at the helm of European foreign affairs. In less than a year, she has already demonstrated her commitment to her mission and has represented the EU where needed. Her short tenure at the EEAS has offered the EU and its Member States a new dynamism and presence on the regional and international platforms (read here a previous analysis on Mogherini’s 100 days). However, Matteo Renzi seems to be too close, for many Europeans and Americans, to Russia. The relationship between Italy and Russia is certainly long, but for many it seems that Renzi needs to be stronger in his opposition to Putin’s actions in Europe.

For both reasons, Mr. Renzi went to Washington with a certain aura and credibility. The economic engine is on and Italy matters once again in Europe.

Solving Libya and Ukraine

Ahead of this high level meeting at the White House, two issues are extremely important for the transatlantic community: Libya and Ukraine. From Rome, the crises in Libya and Ukraine are affecting directly the national security of Italy as well as the EU as a whole, while from Washington, President Obama would rather lead from behind with the help of core Atlantic partners, Italy for instance, than having to be directly involved on the ground. For one it is about security and survival, for the other it is about influence.

The crisis in Libya is serious for two reasons. Since the fall of the Qaddafi regime in 2011, led by an euro-atlantic coalition, the country has spiraled into a civil war. The civil war has created a power vacuum in the middle of North Africa offering the exit point for many Northern and Central Africans leaving their home countries because of political violence, war, dire economic conditions, terrorism with the hope to reach the European continent for a better life. The point of exit of Africa is Libya. Libya has become the transit country for most of illegal migration. In addition to unchecked migration, the civil war and lack of government have offered a new ground to the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). ISIL has emerged in the country directly threatening neighboring countries, which includes Europe.

In the case of Ukraine, President Obama wants to assure the guarantee of unity of Europe


in facing Russia. Crimea seems to belong to Russia and Ukraine should accept it, now the fights in Eastern Ukraine need to be solved. The Minsk agreement of February 2015 for a cease-fire was not enough, and the Euro-Atlantic community needs to be on the same page when addressing Russia. The economic sanctions implemented last summer by the EU are due to expire in late July 2015. So far there is no unity in the EU to extend them. A year ago, Italy was called on for trying to block the implementation of the economic sanctions against Russia. One reason is that Italy is the second largest trading partner with Russia after Germany. Russia has been strongly lobbying Italy in softening the sanctions against them. President Obama may want to avoid a situation wherein Italy limits the reach of the sanctions against Moscow.

In a matter of a year, Matteo Renzi seems to have delivered on many of his domestic promises and came with a certain aura to Washington. Matteo Renzi was hoping for some financial assistance in dealing with Libya (why not a NATO mission?) and in toughening his voice against Russia. Additionally, President Obama might have asked for some Italian support in order to try to finalize the massive T-TIP, which is lingering and creating strong discords in Europe. For what has been a very opaque meeting, due to the superficiality of Obama and Renzi’s comments (read here the joint press conference), Obama and Renzi wanted to solidify the ties and bring Italy back on the center stage.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

EUAM Ukraine – Responding to Geostrategic Realities?


During the G-20 meeting in Brisbane, Australia, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, received a rather cold welcoming from his world counterparts. It appeared that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper among others to have had critical words toward Vladimir Putin. It was even reported that Canadian Prime Minister told Vladimir Putin, “Well, I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I have only one thing to say to you: ‘You need to get out of Ukraine’.” Russian President even left the meeting before the end as he explained, “We still have to get home and be ready for work on Monday. It would be nice to be able to sleep for 4 or 5 hours.” During the last Q&A with the press, Putin claimed that “Ukraine was not discussed in any official context during the G20 discussions. The issue did not come up at all and was not even mentioned.” The G-20 meeting confirmed that the relations between the West and Russia are at one of the lowest since the end of the Cold War.

Decisions by the FAC Meeting

After a rather difficult, or even ‘humiliating‘ G-20 meeting for Vladimir Putin, the Russian President is now waiting to see what the EU and its Member States are willing to do in order to tackle the Ukrainian crisis (see here a previous analysis on the topic). On November 17th, the EU-28 met during a Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) in order to discuss the Ukrainian situation among others. HR/VP Mogherini was presiding the FAC, for the first time as the HR, principally focusing on the situation in Ukraine. The conclusions reached by the FAC are once again minimal. The United Kingdom, Poland and the Baltic states were pushing for tougher rhetorics in order to denounce Russian violations in Ukraine. As explained by Mogherini ensuing the FAC meeting, “a major EU political role on the way to find effective means to have a political solution to the crisis, engaging in dialogue with Russia.” Four dimensions were discussed during the Council meeting:

  • first, reaffirming EU’s support for the Minsk Protocol and Memorandums (pushed by France, the Benelux countries, and Finland);
  • second, underscoring the importance of the formation of the new government following the national parliamentary elections of October 26th;
  • third, eventual sanctions targeting Ukrainian separatists, possibly agreed next month. But according to German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, stricter sanctions are not currently on the table;
  • fourth, the launch on December 1st of the EU Advisory Mission for Civilian Security Sector Reform Ukraine (EUAM Ukraine).

EUAM Ukraine – The latest CSDP mission

Source: EEAS
Source: EEAS

The EUAM Ukraine, or the latest Common Security and Defense Policy mission, will be launched on December 1st, 2014. EUAM Ukraine is a civilian, or unarmed, non-executive civilian mission. EUAM was created on July 22nd, 2014 and is led by Kálmán Mizsei, appointed on the 24th of July. From its initial creation on July 22nd to November 30th, EUAM received a €2.68 million for the start-up of the mission. More recently, the Council has allocated a budget of € 13.1m for the first 12 months of the mission’s two-year mandate starting on the 1st of December. The mission of EUAM Ukraine consists in assisting “the Ukrainian authorities in the field of civilian security sector reform, including police and rule of law.” So far, there is no indication of the size of the EUAM.

In the aftermath of its establishment in July, former HR/VP Ashton declared:

“The Ukrainian Authorities have embarked on the critical path of civilian security sector reform and have requested the support of the European Union. The EU is deploying this mission to assist Ukraine in this reform, including police and the rule of law. It will provide strategic advice for the development of effective, sustainable and accountable security services that contribute to strengthening the rule of law in Ukraine, for the benefit of all Ukrainian citizens throughout the country.”

Several months later, newly appointed HR/VP Mogherini announced that

“Responding to a request from Ukraine, the EU advisory mission will assist in the reform of the Ukrainian civilian security sector, including police and civilian security services, public prosecution and the courts. EU experts will work for efficient, trusted civilian security institutions under democratic control. Like the Association Agreement, the Status of  Mission Agreement is a further sign of our joint efforts for a genuine reform process for Ukraine.”

The Status of Mission Agreement (SOMA) has already been signed between the HR/VP Mogherini and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, permitting an immediate launch of the operation on the 1st of December. Despite a small budget, the EUAM mandate and mission is enormous. EUAM is supposed to advise on a reform strategy over the civilian security sectors, including the police and the rule of law, and oversee its implementation. In a report produced by Bruxelles2, Nicolas Gros-Verheyde underscored the degree of challenges in creating and implementing the rule of law in Ukraine in a two-year period considering the level of corruption, the nature of the police forces – an historically politicized and militarized instrument -, and reaffirming the power of a centralized government – as some regions are under militia control -.

The implementation and deployment of EUAM Ukraine is a positive note for the EU as its represent a certain willingness to act in Ukraine aside the OSCE. Unfortunately, EUAM Ukraine does not address the root cause of the current tension in Ukraine, Russia. Even though, European leaders have talked tough in Australia, they are still not addressing the real problem represented by Russia. In her recent op-ed, Judy Dempsey underscored how Chancellor Merkel perceives Russia as the main threat to Europe’ security and her continuous interaction with her Russian counterpart as she does not trust him.

Following the G-20 meeting, Chancellor Merkel made some comments about the Ukrainian crisis, saying “suddenly we are confronted with a conflict which goes to the center of our values, so to speak. Now we can’t hold speeches at commemorations. Now we have to show what we have learned from all this.” Chancellor Merkel was clear on advancing the need for Europe to stop the talking and finally start behaving as a regional power. Additionally, Dempsey wrote that “The recent bout of Western sanctions against Russia have shown how the diplomatic path is not working. That is all the more reason for European leaders to accept the changing geostrategic realities.” Once again, EUAM illustrates the gap between between the rhetorics and the actions.

The Use of Economic Power to Asserting Europe’s Power?

To some degree EUAM Ukraine can be compared, in terms of strategic choice, to the failed EU mission in Afghanistan, EUPOL-A, trying to reform the Afghan National Police (ANP) in wartime. Despite, American and Western military presence, the EU was unable to perform such complex and lengthy process considering the security challenges in Afghanistan among other reasons. In Ukraine, wherein combats are taking place in the Eastern part of the country, wherein Russian presence and influence is undeniable, how can the EU be successful at reforming the civilian security sector in two years. Not significant reforms can be implemented until the borders are secure, the political situation of Eastern part of Ukraine is settled, and the central government of Ukraine is legitimate all around the country. EUAM Ukraine should be launched once the status of Ukraine is settled and Russian influence minimized, not before.

Right now, the EU ought to address the military threat represented by Russia on the European continent against Ukraine and some EU Member States. The EU and its Member States are not committed to use hard power, so they will need to increase the economic sanctions against Russia. EUAM does not respond to the geostrategic realities in Europe, deeper and stricter economic sanctions would finally demonstrate EU commitment to enforcing its influence and responding to Russian actions. The EU has demonstrated that it is not and does not want to become a military power in order to assert its influence and power, its economic engine and market may be the instrument to do so. “Merkel believes that German industry, and Europe as a whole,” argued Dempsey, “must be willing to pay the price for Putin’s violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.” History has demonstrated that there is always a cost to pay in order to assure one’s security. The EU feels that by adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach, the security threat embodied by Russia will eventually disappear. The battle over Ukraine may be a bigger fight about the future of geopolitics and peace on the European continent.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Russia: The Unchecked Power in Europe?

Dimitar Dilkoff/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Dimitar Dilkoff/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Russian tanks and combat troops appear, according to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to have entered in Ukraine. This news was confirmed by NATO’s top commander General Philip Breedlove earlier on Wednesday, November 12th. With these new allegations, the Minsk agreements of September, calling for a ceasefire and reform measures, may be threatening. Breedlove said that the OSCE has reported that “We have seen columns of Russian equipment – primarily Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defence systems and Russian combat troops – entering into Ukraine.” Over the night, the fight continued and reports are now claiming that “professional soldiers in green uniforms without insignia,” known as the green men, whom carried out the invasion of Crimea, were seen around Donetsk.

The European OSCE monitoring mission, in charged of monitoring the transition to peace and stability, has warned of “a real risk” of further escalation in a conflict. So far the violence of the war in Eastern Ukraine has costed the life of over 4,000 people. The OSCE_78831099_ukraine_rebel_forces_071114 told that fire is continuously being exchanged between the separatists and the Government forces. Additionally, reports have underlined that large convoys of heavy weapons and troops coming from Russia was flowing into rebel control territories.

Reactions at the UN Security Council

On the 12th, the UN Security Council (UNSC) was briefed on the allegations made by the OSCE and met during a little more than 2 hours. “The United States, United Kingdom, France, Luxembourg and Lithuania, among others,” as expressed in a UNSC meeting coverage, “strongly urged the Russian Federation to end support for the separatists, citing reports of convoys bringing materiel over the border and criticizing endorsement of the alternative separatist elections.” Russia responded that “delegates [of the UNSC] had used the Council — and OSCE representatives — to put forward ‘propaganda with new flourishes’.”

Each member of the UNSC made a statement afterwards. Samantha Power of the US argued that “the root of the problem in Ukraine was the Russian Federation’s flagrant violation of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. […] The Russian Federation

Andrew Burton/Getty Images/AFP
Andrew Burton/Getty Images/AFP

had done nothing to rein in the separatists and had continued to provide them with materiel; it was also holding abducted Ukrainian citizens.  A Russian air defence system was protecting separatists’ convoys, and columns of Russian equipment had been observed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) entering Ukraine over the last 48 hours.”  In the case of her British counterpart, Mark Lyall Grant underscored “that Russian actions were flouting international norms, including the United Nations Charter, and had undermined the Minsk agreements by continuing support to the separatist rebels.” French representative, François Delattre, used a softer tone and called “on the Russian Federation to end the transfer of arms and men into Ukraine and to pressure the rebels to hold to the ceasefire.” Russian delegate, Alexander A. Pankin, responded – at two occasions – to the members of the UNSC by saying that the Council should not turn these meetings into a “farce” and he “rejected allegations that convoys being sent by the Russian Federation had been filled with anything other than humanitarian supplies, saying that such contents were always recorded.”

Regional Shift of Power: Russian Actions versus European Inertia

The turns of events in Eastern Ukraine are serious and may certainly turns into a traditional war between Ukraine and Russia with real regional consequences. Russia under Vladimir Putin has been in search of its ‘lost’ grandeur and sought to reaffirm to its sphere of influence over ‘lost’ territories. Since his arrival to power in 2000, Putin has continuously challenged Western European powers – France, Germany, the United Kingdom – without any serious responses (refer to Fiona Hill’s book on Vladimir Putin). Eastern EU Member States, like the Baltic states, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, have been concerned about the resurgence of Russian powers. Their recent integration into transatlantic institutional structures, NATO and the EU, was linked to the Russian threat on their stability and security.

Despite the threat represented by Moscow through the militarization of its energy – gas – and the use of force against Georgia and now Ukraine, the EU and its powerful Members have remained inactive. Each of the Big-three, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, has its own direct relationship with Moscow. For instance, the United Kingdom has certainly tense relations with Russia, but Russian investments in its financial sector outweigh the political tensions. In the case of Germany, its priority consists in guaranteeing a regular flows of Russian hydrocarbons. Last but not least, France, an old Russian partner, has continued selling weapons despite the continuous violations perpetuated by Moscow. The lack of European unity and strategic thinking on dealing with Russia has affected the weight and influence of the EU on asserting its power over the region. Until, the EU-28 does not agree on a common line of conduct in interacting with Russia, the Russian strategy of divide and conquer will remain effective.

In the afterwards of Crimea’s invasion and then its annexion to Russia validated by a referendum, the EU agreed on a series of sanctions against Russian individuals and companies. Experts have been divided on the powers and eventual success rates of these sanctions. Despite some eventual financial and economic repercussions on the Russian economy, Vladimir Putin seems ready to continue the fight and continues to receive a positive popular support. The question remains: Is Puting seeking to expand Russian borders? Or is he testing how far he can get away with? The recent report published by the European Leadership Network, titled “Dangerous Brinkmanship: Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West in 2014,” identified several risks of close military encounters in recent year. The examples go from Russian air incursions and airspace violations, to “underwater activity” in Swedish territorial waters, to abduction of a Estonian security service operative, to a mid-air collision between a SAS passenger plane taking off from Copenhagen and a Russian reconnaissance aircraft. These are some among the many examples illustrated in the report. Each of them demonstrates the high degree of activity of Russian military forces around NATO airspaces.

Aside from Russian military activity, one of the main problems is the lack of power-check from EU Member States. Russia is shifting the regional balance of power and directly threatening European interests and security. Even under this context, neither the EU nor

EUMM Georgia: EU observers before Russian troops
EUMM Georgia: EU observers before Russian troops

its Member States seem willing to act. France and the United Kingdom, the two EU Member States with credible military capabilities, are neither flexing their muscles nor leading the way in addressing the threat represented by Russia destabilizing the regional balance of power. Additionally, the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) does not represent a credible military force in order to enforce security on the continent. The CSDP may eventually be sent off monitoring the borders like during the Georgia mission, EUMM Georgia, following the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia.

Ultimately, the EU and its Member States are facing two serious problems, both intertwined: on the one hand, they are convinced that European soft power will protect them from regional and international threats. However, soft power tends to be an empty instrument without hard power backing it up (read here and here two pieces on the topic of soft and hard power). Thus, the Ukrainian issue is going to be an important and difficult one for the new HR/VP Mogherini to lead and establish herself as the European diplomatic leader. So far, she has not made any public statement on the matter. On the other hand, the European domestic and economic moods are so dire that European heads of states and governments are principally focusing on domestic questions affecting their vision on the shifting regional balance of power. Domestic politics is causing a greater degree of risk-aversion from the EU. Samantha Power claimed during her statement on the 12th of November in New York that “there must be consequences when Russia continues to flout the commitments it has made.” It certainly does not look like that either the EU or its Member States will be the regional peace and security enforcer.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).