Ilves: EU can stop whining and ready itself for Ukraine humanitarian crisis

Toomas Hendrik Ilves during a recent interview given to ERR's Margus Saar.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves during a recent interview given to ERR's Margus Saar. Source: Kairit Leibold / ERR

While one hopes for the best that this week's NATO-Russia talks will head off both war and any agreement which could prove detrimental to Ukraine, Distinguished Non-resident Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) and former president of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves writes, the EU has no business whining about not being invited to the party.

What Europe could make itself more fit for, however, would be putting in place contingency plans for potentially millions of refugees from Ukraine, were the worst-case scenarios to play out, Ilves continues in the piece published on CEPA's website.

The EU crying foul at being excluded from negotiations after inaction on the security front for over a decade – it took High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs Joosep Borrell two years before he visited the front-line of the insurgency war in eastern Ukraine, which was one step better than his predecessor, Frederica Mogherini managed – is, Ilves writes, bizarre.

In the meantime, EU security officials and the relevant ministries of its member states should be having crisis meetings right now on Ukraine – which borders with five EU states (taking into account its maritime border with Bulgaria) – and would be the first to receive potentially at least 3-4 million Ukrainian refugees were war to break out, extrapolating from Estonia's experience in World War Two, he continues.

The EU is, however, too late to the table for this week's talks – coming up to the eighth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Ukraine and the subsequent, ongoing conflict, which has killed around 14,000 people.

The fact that the EU's leadership has largely ignored Ukraine as a security issue makes its present "shrieks and bleating in Brussels" about being left out "almost ear-shattering," Ilves continues.

As to solutions, Ilves reiterates a suggestion by German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger, now Chairman of the Munich Security Conference, to create a dedicated Chief Security Officer, who would oversee the security dimension of all EU policies and set up a permanent security council similar to NATO's 73-year-old, quotidian North Atlantic Council (NAC).

Giving the EU's Permanent Structured Co-operation (PESCO) more teeth in its putative role of integrating the EU's security and defense structures might be another way of making Russia see the union as a serious contender, Ilves adds.

This would all aid as a salve for the shortcoming Ischinger identified when he noted that: "We love to chat about learning the language of power, but we lack all the basic implements of power: Military capabilities, a strategic vision, and political will."

Toomas Hendrik Ilves was President of Estonia over two consecutive terms, 2006-2016.

The original CEPA piece is here.

CEPA non-resident Senior Fellow Edward Lucas also gave this interview to ERR's Tarmo Maiberg about the security situation relating to Russia and its neighbors, including Ukraine, and the EU's seeming listlessness in dealing with Russia.

In recent months, an estimated 100,000 military personnel have congregated on Ukraine's eastern border with the Russian Federation, prompting fears of an imminent land invasion.

Russia last month issued a series of demands to the U.S. that NATO should roll back its presence on its Eastern flank.

The U.S. and Russia are engaged in talks on nuclear arms control and Ukraine this week in Geneva, Switzerland.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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