In an appearance on ETV foreign affairs show "Välisilm" on Monday night, EU Ambassador to Ukraine Matti Maasikas said that in light of the headway Ukraine has been making on the battlefield, Russia has started rushing their own planned steps. Ukrainian leaders' biggest fear, however, isn't threats from Moscow, but rather losing command of Western supporters' attention.
According to Maasikas, it can't be said that Russian leaders' moves have been surprising. "True, these have apparently been made hastily and improvising," he added.
Just three weeks ago, Russia had still signaled that fake referendums it organized in occupied parts of Ukraine would be postponed until November or December. After the situation on the battlefield changed, however, they conducted them sooner.
"The West's reaction was to clearly state what these were, that they would not be recognized, and that a new sanctions package was being discussed," Maasikas said.
"No such sanction exists that would have an overnight impact and would cause Russian leadership to change its course," he explained. "The impact of all of these sanctions is longer-term. This impact is already present, but it's coming quietly; it's increasing; it's being turned up."
At the same time, Ukraine is expecting stronger sanctions from Europe than Europe is capable of imposing, the EU ambassador noted.
"Ukraine is saying, 'All banks out of SWIFT, and stop buying oil and gas,'" he explained. "We've cut the majority of Russian banking out of SWIFT, we've cut 90 percent of crude oil purchases, and without a formal sanction, Russian oil's share of EU consumption has fallen from 40 percent to 9. You can't say that this doesn't have an impact on the Russian economy."
According to Maasikas, Ukraine's progress has had a direct impact on diplomats as well.
"While the front didn't move much between the beginning of July and end of August, focus [on Ukraine] started to fade," he acknowledged. "This is human. Ukraine's leadership knows this very well. Ukrainian leaders' biggest fear isn't Moscow's threats, but that the attention of their Western supporters and donors will fade."
Last week, Ukraine applied for NATO membership, which Maasikas believes was an attempt to repeat the success Ukraine achieved in applying for EU membership earlier this year. He noted, however, that it is primarily the prospect of joining the EU that is giving fighting Ukrainians hope.
"Ukraine's accession process has been shattering all records," he said. "Typically, it takes an applicant country's committee eight months to fill out the first questionnaire; Ukraine did it in a week."
Ukraine is currently working on reforms in seven areas that the EU attached to its candidate country status, and is hoping for the next step, i.e. negotiations, to begin, he added.
European and other NATO member states' leaders have stayed very cool during the war, Maasikas highlighted. "This is reflected in the fact that they know that if they don't want this war to reach them at home, then they must help Ukraine now," he said.
Editor: Aili Vahtla