What is the problem?
The terrorist state of russia has been waging the cruel, unforgiving hybrid war of aggression against Ukraine for eight long years, starting with Crimea's annexation and Donbas war in 2014 and introducing an even more horrifying and still ongoing full-scale invasion in 2022. With this new stage of the war, russia has brought the monstrosity of destruction to Ukraine's infrastructure, environment, food security, energy security, economy, and, most importantly, to ordinary Ukrainians, both adults and children, whose lives will never be the same.
russia's war is multi-faceted, and it doesn't end with the apparent elements of warfare, like military offensive actions and temporary occupation and missile attacks on Ukraine's cities and regions that tragically lead to many lost lives and destroyed energy sector. It also manifests itself in dirty war propaganda, calls for violence, threats, and disinformation campaigns designed not only for the russian people and targeted against the Ukrainian population but developed to create discord in the West and hinder partners' support for Ukraine.
Fortunately, contrary to 2014, we've witnessed a more united front on the part of our Western friends this time around. Ukraine receives military, financial, humanitarian, and political support to pull through the challenges russia brings. And one of the most prominent contributors is the European Union.
What is the solution?
EU goes to bat for Ukraine
The recurrent message both on the sidelines, in public announcements, and in in-person meetings we took part in during our visit to Brussels is that Ukraine is the EU's top priority. Rubryka has become a witness to this exact statement by EU High Representative Josep Borrell during the press conference at the Council of the European Union.
"The European Union stands by Ukraine until Ukrainians' victory," he said following the Foreign Affairs Council meeting. But what does this actually mean? What exactly does the EU do to support Ukraine and approach our victory?
With the start of russia's invasion of Ukraine, the European Union has responded in many directions to aid Ukraine. So far, the EU has adopted eight sanctions packages against russia that include economic sanctions against russia's industries, bans on importing russian iron, steel, coal, and gold, suspension of visa facilitation, personal sanctions against oligarchs, ban on broadcasting state-owned media, etc.
Still, the next tangible step is yet to be adopted—a price cap on russian oil. The decision was taken at the level of G7, and now the EU needs to adopt it. "I'm confident that we will very soon approve a global price cap on russian oil with the G7 and other major partners," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said during her visit to Finland on November 24.
As for political support, the European officials we've spoken to have said that the EU is working with like-minded partners worldwide to isolate russia internationally and help Ukraine get more access to international platforms. Specifically, the European Parliament declared russia to be a state sponsor of terrorism on November 23 by adopting a resolution where "MEPs highlight that the deliberate attacks and atrocities committed by russian forces and their proxies against civilians in Ukraine, the destruction of civilian infrastructure and other serious violations of international and humanitarian law amount to acts of terror and constitute war crimes."
Granting Ukraine the EU candidate country status also falls under this category—the EU is working on the perspective of Ukraine's membership.
The economic support that Ukraine received is the full trade liberalization which the EU has applied unilaterally, removing old tariffs and quotas related to Ukrainian exports to the EU, which allows Ukrainian businesses to compete on the European market. Also, as a complementing measure to the UN-Ukraine-Turkey Black Sea initiative for grain exports, the EU's solidarity lanes provide Ukraine with alternative export routes for agricultural products since Black Sea ports are blocked by russia.
The European Commission Executive Vice-President for Economy and Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis stated in the meeting with Rubryka and other Ukrainian journalists, "The situation is not stable in this regard. Therefore it's important that the solidarity lanes remain an important alternative and complement the Black Sea route for Ukrainian exports."
This year, the Europe Union member states, EU budget, and European financial institutions mobilized 19.7 billion euros of financial support to Ukraine. And for the next year, the European Commission has proposed an 18 billion euros macro-financial assistance program, which amounts to 1.5 billion euros per month. According to Mr. Dombrovskis, the EU will cover the package but expect other international donors, like the US, other G7 countries, and other international financial institutions, like World Bank, to help.
European Commission's 18-billion proposal is in the legislative process and is expected to be finished in early December. Then the EU will sign a memorandum of understanding with Ukraine's authorities by the end of the year.
At the request of the Ukrainian government, the EU pledges to provide more stable and predictable financing for 2023 since many decisions in 2022 were taken on an ad hoc basis, resulting in unpredictable financing flow to Ukraine.
It's the first time in history that the EU provides financial support to purchase military supplies. So far, they have provided 3.1 billion euros through the European Peace Facility to support member states' weapon shipments to Ukraine.
On November 15, the Council of the EU also adopted an assistance package of €16 million to support the capacity building of the Ukrainian armed forces. The assistance will finance equipment and supplies, including military defense equipment.
On the same day, ministers also approved the EU Military Assistance Mission (EUMAM Ukraine) launch to help train 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers, with Poland, Germany, and the Czech Republic acting as bases.
The European Parliament has the Special Committee for foreign interference in all democratic processes in the EU, including disinformation (INGE), to evaluate the disinformation threats during elections and other democratic processes, campaigns on social media, and traditional media outlets that work to destabilize the democratic order inside the European Union. The committee, which works as a part of the European Union, is supposed to figure out the solutions to counter possible foreign sabotage and compile recommendations.
In a comment to Rubryka and other Ukrainian journalists, MEP Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, Vice-Chair of the Delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee, and a member of this special ad hoc committee on disinformation has clarified their activity, "For quite some time, we have been looking strategically at what russia, China, and some other actors have done to our democratic processes. So we came up with our first report, which entails 53 recommendations. And a lot of these recommendations are related to strategic communication, coordination on the EU level, increasing the StratCom unit, prioritizing the topic, and mainstreaming it in all of the EU institutions."
We also had an opportunity to meet the officials from East StratCom Task Force, which works within the European External Action Service (EEAS)—the diplomatic service and combined EU foreign and defense ministry. As the members of this unit explained, their objective is to promote the EU's activities in Eastern Europe and work on the EUvsDisinfo project, which collects, analyzes, and debunks the disinformation campaigns, fake news, and propaganda materials dispersed by russia, compiles a database of disinfo articles, and works with educators to promote media literacy and build resilience against russian propaganda.
How does it (not) work?
How decisions are made in the EU
In each and every meeting we attended in the EU institutions, the officials often used the term "big bureaucratic machine" when talking about the structure of the EU, the hierarchy of the EU bodies, and the decision-making that happens inside their walls.
As the EU civil servants explain, the European Union has three major decision-making institutions that together form the EU's activities, policies, and laws:
- The European Commission comprises 27 Commissioners (one from each EU country) responsible for different policies. It proposes new laws, allocates funding, and executes laws.
- The Council of the European Union is represented by ministers, adopts EU laws with the European Parliament, and develops the EU's foreign and security policy.
- The European Parliament passes EU laws and scrutinizes and monitors the work of all EU institutions.
So, the EU's policies are decided through the ordinary legislative procedure where the European Commission, the Council of the EU, and the European Parliament, the three leading institutions, agree on legislation.
When it comes to Ukraine's support, sanctions against russia, and foreign and defense policy, most power is in the hands of the Council of the EU, which must vote unanimously to adopt the decision. Since the EU has 27 member states, it's often hard to persuade all the countries at once about important issues like the russian oil price cap or financial support to Ukraine when each country has its national interests in mind or, in some ways, has more ties with russia. That's why the EU is often criticized for being slow in making decisions.
A recent example is the European Commission's proposal to provide Ukraine with 18 billion euros of macro-financial assistance. The package has not been adopted yet due to Hungary's hesitation.
When we asked Commissioner Dombrovskis about it, he said that they had recently had this discussion with the finance ministers of each member state, and everyone, including Hungary, expressed "broad support and willingness" to provide this financial assistance and acknowledged the urgency. However, "Hungary has voiced certain concerns, not so conceptually related to the need to provide financial assistance to Ukraine, but more in the exact techniques of how it's being done. So now we are working with all member states and hope to be able to resolve this issue."
The commissioner added that they planned for the legislative process to be concluded by the first half of December, and the decision was expected on December 6. Until the unanimous vote, the package is on hold.
russian narrative is still strong
Fighting the influence of the russian narrative happens to be hard in the EU. Many russian politicians, cultural figures, athletes, etc., still have access to their respective professional circles and thus have the opportunity to spread russian propaganda inside the European Union.
In the statement to its resolution designating russia as a sponsor of terrorism, the European Parliament once again called on the EU to isolate russia internationally even more, including when we're talking about russia's membership in international organizations, like the United Nations Security Council.
"MEPs also want diplomatic ties with Russia to be reduced, EU contacts with official Russian representatives to be kept to the absolute minimum, and Russian state-affiliated institutions in the EU spreading propaganda around the world to be closed and banned," the statement reads.
In the meeting with MEP Witold Jan Waszczykowski, Chair of Delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee, Rubryka asked him if he believes the russian narrative is strong in the EU.
Mr. Waszczykowski expressed the opinion that a strong influence was still there, naming such European leaders as Chancellor Scholz and President Macron, who still call the war putin's war, not russia's war, and hope for a peaceful solution. Moreover, many politicians, even in the EU parliament, think that the dialogue with russia should be open, and there's a prevailing opinion that the EU cannot organize peace and security architecture in Europe without russia.
"For this reason, of course, the influence of russia is enormous. It's one of my duties to communicate to my colleagues that it is the wrong position and wrong opinion because we cannot survive here in Europe in peace unless we get rid of russia and russians," he concluded.
On a positive note, Vice-Chair of Delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee, MEP Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, whom we had the chance to talk to as well, stressed that more hard work needs to be done to counter the russian narrative, so it doesn't hinder support to Ukraine.
"It's clear we need to work on our home audiences. We have to make sure that the support in our respective countries stays as high as it was in the beginning, that we get the weapon deliveries that Ukraine needs to liberate its territory and that Ukraine receives money, which the country needs to survive, especially for the winter," she said.
She also stressed the importance of promoting the idea that russian propaganda is a hybrid weapon and that "this is part of the war and part of the warfare":
"Those people [russian propagandists] are not journalists. They have nothing to do with journalism. They are only there because somebody pays them to destabilize our society; they don't want to inform us; they want to disinform us. We can not treat them the same way as ordinary media. For the latter, of course, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and so on is absolutely applied. But there are people who come with the intention to destabilize our democratic society. Why should they benefit from these freedoms?"
Integration of Ukraine into the EU
The good news is that Ukraine's integration into the EU has already started and is happening. Ukraine is working on seven reforms, described in the Commission's recommendations to approach Ukraine negotiations for membership, and, according to Ukrainian experts, the government is halfway to completing the demands. The delegation to Ukraine is also doing its part.
According to Mr. Waszczykowski, one of the most vital tasks of the delegation of the European Parliament to Ukraine is to help Ukraine switch from the implementation of the Eastern Partnership and Association agreement provisions into an actual negotiation.
One of the ideas is to bring Ukraine to the Initiative of the Three Seas that plays to the integration of transport and security, energy security, and especially the gas market. The following steps are supposed to open different European agencies for Ukraine and bring Ukraine to the European Union's single market.
"So this is our task right now to create a simultaneous track. One track is negotiations that will be run by the Commission, and the second track may be led by global countries to promote Ukraine's access to different agendas of the EU," Mr. Waszczykowski said.
The European Commission, on the other hand, may need more initiative to secure negotiations. Mr. Waszczykowski mentioned in our meeting that the Commission decided to issue a report on the status of the Ukraine membership negotiation at the end of the next year.
"This is unacceptable for us here in the parliament, so we are pushing for the fastest steps to bring Ukraine closer and closer to the European Union," the delegation chair stressed, adding that the EU parliament monitors the situation and lobbies for the issue.
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