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Ukraine

Opinion: Dare to protest against Putin

Sanctions against individuals are just pin-pricks in the fur of the Russian bear. Europe's governments are attempting to respond prudently to Putin's aggression - its citizens should be outraged, says DW's Bernd Riegert.

Deutsche Welle Bernd Riegert

Bernd Riegert is Deutsche Welle's Europe correspondent in Brussels

The hopes one might have had after the Ukraine summit in Geneva ten days ago have evaporated. Just before Easter it looked as if de-escalation might be possible, but now the opposite is true: a pro-Russia militia has taken international observers hostage in eastern Ukraine; city halls and police stations remain occupied; the West imposes more sanctions, while Russia on one side and Ukraine, the EU, and the US on the other trade accusations of responsibility for the escalation of the crisis.

The spiral continues to turn and it's not clear who can stop it. It looks as if Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to let eastern Ukraine slide into chaos in order to make free elections at the end of May impossible - or at least not credible. Putin is becoming increasingly unpredictable for Ukraine, the EU, and NATO. For example, what was the significance of the renewed invasion of NATO airspace by vintage Russian long-range bombers a few days ago?

The group of seven leading industrialized countries which expelled Russia in March has now imposed new sanctions against individuals and selected companies. The US is acting more firmly than the Europeans, who want to prevent damage to their economy.

In spite of the differences, the alliance is standing firm, but there's a lack of courage and political will to impose really strong sanctions. To do so would only accelerate the escalation and wouldn't be likely to help the OSCE observers still being held. Caution is necessary.

If the EU and the US were to impose their toughest sanctions, they would have no bigger club left to swing. What would they do if there was real fighting in Ukraine, or if Russia actually marched in? Since military intervention is not an option for the West, the West needs to avoid using its final weapon now. What is needed now is a "Geneva II" - more talks, another summit. That was agreed ten days ago in Geneva: the talking must go on.

Above all, the EU must stabilize Ukraine enough to ensure that the elections can take place on May 25. What has happened to the EU foreign ministers' idea of sending a mission to train the police and justice systems? Since it was announced - not much. Observers, consultants, and electoral advisers should be flooding in to both the West and the East of the country to demonstrate solidarity. But it's not happening. Public opinion in Europe is reserved. The latest outrages are shown on the evening news, but that's become almost routine. The public is not outraged. Where are the demonstrations against Russian policy? Where are the massive vigils outside Russian embassies?

The worst crisis in Europe for 25 years is being made even worse by the Russian government and the pro-Russian militias, while we just look on. Sanctions that only work slowly have limited use. Real political signals are needed, since the government in Kyiv is evidently not in a position to impose its rule in the East of the country.

What about holding a meeting of EU or OSCE foreign ministers in Kyiv, or, even better, in the East? Where are the EU parliamentarians? Couldn't the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee meet in Donetsk? Would Russia dare to tolerate its members being taken hostage? If you don't want to use force, you have to confront the militias with civil courage.