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Diplomacy

Soft power isn't enough anymore

Russia has lost all credibility after its staging of conflict in eastern Ukraine. The EU may have to respond with harsh sanctions, which is all it can do, DW's Bernd Riegert writes.

In spite of considerable differences of opinion between its foreign ministers, the European Union has succeeded in maintaining a common stance on Ukraine. Some ministers wanted tougher sanctions against Russia now, while others wanted to avoid punitive measures against Moscow.

In the end, the representatives of 28 countries agreed on a common line: Sanctions would be extended through further travel bans and account freezes if there is not satisfactory progress at a special summit next week between Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the EU in Geneva. It may be a complicated formula diplomatically, but it is a workable compromise for all member states.

One last deadline

The EU is giving Russia one last deadline for it to cooperate constructively to defuse the explosive situation in Ukraine. EU ministers have no doubt the Russian leadership is to blame for the deterioration of the situation. The supposed calls for help from Russian-speaking eastern Ukrainians are staged and just as fake as the cries for help heard four weeks earlier in Crimea.

Now the EU wants to prevent eastern Ukraine from being torn away from the country according to the same Russian playbook. Ukraine would be ruined, Russia's President Vladimir Putin would have achieved his goal. The elections in May would be eliminated and the state would perhaps fall into chaos.

If Russia doesn't come around in the next four-party talks with the US, the EU and most importantly Ukraine, good advice will be dearly needed. After today's decisions, the EU would have to impose sanctions with sensitive economic impact to still remain credible. Will Vladimir Putin further fuel the conflict? And why shouldn't he - what does he have to lose?

The EU foreign ministers will have asked themselves this question in Luxembourg and realized with horror that there is little they can do against the new Tsar. If military options remain ruled out, and they should, then there is little that could frighten Russia in its nationalist frenzy.

Can it really be that the world will just stand by and watch as an unscrupulous president grabs a self-defined zone of influence? At the moment, the answer is, unfortunately, probably yes, because the people in power in the Kremlin probably don't care in the slightest for the economic consequences of their policies and their reputation in the rest of the world, except for the likes of Assad.

Together with its ally the US, the EU looks quite helpless, but at least they are still capable of presenting a common front. Vladimir Putin has so far not been able to drive a wedge into the phalanx, even though he tried it with energy and other threats. The fuse has been laid on the Ukrainian powder keg. The Russian match that could light the fuse is already burning just a few centimeters away.

The EU must remain steadfast and, together with the IMF, come to Ukraine's aid immediately. It must not let itself be intimidated by the 40,000 Russian soldiers on Ukraine's border and should now send more of its own observers, as well as provide training missions for the police, judiciary and administration in the country. The Russian kindling should not be rewarded.