14 May 2023

Tackling the Constraints on EU Foreign Policy towards Ukraine

From Strategic Denial to Geopolitical Awakening

Kristi Raik / Steven Blockmans / Assem Dandashly / Gergana Noutcheva / Anna Osypchuk / Anton Suslov

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The evolution of EU policy towards Ukraine, with major turning points occurring in 2004, 2014 and February 2022 when Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine started is explored in this report. The dominant constraining factor in the case of Ukraine was multipolar (or rather bipolar) competition between the EU and Russia over the European political, economic and security order, which has gradually tightened since 2004. Up to 2022, the EU’s main mitigation tactics in response to such competition was actually a denial of it, but in 2022 this approach became untenable. The EU entered the competition as an emerging geopolitical actor, actively trying to shape the future of the European order being challenged by the war in Ukraine. EU-Ukraine relations were also complicated by regional fragmentation in the post-Soviet space and within Ukraine, but this factor was overshadowed by geopolitical competition. Intra-EU contestation was an important constraining factor in 2004–2014, but after 2014 and especially after 2022, the EU reached an unprecedented level of unity in the face of the most serious geopolitical conflict in post-WWII Europe.