European Diplomacy Amidst Russia’s War in Ukraine

5. 12. 2023 Author: Martin Zubko Metropolitan University Prague hosted an international conference as part of a research project funded by Norway Grants titled ‘European Diplomacy Amidst Russia’s War in Ukraine - Preserving European Values’. This conference was convened with the foremost objective of accentuating the central role of European diplomacy amid the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The overarching theme of the event revolved around the external coherence of EU diplomacy, with a focus on using EU values and energy policies to assess its effectiveness and implementation.

Furthermore, it delved into the intricate questions posed by the ever-shifting geopolitical dynamics within member states of the European Union, along with the far-reaching implications of diplomatic endeavours. This conference not only illuminated the unity of European diplomacy but also grappled with the multifaceted issues arising from the power dynamics among EU member states and their bargaining positions. Moreover, it explored the potential consequences of these diplomatic efforts, particularly considering the European Union’s aspirations to assert itself as a significant actor on the global geopolitical stage.

The inaugural panel, titled ‘Distinct Paths: EU & Norwegian Diplomacy During the Ukraine War,’ featured two esteemed international speakers. His Excellency Ambassador Victor Conrad Rønneberg, representing the Norwegian Embassy in Prague, offered a thoughtful exploration of the interplay between international law and military means to achieve sustainable peace rather than perpetuating an enduring frozen conflict. He also emphasized Norway’s role in resolving numerous conflicts worldwide, as it is a fundamental part of Norwegian diplomatic practice. Distinguished Professor Iver B. Neumann, Fridtjof Nansen Institute, highlighted the imperative need for thorough research on the Ukraine war, underscoring the significance of daily events on the front lines. While delving into the historical context of Norway-Russia relations, border arrangements, and their impact on industries such as the fishing sector. He also drew attention to the significance of irrational factors in international relations and emphasized the growing role of the EU as ‘an actor of modern actions’. Professor Neumann cautioned against the EU relinquishing its efforts to support Ukraine.

The discussion, moderated by Associate Professor Mats R. Braun, who also serves as the director of the Institute of International Relations in Prague, addressed several engaging questions. These questions pertained to various aspects, including EU values, member states’ interests, the role of contradictory interests, and even the stabilizing influence of Russian LNG during the Ukraine war as a factor in mitigating social and political turmoil within the EU. Additionally, there was a discussion on the war in Ukraine in relation to ongoing events in Gaza.

The second panel, titled ‘Coherent EU Diplomacy in the Face of the War in Ukraine: Striving for a Unified Response,’ began with a concise presentation by Martin Zubko, a PhD candidate at MUP. He underscored that ‘the EU’s pursuit of external coherence presents a challenge, one that is amplified by the ongoing Ukraine conflict,’ highlighting that ‘while the Ukraine crisis has galvanised a semblance of unity in the EU’s stance towards Russia, this degree of external coherence is not universally manifest across the Union's diplomatic spectrum’.

Then, Mats R. Braun posed a visionary challenge, contemplating how the external coherence of EU diplomacy would evolve if the EU’s enlargement extended to include 36 states. He also emphasized the significance of examining the Ukraine conflict, starting from its inception in 2014, and the transition to a full-scale war in 2022, marking crucial research milestones. Top of FormArild Moe, a research professor and distinguished Norwegian political scientist from the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, delves into the dynamics of energy security priorities and energy transition actions within the European Union. He underscores the significance of both collective and unilateral energy purchases in the EU while stressing that ‘the EU is far away from a single energy market’.

Pavlina Janebova, a research director at the Association for International Affairs (AMO), brought attention to several key questions. These included the level of geopolitical strength the EU should aspire to, the prospects for future unity amid potential EU enlargement, and the evolving significance of EU values as outlined in EU treaties. Furthermore, she examined Hungary’s role and its partial reluctance to fully engage in unified EU diplomacy, even though Hungary supported all sanctions packages against Russia.

During the discussion, moderated by Pål W. Skedsmo, Research Director for Marine and Polar Issues at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, the audience posed a series of insightful questions. These questions illuminated the intricacies of the matter, highlighting the multitude of internal and external factors that come into play when researching EU diplomacy in three dimensions: at the supranational EU level, within the energy policies of member states, and in external EU relations, shedding light on the genuine implementation of EU values versus the pursuit of EU interests.

The conference successfully achieved three significant objectives. Firstly, it catalysed EU diplomacy research, an area often overshadowed by other EU agendas, despite being fundamental to the EU’s geopolitical ambitions. Secondly, it stimulated academic discourse surrounding the external coherence of EU diplomacy, shedding light on its inherent complexity and the need for further research. Lastly, the conference sent a powerful message not only to Ukraine but also to Russia. It conveyed that, while not without imperfections, EU diplomacy has received a substantial impulse towards evolving into a sustainable, unified geopolitical force that should not be underestimated.