April 29, 2023

Tackling the Constraints on EU Foreign Policy towards Ukraine: From Strategic Denial to Geopolitical Awakening

The sheer size and geopolitical significance of Ukraine would have, in and of itself, required a clear and coherent policy from the European Union in the aftermath of the Cold War. However, the EU’s focus was initially on the countries that joined the EU in 2004, and on Russia.

This report explores 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.

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 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 and the EU entered the competition as an emerging geopolitical actor, actively trying to shape the future of European order that was 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.

The report is part of the ICDS contribution to the research project JOINT – Understanding and Strengthening EU Foreign & Security Policy in a Complex and Contested World, funded by the EU Horizon 2020 Programme. The JOINT project involves 14 partners from 12 countries and is coordinated by the Italian Institute of International Affairs (IAI).

Download and read: Tackling the Constraints on EU Foreign Policy towards Ukraine: From Strategic Denial to Geopolitical Awakening (PDF)

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