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Europe scrambles to mediate nearby crises as Russia bets on Western disunity

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GRANADA, SPAIN – While showing unity and steadfast support for Ukraine took centre-stage as some 50 European leaders met for their third summit on Thursday (5 October), the margins were dominated by the lack of progress in mediating Europe’s other crises.

When the European Political Community format was established last year to foster cooperation among European countries from Iceland to the Caucasus, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it was with a powerful image of more than 40 leaders gathering for their kick-off meeting in Prague – and without Vladimir Putin.

The second meeting of more than 48 European leaders in Chisinau was staged as a show of support for frontline country Moldova and a display of diplomatic force vis-a-vis Russia.

Ukraine support centre-stage

But this third time, in Granada, the show of European unity looked a bit forced.

It was probably Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who best summed up the actual purpose of the summit: “The main challenge that we have is to save unity in Europe, not only in the EU but in all of Europe.”

He warned European leaders that Russia could rebuild its military capabilities and attack other countries within five years if the continent were to waver in its support for Kyiv.

Although he remained confident Washington’s commitment towards Ukraine would not falter in the long-term, support from Europe has become even more crucial after the US Congress excluded more aid for Kyiv from a national spending deal that the White House had vigorously backed.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in Granada the bloc was working on a EUR50 billion support package, adding that she was “very confident” about continued US help for Kyiv.

But the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell warned leaders that Europe would not be able to fill any funding gap left by the United States: “Certainly we can do more. But the US is something irreplaceable for the support of Ukraine.”

French President Emmanuel Macron was one of many pledging continued support for Ukraine from Europe.

“There is a very deep, very strong commitment because we all know that we are talking about Europe and about the very possibility of lasting peace on our continent,” he said.

Individual countries also made pledges in Granada, including host country Spain and Germany, whose Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Berlin was working on supplying an additional Patriot air defence missile system to Ukraine.

Several EU leaders warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin was betting on the West becoming fatigued with the long-term support of Ukraine, handing him a path to victory.

As the Granada gathering moved along, Putin, speaking from the Black Sea resort of Sochi, accused the West of having lost touch with reality over the Ukraine war and warned that if its leaders had forgotten how to compromise then the world “would see where such arrogance led”.

“I think Russia wants us to be tired,” Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told reporters. “We should show them that we are not. We have to help Ukraine as long as it takes.”

Crises without solutions

While Thursday’s official summit agenda featured topics such as transport, energy and artificial intelligence, it was the meetings and appearances on the margins that mattered.

Those sideline talks were meant to focus on crises between Azerbaijan and Armenia as well as Serbia and Kosovo, which have flared in recent weeks amid limited success of EU efforts at mediation.

EU officials had to shelve their plans to host a five-way meeting between Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev over Nagorno-Karabakh after the latter pulled out of the summit.

Many European leaders condemned Azerbaijan’s move last month after Baku seized back control of a region populated by ethnic Armenians, prompting more than 100,000 of them to flee the area.

Russia, the traditional power in the region, refused to come to Armenia’s aid when Azerbaijan launched its one-day offensive in late September.

In Granada, Macron, Scholz and European Council President Charles Michel reaffirmed their “unwavering support” to Armenia after meeting Pashinyan.

“They also expressed their support to the strengthening of EU-Armenia relations, in all its dimensions, based on the needs of the Republic of Armenia,” they said in a joint statement.

Speaking to reporters after the sideline talks, Michel, who has been overseeing a faltering peace process between the two Caucasus countries, said he had invited Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders for a meeting in Brussels by the end of the month.

But a solution seems still far off, especially as EU countries have so far scrambled to find a response to the crisis and remain split over how to address a potential further escalation.

Likewise, there was little rapprochement between the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo, its former province, in Granada.

Kosovo’s President Vjosa Osmani flatly refused to meet with Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic, instead calling for the EU to first sanction Belgrade.

“Sanctions first, and then we can talk about the rest,” Osmani told reporters in Granada.

Tensions between Belgrade and Pristina flared up when a group of heavily armed Serbs stormed a village in an ethnic Serbian-majority region of Kosovo on 24 September. After the incident, NATO boosted its peacekeeping presence and the United States called on Serbia to reverse its military buildup on the border with Kosovo.

The revival of tensions went hand in hand with a lack of progress in the Brussels-led Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, with the latest round of talks last month ending in a stark diplomatic failure, prompting the EU to warn both countries “to engage constructively” or risk setbacks to their EU membership hopes.

As leaders made their way to the picturesque Alhambra fortress for dinner at the end of Day 1, several diplomats lamented the lack of tangible deliverables.

“The one thing we managed to do is not to show disunity – so far,” one European diplomat quipped.

EU27 leaders will separately gather for an informal EU summit on Friday (6 October), where migration is expected to overshadow the talks that were initially meant to centre around the bloc’s future strategic agenda and kick-off a long-awaited debate on reform and enlargement.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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