Russia, Ukraine and the European Union – Challenges and Opportunities

On Friday, 13 March, Dr. Aaron Matta gave a series of three lectures entitled “Russia, Ukraine and the European Union: Challenges and Opportunities” at Salamanca University, Spain. The event was organized by the Master program in European Union Studies at the University of Salamanca, in collaboration with Europe Direct. The three lectures addressed the evolution of EU-Russia relations, energy trade issues and the current situation in Ukraine.

During the first lecture, Dr. Matta discussed issues arising from the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the negotiations of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) in an attempt to bring Russia and other former Soviet republics into the world economy. The promotion of human rights by encouraging the signing of the European Convention of Human Rights was also brought up. On the one hand, the relations between Russia and the EU suffered some difficulties during the Chechen wars and the later adjudication of cases related to the Chechen conflict. Issues surrounding free media and Russian actions in Transnistria at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) caused further tensions. On the other hand, these relations became more troubled after the EU and NATO enlargements to the East, the Russia-Georgia war in 2008, and Yanukovych Government’s refusal to sign an Association Agreement with the EU that lead to the Maidan Revolution. Dr. Matta emphasized that “Until now largely as a result of the bilateral legal/institutional framework, both sides have aimed at dialogue to resolve their disputes and misunderstandings.”

In the second lecture, Dr. Matta tackled the subject of interdependence between the EU and Russia in the trade of energy resources, particularly gas. This originates from a significant difference in the understanding of energy security. While for Russia it is an issue of security of demand, for the EU and its Member States it is a question of security of supply. The EU has aimed to lessen its concerns both internally and externally. In the first case, the Union has aimed at liberalizing both the electricity and energy markets with three energy packages (in the 90’s, in 2003 and in 2009).

Externally, the EU has promoted the Energy Charter Treaty and the Energy Community as an attempt to regulate gas trade in a transparent way. In addition, the EU and its Member States have looked into diversifying their energy supply from Russia, particularly from Central Asia. However, problems arising in transit countries, in particular the energy crises of 2006 and 2009 with Ukraine, and the strong links between the Kremlin and the energy industry, have prompted the EU Commission to open an anti-trust investigation against Gazprom on concerns that the company may be abusing its dominant market position in upstream gas supply markets.

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The combination of these issues has generated an increased mistrust between the two sides, and has seriously deteriorated the relations, particularly since the conflict broke out in Ukraine. Therefore, in the last lecture, Dr. Matta analyzed the main sources of conflict between the EU and Russia in Ukraine, as well as the potential legal avenues to address the alleged crimes committed since the Maidan Revolution at the domestic, regional and international levels.

One potential legal avenue could lead to the adjudication of cases at the regional level with the ECtHR under individual applications, as exemplified by Sirenko v. Ukraine and Derevyanko v. Ukraine. In both cases the applicants denounce the repression and violence against the protesters allegedly perpetrated by the Berkut special police. Another potential legal solution could lead to the adjudication of the crimes committed in Maidan Square at the international level, after Ukraine lodged a declaration under Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute. With such declaration Ukraine accepted the jurisdiction of the ICC over alleged crimes committed on its territory from 21 November 2013 to 22 February 2014.

Currently a preliminary investigation is being carried out by the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC. Dr. Matta further discussed the legal consequences of the ouster of Yanukovych and the potential legal characterization of Russian actions in Ukraine under international law, as well as the issue of Crimea’s declaration of independence and the later annexation by Russia. In addition, the downing of the MH17 on July 17th, 2014 and the legal questions with respect to attribution of responsibility in this case were unraveled. This is a particular example that could potentially be adjudicated at the domestic, regional and/or international levels.

Finally, Dr. Matta examined the theme of propaganda warfare during this conflict that has undoubtedly contributed to heightened diplomatic tensions between Russia and the West to levels unparalleled since the Cold War era.

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