LONDON — America’s European allies sleepwalked into the conflict with Russia in Ukraine and should now find ways to stop the relationship with Moscow from deteriorating further, according to a report by British lawmakers.
“There has been a strong element of ‘sleepwalking’ into the current crisis, with [European states] being taken by surprise by events in Ukraine,” the European Union Committee of the House of Lords said in a report released Thursday.
European officials “seem to have missed the warning signs” as the crisis intensified, according to the report. “The EU and member states lacked good intelligence-gathering capacity on the ground. The lack of an integrated and coordinated foreign policy was also evident.”
The belief in Russia that the NATO alliance is a “hostile military threat, and successive rounds of NATO’s eastern enlargement have … brought it threateningly close to the Russian border,” should have been been part of European decision-making, according to report.
The fallout of not dealing with the worsening relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin — brought on partly by not understanding the depth of Moscow’s hostility to a pro-Western government in Ukraine — could be global, it warned.
“The consequences of a further deterioration of relations could include the spread of instability in the [neighborhood], greater disruption of trade and a weakening of economic ties, and a breakdown in co-ordination over other global and regional issues, including Syria, Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan.”
The report, which stated that the relationship was “more fractious than at any time since the end of the Cold War,” came as Ukraine marked the one-year anniversary of the so-called Maidan massacre. Dozens of pro-Western protesters were killed in Kiev’s main square.
The uprising eventually led to the ouster of the country’s pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovich and installation of a pro-Western government in Kiev. It also precipitated a crisis in the east of the country where pro-Russian rebels have been fighting for independence from Kiev.
In March, Crimea was annexed by Russia. Since then fighting between pro-Moscow rebels and Ukrainian forces in the east of the country has claimed more 5,300 lives.
On Wednesday, Ukraine pulled thousands of troops out of an encircled town after a massive assault by pro-Russian rebels, who ignored a new cease-fire to seize the strategic railway junction.
The House of Lords report added that the relationship with Russia had reached a “critical juncture” that needed to be fundamentally reassessed.
It added: “While maintaining its guard and refusing to give way on points of principle, the EU should make clear its desire to prevent the present crisis from deteriorating into something resembling the Cold War, and invite Russia to respond.”
John Lough of London-based think tank Chatham House recently warned that “this was a dangerous moment for Western policy” related to Russia.
“As they struggle to stop the fighting in Ukraine, Western leaders must not lose sight of Putin’s attempts to reshape the international order,” he said in a report released on February 10.
Russia’s military adventures beyond Eastern Europe have raised tensions even further in recent months.
On Wednesday, Britain scrambled jets off its southwestern coast after Russian bombers entered its airspace — an incursion that has become increasingly common.
“I’m worried about Putin,” British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon told the Timesand Daily Telegraph newspapers, saying there was “a very real and present danger” Russia would adopt the same tactics it used to unsettle eastern Ukraine and Crimea in other parts of the continent.
“NATO has to be ready for any kind of aggression from Russia whatever form it takes,” Fallon added. “NATO is getting ready.”
On Thursday, NBC News reported on how American “tankbuster” aircraft have been sent back to Germany after a two-year absence.
The A-10 Thunderbolt II planes are part of a six-month U.S. operation in Europe amid concern about an emboldened Russia and the rise of militant groups.