2017 brings a new Permanent Representative for the United Kingdom to the European Quarter. Sir Tim Barrow is no stranger to Brussels, but his return has heralded unprecedented media interest.
Analysts have concentrated on dissecting his credentials to support Prime Minister May’s determination for the UK to leave the European Union, although the Ambassador, like many of us, has yet to receive a clear strategy for “Brexit” or how to deal with the consequences.
But Sir Tim also brings more important qualities and much needed experience to “Coreper” which could be invaluable to his European colleagues. He served as the UK’s Ambassador to Ukraine in Kyiv from 2006 to 2008 and as the UK’s Ambassador to the Russian Federation in Moscow from 2011 to 2015, during which time Russia illegally annexed Crimea, and launched a hybrid war and invasion of Ukraine’s Eastern oblasts of Luhansk and Donetsk.
Russia’s war against Ukraine smoulders on relentlessly into 2017, with daily breaches of the Minsk agreements and daily casualties. Russian aggression continues to be punished by EU and US sanctions, with the imposition of increased sanctions now on the table. Ukraine front line troops received a surprise morale boosting visit and oration from Senator John McKain of Arizona on New Year’s eve, pledging “US support for Ukraine in their fight against Putin’s aggression”. He has been a consistent supporter of Ukraine, and his actions remind the world that Congress has an important role in determining US foreign policy even when the US President Elect may favour a more conciliatory line with Russia. EU politicians would do well to learn from Senator McKain’s bravery and loyalty.
Russia chips away at trying to influence EU opinion, through surrogate spokespersons regurgitating Kremlin propaganda. The latest effort came from French Presidential Candidate Marine Le Pen who appeared on French television last week stating that Russia’s annexation of Crimea was legal, a statement which is in direct contradiction of French Government and United Nations policy.
Arguably one of the most important foreign policy issues on the table for the European Union in 2017 will be how to deal with Russian propaganda of this kind, the blatant interference in national politics that we have just witnessed in the USA through cyber warfare and the danger of repeat tactics in the EU’s member states.
Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine, and political relations with Russia and Ukraine remain the most difficult questions that the EU faces. Sir Tim Barrow’s knowledge and first hand experience of both countries should mean that his counsel on these matters will be influential and valued by his peers. Welcome back to Brussels.