Foreign Affairs

Ukraine and the Middle East: the (un)perceived urgency of helping others

April 2024
By Editorial Staff

There is no need for a reminder: the situation in Ukraine and the Middle East is getting direr by the day. The outcomes of yesterday’s joint Foreign Affairs and Defense EU Council, and the EU-Gulf Cooperation Council High-Level Forum, both held in Luxembourg, paint this sentiment in exquisite detail.

It’s been one year since the military coup in Sudan. High Representative Josep Borrell discussed with the Ministers how to coordinate with the United Nations for a “sustainable ceasefire”, supporting mediation efforts as well. Georgia’s step-down from their integration efforts with European values also raised great concern, with the local Parliament representing the controversial law on transparency and foreign influence, which can seriously hinder the media freedom in the country.

Going on about the Gaza Strip, Borrell announced “no progress on the hostages, no prospect on a ceasefire, and no real easing of the humanitarian catastrophe”. The latter aspect undergoes active obstruction, with hindered access to corridors. While the Council and the Forum were taking place, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna delivered her much-anticipated Report on UNRWA. However, “most donors have already resumed funding” the agency, successfully preventing the suspension of its activities. Borrell hopes that, after its publication, the European Commission could reinstate its effort in funding UNRWA. During the Forum, Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Jassim Al Thani conveyed his optimism about achieving a ceasefire in Gaza and averting a broader regional escalation of the conflict, reinstating his country’s active and positive role as a mediator.

The EU’s stance in condemning Iran also links with the impending situation in Ukraine. Besides the outrage following Iran’s recent attacks on Israel, the Joint Council agreed on strengthening the sanctions both for missile activities and potentially selling drones to Russia. The Council greenlighted to broaden the sanction framework to include weapon selling throughout the Middle East and Red Sea region, together with the range of prohibited drone components. This is an outcome that Borrell presented to the Forum participants as well.

Addressing ultimately the elephant in the room, it’s not the first time that Borrell has called for more support from Member States, underlining the urgency of speeding up ammo delivery in Ukraine. Russia has bombarded Ukraine with 7000 guided bombs in four months, circa 16 bombs a day, and with their lack of air defense and ammunition, it’s clear that the situation is becoming unsustainable. Despite the numerous calls from Volodymyr Zelensky and Borrell himself, and the statements from the Member States, there is a lack of clarity on how they would concretely step up to help the Ukrainians. The High Representative praised the Czech initiative in raising funds to buy ammo, but more effort should come from the Member States. He also announced a first ammo delivery at the end of May, raising some hope for this situation.