Ukraine tragedy hits Mogherini's EU hopes

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Russia's President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Italy's Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini as they meet in the Kremlin in Moscow, on July 9th 2014. Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev/Ria-Novosti/AFP
13:44 CEST+02:00
As world leaders demand answers on the alleged shooting down of a jet plane over eastern Ukraine, commentators examine how the tragedy could affect foreign minister Federica Mogherini’s already fragile path to becoming EU foreign policy chief.

The disaster, which left 298 people dead, is going to “put a huge amount of pressure, not only on Russia, but on people who have been soft on Russia,” Edward Lucas, a British journalist and author, told The Local.

He was referring to Federica Mogherini, whose chances of getting the EU foreign policy job already took a battering this week when she was hit with an onslaught of criticism over her leniency towards Russia.

“I think that she’s shown to be a lightweight on foreign policy, particularly with regards to Russia,” added Lucas.

“And that she made Russia her first trip as foreign minister was an absolute disgrace.”

The accusations against Mogherini centre on her recent visit to Moscow. The foreign minister used a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the controversial South Stream gas pipeline project for pumping Russian gas to Europe, which Italy supports. 

See also: Italy backs controversial Russian pipeline

Italy and Russia have strong economic ties, particularly in the oil and gas sector, and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi famously enjoyed friendly ties with Putin, and has gone on frequent visits to his residence near Moscow.

The Malaysian Airlines jet is widely believed to have been shot down over Donetsk by pro-Russian militants on Thursday afternoon, with the Italian news website Libero Quotidiano asserting on Friday that the missile that brought the plane down “is likely to have hit Mogherini as well”.

The news site ran an editorial suggesting that the tragedy made Mogherini’s path to becoming foreign policy chief  “even more impervious”. European leaders will pick Catherine Ashton's succesor at the end of August after postponing the decision at a Brussels summit on Thursday. 

“It’s a political situation that could get complicated, and not just a little bit,” the editorial said.

“Eastern European countries have always reproached Europe for its weak stance and non-interventionist approach in the Russian-Ukraine conflict.”

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"If it’s proven that the missiles of pro-Russian rebels were behind the disaster, then the feeling against Moscow in the old continent, and especially in eastern Europe, is destined to explode...making Mogherini’s path even more impervious. That damned missile, in short, is likely to have hit her too.”

Other commentators, however, doubt EU leaders will turn up the heat on Putin because there are too many economic interests at stake.

“European countries will condemn the incident and demand an inquiry as well as an end to fighting in the region, but they won’t go much further,” Philippe Migault, an expert on Ukraine from the Institute of International and Strategic Relations in Paris, told The Local France

“I don’t think we will see any major change. There are just too many interests at stake. The economic interests between the EU and Russia are just too great. We have seen the USA increase sanctions against Russia, but they have less at stake economically.”

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