This article focuses on how the European Union's (EU) mediation activities during the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Palestine conflicts are perceived by local elites. Our analysis is based on recent interviews with decision makers in Ukraine, Israel and Palestine. Consistent with this special issue, we investigate perceptions of EU roles, strategies and effectiveness. We suggest that the EU's relation to the parties may affect their perceptions of EU conflict mediation efforts. Specifically, we expect that the EU is perceived as a biased mediator in both cases due to perceived close relations to one or more conflict parties. However, contrary to our expectations and widespread assumption in mediation theory, while such a bias exists, we found it is not perceived as a main cause of EU ineffectiveness. Other factors, including the prominence of other mediators and internal EU disunity, are perceived as more detrimental to EU efficacy. © 2018 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands.