Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Commentary

The EU's Neighborhood Nightmare

The EU is worried that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (right) arrives in Prague as a proxy of Russia and President Dmitry Medvedev.
The EU is worried that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (right) arrives in Prague as a proxy of Russia and President Dmitry Medvedev.
By Ahto Lobjakas
The European Union's most ambitious outreach effort to countries on the territory of the former Soviet Union, known as the Eastern Partnership, is in trouble. Officials in Brussels say Russia has launched a concerted counteroffensive to destroy or at least severely stymie the project targeting six ex-Soviet republics.

Moscow's motives are not overly difficult to fathom. It sees itself as the natural hegemon in the region, while the EU has publicly admitted it seeks to offer countries an alternative to Russia's sway -- a sphere of influence in all but name.

Moscow is putting massive pressure on Belarus, Moldova, and Armenia, which it has identified as the weakest links in the EU outreach program. Georgia was severely destabilized in the five-day war in August 2008 and Ukraine, in turn, in the course of the natural-gas spat with Russia in January this year. Azerbaijan, a crucial link in the EU's hopes of gaining greater energy autonomy vis-a-vis Russia, has so far spurned a bid by Moscow to buy up its entire gas production -- an offer it is not meant to refuse.

The nightmare scenario in Brussels is that come the Eastern Partnership launch summit in Prague on May 7, it will be faced by less than a full set of Eastern leaders, with most of those present acting as Russia's proxies.

The Belarusian Unknown

Belarus represents the most obvious risk. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has responded to EU overtures over the past six months, but remains unpredictable. Some of his recent moves have appeared erratic, above all the last-minute cancellation of a meeting with EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner last week.

But although diplomats in Brussels have little direct knowledge of Lukashenka's motives, EU officials are inclined to credit the Belarusian leader with pursuing an independent agenda understood to consist largely in trying to play Brussels and Moscow off one another.

But Moscow's forbearance with Minsk has a price -- the recognition by Belarus, sooner or later, of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Lukashenka has withstood the pressure so far, but it is "received wisdom" in EU circles -- in the words of one official -- that Minsk will eventually buckle. One senior EU member-state representative this week put the odds of the likelihood that Belarus will recognize the breakaway Georgian regions as sovereign countries at "70-30."

The worst possible outcome for the EU would be Belarusian recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in advance of the May 7 summit. It's conceivable the bloc could then find itself in a position of having to entertain Lukashenka in Prague in the absence of one of its leading allies in the region, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who has repeatedly signaled to Brussels his intention to boycott the event in such an eventuality.

On the other hand, the absence of Lukashenka himself from the summit table through some grievous failure to meet EU expectations would only be a marginally better outcome for the EU. The EU has allowed Belarus to become a symbol in its tug-of-war with Russia for influence and its loss would represent a painful reverse for the bloc.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the things that could go wrong for the EU's Eastern Partnership.

Raised Expectations

Ukraine presents the bloc with a whole set of headaches of its own, with its chronic political instability and economic chaos. Worse, the country also serves as a yardstick in exposing the limits of the promise the EU is holding out to its eastern neighbors -- and in more ways than one.

First, its leaders have long complained that the Eastern Partnership offer contains nothing new for Ukraine. Ukraine has already received assurances from the EU that it can sign an association treaty with the bloc paving the way for eventual free trade and visa-free movement for its citizens.

Second, Kyiv's own failure to capitalize on its success at the last EU-Ukraine summit in Evian, France, in September 2008 where these commitments were secured means there is little pressure on the EU to up the ante for the leading Eastern membership hopeful. Diplomats in Brussels say the next summit, to be hosted by Sweden in the second half of this year, would represent a golden opportunity for Kyiv to press a traditionally enlargement-friendly country to secure more from the EU, perhaps as much as a long-term membership prospect.

But Ukraine's own political and economic implosion has taken the wind from the country's sails and, by extension, dimmed the luster of the EU's potential promise for other capitals in the region trying to gauge how far the EU is willing to go in backing them up against Russia.

This is because the rest of the countries in the region are effectively fence sitting. They took on board the EU's wish -- communicated to all in no uncertain terms after the Georgian war -- not to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It has cost them great effort to rebuff Russia's wish to attain the opposite. The steadfastness of Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan -- not to mention Belarus -- in resisting Russian pressure is a measure of the hopes they have invested in the EU.

Fundamental EU Decision

The EU's inability to respond to these expectations with anything more than a fairly anemic Eastern Partnership is a reflection of how hamstrung the bloc itself remains.

For it is not only Russia gunning for its demise, but most of its own "southern" member states -- albeit less openly, for different reasons and employing different means. These countries, traditionally led by France, have resented the bloc's eastward expansion as a challenge to their own historical preoccupation with the Mediterranean region.

At one level, the divisions within the EU are about money, which is always tight. But they are also about influence, power, and vision. And at some fairly abstract, but nonetheless keenly contested level the internal struggle within the bloc is a battle for the soul of the EU, pitting against each other two distinct worldviews.

One, championed in the east and north, wants the EU to project outward democracy and reforms, and puts the free market above political integration within the bloc itself. The other, holding sway in the western part of the continent, prefers pragmatism and balance-of-power calculations in foreign policy and an "ever-closer" political union and solidarity inside the EU.

The weeks remaining before May 7 are crucial in deciding the long-term outcome of many of these tensions. There are very few politicians and officials in the EU who care -- or are able -- to look beyond that date.

Ahto Lobjakas is a regular contributor to RFE/RL. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
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by: john from: Canada
March 19, 2009 01:41
The EU has every right to try and involve Ukraine,Moldova,Armenia,Georgia Belorussia, and Azerbaijan to its Eastern Partnership. These nations are on the continent of Europe and so have every rite to join, if not the Eastern partnership, then the EU itself. What the EU is forgetting is that its missing the biggest European nation of all, Russia. If the EU offered the same partnership to Russia as well as the other nations, then perhaps the EU would no longer be at loggerheads with Russia over the former Soviet nations. If Lithuania,Estonia and Latvia qualified to the EU then perhaps these other Eastern nations should be incorporated including Russia herself

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
March 21, 2009 03:07
British Empire, so admired by old and new Russian Empire, was never part of Europe during urges of British expansion.<br />Even after American Revolution it was out of Europe, continuing plots of Massons, like Benjamin Franklin, to conquer French Canada and to murder new Citizens of USA in Luisiana States.<br />Only since WW1 Brits started to be more like a part of Europe and only after dessolution of British Empire they became part of EU.<br /><br />Russia didn't agree for United States of Siberia and Far East since Peter The I, nephiw of Georgia King, and through Stalin times and modern times.<br />They never agreed in their treasonous actions to dessolve Russian Empire or transform USSR (corrupted to degree of Russian Babilon) back to CIS by 1936 Constitutional Law. <br /><br />Actions talk lowder than words.<br /><br />Do you want, Ivan-John, to make Europe part of Russia, to repopulate Europe and to send Europeans to Siberian death camps?<br />No wonder Europe, that already help Russia so much, is carefull with Russia - the more you feed Russia the more Russia huliganize and expand on you...<br /><br />Konstantin.

by: Rhyno 327 from: USA
March 21, 2009 17:54
The Europeans are spineless. The Russians are bullies. Since we are fighting 2 wars, they play reindeer games. Europe you are part of NATO, act like it.

by: European from: Old Europe
March 28, 2009 22:35
Rhyno 327. Is a text-book example of how deluded and misinformed Americans are. How are Europeans spineless? Explain yourself! And by implication Americans are presumably macho and heroic? As for the two wars the US is waging, Europe through NATO has substantial forces in Afghanistan. If you don’t appreciate them perhaps we should leave? As for the US aggression and occupation of Iraq, America’s shame will last forever, you’ve destroyed a country and a people. For all America’s ego and bluster 8 years (Afghanistan) and 6 years (Iraq) after attacking those countries, the US is unable to defeat third world AK-47, RPG, IED wielding guerrillas.

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
April 01, 2009 03:11
Some samples of USA acts of &quot;agression&quot;:<br /><br />British Norman Massons and a British Masson spy Bengamin Franklin organized, with O.K. of USA cousins, conquest of French Canada and genocide against new citizens from the former French Luisiana States - perpetrators were also USA Massons, Normans and other British cousins in USA...<br /><br />Russians and USA pro-Russian abassador in Iraq, Cohen, made Sadam Hussein invade Kuveit. Russians used it as precident to overrun CIS countries by tanks, but it fail - UN decided to expell Iraqies from Kuveit. Controlled by Russians and staffed by Ethnic Russians or ethnic Russian Jews USA media, including television, lanched compaign of greed about &quot;14% of World oil reserves in Iraq&quot;. USA and the Caolition liberated Kuveit. Russians managed use Litvak and Swarzcopf to murder needlesly 200,000 in 2 days in Iraq, half Civilians and half desarmed soldiers on the way home, thus to generate anger in Muslim World against USA. USA sent General Shalikashvili to make it just and to help to cool things down. Not enough. Blood is still boiling, skilfully instigated by Russian Imperial shape-shifters...<br /><br />USA is not defeiting Afgans and Iraqies, because they didn't intend to.<br />Not withstanding misstakes, like threating magority, Pushtun, as an enemy and being greedy in Iraq, another Russian and British brainwash for USA leaders - USA trying to help them be independent, while Russia is always invade to repopulate by Russians and &quot;defeit&quot; the population by all means - gaseling with nerve gas &quot;Cheremushka&quot; in Tbilisi, bestially murdering 40,000 and expelling 400,000 Georgians from Georgian Abkhazia, bestially torturing to death and killing Millions of Afgans...<br /><br />Konstantin.

by: Tom Klan from: London, UK
April 01, 2009 10:35
No one should have any doubts, Georgia has committed an act of Aggression and are now paying the price. The operational planning of merciless murders and atrocities in S. Ossetia have long been studied by Georgian Generals and not without some US military assistance. <br /><br />In June of same year, the report published by “International Crisis Group” (and this sort of reports are not written in a day or two) are clearly states following: “Georgia remains determined to restore its territorial integrity, and hawks in Tbilisi are seriously considering a military option” it reads further, as a point of warning: “This includes former President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that Russia would formalise ties with Abkhazia and statements by Kremlin officials that Moscow was prepared to use military force to protect its citizens in Abkhazia and South Ossetia if hostilities resumed”<br /><br />http://www.crisisgroup.org/library/documents/europe/caucasus/193_georgia_and_russia_clashing_over_abkhazia.pdf<br /><br />Furthermore, the Civil.Ge, perhaps the only independent and trustworthy news correspondent establishment left in Georgia on June 24th 2008 have also published a very interesting article “A draft amendment to the 2008 state budget, once approved by Parliament, will bring total funding of the Ministry of Defense (MoD) to GEL 1.395 billion.... Initial defense spending for 2008 was set at GEL 1.1 billion. The figure for 2007 was GEL 1.495 billion.”<br /><br />http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=18610<br /><br /><br />And lastly, RIA Novosti quoted as saying the president of South Ossetia Eduard Kokoity announced during the meeting with Britains ambassador to Georgia: “ Georgia plans to unleash large-scale military action in South Ossetia by September” &quot;We have irrefutable evidences that large-scale military action will commence here exactly by September. It is the plan of Georgia and it is the plan that Saakashvilis regime is implementing today&quot; <br /><br />http://www.kommersant.com/p-12998/Georgia_South_Ossetia/<br /><br />Now, put these pieces all together, and you will have a perfect combination of all necessary elements to start a fresh military conflict, Desire and the Means to do it. <br /><br />Belarus should join Russia and recognize the independence of two new republics. <br />More countries will turn their backs on Georgian Aggression, safer the region will become. And one day, maybe even fellow Georgians will grasp, war doesn’t always pay the desired dividends.

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
April 01, 2009 18:09
1. I don't hide my name or origins and even address, you do, all slenderers against Georgia and against the rest of non-Russian nations do!<br />Is &quot;Tom Klan&quot; a Russkiy, pretending to be a Right-Wing British?<br />Probably.<br /><br />Why your forum is so shy to confront them?<br />Are you former Citizens of Warso Pact countries, with Russian telepaths in your heads, that use to scare and to &quot;USSR 3 years army draft pledge&quot; shame, to poison, to infect and to &quot;gald-blader leek&quot; - taming your staff? <br /><br />See Russian news. <br />As comprised from Putin talking: <br />All countries of the World to be attacked by Russian lies in all World languages to promote Russian lies about victims of Russian invaders and repopulaters and other criminal &quot;interests&quot; of Russia.<br />Like &quot;RT&quot; and hosting TV channels in USA and San Diego Talk Radio that already prizing Russia, claiming non-Russian territories in Caucases and other countries, steal Georgian Bulat steel priorities, create panic during USA recession - to by Gold and abandon dollar, close bying power of Social programs, close Federal bank and all also they can do to destroy USA and colonize the World for Russians to breed.<br /> <br />To know the truth, read interview with Yamadaev and interview with Timmerman - you'll see the whole picture of Russian agression and invasion long before August 7, in increasing mode, taking over Northern Georgia and moving to its hart for a deadly end of Georgian people - to breed Russkis.<br /><br />Or reed also my Chronology in UN.<br />Copy or download is awaylable, but not for &quot;Russkis imperial agents first&quot;...<br /><br />Konstantin.

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