“Vaccines, oil, or investments are commodities that are used as tools of influence and power. Those who say that they do not pose any risk deny the obvious reality.” This is how Czech General Petr Pavel commented on the use of the Russian Sputnik vaccine in the EU without its registration. He said this as the first vaccine doses were arriving in Slovakia, nearly causing the government to collapse. After a turbulent month on the Slovak political scene, Prime Minister Igor Matovič, who procured the Russian vaccine without the agreement of his coalition partners, stepped down trying to calm down the situation and preventing early elections. Just one week after the appointment of the new government, Slovakia is facing a new crisis. And again, the reason is the Russian vaccine and Igor Matovič.
It was only last week that the scientific journal Lancet published information that the batches of the Sputnik vaccine delivered to Slovakia differed from those that were declared as safe on the basis of clinical trials conducted at the beginning of February. Moreover, the Slovak drug regulatory agency cannot recommend the use of the vaccine, since the producer did not supply around 80% of the documentation. Russia’s Direct Investment Fund, probably offended by that review, officially requested that Slovakia return the vaccines. It labelled the conclusions of Slovak scientists fake news, and accused them of wanting to damage the reputation of their vaccine, perceiving them as pure provocation.
If Igor Matovič, while still prime minister, would have focused more on governing and less on provoking fights, his rivalries with coalition partners, and building his saviour image, Slovakia would not have lost about 3 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
All this was a signal for former PM Matovič to fly to Moscow last week, allegedly for “technical negotiations”, to salvage what he could. But there was a clear political message – to save the Sputnik vaccine for Slovakia, despite “the dirty game being played with Russia’s hybrid weapon”. The hybrid weapon terminology comes from Slovak foreign affairs minister Ivan Korčok, who labelled the vaccine “a hybrid war tool”. This unfolded as Matovič was kow-towing to the Kremlin while Russian troops were moving towards the Ukrainian border. Ukraine has just last month emerged from a minor diplomatic crisis with Slovakia. When asked what he promised Russia for Sputnik deliveries, Matovič “jokingly” replied – Transcarpathia (a formerly Slovak region in Western Ukraine). Anyone with an even elementary knowledge of foreign policy knows how sensitive the topic of territorial integrity is for Ukraine. Slovak diplomats had to apologise for his words.
To make matters even worse, his “diplomatic mission” went from Moscow directly to Budapest. There, he personally asked prime minister Viktor Orbán to help test the Russian vaccine for Slovakia, because Hungary was the first EU country to roll out vaccination with Sputnik, without it obtaining EMA registration. While in Budapest, he did not forget to praise prime minister Orbán for not limiting vaccination to EU-procured vaccines, but also turning to the East, namely to Russia and China. He challenged the reputation of Slovak scientists who dared not to give a cheap and swift stamp of approval to the Sputnik vaccine. And he did not forget to add that all those who agitate against the Russian vaccine are idiots. It is true that there is demand in Slovakia for Sputnik vaccination, but only subject to its approval by the national or the European drug regulatory agency.
If Igor Matovič, while still prime minister, would have focused more on governing and less on provoking fights, his rivalries with coalition partners, and building his saviour image, Slovakia would not have lost about 3 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Only thanks to EU solidarity will Slovakia receive another 700,000 vaccine doses by late June to enable the vaccination process to continue at all.
His lightning visits to Moscow and Budapest, as finance minister, which the new Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger learned about at the last minute, and the foreign affairs minister only through his ambassadors, confirmed that Igor Matovič does not understand the basic principles of democratic governance of the state, and continues to feel like a de facto prime minister. His brinkmanship risks reigniting the just recently deflated coalition crisis, damaging the reputation of Slovakia, and confounding its partners in the EU. But, most importantly, they provide grist to the Kremlin’s mill, which is naturally very happy to embrace EU countries begging for help because “Brussels has failed again”.
The former Slovak prime minister bought the fallacy that his genius would rescue Slovakia from the pandemic and resolve the European problem of vaccine shortages through strange legalisation and publicity for the use of the Russian vaccine, whatever the costs. Thus far, he has only sparked diplomatic scandals. With his political naïveté and inexperience, he has splendidly served the politics of Viktor Orbán, who has an additional ally in his “anti-Brussels game”. Russia, in turn, has gained a useful strawman through whom it can successfully pursue its politics of division of the EU.
The reality of the political scene of Slovakia today perfectly illustrates what happens when boundless populism wins elections. Only a year ago, Slovak citizens believed in a change for the better, in the return of decency to public life. Igor Matovič trampled that hope in just one year. The year of his rule is already now considered to be the most chaotic year in Slovak politics. Besides tarnished relations with neighbours, the president, and coalition partners, Slovak scientists and diplomats are now also publicly distancing themselves from him and demanding apologies. If he really had Slovakia´s future on his mind, he would mend his ways – or step aside.Viktória Jančošeková COVID-19 Eastern Europe EU-Russia
The Sputnik Shock: Slovakia’s vaccination crisis and its political fallout
15 Apr 2021
In early 2020, the EU was criticised for lagging behind in providing COVID-related support, while China and Russia were delivering medical aid equipment and masks to EU Member States. We still remember the “From Russia with Love” COVID aid operation to Italy in March 2020, or the plane full of medical supplies from China. A year later, both countries are promoting their vaccines in the Eastern Partnership region (EaP). This time however, the EU is part of the action as well. Through its contributions to the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) and extra financial support earmarked for deployment of COVID-19 vaccines to the region, it is important for the EU to show its support and reliability to its Eastern neighbours and position itself as a respectable player in the Russian and Chinese game of bilateral vaccine diplomacy. In the age of disinformation and fake news, it is also extremely important for Europe to better communicate its work and not allow its efforts to go unnoticed.
Unlike with the distribution of Russian and Chinese vaccines, there are no airport press conferences, nor flashy inauguration events to promote the European contribution.
Besides their shared Soviet past, there’s another characteristic that unites the six Eastern Partnership countries at the moment – the high level of scepticism among the population towards COVID-19 vaccines. Many citizens of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Moldova state they do not trust the vaccine, with apprehension towards the jab reaching 41% in Georgia and 53%, one of the highest percentages, in Ukraine.
Despite the third wave of infections hitting most of the EaP counties and forcing their governments to impose lockdowns of varying strictness, the respect for anti-COVID measures remains low, leading to a rise in positive cases. Adding this to a general mistrust towards vaccines does not look promising for achieving herd immunity anytime soon.
The reasons for scepticism are multifold. Populations in many post-Soviet republics are traditionally wary of vaccines, fearing side effects from poor quality drugs. The mistrust has also been amplified by allegations from politicians about low-quality vaccines, corruption scandals, and misinformation spread through social media. Even worse, in some countries like Ukraine, the reluctance to get vaccinated appears even among medical workers.
The low levels of confidence in vaccination campaigns have been fuelled by political struggles and information wars. Conspiracy theories and misinformation over social media have also contributed to creating a massive distrust within society. However, the principal cause of scepticism remains distrust towards state institutions and the quality of purchased vaccines.
Most of the six countries started the vaccine rollout between January and March 2021, unfortunately with quite scarce results. Azerbaijan kicked off its vaccination program on January 18, making it the first country in the Caucasus or Central Asia to do so. Belarus began its vaccination drive by distributing the country’s first round of the Sputnik jab already in December 2020. Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Moldova caught up with the first vaccines in February and March. But where are the vaccines coming from?
All of the EaP States, besides Belarus, joined the COVAX scheme, which aims to ensure parity in distribution and access to the vaccine for all interested countries. However, the waiting list is quite a long one. Belarus took a different path, becoming the first country outside Russia to approve Sputnik V and has recently received a batch of vaccines from China, providing a gesture of good strategic partnership between the two countries.
On the contrary, when offered Sputnik V, Ukrainian president Zelensky refused it. The country received its first shipment of AstraZeneca doses produced by India’s Serum Institute and signed a contract with the Chinese Sinovac. Azerbaijan has also been relying on the Chinese CoronaVac vaccine and, similarly to Georgia and Armenia, is on the list to receive the British-Swedish AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine through COVAX.
On 11 February, the European Union, in partnership with the WHO, launched a new regional programme of over €40 million, aimed at providing critical assistance to ensure local readiness and preparedness for safe and effective vaccination of the population in each of the six Eastern Partnership countries. Commissioner OlivérVárhelyi, responsible for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, stated, “With this new programme that we launch today in partnership with the WHO, the EU shows that it delivers on its commitment to support our Eastern Partners to fight the health crisis.” This extra support could not be more timely.
Let’s not forget that vaccination campaigns in these countries are being carried out amidst internal political instabilities, such as anti-government protests in Belarus, slow-paced reforms in Ukraine and the ongoing conflict in Donbass, a crackdown on the opposition in Georgia, a recent armed conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, and a fierce but difficult fight against corruption in Moldova led by its President Maia Sandu.
Through its contribution to the COVAX programme and the recent approval of over €40 million of aid, the EU has been providing much support and assistance to deliver the vaccines. However, unlike with the distribution of Russian and Chinese vaccines, there are no airport press conferences, nor flashy inauguration events to promote the European contribution. A better communication of the EU’s support to supplying vaccines to the region along with firm commitments to the EaP countries are strongly needed, as especially now, the EU’s assistance is, quite literally, vital.Anna Nalyvayko China COVID-19 Eastern Europe EU-Russia
Vaccinating Eastern Europe
30 Mar 2021
Katarína Mathernová brilliantly answered questions on the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood. Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and the recent war between Azerbaijan and Armenia were some of the topics.Roland Freudenstein Eastern Europe EU-Russia Neighbourhood Policy
The Week in 7 Questions with Katarína Mathernová
Multimedia - The Week in 7 Questions
26 Feb 2021
Under Lukashenka’s regime, Belarus has been increasing the similarities with the former Soviet Union. Such policy was all but officially declared on the so-called All-Belarusian People’s Assembly, that took place in Minsk on February 11-12.
The daily protests that began after the presidential election have been ongoing for almost 200 days. The amount of protesters has somewhat decreased from the peaks of summer and autumn, due to the large-scale repression (about 35,000 individuals arrested, resulting in 1,800 criminal cases initiated, and even some protesters killed), the Coronavirus epidemic, and winter temperatures. But people still take to the streets to proclaim their disagreement with Lukashenka.
In this situation, Lukashenka decided to hold the so-called All-Belarusian People’s Assembly. You cannot find it in the Belarusian Constitution or other laws. It’s a simple congress where Lukashenka meets his supporters. The first one was in 1996 when he was under threat of impeachment. After the secret inauguration in September 2020, Lukashenka failed to organise a huge demonstration of his supporters in October, so he decided to hold an assembly instead.
Most of the delegates were officials from all over the country. But even among them, some decided not to attend the Assembly. Minsk was crawling with police, and they were officially authorised to use their firearms against peaceful protesters.
If you know how the Communist congresses were held in the former USSR, or are held in North Korea today, then you can imagine the atmosphere. No criticism, no reflection, and a lot of speeches against the opposition and the West. Two Days Hate, as George Orwell might have said.
The main, official result of the Assembly is that Lukashenka is going to conduct the referendum on the Constitution in December 2021 or January 2022. Previously, it was expected that the referendum might take place in February 2021, and it didn’t happen. Moreover, he mentioned the conditions of his resignation: no more protests and guaranteed immunity for those supporters of his who committed crimes. However, Lukashenka is well known for being rather cavalier with his own words, which means that he may take them back at any time. For example, is there any sense for him to leave when there are no protests?
That is why it’s more important to take into account what the regime wants to do before the referendum. At the Assembly, Lukashenka said that Parliament would soon vote to tighten the criminal code. This would mean any criticism of the regime, especially abroad, may be treated as efforts to discredit the country. For doing so, a person might be sentenced to up to 3 years of imprisonment. National symbols, under which Belarusian independence was declared in 1918 and 1991 and that became the symbols of the Belarusian protests, might be declared extremist. And so on, and so forth.
Moreover, political parties from the opposition may lose their registration before the referendum. That is how we must treat Lukashenka’s order to re-register them; by the way, the last time a political party was registered in Belarus was 21 years ago.
To reinforce the similarities between Belarus and North Korea, one Lukashenka supporter proposed creating a Belarusian internet. And Minister for Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makei said Belarus should no longer be neutral, ignoring the fact that Belarus has been Russia’s main military ally for decades.
In the economic sphere, everything remains the same. The authorities decided to resurrect a communist Frankenstein monster, by claiming that previous reforms in the economy have led the country to financial default. As a consequence, they are going to increase economic and political pressure on private enterprises and support excessive ministries. As Lukashenka admitted, he ordered the closure of 200 private companies that joined the national strike on October 26, and is now “cutting out” a big retail network. There will be no freedom for private business, he emphasised.
So, as we can see, official authorities are pushing Belarus closer and closer to the communist era that collapsed 30 years ago. Under them, the Belarusian people have no future, only the past. However, Belarusians are also those who can leave the USSR behind, where it belongs. The countries of the free world can help them do it faster.
Meanwhile, Lukashenka may try to start a new negotiation process with the West. Such allusions were common at the Assembly. As the person who ruled over Belarus for 27 years, Lukashenka faced deteriorations in his relations with the EU many times. He knows that one day, new governments may come into power, who may try to improve relations with the last dictator of Europe. That is why it’s essential for the EU not to undertake ‘realpolitik’, but maintain pressure until Lukashenka releases all political prisoners (251 as of now), stops police violence, and begins real negotiations with Belarusian society. Otherwise, he will trick the EU once again and use European money to further stay in power and buy new weapons to hurt protesters.Maksim Hacak Eastern Europe Leadership
Back to the USSR?
23 Feb 2021
1. It has been six months since the first post-election democratic protests in Belarus. So far, neither the authoritarian regime of Lukashenka nor the democratic opposition have given up. How do you see the next developments and who has a better chance to win this battle?
Maksim Hacak, Journalist for Telegraf and Belsat, Belarus
Lukashenka lost Belarus, but democratic forces have not won yet. Protests have been ongoing for almost half a year. Lukashenka is no longer a legitimate president for most of the people, only staying in power thanks to the support of the police and the military, of government officials, and the Kremlin. The regime tries to frighten and punish everyone. However, I don’t see how we could turn back the page and live as if nothing has happened. Even the KGB says that future protests may become stronger at any time; they obviously will.
Andrius Kubilius, MEP, Lithuania: Many things will depend not only on the streets in Belarus, but also on the street protests in Russia. Events in Belarus are influencing developments in Russia, and vice-versa. The revolution in Belarus, as well as in Russia, will also depend on the ability of the EU to stand up and protect the choice of individuals to live in a free country.
We remember how, 30 years ago, the international community supported our democratic movement ‘Sąjūdis’ internationally. This had a huge impact on our revolution to break the Soviet Union from within. Now we, the EU and the international community, have a moral obligation to help our neighbours in promoting freedom and democracy further to the east of our borders.
Luděk Niedermayer, MEP, Czechia: I am convinced that the dictatorship will lose sooner or later, but there could still be a long way ahead for the Belarusian people to make it happen. We have heard opposition leaders declare that Belarusians are prepared to protest as long as it is necessary to oust Lukashenka, as in their own words, “there is no way back”. The level of determination and resilience shown by the protesters demonstrates nothing less. As an international community, we have to ensure we are constantly assuring the people of Belarus that we stand by them, and not to give in to Lukashenka’s empty promises. It may sound a small contribution, but it is hard to find good ways to support them more…
2. The restrictive measures imposed by the EU against Belarusian individuals who support the Lukashenka regime are a great moral support for protesters. What else could be done to help Belarusian civil society?
Maksim Hacak: It is important that the EU investigates the crimes committed in Belarus. Belarus also needs vaccination aid to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. And the threat that Norway’s Yara might not buy Belarusian potash made Belaruskali declare that they would no longer punish workers for political activities and would restore those who were fired. This is a potential method. We can also mention Nivea, Škoda, and Liqui Moly, who refused to finance the ice hockey championship in Minsk. The EU may support the exclusion of the regime’s propaganda media from the European broadcasting union.
Andrius Kubilius: The EU should be more ambitious in supporting the Democratic Belarus. The EU has a comprehensive toolbox to support the people of Belarus and can be a strong mediation force at the highest international level (G7, Russia).The European Parliament, I hope, will soon initiate a special High-Level mission of recognised political personalities, which will represent the EU position for a dialogue between authorities in Belarus and the representatives of Democratic Belarus. The EU can do more by having a fully-fledged official policy dialogue with representatives of Democratic Belarus. The EU should establish the Democratic Belarus Representation Office in Brussels, with the full credentials of EU institutions and financial support. This office could become a leading example for the EU Member States to engage directly with Democratic Belarus. The EU can do more by setting a special Justice Hub to assist international investigations of crimes committed by the Lukashenka regime, including through coordinated application of the universal jurisdiction by national courts. The EU should announce as soon as possible the reform and investment support plan – the EU Marshall Plan for Democratic Belarus after Lukashenka. The EU must immediately and substantially increase direct social payments to families of victims of repressions, or workers who were members of independent trade unions or fired because they attended national strikes in Belarus. Finally, the EU must immediately adopt a comprehensive non-recognition policy of the Lukashenka regime. Such a policy would be instrumental to maintain pressure on immediately holding new free and democratic elections.
Luděk Niedermayer: Individual sanctions are certainly one of the good options, but they need to be tightened and expanded. For sanctions to be truly effective, they cannot solely target the big fish oligarchs that are closely connected to the regime (or represent the regime), but also other close associates, as well as their relatives. In this regard, it is important that we make full use of the forthcoming “European Magnitsky Law”. Besides this, we should also take advantage of any other opportunity, such as banning the Ice Hockey Championship, which is supposed to be held in Belarus. Though these procedures will likely not provide for an easy fix to the situation, they are a step forward and we should the make most of them.
3. In your opinion, what will be the influence of the EU, the US, and Russia on further developments in Belarus in 2021, especially considering the new US administration and legislative elections in Russia?
Maksim Hacak: We see that Western countries are going to impose harsher sanctions against Belarusian officials and businesses connected with them. For example, US president Joe Biden promised to strengthen the pressure on Lukashenka. And the Belarus Democracy Act allows sanctioning those Russians who support Lukashenka’s regime. But the position of the Kremlin is unclear. The Belarusian regime became extremely toxic for many countries and organisations. Is there a possibility of making it toxic for Russia as well? Of finding ways to persuade the Kremlin not to support Lukashenka? These are the main questions.
Andrius Kubilius: Now is the time for the coalition of democracies to stand together and fight authoritarian regimes, both in Belarus and Russia. This is a litmus test for Western democracies. The EU needs to see that ordinary Belarusians and Russians are going out and demanding changes in the streets of Belarusian and Russian cities. Changes are demanded by a majority of the people in both countries, and demand for change is the major reason why people are going for protest in the streets. Therefore, in 2021, it is time for the international community, for the EU and the US, to devise a value-based mechanism for defending democracies. This mechanism can be adopted as a convention of democracies and should include:
- an automatic global sanctions mechanism from democracies towards those who are “stealing” democracy from the people;
- a comprehensive EU system of financial controls, designed to protect our democracies internally from illicitly financed practices of influence,
- a creation of a ‘Democracy First’ global EU development policy instrument aimed to promote the values of democracy, including via trade-related agreements, conditional on human rights and democratic values.
- a creation of the EU “Justice First” Hub to assist and, where necessary, coordinate the international trial and investigation of crimes committed by authoritarian regimes;
- a creation of a social and economic investment support instrument for newly-emerged democracies from autocratic regimes (Marshall Plan for New Democracies).
This is how the Western community can respond to authoritarian regimes, particularly in Belarus and Russia.
Luděk Niedermayer: Personally, I still think that Belarusians are the ones who must win this “fight”. We should certainly provide support wherever possible, tighten up individual economic sanctions, freeze assets, and impose travel bans on those connected to the regime, but there is not much more that we can do. The new US Administration will likely be more sympathetic to the protesters and more vocal against the regime itself, but their actions are also rather limited. Any widespread economic sanctions should not be an option, as we well know that these will impact the people of Belarus most, rather than the oligarchs. And then there is Russia who represents the main market for Belarus. I believe that some measures should be in place in case the protesters win and Russia decides to harm the new regime economically. The question now is whether Russia will be able to fight its fights on two fronts, given the most recent developments in the country following the return of Alexei Navalny and the mass protests across the country.Viktória Jančošeková Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia Leadership
6 Months After the Election, What Next for Belarus?
28 Jan 2021
As part of the KAS-MC Discussion club, which had its 5th edition in 2020, the Martens Centre and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Belarus produced a publication bringing together three Belarusian experts to shed some light on the ongoing situation in their country. All three contributions are in both English and Russian.Eastern Europe EU-Russia Foreign Policy
The Political Turmoil in Belarus: Current Realities and Foreseeable Prospects
11 Dec 2020
‘The Geopolitical Challenges of the Eastern Mediterranean and the EU – Turkey Relations’ with Glafkos Clerides Institute (Cyprus)
– Paolo Alli, former President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly
– Dora Bakoyannis, Member of the Greek Parliament, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Greece
– Ioannis Kasoulides, President, GCI, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cyprus
– Michalis Sophocleous, Member of the Cypriot Parliament, Executive Director, GCI- ModeratorEastern Europe Mediterranean
NET@WORK Day 2 – Panel 1
Live-streams - Multimedia
26 Nov 2020
Roland Freudenstein is the Policy Director of the Martens Centre
Konrad Niklewicz is a former Visiting Fellow of the Martens Centre
He has only just entered the government as Deputy Prime Minister, but since 2015 he is the most powerful figure in Polish politics. Poland’s truly momentous political decisions are usually taken by him in the small hours of the morning in his apartment in Northern Warsaw. His name is Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of ‘Law and Justice’ (PiS), reverently called ‘prezes’ (the chairman) by his fans, and he has ignited a culture war in Poland that may – just may – bring down his government, but that certainly has grave consequences for Poland and repercussions across the whole of Europe. Let’s shed some light on how we got here, what could come of this, and what it means for the EU.
A short history of the ‘Women’s Strike’
After only a few days, this is already the biggest wave of protests in the country since 1989. It was triggered by the Constitutional Court’s ruling of 22 October, declaring most abortions unconstitutional, which were possible until now under the already very restrictive abortion law. Instead of including severe and incurable damage to the foetus, now only rape or danger to the mother’s life are valid reasons to terminate a pregnancy. Considering the ferocity of the protests, there are other factors at play as well, such as widespread frustration with PiS’ way of handling the pandemic – over the summer, PM Morawiecki had declared it ‘over’, and now the health system is already close to collapsing. There is also grumbling about PiS’ graft, arrogance of power, and turning public media into propaganda instruments. Of course, the unlawful politicisation and court-packing of the Constitutional Court plays a big role – both in preparing the ground for the abortion ruling, but also in terms of public anger. Finally, these protests are also about the power of a Catholic Church, which has become more entrenched and determined to resist modernising trends in society. Kaczyński’s motives for his nudging of the Court are certainly mixed: to distract from the pandemic, to shore up the frail coalition in a fresh polarisation of the country, lobbying by the Church, but also, and maybe above all, a genuine belief that it’s his sacred mission to stem the secularisation and liberalisation of Polish society.
The protests so far are leaderless; they are to an extent generational (but protests are always more of a thing for youngsters), but – maybe surprisingly – there is no recognisable centre-periphery divide here, as there was in the recent presidential elections when cities voted very differently from rural areas and small towns. Public opinion opposes the court ruling at 60 to 70 %, and prefers to return to the ‘consensual solution’ of before; only around 10 % support the ruling. Most of the protests are peaceful, although the pent-up anger, especially of women, is visible in the language chosen, as well as the adopted symbol of the protesters: a lightning bolt. In some cases, churches have been smeared with paint, and masses disturbed. While Kaczyński himself, after the first protests, called upon PiS followers to ‘defend Churches at all cost’ (a call followed all too eagerly by nationalist hooligans), President Duda was much more measured and expressed some sympathies for the public anger. Equally importantly, the ‘moderate’ wing of PiS and its slightly more centrist coalition partner have raised doubts about the wisdom of the escalation.
How will it play out?
No one can predict whether we are facing a long-lasting social “revolution”, or just a momentary spike of emotions. PiS may still back down. It may pass a new law reinstating an ‘abortion compromise’, although it may be too little, too late now – many protesters say that the compromise is dead; their demand now is the fully-fledged liberalisation of the abortion law. This may split the protest movement again, but it’s also possible that, with sustained public opposition, cracks in the governing coalition widen. Much will also depend on whether the strongest opposition party, the Civic Platform (PO), can put itself into a pole position. Its most charismatic politician, Rafał Trzaskowski, the Mayor of Warsaw who just narrowly lost out in the presidential election, might make a comeback with his recently founded ‘New Solidarity’ movement, which aims to reach out beyond established parties. In recent polls, PiS is nosediving, PO is gaining ground, and other opposition forces are mushrooming. Although according to schedule, there will be no elections in Poland for another three years, a collapse of the governing coalition might trigger snap elections.
The implications for the EU
These are grassroots protests. Poland’s ‘Women’s Strike’ is genuinely Polish. No Brussels-based ‘moral imperialism’, resolution by the European Parliament, or George Soros-inspired NGO activity can be held responsible for them. Kaczyński’s attempts to frame them as the results of foreign influence make him look like Putin and Lukashenka, putting the blame for the Belarus protests on the CIA. Moreover, the scope and the intensity of the protests prove, once again, that the image of an EU split into a socially liberal West and a socially conservative East, best represented by national populists, is dangerously false.
EU institutions should now focus on the breaches of the rule of law that helped lead to the current situation in Poland, i.e., the assault on the independence of the judiciary. Questions such as abortion legislation itself are truly a national competence according to the EU Treaty, and this should remain so – precisely because to do otherwise would deliver genuine ammunition to Europe’s national populists about an overbearing EU. But the Polish people should be helped much more decisively in their efforts to re-establish the rule of law and to oppose the lonely decisions of a new nationalist elite, which is trying to reap the benefits of EU membership while violating its fundamental principles by the day.Roland Freudenstein Konrad Niklewicz Eastern Europe Populism Values
The Chairman’s Culture War: Europe and Poland’s ‘Women’s Strike’
30 Oct 2020
Since 1 September, the Hungarian government has closed its borders due to the rise in new COVID-19 cases. However, there is an exception made for those citizens of Slovakia, Czechia, and Poland, who work, study, or travel to Hungary. The decision has provoked a reaction from the EC, who calls to respect the integrity and non-discriminatory nature of the Schengen area. How do you perceive this unilateral step from Hungary, especially since its neighbours, such as Serbia and Romania, have many more COVID-19 cases, and yet their borders remain open?
Dániel Bartha – Executive Director, Centre for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy, Hungary: The government was rushing to make a highly visible decision. They even failed to inform Hungarian authorities, such as the Border protection agency, on time. The decision to keep V4 relations unchanged was based on political considerations and the experience from the spring when these countries had much lower numbers. Later, the decision was corrected, but it shed light on some dysfunctionality in decision-making. I wouldn’t consider it an anti-EU move, although the EU should be criticised for not using the summer period to further harmonise the decision-making process regarding the closure of Schengen borders, which gives more room to such unilateral decisions.
Vladimír Bartovic, Director, EUROPEUM, Czechia: I am generally against the closure of borders between EU member states. Of course, all countries have the right to protect their citizens from the spread of COVID-19, but in my opinion, countries should demand a negative COVID-19 test, rather than closing the borders.
I agree with the European Commission that Hungary’s decision to give exemptions based on citizenship is discriminatory. If there are some exemptions, they should be based on residence rather than citizenship, and well-argued from the epidemiological point of view.
Miriam Lexmann, Member of the European Parliament, Slovakia: The unilateral closure of borders in March 2020 has highlighted the need for EU Member States to coordinate or, at the very least, to communicate their intentions in advance. No doubt, the closure of borders opens a moral question of whether freedom of movement is more important than the protection and health of citizens. Yet, there are mechanisms in place for situations where Member States must re-impose internal Schengen borders. Therefore, I think that such steps should be coordinated within the EU in advance, and according to set mechanisms, so that citizens and other countries impacted by the situation can adequately prepare.
Much attention is being paid to the Czech Senate Speaker Miloš Vystrčil, who made an official visit to Taiwan, accompanied by a large delegation of politicians, businessmen, and scientists. According to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Vystrčil will pay a very high price for his visit to Taiwan, thereby not respecting the One-China Principle. His trip was supported by the Slovak president, along with French and German officials. Can we expect that the Visegrád Group will adopt a less assertive approach towards China?
Dániel Bartha: Hungary will be the last country to join the V4 on this issue, but if it is necessary, it will show solidarity with Czechia. Although 16+1 can be declared dead, the government is still convinced that keeping the country in the Euro-Atlantic alliance and having good relations with China are simultaneously possible, despite EU and NATO membership officials often referring to a neutral status. Obviously, this position is not sustainable, but it’s important to understand that economic interests are the only aspect which the government considers. While the economy will contract by 7 to 10%, and Hungarian trade volume was falling in every direction, we have recorded a 20% growth in import volume and a 4% growth in export to China.
I believe Chinese and Czech relations are poisoned, and we have passed the point of return for good relations. It is now a matter of time before Slovakia will join Czechia on this issue. Due to its geopolitical interests, Poland will support the US position on China, which will soon leave Hungary alone on this issue within the V4.
Vladimír Bartovic: How to approach relations with China was, is, and certainly will be a very divisive issue, not just among the different countries, but also between different political parties, and even between different politicians within individual parties, as the Czech example demonstrates. The Czech Senate Speaker Mr. Vystrčil’s journey to Taiwan was criticised by other Czech representatives, such as President Zeman or Prime-Minister Babiš. But the Chinese reaction, consisting of blackmailing and threatening Mr. Vystrčil and other members of the delegation, crossed all lines of acceptable diplomatic behaviour. I would have expected more solidarity from the Visegrád states’ representatives, or even from the EU as a whole in this case. Visegrád foreign ministers could have declared that the language used by Minister Wang Yi is unacceptable. On the other hand, I do not expect any changes in the approach of V4 countries towards China in reaction to this incident.
Miriam Lexmann: As was stated in an open letter I initiated with Alexandr Vondra (Czech Republic/ECR) in support for Mr. Vystrčil and signed by nearly 70 political leaders worldwide, all sovereign countries have the right to determine their relations with Taiwan without the interference of the Chinese Communist Party.
Given the vulnerabilities exposed during the current pandemic, the realities of the corrosive impact of Chinese investment in some countries, and empty promises in others, as well as the arrogance of Chinese diplomats and officials, there is an ongoing shift in opinion about the Chinese authoritarian regime within the Visegrád Group. There is, however, the need for an EU-wide re-assessment of our relations with China. Therefore, it is not simply a question for the Visegrád Four whether to adopt a more assertive and principled approach, but for the whole of the EU.Eastern Europe EU Member States Foreign Policy
Are the Visegrád Four ready for a new approach towards China?
14 Sep 2020
What has happened in Belarus since the massively fraudulent election of 9 August is nothing short of a miracle. Out of all the potentates in the countries of the former Soviet Union, Alexander Lukashenka – once labelled ‘Europe’s last dictator’ – seemed to be the least contested in his own country. The last 4 weeks have changed this image for good already, whatever happens from now on. Repeated massive and peaceful demonstrations in Minsk and many other cities, strikes in crucial factories, songs, pictures of women in red and white handing flowers to police, the disbelief on Lukashenka’s face when booed by workers; but also police brutality and the first signs of panic and collapse among the regime a week after the first protests: these are now imprints on our collective memories. Western democracies have to forcefully react. Here is why a ‘geopolitical’ approach to the issue is misleading, and why a principled reaction is both a moral obligation and in our own enlightened self-interest.
The fact that the regime has averted collapse for the moment, and that we are heading towards a long standoff, is only due to Putin’s public guarantee to keep Lukashenka in power, with all the overt and hybrid means at his disposal. Of course, Putin despises Lukashenka, but the Western pundits who predicted, at the beginning of the protests, that Putin would quickly ditch him and ‘install’ a more dynamic and more clearly pro-Russian leader, were wrong. Lukashenka is good enough for Putin because, in addition to being now totally dependent on the Kremlin, his erstwhile ‘fight with the two monsters’ (i.e. playing the West and Russia against each other) is over, in favour of the latter. For now, only keeping Lukashenka in power is the guarantee that Belarus doesn’t undergo some kind of ‘colour revolution’ – and a democratic revolution is precisely what Putin is most afraid of, because Russian democrats would be tremendously encouraged by it. This is also why Putin tried to eliminate their front man, Aleksei Navalny, in August. The question of external alliances of a post-Lukashenka Belarus is secondary to the democracy factor, especially since none of the leading Belarusian democrats have even touched upon the topic of EU or NATO membership – only Lukashenka and Russian propaganda are labelling the protests, quite ridiculously, as products of Western machinations.
A fallacy called geopolitics
Just like any other crisis involving Russia, this case has seen its share of inflationary use of the term ‘geopolitics’. That time-honoured term comes, roughly speaking, in two variants: one is the (actually rather banal) statement that geography is one of many factors explaining the behavior of political actors – mostly national governments. That’s a fact. Witness the respective importance given recently by the Greek government to the conflict with Turkey, and by the Polish and Baltic governments to the democratic revolution in Belarus. The other variant, which happens to have been particularly overblown in the Belarus debate, is the belief that geopolitics is something akin to a natural science, whose immutable ‘laws’ prescribe or render impossible this or that political development, as if there were a geopolitical law of gravity that says: small neighbours of great powers (such as Russia) cannot choose their own political systems, or foreign policies and alliances. If that were true, the Berlin Wall would not have come down in 1989, and the Warsaw Pact would still be in place. The big lesson of the 1980s – remember, it took a decade from the birth of Solidarność to the end of the Soviet Union – is that politics, not geography, calls the shots in the end.
For our freedom and yours
Regarding the West’s reaction to the miracle of Belarus and Putin’s actions, the first conclusion is that the geopolitical games played by some in the West (for example by the PiS government in Warsaw until 9 August), sucking up to Lukashenka to drag him away from Putin, have turned out to be as useless as they always were. If we want a safe and free future for Europe, we need to put geopolitics in its place.
Secondly, while not being able to change the situation in Belarus directly, there are plenty of things the EU should do: Come up with a ‘Magnitsky’ list of Belarusian officials for asset freezes and travel bans, delegitimise Lukashenka (as the Lithuanians already have), propose the Sakharov or Nobel Peace Prize for Sviatlana and Sergei Tsikhanouski, and a dramatic increase in visual and financial support for all Belarusian democrats, especially those who are victim of oppression. And Germany should do what should have happened years ago: scrap NordStream 2. There are also things Europeans should not do, such as: fall over ourselves to ‘talk to Putin’ about the future of Belarus. That future is the business of Belarusians.
Thirdly and finally, we should all remind ourselves that we ought to do these things not only for moral reasons, but in our own interest. If Lukashenka and Putin get away with their brazen operation, flouting not only all standards of human decency, but concrete commitments signed by them, then our own freedom will soon be at stake. In that sense, Belarus is everywhere. As the globally active Polish freedom fighters of the 19th century would have put it: The struggle is about our freedom as much as about the Belarusians. And this ‘fraternal assistance’ for Lukashenka might actually be the beginning of the end for Putin.
We’re all Belarusians now – a plea for putting the politics back in geopolitics
11 Sep 2020
EU countries have begun to ease national restrictions aimed at countering the COVID-19 pandemic. When it comes to the Visegrád Group, how do you evaluate the emergency powers granted to the executive branch?
Pavlína Janebová, Deputy Research Director at the Association for International Affairs (Prague):
“Strengthening the powers of the executive branch is certainly a logical and legitimate step in times of crisis. Regarding the Visegrád states’ governments (i.e. the Hungarian, Polish and Czech governments, as the Slovak one took office only recently), handling the COVID-19 pandemic has largely confirmed the tendencies that we had seen before. Fidesz-KDNP is taking Hungary yet another step further from democracy and the rule of law (with the EU still unable to react adequately). PiS in Poland is pushing for controversial legislation including a change to the electoral code despite the pandemic. Finally, the coalition of ANO and the Social Democrats in the Czech Republic is struggling to produce clear and comprehensible policies for their citizens, and although this is not surprising, it is far from encouraging.”
Péter Krekó, Executive Director of Political Capital, independent policy research, analysis and consulting institute (Budapest):
“The V4 varies in this respect, and I think we can observe somewhat uneven tendencies within the V4. We can find more problematic tendencies of executive (mis)use of power under the pretext of fighting the pandemic in Poland and Hungary, and less in Czechia and Slovakia. In Poland, for example, the government is using the pandemic to put further restrictions on abortion, while it is not obvious at first sight how this might help to stop the epidemic. A law, similar to one in Russia, Hungary and Israel, which aims to discredit NGOs critical of the government by revealing their “foreign funding”, is underway.
In Hungary, the government also took steps to silence critical voices. Under the veil of the COVID-19 crisis, the Parliament amended the criminal code to make spreading hoaxes or ‘distorted facts’ about the coronavirus punishable by up to five years in prison. Government-organised think tanks and media then listed opposition journalists as sources of hoaxes to make the message even more evident. Authoritarian practices are also more widespread. For example, police fined citizens who were peacefully protesting against certain government measures without physically gathering, by making noise with their car horns and bicycle bells.
What instead seems to be a common trend in Central and Eastern Europe is a narrative that China is providing help amid the coronavirus crisis, and the EU is not. Ironically, China might end up extending its sharp power influence in the region as a result of its ‘mask diplomacy’.”
Milan Nič, Head of the program for Central-Eastern Europe and Russia at the German Council of Foreign Relations-DGAP (Berlin):
“None of the other Visegrád group countries went as far as granting special powers with no time limit to its head of government, as in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. His rule by decree, adopted on March 30, did not make Hungary’s response to the spread of COVID-19 more effective than elsewhere in the region. In the regional context, Budapest was rather late in its response, less transparent and also had the lowest testing capacity. The Czech Republic and Slovakia, in contrast, closed schools in early March and enforced early lockdowns without the need to widen constitutional frameworks in place. Both countries also made wearing masks mandatory ahead of other European countries. Granted, they also made a number of confusing moves along the way, but these were corrected in response to public criticism and free media coverage.
If we want to take lessons for the future, the overall response showed that none of the V4 governments had developed civilian crisis management systems for emergency situations, and had to rely on their armed forces or improvised decisions at the verge of legality, e.g. the very strict supervised treatment of their own citizens returning from abroad.”
Do you think there was an East-West divide in the way governments addressed the COVID-19 pandemic?
Pavlína Janebová: “While I do not like the connotations of an ‘East-West divide’, it is clear that imposing strict containment measures early on helped prevent a much more serious spread of the disease in some Central and Eastern European countries. While that certainly is great news, the relative ease with which the borders were closed and the fact that the restrictions were largely undisputed might be a dangerous precedent for the future of Schengen and EU integration in general.”
Péter Krekó: “I do not really see this. We can see across the world, and in the region as well, that even politicians who were initially hesitant to recognise the pandemic as a significant threat were later just following international trends and the recommendations from doctors and scientists. The region is lucky in that it seems to have been hit by the virus much less than Western Europe. The reasons for this are still to be analysed, and the region’s smaller global role matters. But even that only gave an advantage of 2 to 3 weeks for the countries in the region, and lockdowns, following Western formulas, began earlier here. The region also regards Western Europe as a model now, in the incremental opening process.”
Milan Nič: “Yes, by now it is clear that the EU’s East moved faster to enforce lockdown measures than most Western European governments, despite a much lower level of confirmed COVID-19 cases. This was partly motivated by fear and awareness that their relatively weak and underfunded health care systems might not be able to contain a major outbreak.
For the moment, I am concerned that an East-West divide could also be repeated with lifting the lockdowns, just in reverse mode. So far, V4 governments have been too careful and risk-averse when it comes to restarting their economies, which will have a severe impact on the economic recovery and social burden in the whole region.”
In addressing the impact of the COVID-19 crisis at the EU level, how can the V4 contribute to economic burden-sharing?
Pavlína Janebová: “In tackling the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, solidarity and mutual cohesion in the EU will be crucial. While the Visegrád countries tend to consider themselves to be among the ‘poorer’ EU member states, and they will certainly experience economic downturn, it will be important for them to realise that other states will be taking the hardest hit. The Visegrád states should be ready to show solidarity in financing economic recovery.”
Milan Nič: “That remains to be seen, as so far the V4 countries have neither been part of the problem nor the solution – most of them being outside of the Eurozone. But the main part is still ahead of us: political bargaining over EU recovery instruments and the next MFF (budget). For the entirety of Central and Eastern Europe, this is a crisis without precedent in the post-transition period as well as in their period of EU membership. Regarding the Visegrád countries, their government’s response is not going to be the same. It will likely shape individual countries’ political position in Europe, along with prevailing perceptions of the entire region by Western European public opinion – with a tendency to see them as one unit – for years to come.Crisis Democracy Eastern Europe European Union
How have V4 countries responded to the Corona crisis?
25 May 2020
Today with a very special guest: Rafał Trzaskowski, Mayor of Warsaw. He discussed political issues concerning Poland and the EU.Rafał Trzaskowski Roland Freudenstein Eastern Europe EU Member States
The Week in 7 Questions with Rafał Trzaskowski
Multimedia - The Week in 7 Questions
08 May 2020
Until now, every crisis, including COVID-19, has brought to light divergent perceptions of security challenges in the EU. It appears that some countries took the imposition of restrictions as an opportunity to centralise their power and suppress freedom of speech.
Already before the pandemic, the state of media independence and freedom was one of the major structural differences between western and central European democracies. Now, with the implementation of emergency powers, the situation might worsen; this is bad news for the entire Union. This trend is confirmed by the latest World Press Freedom Index Reporters Without Borders’ annual index, which measures the level of media freedom.
Although media freedom is generally decreasing, this phenomenon is very uneven. While media in the West, especially in Scandinavia, are ranked as very independent with strong law enforcement to protect journalists from attacks, on the contrary, in the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) region, the press is facing control by the government, hatred, and stigmatisation.
The desire to control the media
Notwithstanding the differences between different governments and their reactions to COVID-19, there are certain common traits in the Visegrad Group. First and foremost, their fragile democratic tradition, high levels of corruption, and desire to control and sometimes own the media market makes it easier for them to massage public opinion.
In the last two years, Slovakia earned unfortunate notoriety in the wake of the murder of an investigative journalist and his fiancée. In general, journalists in Slovakia have long been threatened and demeaned by government officials, while government-affiliated oligarchs entered the mainstream media market. In Czechia, 30% of commercial media are owned by Prime Minister Babiš. Although a very professional public television deserves respect, there is a genuine threat of control by the government, as it determines the composition of the television board. This fact, along with open hatred and verbal attacks by President Zeman towards the media, are causing critical journalists to leave the main outlets. According to the media freedom Index, Czechia dropped from the 18th to the 40th spot in the last five years.
Hungary is in an even worse situation. Public television is the mouthpiece of the government. As a reward for positively reporting on the government’s actions, and for slandering and criticising the opposition and civil society, it receives 100 billion forints (EUR 280 million) annually. The recently adopted legislation which empowered Prime Minister Orbán to rule by decree, purposely silenced parliamentary opposition. The media could substitute for the muzzled parliament, or rather the muzzled opposition. However, new legislation foresees penalties of up to 5 years in prison, especially for independent media, for “promoting false information in the context of the coronavirus”, which still leaves broad space for interpretation by the government. According to the Index, Hungary is ranked 89th. A worse situation exists only in Bulgaria, which ended up in 111th place.
In Poland, journalists can be sentenced to a year in prison for defamation, even though the civil code offers citizens all the protection they need if they are defamed. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has secured control over public service TV broadcasting, through the direct appointment of its chief officer by the government. The state-owned television network’s propaganda is boosting the confidence of Poles in their government’s ability to master not only the pandemic, but also the upcoming presidential elections, which is of vital importance for PiS. It brings reports on Western Europe’s problems and alleged inability to cope with the crisis. The fact that Polish healthcare workers are directly prohibited by the government to speak of the dire state of Polish hospitals, remains underreported.
Freedom of speech needs EU attention, support, and recognition
The fact that legislation and the attitude of politicians during the crisis make journalists’ existence and work even more difficult is attested by the many complaints sent as a letter to the Council of Europe but also by a letter to the Commission President.
The European Commission has financially strengthened the position of independent media, especially since the murders of journalists in Malta, Slovakia, and Bulgaria. Despite the COVID-19 crisis, the MFF 2021-2027 preparations should not omit a further increase in funding for independent media, because through them, a conscious civil society can be built, resistant to propaganda and disinformation. Especially now, as many independent media will fight for survival and cannot rely on financial support from governments when it comes to the distribution of advertising from the state’s institutions.
The media also needs permanent attention from the Union´s institutions, as in their respective countries, they often cannot rely on a judiciary system which is in the hands of the government. This was the case for the murdered journalist in Slovakia, when a special mission by the European Parliament put pressure on the police and the prosecution, leading to an independent investigation.
The media are an integral part of democracy and irreplaceable a watchdog, which provides citizens with balanced information and pushes politicians towards transparency. Therefore, all measures to support them should be taken, as even in extraordinary times, certain lines should not be crossed. We cannot afford to take damage on all fronts, especially on the front of democracy, which is already facing many challenges. Someone has aptly compared the pandemic to driving at night with no lights on. We aim to make it to the finish line alive, with as few car scratches as possible.Viktória Jančošeková COVID-19 Eastern Europe
COVID-19 highlights the issue of a free press in the Visegrad 4
30 Apr 2020
Ukraine has been making the front page of newspapers all over the world for a couple of weeks now, due to an incriminating phone call between Donald Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky on 25th July. This conversation, the transcript of which was released on 25th September, led to the launch of an impeachment inquiry of President Trump and to the resignation of the US Special Envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker. But what have been the consequences for the Ukrainian President? To quote the character of Anatoly Dyatlov from the famous TV series Chernobyl, “not great, not terrible”.
Zelensky has scored an unprecedented victory in the history of Ukraine, being elected President with 73,2%. A popular comedian, with no experience in politics, he has been chosen to lead the country instead of Petro Poroshenko. Zelensky campaigned on memes and irony, promising to free Ukraine from corruption and transform it into a thriving democracy.
However, his gains did not end there. One day after his inauguration as President of Ukraine, Zelensky dissolved the Verkhovna Rada calling for parliamentary snap elections on 21st July. Despite the fact that there was no policy content in most messages during Zelensky’s presidential campaign, Ukrainians rewarded him once again, by giving his party, Servant of the People, an absolute majority in the Parliament – 254 out of 450 seats.
Zelensky is in the most favourable position to turn the country around, controlling all levels of power and having massive support from his electorate. He already delivered on some of his promises made during the campaign, by signing a bill creating the procedure to impeach a president and simplifying the firing of government officials as part of his fight against corruption.
President Zelensky is determined also to lift a longstanding ban on the sale of farmland and start a process of privatization of state-owned enterprises to boost investments and move on with the economic reforms that the country really needs.
And of course one of his biggest accomplishments in his few months of holding the presidency has been the prisoner swap between Ukraine and the Russian Federation, trading 35 prisoners each. Zelensky is undoubtedly more open towards dialogue with Putin than his predecessor and wants to show progress on the conflict resolution in Donbas. Even though the Minsk II Agreement is still far from being implemented the prisoner exchange gave hope to Ukrainians that there might be an end to this war.
However, Zelensky’s presidency is not all fun and games. His reputation is overshadowed by his close relationship with the oligarch Kolomoisky, owner of the 1+1 Channel, where Zelensky’s show was aired, and his alleged sponsor in the elections. Also troubling, the reconfirmation of Arsen Avakov as Interior Minister, an obstructionist to legal reforms who is tainted by numerous corruption allegations that he denies.
The real trouble on the international scene though, began for Zelensky only on September 25, when the White House released a memorandum of a phone conversation between President Trump and Zelensky himself, in late July. Apparently, shortly before this call, Trump had ordered $391.5 million in military aid to Ukraine to be frozen, to then pressure Zelensky to look into the case of Joe Biden’s son in relation to his position on the Board of the oil and gas company Burisma.
The speaker for the US House of Representatives launched an impeachment inquiry into Trump immediately after the release of the memorandum and the first head to fly was that of Kurt Volker. He was appointed as a special envoy on Ukraine in July 2017 and was involved in negotiations over the conflict in Donbas.
Volker has facilitated a meeting between Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Zelensky’s advisor Andriy Yermak, which made him look involved in the scandal. However, Ukraine considers Volker’s resignation a big loss as he was highly regarded in the country and seemed to be the “voice of reason” in the U.S. -Ukraine relations.
This situation, however, did not have a terrible impact on the Ukrainian President. For sure he will have some explaining to do to France and Germany, after openly criticising Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel in the incriminating phone call. Zelensky complained about the lack of support to Ukraine from the EU while praising all the United States is doing for his country. However, in the age of unaccountability for what one says, and considering his lack of political experience, he will most likely be quickly forgiven.
With regards to Ukrainian population, if Volodymyr Zelensky brings peace to Donbas, creates better economic conditions for the country and takes even some tiny steps in eradicating corruption, they will not withdraw their support for the new President. According to the Rating Group poll, 71% of Ukrainians are satisfied with Zelensky’s work.
Recent developments in the conflict resolution will gain him even more support among people who feel the war fatigue. On October 1st, Zelensky agreed to the “Steinmeier Formula”, allowing local elections in the Eastern regions of Ukraine under the control of the separatist supported by Russia. One has to agree that with this decision he got back into EU’s good graces quite quickly paving also the way for the Normandy Four meeting.
Even with some missteps along the way, for now, Zelensky is still being given the benefit of the doubt by both the international community and his electorate and at least for the time being his support in the country is likely to stay at 70%.Anna Nalyvayko Eastern Europe Elections Leadership Transatlantic
Not great, not terrible –the repercussions of Ukrainegate
08 Oct 2019
2019 is an important year for politicians all over Europe: MEPs running for re-election in the European Parliament, Spitzenkandidaten working to secure support for the top floor of Berlaymont, and eurosceptics finding common ground to disrupt the Union.
Another top job is up for grabs in a country which aims to become a member of the EU in the near future – the presidency of Ukraine. With elections scheduled for March 31, 30 candidates registered so far for the highest office of the country.
Candidacies were announced at different moments: the incumbent President Petro Poroshenko came forward only a few days ago, formally announcing that he’ll run for elections on 29 January. His main opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko declared her participation on 22 January, even though her slogan “New Course for Ukraine” was everywhere to be seen on billboards alongside Ukrainian roads for already some months.
The actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyi broke the news to his audience on 31 January during an appearance on TV. As a follow up, Zelenskyi launched a website, on which he extends an invitation to join his team, putting forward one condition: the applicants must have zero experience in politics.
Every candidate promises something new and pledges to do the job better than his or her opponents. Poroshenko promises to apply for a full membership to the EU in 2024, as well as to lead Ukraine to NATO; Tymoshenko suggests a new constitution, a new economy and a new social system; Zelenskyi is not making any promises, but is gaining traction for being anti-establishment and disconnected from the “old system”.
Other candidates like Andriy Sadovyi, the mayor of Lviv, plays with words such as “decisive change”; Oleh Lyashko, the leader of the Radical Party, is travelling across the country to show he is a man of the people; Anatolyi Hrytsenko, the former Defense Minister of Ukraine said he would deal with corruption and the oligarchic system of power in the country.
However, the one thing that is missing in the platforms of all the candidates is a clear plan for achieving peace in Donbass. The war with Russia in Eastern Ukraine is entering in its 6th year and the solution is nowhere to be seen. The Minsk Agreements were revealed to be a failure, trapping the actors in a vicious circle considering Russia’s and Ukraine’s opposite positions and interpretation of the 13 points contained in the document.
The new President of Ukraine will have a tough job in handling the conflict resolution, as one thing that has emerged from polls is that for 72% of Ukrainians peace in Donbass is a number one priority.
While all candidates state that they plan to bring peace to the nation, no one is ready to share technicalities of how they plan to achieve the goal. Tymoshenko suggests a “Budapest+” negotiation format involving the European Union, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, skillfully avoiding to explain what she is ready to compromise – although she is thought to be willing to go pretty far to accommodate Putin.
Zelenskyi’s “we’ll meet in the middle” approach also does not say much about what exactly he is ready to give to Putin. For Poroshenko, making any concessions to the Kremlin would be a political suicide, therefore trapping him in the current deadlock.
One thing that is quite clear to all candidates is that the Minsk agreements cannot be fulfilled and that there is a need for a new approach. However, anyone who is open to dialogue with the separatists would be seen as making concessions to Putin and lose public support. In fact, if there is something positive about Russian aggression in Ukraine, is that it strengthened the people’s unity and created a stronger Ukrainian identity.
The lack of openly pro-Russian candidates in the 2019 elections is indeed a major difference from all the other elections ever held in Ukraine. Even Yuryi Boyko, the candidate of the Russian friendly party Opposition Block, is careful in phrasing his campaign, reiterating that he represents interests of all Ukrainians “regardless of what language they speak and what church they go to’’.
Despite the fact that Opposition Block is portraying itself as “the party of peace”, it will be very difficult for Boyko to top the list given that he is perceived as the successor of the Party of Regions, which formally ceased to exist after Yanukovych fled the country in 2014.
The problem is that at the moment there are no meaningful alternatives to Minsk agreements and that at least some compromises have to be made. OSCE is working on a new peace plan which would include the deployment of UN peacekeepers, a provisional international government, and the setting up of a reconstruction agency in the currently Russian-occupied region of Ukraine’s east, but Putin immediately rejected the idea.
One thing to take into account is that Ukrainians do not vote based on party ideology, but rather on the personality of the candidate. The weakness of ideology in political parties and the prominence of party leaders have always characterised the country’s system.
Therefore, for the final result it is not important if the party of the candidate places itself on the right or left of the political spectrum, but rather if the people trust Poroshenko, Tymoshenko and the other names on the presidential list to deliver on what they are promising.
For sure Poroshenko’s eyes are on the West. With his 2019 election slogan “Army, Language, Faith” he managed to score two out of three points so far, making Ukrainian the required language of study in state schools across the country and obtaining autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
According to him, “only full EU and NATO membership would completely and irreversibly guarantee the independence of our Ukrainian state and Ukrainian national security”, so seeking a second mandate could maybe help him fulfil the slogan and lay out a strategy for seeking the light and the end of the tunnel.
Photo by Denys Rodionenko on UnsplashAnna Nalyvayko Eastern Europe Elections EU-Russia Leadership
War and Peace: the struggle that awaits the winner of Ukraine’s top job
05 Feb 2019
Just one day after the 85th anniversary of the Holodomor, the man-made famine of 1932-1933 that killed millions of Ukrainians during the Stalin regime, the Russian Federation, the continuing legal personality and successor state of the Soviet Union, stroke again. This time it came in the shape of a naval battle, or more accurately, a unilateral attack since there was no return of fire.
On 25 November, Russian FSB border guard ships attacked two Ukrainian artillery boats and a tugboat in the Kerch Strait off the coast of occupied Crimea wounding six Ukrainian sailors and seizing all three vessels with a total of 23 crew members on board. It’s important to note that the Ukrainians ships were already on their way back to Odessa from the Kerch Strait (which they couldn’t pass) when they were fired upon and seized by Russia.
As per usual, there are two sides to the story: according to Russian media and government, allegedly, Ukraine has violated Russia’s territorial waters deliberately provoking an incident in order to create a pretext for new sanctions to be imposed on Moscow; whereas Ukrainians deny any violations. Unfortunately for the Kremlin, there is an agreement that proves Ukrainians to be right.
It was signed in 2003 by the then Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Vladimir Vladimirovich himself, and it designates the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov as shared territorial waters between Russia and Ukraine, with free access for each side. Not that agreements stopped Putin before from achieving what he wants: he will easily ignore any international treaty, just as he did with the Budapest Memorandum when he illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.
Following these events, the Ukrainian Parliament has greenlighted a decision to impose martial law in 10 regions located along the Russian border and Transnistria, which entered into force at 9 a.m on 28 November and last until 27 December. The initial proposition looked at imposing the martial law for 60 days, which would have caused a postponement in the elections, scheduled for 31 March 2019, as martial law rules out elections.
However, after a compromise reached with the political parties, the term was decreased to 30 days, which would allow holding elections as planned. President Poroshenko stressed that martial law will not infringe upon civil liberties of Ukrainians, and in Parliament repeated that they will be limited only in case of an intervention.
The blame game is already on. The masterminds of Kremlin propaganda claim that this “provocation” is solely aimed at imposing martial law in Ukraine and, henceforth, cancelling the elections with the President Poroshenko being the main beneficiary. Stakeholders of the other side accuse Russians of violation of sovereignty and open aggression.
It’s no secret that Poroshenko’s popularity has been dropping and his re-election is not set in stone. He recently scored a big victory when the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was granted autocephaly by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople – however, he is still far from being the favourite candidate. His campaign slogan “Army, Language, Faith”, addresses the national pride of citizens, but he is not the only one to play this card.
As of October, 66% approved (and 33% disapproved) of Putin’s performance, down from 82%(and 17%) in April. The percentage of those who “trust” Putin fell from 59 to 39%, and the percentage of those not trusting Putin doubled. So what could be better than another triumph of Russian forces against the ‘evil Ukrainians’ to reverse this trend?
However, there’s a major difference between this episode and the annexation of Crimea or the war in Eastern Ukraine – this is the first time since the beginning of the Russian aggression in February-March 2014 that Russia as a state is engaging in an open act of aggression against Ukraine, not hiding behind “Donbas separatists” or “little green men”.
This could be a game changer for the response of the international community. President Poroshenko appealed to the partner countries under the Budapest Memorandum, to the EU countries, and to participants of the Normandy format in order to coordinate effective measures to protect Ukraine.
The Baltic States along with Poland were quick in condemning Russian behaviour, followed by EU and NATO statements. The US took their time: U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s condemnation was noticeable for how late it was, whereas President Trump framed Russian aggression as a “both-sides issue”, refusing to openly criticise Putin.
This is indeed a moment of truth for the West – the Kremlin wants to know how much it can get away with. The Black Sea is a critical intersection for trade and security and it needs to be properly protected.
Experts suggest that NATO and the United States should send in naval ships in the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea to guarantee that it stays open to international shipping as well as provide military equipment to Ukraine. Even the former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen states that “Russia responds only to power”.
The Eastern part of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, with cities like Mariupol and Berdyansk, is now practically cut off from shipping with much of their trade now functioning by rail, at higher cost. The EU should consider special assistance programmes to soften this effect.
What is important for the European Union to realise is that Russia has made a bold act and moved this war closer to its doorstep. A safe and secure Ukraine is essential for the security of Europe and a unified response from the member states is crucial for the respect of international law.
Achieving consensus on military intervention inside NATO is rather difficult, but tougher economic sanctions and suspension of the Nord Stream 2 could be steps in the right direction.
Strait outta Azov: How much can Putin get away with?
28 Nov 2018
The Eastern Orthodox Church is on the verge of a schism after the decision of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (PoC) to grant the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) ‘autocephaly’ (independence) from the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). The Kyiv Patriarchate is one of the three Orthodox churches in Ukraine, the other two being the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.
From the perspective of Western Europe, where societies have thoroughly secularized in recent decades, the ecclesiastical feuds of the Christian Orthodox world may seem remote and esoteric. Still, in the East and Southeast of Europe faith stimulates many people, and disputes over the jurisdiction and status of local churches is an important proxy of ethnic, nationalist and political cleavages. The consequences of a potential schism between Constantinople and Moscow will be significant and reverberate throughout Europe.
Contrary to the Catholic world, the Eastern Orthodox Church has no central authority. Τhe Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople ranks as primus inter pares among the heads of 14 Orthodox autocephalous churches, having the authority to call extraordinary synods when needed to deal with ad hoc issues, such as autocephaly rights.
The granting of a Tomos – i.e. independence – to UOC-KP by Constantinople threatens the status of the currently dominant Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) that is under the direct influence and control of the Moscow Patriarchate. As expected, this move was confronted fiercely by Russia, which sees Kyiv as the birthplace of its nation. On 15 October 2018, the Russian Orthodox Church announced angrily that it was breaking off all ties with PoC.
These developments have important religious, economic and geopolitical consequences.
After the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453, and during the emergence of the Russian Empire as a great power in the 18th and 19th century, Moscow tried to supplant Constantinople as the “Third Rome”, the guardian of Orthodox Christianity. Additionally, the rise of nationalism and the creation of national Orthodox churches in the Balkans and elsewhere undermined further the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s position. Nevertheless, against all odds, the latter survived until today as the spiritual beacon of Orthodoxy.
The Russian Orthodox Church never stopped to act as the long-arm of the Russian political establishment, even during the Soviet era. In other words, the Russian state, be it Czarist or Soviet, always used its national church and its religious channels as a tool of geopolitical influence and often as a source of pressure within the Orthodox world.
At the same time, UOC-KP’s autocephaly is another episode in the Ukrainian crisis. An autocephalous Ukrainian Church means that the Russian Church is losing not only a big number of adherents – almost 30 million – but also one-third of its total parishes outside Russia. In other words, this development is a great blow to Putin’s idea of a “Russian World” (Russkiy Mir) built around ROC’s religious and cultural influence.
Since the beginning of the war in Eastern Ukraine, many of the UOC clergy openly supported the Russian invasion. This had a negative impact on the perception of the UOC by the Ukrainian people. This in turn made UOC-KP’s need for recognition as autocephalous all the more urgent. Given the previous experience of Russian interventionism in Ukraine, one should not exclude provocations and the outbreak of violence when the newly recognised Ukrainian Patriarchate will claim authority over parishes and religious monuments which now are under the control of UOC.
With its extreme decision of excommunicating the PoC, ROC hopes to create a split inside the Orthodox world and to bring other Orthodox churches under its authority. For now, apart from the Patriarchate in Antioch – which toes Damascus’ line of full alignment with Moscow – and the more conservative Patriarchs of Serbia, Georgia and possibly Bulgaria, the rest 9 autocephalous Orthodox churches do not show any intention of endorsing the decision of ROC.
Constantinople’s decision to recognize ROC-KP was a decidedly high-risk move that can spark an all-out confrontation with Moscow. The first target could be the Monastic Community of Mount Athos, an autonomous polity within the Hellenic Republic. The Russian authorities, through heavy financing of the Russian Monastery in Athos, have tried to increase their religious and political presence in the Balkan Peninsula. Another focal point could be Cyprus and Bulgaria, due to strong cultural and historical ties and a strong Russian presence there.
All of the above-mentioned countries and churches are obviously inside the EU. Therefore, it is apparent that Brussels, the Vatican and the US – which for many years has supported the PoC – should strongly endorse and support UOC-KP’s autocephaly. At the same time, their support for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is in a permanent virtual state of hostage of the Turkish state, should be strengthened both rhetorically and practically. It is almost certain that Russia will use Turkey, with whom it currently enjoys good relations, as its proxy in order to exercise immense economic and political pressure on the PoC.
Ukraine autocephaly looks irreversible at the moment. But Orthodox Christianity will come out of this conflict wounded and weakened. At the same time, this is an opportunity for all other established churches of Christianity to support and rejuvenate the prestige of the Ecumenical Patriarchate that is under threat not only by its Turkish guardians, but now by Russia as well.
This is a mission that perfectly dovetails with the West’s interest in deterring Russia’s use of soft-power through religion that aims to destabilize its neighboring countries. The struggle over Ukraine’s religious communities is part of a much larger confrontation that has only begun.
Russia’s Religious Soft Power: Is Christianity Ready for a New Schism?
19 Oct 2018
While Ukrainian politicians one year ahead of both presidential and parliamentary elections are thinking about their campaign messages and the West has its eyes on the formation of the Anticorruption court in Kyiv, there’s one item missing from the European headlines. More specifically, the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine.
Some months before the extension of the OSCE’s mandate in the separatist-controlled territories until March 2019, the question of a United Nations peacekeeping mission to Donbass has again been put on the table.
“Even though they don’t have any control over the fighters, the OSCE are a very important presence on the ground” – stated Mykhailo Pashkov, Deputy Director of the Razumkov Centre – “however the international community should address the question of expansion and overall transformation of its mission to Donbass.”
Since the signature of the Minsk II Agreements in February 2015, little to nothing has changed in Eastern Ukraine. None of the points of the 13-point plan negotiated by the Normandy Format in the Belarusian capital have been implemented, with Ukraine and Russia continuously playing the blame game as to who should take the first step.
The truth is, local elections in the separatist controlled area cannot be held without a ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weaponry, and even though the West has tied the lifting of economic sanctions on Russia (which have just been renewed for another six months at the recent EU Summit on June 28 and 29) to the implementation of Minsk II, Putin has done nothing to pressure the separatists, (clearly under his control) to respect point 1 of the Agreement. Would deploying a contingent of UN Blue Helmets possibly be a step in the right direction to untie this deadlock?
Since the signature of the Minsk II Agreements in February 2015, little to nothing has changed in Eastern Ukraine.
According to Minsk II, Ukraine’s homework consists in implementing political aspects of the agreement, meaning granting a special status for the People’s Republic of Donetsk and Luhansk (DPR and LPR) and amending the Constitution of Ukraine, followed immediately by local elections on separatist-controlled territories. But President Poroshenko insists that a political solution to the conflict can only be achieved with a complete ceasefire, withdrawal of troops and weaponry and a stabilization process of Donbass.
Unfortunately for almost every party involved, the so-called “frozen conflict” is getting hotter. The last week of May was the most violent of 2018, with more than 20 deaths, both military and civilian casualties, and over 7000 ceasefire violations, according to Alexander Hug, Principal Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine.
The rise of violence occurred at the time of transition of the command of the war from the “anti-terror operation” (ATO) run by the security forces of Ukraine, SBU, to the country’s armed forces, in accordance with the Donbass Reintegration Law adopted in January this year.The law also designates a role for the military in the peace process, especially with regards the protection of civilians and the creation of conditions for the return of 1.7 million internally displaced people to the occupied territories. However, Ukraine cannot do it alone.
Since 2015, the conflict has created a contact line of 457 km, affected 4.4 million people, injured almost 25.000 and killed above 10.303 civilians and soldiers– numbers that call for international attention and engagement.
A peacekeeping mission to Ukraine would ideally undertake tasks like demilitarisation, mine clearance and return of refugees, complementing the work of the OSCE observers. There are only a few obstacles on the way.
After a meeting of foreign ministers of the Normandy Format last month to discuss the implementation of a ceasefire following the hot month of May in Donbass, Russia and Ukraine agreed in principle on a UN peacekeeping missions, but their ideas about how to implement it seem very much apart.
In order to function, the Blue Helmets need a strong presence and mandate, as suggested by a report commissioned by former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, but their nationality is the first disagreement regarding this operation. Kyiv is against Russian and Belarussian contingents, while the Kremlin opposes NATO countries claiming also that more powerful states are less impartial.
Secondly, Moscow, trying once more to play the card of the “non-involved-party”, insists that all arrangements should be made with the separatists, which would de-facto mean their recognition, a condition which is absolutely unacceptable for the Ukrainian government.
And thirdly, there are disagreements regarding the physical location of the peacekeepers. President Putin wants the mission to be deployed only on the contact line between the territories controlled by Ukraine and DPR and LPR, whereas President Poroshenko insists on the coverage also of the parts of the Russian-Ukrainian border which are now under separatists control.
In any case, Blue Helmets or not, the most important thing is that this war cannot continue being ignored. World leaders have to be constantly reminded, that the conflict in Eastern Ukraine is a result of Russian aggression and violation of territorial integrity, especially in the light of recent softening positions towards the Kremlin of the Italian Prime Minister and US President, who both suggested the reintegration of Russia into the G8, from which the country was expelled following the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The West should keep the Ukrainian conflict high on the agenda by raising the issue with the Kremlin on every occasion, by discussing it in national parliaments and the media and by presenting a unified, rather than a splintered, sceptical approach towards the imposition of sanctions on Russia.
The People of Donbass – those who remained, as well as those who fled – do not expect much, they expect the bare minimum; the end of hostilities. According to Aleksij Mazuka, from Kalmius Group, 60% of the total Ukrainian population support the idea of a UN peacekeeping mission to the Eastern part of the country and wish for a full re-integration of People’s Republic of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Maybe, after the 21 peacekeeping missions that Ukraine contributed to worldwide since its independence, it is time for the international community to show to the 4, 4 million people of Donbass that they have not been forgotten.Anna Nalyvayko Defence Eastern Europe EU-Russia Security
05 Jul 2018
Thinking about the basics of human interactions, there is a well-known expression that can explain the purpose of this post: today’s friends can be your enemies tomorrow and today’s enemies can be your friends tomorrow.
At the moment, this expression perfectly describes the relationship between President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, and Mikheil Saakashvili, former President of Georgia, former Ukrainian Governor and more recently (having lost his citizenship) – “the man without a country”.
Last week, the Ukrainian police failed in an attempt to arrest Saakashvili from his own house in Kyiv. This happened because Poroshenko overlooked one of the greatest skills a politician can have: the ability to mobilize civil society and to increase the public salience.
We all know what happened afterwards: thousands of his supporters mobilized extremely quickly in front of his house and “saved” him. However, his freedom did not last long, as he was arrested by the Secret Service last Friday evening, with the prosecutor putting him under house arrest.
The friendship between Saakashvili and Poroshenko goes back to the 1980s, when they were both students at a university in Kyiv. As President of Georgia, Saakashvili was a revolutionary politician, an anti – Putin and pro EU and NATO adept, implementing substantial reforms in the country.
In February 2015, after two presidential mandates in Georgia, he was invited by Poroshenko to lead the International Advisory Council on Reforms. Soon after, he was appointed Governor of the Odessa region, a key port city of Ukraine. By accepting this position, Saakashvili gave up on his Georgian citizenship and he officially became a citizen of Ukraine, emboldening his commitment to Ukrainian politics (not that he had many alternatives, having being convicted in his home country, Georgia, for allegedly using public funds on personal needs).
Everything was running smoothly until November 2016, when Saakashvili resigned from his role as Governor, citing corruption in general, and corruption of the current political elite in particular. That was the end of their friendship. Soon after, President Poroshenko revoked the Ukrainian citizenship of Saakashvili by decree (claiming irregularities in his citizenship application).
According to Ukrainian law, for non-citizens, they cannot be elected to Parliament or lead a political party, meaning he could no longer formally lead the party which he had created, the “Movement of New Forces”.
The allegations he currently faces are that he received half a million dollars from Serhiy Kurchenko, a Ukrainian oligarch close to former president Yanukovych. This is therefore a direct connection to Russia. The alleged purpose of these funds was to organise protests in Ukraine against Poroshenko the ultimate goal of toppling him. After Saakashvili’s arrest, several thousands of his supporters marched through the city centre of Kyiv demanding his release from jail and Poroshenko’s resignation.
There are many factors that make this situation both suspicious and confusing. First, it is quite obvious that Saakashvili’s options after losing his Ukrainian citizenship are quite limited. Secondly, the polls are not giving him much hope for a political career in Ukraine, as he currently commands a mere 1-2% of political support in the country. Hence, the first question is, why are the Ukrainian authorities, namely Poroshenko, so concerned about him?
The second point reflects the official political agenda of Ukraine. During the recent Eastern Partnership Summit held in Brussels in November of this year, the EU reiterated once more its continued support and commitment towards Ukraine in maintaining implementation of necessary reforms, which are much needed for the development of the country.
It also emphasized the need for more active steps in fighting corruption. Undoubtedly, significant steps were taken in the right direction in Kyiv, but the pace of implementing the vital reforms proved to be a bit slower than expected.
Recent developments show that Poroshenko is keeping substantial control over law enforcement bodies, thus, this may raise questions about the relationship between the political elites and judicial institutions. On the other hand, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine has survived recent attacks the prosecutors, who are most certainly acting on behalf of the oligarchs.
Given the complicated political path of Saakashvili (to put it mildly), but also the fact that Ukraine is still fighting with endemic corruption and oligarchy (while aspiring to European values), it is difficult to assess the situation.
Nevertheless, there are several points which are more important to be considered. First, Ukraine cannot currently afford new elections. The disruption of the ongoing reforms would result in severe and sustained damage to the country. If there is one thing which is irreversible, then it is timing.
Secondly and most importantly, there are always losers and winners in a battle. Unfortunately, in the case of this new political crises, there is no loser other than the people of Ukraine and there is no other winner other than Russia.
This inquiry plagues not only Ukraine, but all of the Eastern European countries that committed to work towards building veritable democracies where the rule of law stands strong according to EU values. The stake is too big to make mistakes, otherwise the “Big brother” is always around.Ana Rotaru Eastern Europe Leadership
The Poroshenko-Saakashvili Saga or why Ukrainian politics is never boring
18 Dec 2017
In 2014, it appeared Ukraine’s population had found the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory – only with Willy Wonka being the newly elected President Petro Poroshenko and the Chocolate Factory being not only his Roshen brand, but Ukraine itself.
The window of opportunity was wide open, and many reforms were put on the table. The drive of the government, with the support and advocacy from civil society, brought some incredible results. Ukraine did not declare default, contrary to everyone’s expectations, in February 2015, actually achieving a massive macroeconomic stabilisation “close to a miracle”, making the European Commission’s bailout plan unnecessary.
Some noticeable steps have been taken in various reform fields from the military to the banking system, to public administration, to decentralisation. Corruption, one of the country’s biggest problems, has been tackled by establishing anti-corruption institutions and e-declaration systems, making Ukraine in a way “both the most corrupt and at the same time the most transparent country in Europe”.
With encouragement and conditionalities from the EU and IMF, Ukraine was on the steep, but right path to success. Privatisation, judicial reform, pension and healthcare, seemed to be heading in the right direction particularly after the initiation of the visa-free regime with the EU back in June coupled with the full implementation of the Association Agreement in September.
The reform process appears to be slowing down.
However, considering the frailty of the coalitions in the Verkhovna Rada, and the approaching parliamentary and presidential elections, the reform process appears to be slowing down.
Corruption remains the most deeply rooted problem the country faces, and despite the establishment of an unprecedented open competition to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court, most Ukrainians feel that their country is not heading in the right direction.
Anti-government protests demanding Poroshenko’s resignation have begun in Kyiv in October. The protesters have been fuelled by a former ally of the President, Mikhail Saakashvili, who returned to Ukraine after accusing Poroshenko of obstructing reforms and resigning from his position of governor of Odessa earlier this year. Saakashvili advocates for electoral reforms, the creation of anti-corruption courts, and the abolition of parliamentary immunity.
The Chocolate King is not faring well with numbers – his rate of approval, according to the latest poll by the Razumkov Center, is at 24, 8%. The truth is, people’s perception that the reform process is stalling is translating into a political risk. While Ukraine’s active civil society, one of the main advocates for change in the country, insists on more radical reforms, the majority of the population has difficulty dealing with the pace of reforms as it is.
The decision of the government to cut gas subsidies for homes and enterprises that had been in place since Soviet times led to a one-third drop in energy consumption and zero dependency on Russia and also led to increasing citizens’ dissatisfaction when people saw their energy bills double.
The government pursues reforms that activists and Western donors push for, but, as the short-term costs overshadow the long-term benefits among the public opinion, those actions erode support for a reformist government, even if they are in the long term interest of Ukraine itself.
Political opponents exploit the dissatisfaction to attack the government by calling for early elections, but a sudden change in Ukrainian leadership would only stall the progress made so far.
Even with all its weakness and slow pace, the post-Majdan government is the most reform-oriented that Ukraine has ever had.
Moreover, one should not forget, that contrary to the Western habit of referring to the situation in Donbass as a “frozen conflict”, Ukraine is fighting a real war on the eastern border with Russia. A war that so far resulted in 10,090 deaths and 1.7 million internally displaced people.
Even though a “win the war by reform” approach is largely acceptable and cheered by the EU, “It’s very difficult to do everything simultaneously” stated Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister for European Integration, Ivanna Klympush, in her recent visit to Brussels.
Even with all its weakness and slow pace, the post-Majdan government is the most reform-oriented that Ukraine has ever had. The range and number of the reforms implemented is unprecedented in the history of the country. If positive changes are not acknowledged, the loud criticism by populists will devalue all efforts and bring the state of “Ukraine fatigue” to the EU and its Member States.
This is particularly alarming in the wake of the 5th Eastern Partnership Summit taking place on 24 November in Brussels. Even though the Summit is meant to be forward-looking in bringing tangible and positive results in the four priority areas established at the Riga Summit in 2015 – stronger economy, governance, connectivity and society – there is very little doubt that the final declaration of the Brussels Summit will not explicitly include a membership perspective for Ukraine, as the reference to the EU membership aspiration of the country is opposed by some Member States.
In order to avoid an “EU fatigue” in Eastern Europe, the Union, however, has to demonstrate its commitment towards its neighbours and rethink its so-far limited offer. The most obvious way to ease tensions in Ukraine would be to increase political, economic, and material support for Kyiv. A “Marshall Plan for Ukraine” proposed by Lithuania with the aim of boosting the economic recovery with the infusion of funds linked to the revitalisation of structural reforms is a step in the right direction.
On the other hand, to keep his “Chocolate Factory” on the path to European integration- Petro Poroshenko has to do his homework. Internal political struggles and pre-election tensions must not overshadow the reform process. The Presidential administration and the government have to renew their commitment to reforms, Ukraine’s golden ticket to the EU, to demonstrate to their citizens to deserve an opportunity for another mandate in 2019.
Photo by Thomas Hafeneth on Unsplash
 Anders Åslund, Ukraine: What Went Wrong and How to Fix It, Peterson Institute for International Economics, 2015.Anna Nalyvayko Eastern Europe Enlargment EU-Russia
Petro Poroshenko and the chocolate factory: Ukraine’s golden ticket?
23 Nov 2017
Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its subsequent invasion of eastern Ukraine led to a series of attacks against Ukraine. These have included cyber-attacks, fake news, economic pressure, terrorist attacks, as well as an all-out military conflict. Given that eastern Ukraine was at the centre of these attacks, its civil society developed its own resilience strategy to minimise the impact of non-military hybrid threats. This experience provides valuable lessons for Europe in general.
Ukraine’s response to Russian hybrid warfare
The concept of ‘resilience’ has traditionally been used in the areas of development and risk management. The European Union’s (EU’s) 2016 Global Strategy defined resilience as a concept that encompasses the ability of states, societies, communities and individuals to transcend a crisis while maintaining national economic and social development, and adapting to the changing environment under the pressure of continuous threats.
European states, both EU and non-EU ones, face many common security challenges such as terrorism, cyber threats, fake news, political and economic pressure, and military sabre-rattling. Given that military force is not often the most appropriate and effective way of addressing such hybrid threats, a resilience strategy can and should be deployed to strengthen the state’s capacity to deal with them.
Ukraine has become a testing ground for Russia’s unconventional tactics. It is also an easy target due to internal systemic weaknesses caused by corruption, dysfunctional institutions, and a fragmented civil society. By means of disinformation, operations of influence and subversion, Russia annexed Crimea without an open military intervention. It also localised a static, low-level conflict in eastern Ukraine, i.e. masked “People’s Republics’” puppet states as a product of civil war where Russia obscures its involvement to a secondary role.
Ukraine has become a testing ground for Russia’s unconventional tactics.
Following the annexation of Crimea, a Russian disinformation operation was launched to discredit the Ukrainian government and institutions in the eyes of the country’s citizens. At first, Ukraine faced significant difficulties in responding to the way Russia was challenging the perception of national identity, values, and history. More specifically, there was a dramatic shortage of the resources required to protect the country’s military, diplomatic, media and home fronts.
The most effective deterrent against hybrid threats proved to be societal resistance. A non-violent local civilian defence operation began. This included civilian groups debunking fake news with the extremely successful website StopFake, countering cyber-attacks, forming humanitarian aid volunteer groups, volunteer reform teams in government agencies and local councils, and volunteer civilian patrol and rescue teams.
Although this response had a positive impact, it was chaotic and needs sustained support to become part of a resilience strategy facing a continuous level of threat. The key to developing an effective strategy is to rethink the nature of the threat and decentralise the response to the level of communities and individuals.
A bottom up approach to resilience
If we understand hybrid warfare as a complex set of interconnected threats and forceful means waged to further political motives we no longer limit threats to traditional kinetic operations. In fact, hybrid threats have made traditional state borders irrelevant. It is no longer only the protection of borders that guarantees a nation’s security but also its home front.
To fortify the home front, European states need to challenge the traditional top-down institutional approach towards security and development planning. The Ukrainian experience illustrates the difficulties in making domestic resilience work in practice.
Engagement between government institutions and civil society remained inefficient, creating gaps between the needs and the expectations of the population on the one hand, and the capacities and resources of the authorities on the other hand. Those gaps indicated the state of resilience as well as the areas vulnerable to hybrid attacks.
National resilience is a continuous process of developing and improving knowledge of the changing needs and security threats on local and national levels.
The nexus between national security and resilience is rooted in individuals’ attitudes toward leadership and institutions. To operationalise resilience, it is necessary to monitor levels of trust and preparedness as key indicators of existing gaps between the population, civil society and government institutions.
The EU’s Global Strategy correctly points out that “when the ‘centre’ is broken, acting only from top-down has a limited impact.” It is much more difficult for an external force to disrupt personal and organisational networks built by both the private and public sector. This reality is what makes bottom up organisations key factors in enhancing resilience.
The way forward
National resilience is a continuous process of developing and improving knowledge of the changing needs and security threats on local and national levels. The EU’s objective to help states and societies build their resilience is limited to financial and knowledge transfers (monitoring, training, advising).
To guarantee local ownership, the EU should engage at the level of an actor’s capabilities. However, this creates practical challenges. In reality, resilience building means going to distant regions of the EU’s partner countries such as eastern Ukraine. The cities of Kramators’k, Sieverodonets’k, and Mariupil are at the heart of an effort to build effective resilience against disinformation and military attacks. It is clear that an effective EU response would require facilitating partnership between the state and civil society in local communities.
Such ambition should be met with clear understanding how to choose the local partners and monitor fund distribution. All investments should come with the tag of local ownership and responsibility. Aside from all of these challenges, the EU’s presence in Ukrainian communities would allow its member states to learn on the ground the most practical tools to counteract hybrid threats and improve national resilience in their home countries.Anna Bulakh Defence Eastern Europe EU-Russia Security
Operationalising resilience: an example from Ukraine
21 Nov 2017
2017 marks the 70th Anniversary of the Marshall Plan as well as the centenary of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. For Lithuania, virtually the whole of the 20th century was overshadowed by developments in the East – the Bolshevik revolution, the rise of the Soviet Union and subsequent half-a-century-long Soviet occupation since 1940.
Left on the other side of the Iron Curtain, Lithuania could not enjoy direct benefits from the Marshall Plan. However, because of the Marshall Plan, the EU and NATO were born, and that is what gave us freedom. Both anniversaries provide a good opportunity to look into a broader historical and future perspective.
Why are we drawing parallels between 1947 and 2017? Because nowadays, as back then in 1947, we face the very same problem – Russia/Soviet Union and its development, which is still very much influenced by the events of 1917.
However, because of the Marshall Plan, the EU and NATO were born, and that is what gave us freedom.
In 1947 George Marshall became concerned that Stalin would be able to establish his political dominance in Western Europe, where people were suffering due to the collapse of their economies, destroyed by World War II. It was known that local Communist Parties in France and Italy, following political directives from the Kremlin, were ready to exploit the dissatisfaction of the people to win political domination in those Western European countries.
In 2017 we are concerned that in Ukraine Putin may come back with a re-establishment of political domination over the whole country, where the dissatisfaction of the people is a natural consequence of deep and painful reforms, of weak economic recovery and of prolonged war in the Eastern part of Ukraine, initiated and supported by the Kremlin.
It is not only the future of Ukraine, not only the security of our region, but also the future of Russia itself and the long-term relationship between Russia and Europe that we need to be worried about. We need to remember that in the 20th century Europe suffered because of two tectonic conflicts: the ‘Germany–France’ conflict and the ‘Russia/Soviet Union – continental Europe’ conflict.
The main goals of the Marshall Plan in 1947 were:
- recovery of Western Europe in order to prevent Stalin to succeed in establishing his political domination there
- a solution to the first European tectonic conflict – the one between Germany and France, with the beginning of European integration and the establishment of the Coal and Steel Community in 1951
The main goals of the Marshall Plan in 2017 should then be:
- recovery of Ukraine in order to prevent Putin to assert his political domination in the country
- a solution to the second European tectonic conflict – the one between Russia and continental Europe.
This can be achieved only if Russia transforms itself into a normal European country. Success in Ukraine is the single instrument available to the Western Community to encourage a positive transformation of Russia. The example of success in Ukraine would have a major impact on the opinion of ordinary Russians. Russia, therefore, should be surrounded by the ‘belt of success’ of the Eastern Partnership region, where Ukraine is the most important country.
Putin is fighting against the success of Ukraine, because it endangers his regime. He anticipates that painful reforms in Ukraine will overwhelm the Ukrainian people with dissatisfaction. In democratic elections, such frustration would bring into power political forces, which would abandon the implementation of necessary reforms. That would be a strategic victory for Putin, one which we cannot allow to happen.
How did we, in the Baltics, achiev our success without any kind of Marshall Plan? We were lucky, because soon after regaining our independence at the beginning of the 1990s, we were promised membership in the EU, conditional on implementing complex reforms. A clear membership perspective helped us to reach a national political consensus in Lithuania and kept alive our motivation for reforms. That is how our success was created.
Since World War II the Western Community has invented only two effective geopolitical instruments, which prevented Russia/Soviet Union from expanding its political influence on countries suffering immense economic challenges of recovery or transformation: it was the Marshall Plan in 1947 and the EU enlargement in the 1990s. For the time being, Ukraine cannot expect an invitation to join the EU. That is why we need a Marshall Plan for Ukraine.
We need to bring back the inspiration and wisdom of 1947.
The Marshall Plan for Ukraine would be a package of investment funds into the real economy of Ukraine, conditional on implementing reforms. Following the institutional example of the Marshall Plan 1947 – the European Reconstruction Agency – a similar agency should be created for Ukraine. Five billion USD annually are needed to bring the growth of GDP up to 6 – 8% in Ukraine. The EU External Investment Plan provides a real possibility for financing schemes of the Marshall Plan for Ukraine – it entails 88 billion USD until 2020.
A big part of this money from the External Investment Plan will be used to implement what the German Government calls ‘Marshall Plan with Africa’. We support this initiative and we hope that the similar idea of a ‘Marshall Plan for/with Ukraine’ will be supported by other countries. Our initiative gathers momentum, as the European People’s Party (EPP) in its Malta Congress expressed support for the Marshall Plan for Ukraine. Together with Ukrainians, we have already brought this initiative to Washington, and we shall go to Berlin and Brussels.
1947 and 2017 – a lot of similarities and similar challenges. We need to bring back the inspiration and wisdom of 1947: George F. Kennan’s deep understanding of why a ‘Russia Containment Strategy’ is needed; George Marshall’s boldness to propose a successful geopolitical initiative; the courage of Harry S. Truman and the leaders of Western Europe to take responsibility and confront Stalin with the Marshall Plan and defend Berlin during the blockade.
The same type of leadership and behavior is needed now – for the sake of lasting peace and stability in Europe through support of Ukraine in order to inspire transformation of Russia.Andrius Kubilius Baltic Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia
Marshall Plan: why we need it again in 2017
28 Jun 2017
Emmanuel Macron’s election to the French presidency has been welcomed as a ray of spring sunlight in the cloudy skies of Brussels. It is believed to be the first salvo of a mainstream counteroffensive against the insurgent forces of populism in Europe. Since his first visit to Berlin last May, Macron made it clear that his European ambitions pass through a revitalisation of the Franco-German relationship, long debilitated by the imbalance between the two historic partners.
In the short term, Macron’s relaunch of European integration pursues three objectives: the creation of common European rules on asylum, stronger reciprocity in trade with external partners and new rules to stop the ‘social dumping’ effect of posted workers from Central and Eastern Europe.
Although Macron’s rhetorical virtues managed to present this last demand as impeccably European, in practice it can only amount to further restrictions on the free movement of services and people, two fundamental EU freedoms much resented by French – and British – public opinion.
However, we should all wonder whether Macron’s success may not turn out to be as risky for the Union as his failure.
In the long term, the President wants a eurozone budget to promote investments, a eurozone finance minister to administer it and a eurozone parliament to legitimise both. These plans may require not only changes in the EU treaties, which the President has not excluded, but also in Germany’s constitution.
A credible French leader with an ambitious European agenda is surely good news for the old continent, whose unity has shown in recent years to be very fragile and in need of new safeguards. However, we should all wonder whether Macron’s success may not turn out to be as risky for the Union as his failure. There are two serious reasons to harbour such fears.
The first is the potentially divisive nature of many French ideas about the future of Europe. Two of them, a weak commitment to the free movement of services and people and a tendency to focus on integrating the eurozone without much attention to the interests of the euro-outs, are particularly problematic.
The former is an old thorn in France’s relationship with the EU, at least since the bogeyman of the ‘Polish plumber’ contributed to its rejection of the constitutional treaty in 2005. Since then, no pro-EU politician in the country has really been able to convincingly defend free movement without adding a plethora of qualifications about ‘social dumping’ and ‘fairness’ that are difficult to digest in Central and Eastern Europe. Emmanuel Macron is no exception here.
The latter stems from the French tradition of economic ‘dirigisme’, which makes the notion of a ‘depoliticized’ currency based on constitutional rules and market discipline incomprehensible to the French way of thinking. Hence the insistent demands for a ‘managed’ currency, one complemented by an economic government responsible for promoting investment and, in the long run, harmonizing social standards in order to prevent, once more, ‘social dumping’ and enforce ‘fair competition’.
Like it or not, Central and Eastern European countries instinctively distrust centralisation, dislike differentiated integration and are especially attached to the Single Market and its four freedoms.
Those are highly divisive ideas that will prove potentially difficult to reconcile with the pursuit of unity among the EU27 – not just the EU19 – after Brexit. Like it or not, Central and Eastern European countries instinctively distrust centralisation, dislike differentiated integration and are especially attached to the Single Market and its four freedoms.
The second reason is the geopolitical implications of France’s ambition to restore the Franco-German axis to its former role as the engine of European integration. French elites have gradually understood that there are structural reasons why Germany has come to play a more central role than France in Europe. Its good economic performance is one of them, and the economic and demographic consequences of reunification are another.
However, the main reason is the geopolitics of the 2004 enlargement: Germany is the pivotal player because it is the guarantor of Central and Eastern Europe’s participation in the European project and because the EU membership of this region has given it a much larger playing ground on which to build its coalitions. This was a momentous change from previous decades: as long as the European project was limited to a small group of Western and Southern European countries, France was inevitably the pivotal partner of Germany.
The most far-sighted French observers have long understood that the Eastern enlargement was bound to make France more marginal and Germany more pivotal in Europe. Mitterand, who was certainly one of them, tried to counter this tendency by proposing to include countries newly freed by the communist yoke in a broad confederation within which the European Community would have retained its inner balance.
Today the only way for France to regain its geopolitical centrality is for the European project to be recentered on its western and southern core. This is well captured by Macron’s plans on the future of Europe, which de facto amounts to de-emphasising the single market, limiting free movement, and investing much political capital on integrating the euro zone.
The most far-sighted French observers have long understood that the Eastern enlargement was bound to make France more marginal and Germany more pivotal in Europe.
If French demands are taken up by Germany, the risk is that the project will tacitly refocus in a direction that weakens, not strengthens continental unity. Germany’s historic mission is to lead the continent towards a model of unity that is sustainable and acceptable to everyone. The adoption of Macron’s agenda implies the exact opposite.Federico Ottavio Reho Eastern Europe Enlargment EU Member States European Union Leadership
Federico Ottavio Reho
Macron’s vision will split the EU, not unite it
08 Jun 2017
In the EU we have the luxury of reflecting upon if we would rather have a one-speed or two-speed Europe, we complain that governments do not do this and the EU does not do that. We take our democratic rights seriously every four years when we go to elections.
If we are really pissed off, we vote for someone who appears to be fresh and critical of the non-performing political mainstream. Someone like a populist, for example. And then we go back to our day-to-day lives.
Maybe lash out some discontent on Facebook, Twitter or, exceptionally, in a critical blog post. You could call this hamster-wheel democracy: it takes some steam out of the system, but nothing much changes. There are places in Europe that do not have this luxury.
Say you want a revolution?
Ukraine is the only former communist country that had not one, not two, but three major civil uprisings, in 1990, 2004 and 2013. What people have learned from these repetitive revolutions is that it does not suffice to go on the streets and achieve political change.
They have found out – the hard way – that things also need to happen after revolutions. There needs to be a follow-up after each revolution: improvements, modernization, reforms. In a word, real change.
The revolution taking place in Ukraine today is not on the streets. It takes place on the internet and on the social networks (real and digital) that civil society is weaving.
Ukrainians have been seeing failure in the running of the country top-down, both during communism and during post-communist democracy. The first failed spectacularly, the second only had mixed success.
Ukraine is the only former communist country that had not one, not two, but three major civil uprisings, in 1990, 2004 and 2013.
The long legacy of communism left the country with poorly performing public services – education, healthcare, public administration, justice, police, and the list can go on. Corruption – small and big – has always been a way to get things done.
Democracy made corruption worse. Communists had privileges without having to resort to corruption. Corruption of others in communist times was suppressed by secret and non-secret police.
After 1991, communist institutions failed to be transformed into inclusive institutions at the service of the citizen. Instead, extractive elements on every level were preserved, institutions and monopolies extracting profit enabled by their position of power.
Ukraine was failing to create an inclusive “infrastructure of opportunity” for all. This is why nations fail, Darren Acemoglu argues.
After Euromaidan, people are determined to change that; citizens even more so than the government. Coming from Slovenia where we are tired and depressed from not seeing reform, it was so refreshing to see many young people who were literally taking matters into their own hands. Not by becoming politicians, but by facilitating bottom-up policymaking and bottom-up state-building.
Reanimation of reform
An example of the first is the “Reanimation package of reform” movement that is basically doing the job of a reform ministry. It is similar to what I had in Slovenia in 2007-2008, or what the prime minister of Slovenia Mr. Pahor had in 2010, the “reform scoreboard”. They – civil society – are pushing for reforms and overseeing their progress: speaking to the Rada, lobbying the MPs, talking to the ministers.
This includes more than 80 NGOs, such as the Ukrainian Center for European Policy, Institute of World Policy, Europe without barriers, Civil society Institute, Anti-corruption Action Center and others.
Examples of bottom-up state-building are the numerous on-line services that civil society is developing on top of government open data. Some match and exceed the quality of similar services that are being created by bureaucracies in the West.
For example, the online service that makes spending from national budgets totally transparent, or applications which allow citizens to decide how to use parts of the city budget.
In some respects, Ukraine is a huge living lab of participatory democracy.
The first fights corruption, the second improves the management of local communities and makes sure that public money is invested where citizens consider it important.
But more importantly, such online services create commitment, a sense of belonging, ownership and improve the web of trust in a society. The thousands who participate in creating those services and the hundreds of thousands who are taking an active part in using them form a resilient social network, independent of potential hacking, control or censorship on mainstream social networks. These are the people who will go to the streets again if needs be to protect Ukrainian independence and democracy.
In some respects, Ukraine is a huge living lab of participatory democracy. And more: it is an example of participatory state-building. As should be the case after revolutions, the people are taking power.
From what I have seen it is not so much about taking power in Ukraine, but about doing the work for the country and building it again with the expertise of NGOs such as Center for Innovations Development of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Center for Democracy and Rule of Law and Easy Business and Center for Economic Strategy.
I find the very idea that people, freely collaborating on the internet, can come in and deliver where the state and its bureaucracy are failing, fascinating. It is not another Facebook or Twitter revolution. It is not the “click-tivism” of likes and retweets. It has serious elements of online bottom-up state-building.
If it succeeds, Ukraine will be a textbook case of what the Internet can do for democracy. As a believer in the positive effects of technology on society and as a believer in Ukraine, I do hope it succeeds.
It also puts Ukraine on the world map, not as a country that has the Сrimea and “coal and steel” problems with its big neighbor, but as a hub of technology for participatory democracy and know-how of civil-society-driven reforms.
This technology and the related social know-how is something we could use in the West as well – to take some wind out of the sail of the populists, for example.Žiga Turk Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia Technology
Ukraine’s quiet revolution
20 Apr 2017
The talk of a multi-speed EU has started in Europe. While no one knows what exactly is to be its scope, what it will precisely look like, we all know one thing: the EU cannot continue with business as usual. Because there will be no business as usual.
The EU needs to take serious decisions. It must respond to such challenges as Brexit, the new U.S. administration, the growing interest of Africans in Europe, but also to such threats as the rapidly arming China, the unhinged and nervous Russia, the growing autocracy in Turkey or the nationalism in the Western Balkans and, finally, also to the natural evolution – the globalisation and the advent of the fourth industrial revolution.
In addressing these key issues, the EU needs to stand united and be ready for action. Otherwise it will not be respected and will not have the strength to defend its values and to pursue its interests. The first clear signals suggesting that a multi-speed EU is a real alternative of the future direction of the EU have evoked varying reactions from the various countries.
Two big foursomes stand on two opposite poles: THE BIG FOUR (Germany, France, Italy and Spain) on the one, THE VISEGRAD FOUR on the other. While at the Versailles meeting the Big Four declared their unity in promoting the idea of a multi-speed Europe, the Visegrad Four countries became puzzled and have responded with verbal vacillations.
The clearest position was taken by Hungary, which is opposed to a multi-speed EU, while Slovakia wants to be in the first line of the accelerating Europe at any cost. I am convinced that a better and even existential choice for all the Visegrad Four countries is to stay in the group of countries that maintain the closest cooperation. To stay in the group of countries around the Big Four that will seek and enforce relevant solutions.
However, what I see as a problem is that when it will come to taking tough action, no one will have to ask us whether we want to play the highest European premier league or not. No one will be obliged to ask us whether we are strongly against or passionately for such action. It will be mainly our actions and our conduct that will speak for all of us. And, moreover, our ability and willingness to contribute to finding solutions and bearing the costs of their implementation.
In this regard, the Visegrad Four countries have certain problems. For instance, Slovakia under the government of Robert Fico appears to be much more a “centrifugal” component of the reunited Europe than a component that unites, cooperates and seeks mutually beneficial solutions. Fico’s reaction to mandatory quotas was at first understandable. They were adopted in a hasty manner, apparently without appropriate advance consultations, in a directive manner.
But there had been two problems right at the beginning: first, we failed to show at least an elementary understanding of the fact that immigration suddenly emerged as a critical problem for several countries (Greece, Italy and especially Germany) and, second, we have as yet offered no alternative to the solution advocated by Germany, France and the European institutions. Yet, in the second half of 2016, we held the presidency of the EU Council. Towards the end of that mandate we presented a chimera of “effective solidarity”, which was eventually ridiculed or not even noticed.
Let’s be honest and truthful with one another. The theme of immigration to Europe is probably the biggest challenge for the EU in the coming years or even decades. And it is not mainly about the war in Syria. Africa is a huge continent, and a number of its countries are plagued with hunger, as well as with violence and terrorism.
But it is a very populous continent with a high birth rate. In spite of economic and social hardships, mobile phones and social networks are reaching an ever growing number of inhabitants of African countries who are thus discovering prosperity lying not too far away from their homes. It is not difficult to solve this equation with the above parameters: the result will be further migration pressures on Europe in the coming years.
Because of its attitude and inability as well as unwillingness to contribute to solving this quintessential equation, Slovakia is slowly but surely gravitating towards the edge – an area of diminishing interest for those who bear the greatest burden. Fico offers a similar experience with Slovakia’s stance on Russia and its aggressive policy not only towards its neighbours but also towards the West.
Fico thinks that he is very smart when, regarding the decision to introduce or lift the sanctions against Russia, he says in Bratislava that the sanctions against Russia are stupid and should be lifted, but keeps silent when the actual decisions are taken at the Brussels summit, only to subsequently declare, “I oppose the sanctions, but I did not want to destroy the unity of the majority at the negotiations”.
It is possible that Fico lives in an illusion that he has satisfied both – his voters and Putin on the one side and those who are really concerned about or threatened by the aggressive regime of Vladimir Putin on the other side. But this is a deep mistake: it is well known in Berlin, in Paris, in Brussels and elsewhere that Fico has been a great help to Putin, breaks the unity of the EU, and distinctly weakens Putin’s respect for the West. By doing so, he increases Putin’s appetite. Fico’s actions strongly contribute to Vladimir Putin’s policy of divide et impera!
As regards the remaining Visegrad Four countries, they do not seem to be in the “centripetal” mood, either; rather the opposite. Hungary has announced the abandonment of liberal democracy and is looking for enemies also in academic institutions, such as the Central European University. Concerning anti-Russian sanctions, it holds the same position as Fico.
Since its last parliamentary elections, Poland keeps the European institutions busy with the review of the constitutionality of some of its steps, for instance in connection with appointments to the Constitutional Court. The most consolidated Visegrad Group country appears to be Czechia.
The European Union is harmed by the opportunism of some of its leaders. They say different things at home and in Brussels. They take credit for the successes, and put the blame for failures on Brussels. However, being a member of the EU and NATO, an ally to the others in the community of Western countries, means not only the right to jointly enjoy its advantages, but also the duty to jointly share and face the difficulties and costs.
It means to be responsive to the problems of the others. Even the biggest and the most powerful ones face problems from time to time. If we betray them at such time, we lose the allies. I am overwhelmed by such feelings at this very time.Mikuláš Dzurinda Democracy Eastern Europe European Union
The Visegrad four group gravitates towards the edge
07 Apr 2017
The EU has been paying increasing attention to the phenomenon of information warfare. However, this has not gone as far as to penetrate the fog of disinformation surrounding the motherland to investigate how the Kremlin’s propaganda machine operates in Russia itself.
The Kremlin uses internal propaganda both to maintain legitimacy and as a defence mechanism against the outside world. By drawing attention away from domestic problems and creating an environment of fear and impending doom, it portrays an alternative reality in which Russia is surrounded by mythical enemies.
The EU is portrayed as an aggressive and expansionist entity that wants to destroy Russia, while at the same time it is depicted as a weak, ‘decadent’ and ‘un-Christian’ union that cannot cope with global challenges.
On the other hand, the Kremlin’s main caveat in doing so, is that Russia’s success is inherently connected with the failure of the West and democracy.
This paper scrutinises the Kremlin’s propaganda machine and its popular narratives about the EU in order to understand how Russia’s media presents the EU and why less than a quarter of the population has a positive opinion of it.Eastern Europe European Union Foreign Policy
How We Have Become an Enemy in the Eyes of Russia: The EU as Portrayed by Kremlin Propaganda
21 Mar 2017
In December 2014 under the leadership of Mikuláš Dzurinda, president of the Martens Centre, former prime minister of Slovakia and successful country reformer, we launched the #UkraineReforms programme to bring together the expertise of senior EU decision-makers in support of the reform process in Ukraine. This transfer of experience is organised through public events, town-hall style meetings, TV debates, online articles and interviews held in Kyiv and other major Ukrainian cities. The initiative is supported by local partners including Ukrainian NGOs Reanimation Package for Reforms and Stronger Together, as well as the Kyiv School of Economics. By the end of 2016 the programme presented over 20 activities, 18 high-level visits in Ukraine in 7 different cities, around 70 meetings and lectures and over 40 media interviews. This brochure gives an overview of the project’s milestones and achievements following 2 successful years of expert visits and exchanges.Eastern Europe Economy Leadership Macroeconomics
Ukraine Reforms: milestones and achievements
01 Feb 2017
“We don’t understand one another, we don’t trust each other, but we are at least able to meet.”
This was one of the most memorable quotes from last week’s meeting of the Normandy group consisting of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia. The group was established almost two years ago with the sole purpose to achieve a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.
The result of this initiative has been the Minsk II agreement replacing its younger predecessor, Minsk I, which had failed to stop the war. Unfortunately, there are sporadic mentions so far of its implementation. It is also a “known secret” that this agreement is considered to be more or less dead.
The main justification for this is the fact that Russia expects Ukraine to fulfil its part of the deal first: autonomy for Donbas under Ukrainian law, legitimisation of the local elections and transferring social security payments to rebel authorities.
The Kyiv government in turn rightfully points out that this can only happen after Russia has militarily withdrawn from Ukraine and government control of the border with Russia has been fully restored.
But even if the latter did happen, it looks unlikely that Russia is going to reciprocate. To make things worse, the reality on the ground is that of an open conflict which has so far claimed more than 10,000 victims and caused 2 million Ukrainians to be displaced.
Putin now enjoys a position he could not even dream of four years ago.
On one hand, any diplomatic initiative that could lead to the cessation of the armed conflict and the suffering of civilians should be praised. On the other hand, the time has come for a reckoning: should Russia be treated as a conflict party in the Normandy group (just like Ukraine and the rebels are) rather than an arbiter? In my and other experts’ opinion, Russia is an aggressor who triggered these clashes to 1. Prevent Ukraine from freely deciding to belong to the West and 2. To fuel unrest in Europe.
The outcome of the recent meeting and the adoption of the framework peace plan cannot give Ukrainians much cause for optimism. The adoption of the peace roadmap will essentially only replace the already adopted Minsk agreements. This means that the original process will be replaced with another one that will apparently have a similar format and cycle.
Notwithstanding speculation, it is still too early to evaluate the roadmap to be presented by November. Anyway, it is hard to imagine that the new format of negotiations will ensure peace in Donbas.
If anybody was satisfied leaving the Normandy group meeting, this was clearly Putin. He has again gained time by tying the resolution of the problem to a process that needs to start anew. Incidentally, it is noteworthy to mention that Putin now enjoys a position he could not even dream of four years ago: through his aggression against Ukraine, he has brought back the Cold War; from a fragile strategic partnership, Russia is once again a security challenge for Europe.
Furthermore, the migration crisis is helping Putin to forge stronger alliances with the far right in Europe, which is thriving on the issue. In Syria and elsewhere too, Russia keeps strengthening its military presence by supporting dictatorial regimes. Last, but not least, Putin has managed to intricate himself even in the US presidential campaign.
As for the EU and Ukraine, the situation will only get increasingly complex and confusing. It is thus high time for the EU to toughen up its policy towards Russia. Once and for all, Putin´s margin for manoeuvring in Europe must be curbed, and the problem must be passed on to his home field.
Putin´s margin for manoeuvring in Europe must be curbed.
This can only be achieved by taking a clear and unified stance, namely in the form of large-scale economic sanctions. Perhaps also the cutting of gas and oil deliveries from Russia should at least be debated. But many member states still shy away from this, particularly those which are the most affected by either the EU’s or Russia’s sanctions to date.
In my opinion, it is necessary to make Putin occupy his time with his own domestic problems which are bound to arise from such sanctions. This would make it more difficult for him to carry out his subversive activities on the different external fronts. As for Ukraine, civil war notwithstanding, the country needs to accelerate the reform process.
Also against the background of these developments, the recent EU summit was expected to take a stronger stance against Russia. Regrettably, EU leaders have only managed to express their concerns over the events in Syria and the growing Russian propaganda efforts throughout Europe. In a world ridden with war, at a time when the EU has a hard time figuring out which problems to solve first, this is simply not enough.
The fact that the summit was not able to adopt clearer conclusions demanding extensions of the sanctions demonstrates a serious lack of EU unity, an inability to close ranks especially after Brexit.
Meanwhile, Putin is pursuing his own efforts: the influence he has been exerting over certain European countries is beginning to bear fruit in the form of their vague positions on sanctions. These countries prefer to defend their economic interests instead of taking difficult strategic positions.
They should do it not only for the sake of Ukraine, of the residents of Aleppo, but also for the sake of the future of the EU.Viktória Jančošeková Eastern Europe EU-Russia Security
Minsk reloaded: why Putin’s Russia is winning and Europe is not
27 Oct 2016
The paper considers current political challenges encountered by Georgia and the geopolitical framework in which the EU-Georgia relationship develops. While Georgia is apparently better off on the democratic front, clouds are gathering again ahead of the forthcoming parliamentary elections — a possible game changer.
Economy remain sluggish, political landscape fragmented and unpredictable, and security concerns unabated. Plagued by a multitude of problems and challenges, the West’s interest in the country has been diminishing, while Russia is intensifying its propaganda machine and other dangerous tools at its disposal.
The EU can and should develop a more differentiated approach to the South Caucasus and the Eastern Neighbourhood — and Georgia, in particular— based less on geography and more on democratic achievements and strategic importance. It is also discussed what the EU and other actors such as EuEastern Europe Elections EU-Russia Foreign Policy Neighbourhood Policy
What the EU Can, May and Should Do to Support Georgia
30 Sep 2016
The latest coup attempt in Turkey came as a surprise both due to the baffling logic behind it and the awkwardness of its implementation. Of course, many reasons existed that made some in the army unhappy with Erdoğan. However, the leadership of the army had been already replaced with Erdoğan’s loyalists, while the population would not support a coup.
Many both within and outside Turkey disapprove of his authoritarian tendencies: the resumed war against the Kurds; his early support of Islamist rebels in Syria; the crackdown on democratic freedoms and free press; humiliating apology to Russia’s Putin after all previous sabre-rattling; and, finally, his desire to change the constitution aiming at super-presidency. However, Erdoğan still enjoys the support of about half of Turkey’s population, due to the prosperity he brought to many, his appeal to traditionalist feeling, clever populism and macho charisma.
Erdoğan, like many opportunistic rulers, is excellent at turning even the most unfavourable circumstances to his personal benefit. This pattern is being reiterated once again, as the coup is used as a pretext for doing whatever he intended to do anyway – pursuing a one-man rule by cleansing of all opposition. Still, the coup serves as a gloomy harbinger of future troubles, as Erdoğan tries to use these events to further strengthen his already formidable authority and clout. However, it is far from obvious that this will be equally beneficial for the country’s democratic future or even prosperity.
Indeed, the writing is on the wall for Turkey. Apart from the slowing of the Turkish economy, one may expect falling investment amid potential instability and civil strife, as well as scared-off tourist flows diverted to safer destinations. If capital punishment is introduced that will mean a long-term goodbye to European integration plans, while cooling relations with Europe will hurt both trade and the international standing of the country.
Immediately after the coup, Federica Mogherini explicitly warned Turkey that countries allowing the death penalty cannot join the EU. However, John Kerry’s warning sounded even more chilling – while America stands squarely on the side of the elected leadership in Turkey, NATO also has a requirement with respect to democracy. Now, if Turkey’s government is ready to drop the Western support and its European aspiration, and even risk losing its NATO membership, it is difficult to imagine any bright future either for the country or its leadership.
Now one may look at all of this from a totally different, Caucasian perspective. Turkey is one of the key actors in the South Caucasus, and either its weakening or its alienation from the West may damage the currently existing fragile balance and bring around instability, along with strengthening the Russian dominance. After the attempted coup, Erdoğan has applied efforts to restore ties between Turkey and Russia, and such rapprochement may even lead to Turkey’s political realignment.
Erdoğan’s actions have caused strong criticism from Turkey’s NATO allies for the unproportional crackdown on alleged opponents, while Turkey in its turn has praised Russia for its support since, and Erdogan will visit Russia on 9 August, which now, according to Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek “isn’t just our close and friendly neighbor, but also a strategic partner”. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in his turn stated, that Turkey receive “unconditional support” from Russia over the coup attempt, while anti-U.S. sentiment was rising in the country.
There is one more important development in the Turkey-Russia relationship: beyond lifting all anti-Turkish sanctions introduced after the downing of the Russian military aircraft in Syria, Russian officials started talking about the revival of the South Stream gas pipeline project, which may negatively influence alternative energy projects involving Azerbaijan and Georgia. No doubt such changes may indeed endanger the big-scale projects aiming to bring Caspian gas and oil to the West, with Georgia serving as an important transit hub.
Some other developments related to events in Turkey can already be expected in the South Caucasus. Turkey’s weakened geopolitical weight or its geopolitical realignment may in turn lead to the dangerous weakening of Azerbaijan’s position vis-à-vis Armenia regarding the Mountainous Karabakh issue and may bring back the flaring of hostilities if not full-blown war.
Immediately after the coup, Azerbaijan’s president Aliev sent a letter of unequivocal support to Erdogan, but other developments are even more expressive. Already on July 20, Azerbaijan’s Education Ministry announced that an allegedly Gülen-affiliated Qafqas University in Baku has been closed down, and more action along the same lines is expected, as Gülenists have been actively supporting educational institutions both in Azerbaijan and in Georgia.
But the repercussions of the Turkish coup may go even further, both in reality and in public perception. Even the timing of the recent hostage-taking and violence in Armenia’s capital Yerevan has been paradoxically linked by some observers to developments in Turkey. While in the case of Georgia Turkey can hardly be seen as an important military factor, Turkey’s weakening and the total regional domination of Russia hardly gives grounds for expecting anything good for Georgia’s pro-western aspirations and security.
On the whole, the recent developments in Turkey give cause for concern and illustrate that the future of the region remains in limbo.Teona Lavrelashvili Defence Democracy Eastern Europe Foreign Policy Security
A failed coup in Turkey and its possible repercussions: the view from the Caucasus
28 Jul 2016
This paper sheds light on organisations operating in Europe that are funded by the Russian government, whether officially or unofficially. These include government-organised non-governmental organisations (GONGOs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and think tanks.
Their goal is to shift European public opinion towards a positive view of Russian politics and policies, and towards respect for its great power ambitions. In light of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine, the overt or covert support for these organisations must become a matter of concern to the EU.
The EU’s politicians and citizens should look at the activities of the Russian GONGOs and think tanks as challenges that can help improve national and EU-level decision-making mechanisms, increase transparency in policymaking and deepen the involvement of citizens and civil society organisations in the democratic process.
The paper recommends, among other measures, fostering the EU’s own narrative, which is based on human rights, freedom and equality; supporting pro-democratic civil society so that Europeans become more resistant to Russian propaganda; and increasing transparency requirements for NGOs and lobbyists by setting up a mandatory lobbying register at the EU level.
The Bear in Sheep’s Clothing: Russia’s Government-Funded Organisations in the EU
20 Jul 2016
Everyone has the feeling that the UK referendum on EU membership was more than just merely a referendum. In search of the way out from what is now seen by many as a disaster, possible scenarios have been become blurred amid diverse and sometimes wild speculations, including the reversal of an actual Brexit process, dismantling the EU via ‘referenda spill-over’ by political extremists, equipping NATO with a new ‘European role’, among a multitude of other prospects.
Still, one thing is clear – the referendum has already profoundly affected the world’s political landscape, including that of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries, which are analysed much less in relation to the mess created by a potential Brexit. So how has the referendum influenced developments in EaP countries Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia?
First, the EU now even more dominated by the rather asymmetric German-French leadership will most probably demonstrate more caution regarding any radical change of the status quo. It will have less enthusiasm on enlargement and greater engagement with the Eastern neighbourhood. Populists play not only with the fear of migration, but also enlargement.
Furthermore, the new security strategy of the EU simply pays lip service to the notion of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). An astute eye can see in this that the Union has given up on the application of its transformative and democratising effort, and instead opts to increasingly rely on the resilience of the EaP countries. In other words – they have to take care of themselves.
Second, despite Putin’s denial that he had nothing to do with the results of the Brexit referendum, hardly accepted for face value by anyone after so many lies and deceptions, there is little doubt that, whether genuine or opportunist, Russophiles gloated over the referendum’s outcome. The leverage of pro-Russian forces is also expected to rise in Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia, as the EU’s soft power is weakened.
In the case of Georgia this would also mean the strengthening of pro-Russian parties, for Ukraine this would mean strong disappointment on part of the public who would realise there is now even less probability of the full implementation of the Minsk Agreement, not to mention the return of Crimea; Moldova most probably will intensify its ‘normalisation’ process with Russia in reality leading to rapprochement, as the country is in urgent need of financial support.
Third, Britain’s departure will not be a zero-sum game but will mean an essential economic loss for both the EU and the UK. Financial resources at the disposal of the EU will diminish, therefore the Union will have to reconsider the scale of financial support to the EaP countries. The remaining 27 countries will be more cautious if not parsimonious in spending money for such programmes, and sooner or later EU development cooperation instruments for the EaP will be revisited and revised, although most probably not towards an increase.
Fourth – the security of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia will become an issue. Brexit implies the loss of EU credibility in particular in the eyes of its neighbourhood, but also the reduction of its influence and leverage. Therefore a feeling of insecurity will rise among these EaP countries, which host an unfortunate burden of frozen conflicts, such as Transnistria (Moldovan territory – a self-declared state at the Ukrainian border), Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Georgian territories occupied and recognised by Russia) and Crimea – relatively new but not the final adventure of Russia.
On all these conflicts where Russia has her grip, this is expected now to tighten further, in addition to testing NATO’s vulnerable points and resolve in other places.
Finally, the Brexit referendum has put a big question mark on the political rationale and attractiveness of democratic transition and the Europeanisation process in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. The rivalry between the modernisers still believing in the European model, and the traditionalists and pro-Russian reactionaries pointing toward the failure of the European project, might turn dangerous.
However, in the case of the three EaP countries the situation may become even worse due to the deeply rooted mistrust toward the political class and massive anti-western propaganda that has now gained the new fodder with the Brexit.
While being in the middle of democratic transition, if they feel that the EU has given up on its transformative power and withdrawn, this may unleash an unhappy scenario when Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia might find themselves abandoned in the ‘middle of nowhere’, while under the permanent threat and pressure for the resurgent and increasingly imperialist Russia.
To sum up, the Brexit scenario, even before it happens, may damage and hurt the three aspiring pro-western states in the Eastern Neighbourhood, leaving them more insecure, with less support, and even worse, with less public enthusiasm to continue to move along the path of Europeanisation.
This will have a rather negative impact on both their internal policies in these countries, weakening the appeal of democratic, free-market, European model of development, and on the other hand, on their foreign policies, as they will have to look for ways of how to deal with the existential threats emanating from Russia.
The only hope is that on one hand a reformed EU will still care to help its eastern neighbours; and on the other, that the US and NATO, as well as the UK (whether within or without of the EU) will do their best to compensate for potential losses in terms of support and security.Teona Lavrelashvili Brexit Eastern Europe Enlargment Neighbourhood Policy
Brexit: five ways it might affect the Eastern Partnership countries
12 Jul 2016
Ukraine is currently undergoing one of the most decisive phases since its independence. It has to both contain the Russian aggression in Donbas and deal with the consequences of the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
This requires substantial effort and resources, which Ukraine is lacking. At the same time, it is also undergoing a deep and comprehensive transformation process in order to have a chance of firmly standing on its own feet. The struggle for security (survival) and the future (development) is continuing in parallel.
The article argues that the Minsk II agreements are unlikely to be implemented in the foreseeable future due to the political calculations of Russia, which is playing the blame game with Ukraine. The article also reasons that Ukraine has a unique window of opportunity to focus on reforms, thus building the pillars of its future strength, as it has been able to avoid the deterioration of the security situation in the east.
Read the full articlein the June 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Robert Golanski Eastern Europe EU-Russia Security
One year after Minsk II: consequences and progress
25 May 2016
The 2013–14 Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine created much admiration and hope among Ukrainians and the international audience. Both Ukrainian civil society and international partners have voiced their high expectations of the meaningful changes in the economy, the political system, and public institutions.
This paper argues that positive changes depend on a clear escape from the Soviet legacy, which provokes political populism and stalls reforms. Despite the immense challenges of the Russian military intervention and the declining economy, Ukraine has made progress with its ambitious reform agenda.
This paper discusses the achievements and setbacks in four policy areas: decentralisation, energy, the civil service and anti-corruption. It includes firm evidence that proves that the results of many of the reforms are already helping the Ukrainian economy to recover from the crisis.
In the long run, the success of a new prosperous and democratic Ukraine will depend on several components of the reform process: vision, leadership, communication, political consolidation and Ukrainian ownership.
The EU can and should help in this endeavour, but the national government must maintain the critical share of responsibility.Eastern Europe Economy Macroeconomics
No Illusions, No Regrets: The Current Struggle to Reform Ukraine
20 May 2016
Europe has gone through paramount difficulties and tragedies throughout the twentieth century, dealing with two world wars, the Holocaust, the existence of gulags and tens of millions of deaths. After the end of the Cold War, Europe stepped into the twenty-first century with faith in its guarantees of peaceful prospects. Unfortunately, recent years have demonstrated that these guarantees are not as reliable as previously thought.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has engaged in another aggressive foreign policy adventure, this time in Ukraine. This has brought back the nightmares of the twentieth century, prompting experts to discuss the possibility of a Third World War (Lucas 2015) and to portray the prospect of a nuclear conflict as entirely likely (Fisher 2015).
Intimidating as it may sound, this is the reality of the situation. The Western community cannot escape it by burying its head in the sand and shying away from openly responding to the pressing geopolitical questions at hand.
In this article I will briefly discuss the origins of the ‘Russian problem’ and its effects on the state’s foreign policy, describe the phase of development that Russia is currently undergoing, and provide the readers with guidelines on the actions that the Western community should take in order to help both Ukraine and Russia move forward successfully on the European path.
Read the full FREE article published in the December 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Andrius Kubilius Eastern Europe EU-Russia Neighbourhood Policy
A changed reality: EU and US role in the transformation of Ukraine and Russia
19 Nov 2015
Many Western politicians have drawn attention to the presence of Russian military equipment in the Donbass. NATO has released several satellite images depicting suspicious movements of the Russian army (RA) near the Ukrainian border and of border crossings of military equipment.
All of this is further confirmed by evidence that military equipment used only by the Russian Armed Forces is now in the hands of separatists and by developments in the battlefield, especially the surprising separatist counteroffensive at the beginning of August and September 2014.
In spite of the factual evidence, some European media consider the question of Russian intervention to be simply a matter of opinion. They approach the issue from this perspective, apparently in order to maintain as much objectivity as possible. This uncertainty on the part of the media is supported by public figures who reject the idea that Russia is involved in the conflict.
The end result of all this is that views on the issue are considered to be nothing more than personal opinions. The contradictions between the facts on the ground and media reporting prevent parts of European society from understanding what is happening in Ukraine.
As we see it, the situation in Ukraine must not be perceived as a matter of opinion. The public has a right to true and clear information and this is our contribution to providing it.
Using publicly available information, the paper provides irrefutable evidence that Russia has provided weapons to Ukrainian separatists and intervened in Ukraine. It is the presence of T-72B3 tanks, in particular, that proves beyond all doubt that the Russian military has intervened in Ukraine.Defence Eastern Europe EU-Russia Security
Caught in the Act: Proof of Russian Military Intervention in Ukraine
30 Jul 2015
On June 18th, the Ukrainian Parliament had the chance to decide on possible reforms of the legislation for local elections, which will be held next October. This strategic decision aims at strengthening decentralisation by introducing new election procedures and optimisation of local councils. As a result, the draft law has been accepted in the first reading, which parliament may then alter or amend. In doing so, however, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine has compromised its chance to implement a comprehensive, open, and inclusive reform of the law on local election.
According to the current law, half of the municipal rayon (district) and oblast (province) councils are elected by the proportional system, and the second half is decided in single-member constituencies. This system has continuously proven to be a breeding ground for the misuse of administrative resources[i], corruption and numerous manipulations. If you include elected representatives of all levels it totals 240, 000 people.
Mayors of large cities are currently elected by a ‘first past the post’ system allowing the use of political technologies like spreading votes among many candidates. An excellent example of this was the Kyiv election of 2006 when Leonid Chernovetskyi – famous for his singing, buying votes and corruption – was elected mayor: there were two centrist candidates fighting for the same electorate and each received 20-25% of the vote. But the winner was a third candidate, representing a populist party, who received 30% of the vote.
The coalition agreement of the majority in the Ukrainian Parliament, signed by five parties, contained electoral reform in the first half of 2015. It proposed the following:
The purely proportional method will apply in parliamentary and local elections, where votes will be cast for individual candidates and not political parties (this may mean that constituency lists will have to be introduced and constituencies will have to be redrawn). The majority system will only be maintained in the case of elections to village and city district councils. Mayors of big cities will be elected by an absolute majority.
Ukrainian parliamentarians had to choose between four proposals:
Proposal #1 – Initiated by Yulia Tymoshenko and the Batkivshchyna party, but the proposal was withdrawn on the voting day.
Proposal #2 – Drafted by Mykola Fedoruk from Popular Front.
Proposal #3 – Introduced by Cross-factional group of deputies and experts of Reanimation Package of Reforms[ii].
Proposal #4 – Proposed two hours before the deadline by some deputies from Liashko Radical Party and Petro Poroshenko Block.
During the ranking voting the fourth proposal got the most support and was adopted in the first reading. According to the proposal, mayors of cities with more than 90, 000 inhabitants are elected with an absolute majority which means elections with two rounds for such communities. Another positive achievement is optimisation of total number of elective representatives in local communities.
On the other hand it is not fully complying with the Coalition Agreement, in the way that it does not formalise a holding of local elections under a proportional voting system, and forbids self-nomination at some levels. In some way it creates quasi-majoritarian election system where parties assign candidates to districts. New system reintroduces bloc system, which is a step back according to experts of Reanimation package of reforms. Another negative change is the threshold of 5% for parties and 7% for blocs, which makes it almost impossible for new parties to rise. The authors call their proposal ‘an open-list proportional voting system’ – either by mistake or in order to manipulate public opinion. The results of election held under this system might discredit the election system, and the open-list proportional voting system, as well as the entire institute of local election.
The experts have already replied to this legislative initiative. They call for the inclusion of the following regulations into the draft law which is being finalized:
– to ban or strictly limit paid-for political advertising on radio and television, as well as outdoor political advertising;
– to create conditions for due participation of the internally displaced persons in the election;
– to make financing of election campaigns more transparent by publishing full financial reports both before and after election;
– to introduce effective mechanisms securing balanced representation of both women and men in the elective agencies;
The voted draft eliminates the existing parallel system for local council elections, which has been widely blamed for recurring irregularities in local elections and for a lack of representativeness in local councils. At the same time the law fails to introduce effective mechanisms to secure proper representation of women in the local councils, to make the funding of the election campaign more transparent, and to cut down the expenses of the parties and candidates for the election propaganda. The draft law includes no regulations to guarantee that internally displaced persons will have a possibility to vote at the election.
In any case, a significant effort will be needed to ensure voters understand how the new system works and how to fill out the ballot papers. Extensive training of election commissioners and observers will also be needed to ensure smooth implementation of the new system. Moreover, these changes will help to discipline voters to be more responsible in local elections, because they are not taken seriously when compared to the general election. The understanding of this responsibility by local communities for those whom they are electing is a precondition for decentralisation. If Kyiv made this step towards the strengthening of local self-government, it will support the ranks of Poroshenko and Yatseniuk and their parties which were depleted after the elections in November. Thus, the adoption of this proposal with the amendments mentioned above would be the best possible, but certainly not the best imaginable, result.
[i] The misuse of administrative resources is forcing state employees to vote for the ‘right’ candidate, using local budgets for election campaign etc.
[ii] The Reanimation Package of Reforms is an initiative of public activists, experts, and journalists who have teamed up to facilitate the implementation of reforms in the country.Viktor Artemenko Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia Foreign Policy
The battle for local democracy in Ukraine
30 Jun 2015
It is not easy to come to terms with the reality that Europe is once again facing an adversary at its borders. Making a shift in Europe’s policy towards Russia would be painful, with too many interests involved and too many years of demanding diplomatic work going to waste. However, the sooner Europe reconciles itself to the reality that Russia has been engaged in an undeclared war against the liberal values underpinning the peace and prosperity of Europe, the sooner it can find the right policy response.
Information warfare is an integral part of Putin’s assault on Europe. The scale and intensity of Russia’s information warfare capability has fully come to light in the country’s aggression against Ukraine. But, as this paper argues, these capabilities have been cultivated over many years and constitute an integral part of Russia’s new strategy for ‘hybrid’ or ‘non-linear’ warfare. This strategy uses military, criminal, intelligence, business, diplomatic, media, cyber and political techniques to achieve Russia’s goals.
This paper analyses the main elements of Russia’s vast, well-integrated and well-organised information warfare capabilities. It also deciphers the main messages of Russia’s propaganda machine in the West, concentrating on Russia’s efforts to undermine faith in liberal values and legitimise its claim to former constituent parts of the USSR. The paper examines how Russia is using its allies in European business and political circles to spread its message. It also provides recommendations for policymakers and nongovernmental actors, with a view to countering Russia’s propaganda. Europe is at war—an information war. Like any other war, this requires a defence strategy.
The West’s response to the Russian challenge should be better information, not more propaganda. Designing such a response will require developing delicately crafted policy options, constructing an appropriate institutional framework, allocating the necessary resources, and finding the right messages and messengers.Eastern Europe EU-Russia Foreign Policy
Muzzling the bear: Strategic Defence for Russia’s Undeclared Information War on Europe
16 Jun 2015
Ukraine is on the brink of financial collapse. It is not able to meet interest payments it is due to make this week. Its GDP fell by 6.8% last year and is liable to fall by an even greater extent this year. Meanwhile, it is having to defend itself against a neighbour which guaranteed its frontiers as recently as 1994.
Instead of stepping forward to help Ukraine financially, the EU and the United States are both leaving the job to the IMF. The IMF is offering Ukraine $40 billion, whereas the EU says it can only manage $2 billion. The European Union has already extended forty times as much credit to Greece as it has given to Ukraine, whose population is four times that of Greece. If this ratio reflects the EU’s real priority, it is unbalanced.
GDP per head in Greece is, after all, about three times that of Ukraine. Like Greece, Ukraine has a lot to do to create a functioning and efficient legal and administrative system, stamp out corruption, and collect taxes fully and fairly. But Ukraine is having to do this while recovering from the effects of a Communist system which was imposed on it from outside since 1919, whereas Greece has been the democratic shaper of its own policies for many years.
Greece is, of course, in the EU and the eurozone, while Ukraine is not. However, both are in Europe and both aspire to a democratic European future.
Furthermore, Ukraine had it borders guaranteed in the Budapest declaration of 1994 by EU countries, including Britain and France, and by Russia and the US, in return for Ukraine giving up nuclear weapons. Despite this, Ukraine was invaded and a portion of its territory annexed by one of its guarantors, Russia, because Ukraine wanted to make a modest cooperation agreement with the EU.
Notwithstanding that, the EU is now being stingy in helping Ukraine in its financial crisis, and is fixated instead on the drama in Athens.
Ukrainians believe they have a European destiny, and are prepared to die for it.
The Russian leadership, on the other hand, believes that Ukraine, with its Russian speaking minority, is in their sphere of influence, and sees a link up of Ukraine with the EU as a form of foreign interference in their backyard. One would have to respond that this view is not in accord with Russia’s guarantee to Ukraine of 1994, nor with international law.
The entire post World War Two European security order rests on the acceptance of international law. Similarly, any prospect of voluntary nuclear disarmament in future must depend on solemn obligations, like the Budapest commitment given to Ukraine in 1994 being seen to be honoured.
In Ukraine’s case, all the EU is expected to do is provide financial help. But if Ukraine falls, the Russian threat may move on to other countries, with Russian speaking minorities, like Latvia and Estonia, which are NATO members and to whom most EU countries (not Ireland) have a solemn, Treaty-based obligation to provide military help if their territory is threatened.
Meanwhile, the Greek government, while looking for new loans and debt write-offs from the EU, is ostentatiously aligning itself to the very country that has invaded Ukraine, Russia. It is looking for more credit from the EU, without implementing reforms that would generate long term growth, which would enable those loans to be repaid.
In contrast, the new Ukrainian government is implementing painful reforms to increase the growth potential of its economy, for example by eliminating inefficient consumption subsidies, which have quadrupled gas prices paid by Ukrainian households. Parts of its reform programme are being delayed in its parliament by opposition figures like Julia Timoshenko, once the darling of the Western media and still part of the EPP family to which Fine Gael and the German CDU belong.
Ukraine’s financial situation is now so critical that President Putin believes that all he has to do is sit and wait, and Ukraine will collapse back into Russian control simply because, in the absence of large western credits, it will run out of money.
If this happens, and if the EU continues to do little or nothing to stop it beyond talk, that will deal a huge blow of confidence in the EU’s ability to defend its values and help its friends. Other countries on Russia’s perimeter will they too feel that they have to make a deal with Putin rather than rely on the EU.
In Ukraine’s case, European countries do not have a Treaty obligation to give military help. But, in their own interest, they should give generous financial help to ensure that a success in Ukraine does not embolden Russia to undermine countries like Latvia and Estonia, which also have Russian speaking minorities (but where most European countries do have a Treaty based military obligations to help).
When questioned in a recent Pew poll as to whether they would be willing to use force to defend another neighbouring NATO country that found itself in conflict with Russia, 51% of Italians, 53% of French and 58% of Germans answered that they would not.
If that frightful dilemma is to be avoided, it would be wise for Europeans to draw the line in Ukraine now by providing the country with enough financial help to build a properly functioning state that can pay its way and look after itself, as well as be capable on its own to resist intimidation from its big neighbour.John Bruton Crisis Defence Eastern Europe EU-Russia
Ukraine and Greece: Has Europe set its priorities right?
15 Jun 2015
Ukraine and its people are facing a very tough period in their history. We all know that Ukraine needs not only monetary but also political and moral support. That is why I decided, together with three friends, including two members of the European Parliament, to take part in the Kyiv half marathon. They agreed with me that you do not need a reason to run, but it is great to have a cause to run for, and joined the team. What do marathon running and implementing reforms have in common? For starters, they both include a long and arduous journey in which you will run into difficulties. You may even feel pain at times, but nothing compares to the feeling one has when crossing the finish line.
That was the key message of our ‘Run for Ukraine’ campaign: we wanted to express our solidarity and to inspire the brave Ukrainian people to bear with the pain of reforms so that they can soon feel the rewarding feeling of crossing the finish line.
This was a unique opportunity for all of us to meet people in the marathon and exchange views: they told me that every year as the marathon movement becomes more popular, it is becoming part of their everyday life and culture. It is important to understand that our routine too is a marathon of fighting bad habits and each time you win, it makes you stronger, because when you are committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.
Last year, together with my friends and colleagues from the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies we decided to start a big project entitled ‘Ukraine Reforms’. I visited Ukraine in December and talked to students, young people, business representatives, and media. I explained them why reforms are needed. After my visit, Ivan Miklos, former deputy Prime minister of Slovakia, also visited Kyiv to discuss macroeconomic reforms. Now he is an advisor to the Ukrainian Minister for Finance and to the Minister for Economic Development and Trade.
In February, former Prime Minister of Lithuania Andrius Kubilius visited Kyiv and also Dnipropetrovsk as part of the project. Last week, Janez Jansa, former Prime Minister of Slovenia visited Odessa and Kyiv. He held discussions about security and defence, an area he knows well since his time in office as Defence Minister in the first Slovenian democratic government. Under Communist rule, he had been a dissident and fought for the freedom of his country.
In May, two friends of mine, Jan Bielecki and Leszek Balcerowicz, accomplished Polish politicians, will visit Ukraine. They can be described as the architects of the first model for the transition from communism to a market economy. I am looking forward to see the results of their exchange of expertise on the ground.
Reform in Ukraine today should be comprehensive. I would say the three major reforms include the tax system, the labour market and public administration, with a profound decentralisation of power. Having had the opportunity to speak to diverse and local communities, I saw that the people of Ukraine have the determination and commitment required for them to push through these difficult times.
I hope that the advice and expertise of the team of reformers we assembled under the umbrella of the ‘Ukraine Reforms’ project will make a positive contribution. Their journey now is a marathon of reforms: Ukrainians have a long way to go and are sure to stumble over difficulties but their will is strong. Nevertheless, I believe that, together, we will make it to the finish line.Mikuláš Dzurinda Eastern Europe Leadership Values
Committed to reforms
04 May 2015
On 26 April 2015, former prime minister of Slovakia Mikuláš Dzurinda will be taking part in the Kyiv Half Marathon. He will be leading a team of runners including members of the European Parliament Dita Charanzova (Czech Republic), Ivan Štefanec (Slovakia) and Roman Babjak, European Commission Programme Manager. Under the slogan ‘Run for Ukraine’, the team led by Mikuláš Dzurinda wants to send a clear signal that responsible European leaders have a moral obligation to show solidarity with Ukraine during the comprehensive reform process the country has embarked on.
‘This is a deeply symbolic act to show our support and solidarity with the Ukrainian people. I see many similarities between running a marathon and implementing reforms: both require long-term commitment, they can be painful at times, but nothing compares to the rewarding feeling of crossing the finish line. And they both require team effort’, said Mikuláš Dzurinda, who is currently President of think tank and political foundation Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, based in Brussels.
‘Run for Ukraine’ is part of the ‘Ukraine Reforms’ campaign, an initiative of the Martens Centre led by its President Mikuláš Dzurinda to bring together the expertise of senior EU decision makers in support of the reform process in Ukraine. The initiative is supported by local partners including Ukrainian NGOs Reanimation Package for Reforms and Center UA, as well as the Kiev School of Economics.
The Kyiv Half Marathon is an annual international sports event which aims to promote a healthy lifestyle and to consolidate Ukraine’s position on the international marathon circuit. For the 2015 edition, organisers are expecting more than 6,000 participants to tackle the 20km run.
Mikuláš Dzurinda is the former prime minister of Slovakia (1998-2006) and current President of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies. Previously, he has held various positions in government since first entering politics in 1990. Dzurinda introduced far-reaching reforms which have enabled Slovakia to successfully join the EU and NATO. In his free time, he is also a committed marathon runner with notable achievements. In November 2001 he took part in the famous New York Marathon to show solidarity with the American people following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.Democracy Development Eastern Europe Economy
Mikuláš Dzurinda runs Kyiv half marathon in show of support for Ukraine
20 Apr 2015
The ceasefire negotiated in Minsk last week by the leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine (with delegates from the Separatists) is supposed to end the fighting, it fixes the ‘line of contact’ along the old one of the Minsk I agreement of September 2014, postulates the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line, assures administrative decentralisation and Ukrainian government control of the border with Russia, and calls for the withdrawal of all foreign troops.
But we can safely predict that a sizeable part of these conditions will not be met, above all by Russia and the separatists. That is because it is obviously in the interest of the Russian government to destabilise Ukraine and try to prevent a successful transformation of Ukraine into a free and prosperous country with the rule of law. Hence, the confrontation with Russia will continue, and last week has shown that the United States is an indispensable strategic partner for Europe when our most vital interests are concerned.
IN FOCUS is a new series of commentaries in which the Martens Centre looks closely at current policy topics, dissects the available evidence and challenges prevailing opinions.Defence Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia Security
Ukraine after Minsk II: The military situation on the ground
13 Feb 2015
Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatseniuk, along with a number of ministers, came to Brussels this week for talks about ongoing reforms in Ukraine, the Association Agreement and the security situation. Ukraine now has a new parliamentary coalition and therefore, a new government. Hopefully, we will now see real reform.
But the long process of negotiation between the parliamentary elections on 26 October and the actual appointment of ministers has left many with a somewhat ambiguous impression. Before anyone actually started to get to work, the whole process became mired in intrigue. All of us remember 2005 and the ensuing unraveling of the Orange Revolution. Nobody wants to see that story repeated.
Before the election, President Poroshenko had hoped that he would be able to nominate a government of his choosing. But that became impossible with the unexpectedly high electoral support for “Narodnyi Front”. Its leaders, Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Oleksandr Turchynov, led Ukraine through the complicated period of spring 2014 and their party has thereby gained a degree of national sympathy.
The composition of Poroshenko’s political group was not helpful for the President. The “Poroshenko Bloc” contained a number of candidates of a less than savory variety. Poroshenko’s triumphant presidential campaign before 26 May also appears to have bred a sense of complacency and inertia. While Ukrainian society has changed rapidly, politicians have simply not caught up.
A similar complacency could yet come to haunt Arseniy Yatsenyuk. He received the trust of the people and must not squander it. It is integral that he repays this trust with action beyond mere public criticism of his government partners.
Raised in an environment of endless talk shows, Ukrainian politicians appreciate the media component of their work too much, assuming a good speech on television to be more important than dozens of specific actions. We are living in an information era where the appearance of action without substance becomes a more and more difficult juggling act by the day.
Last week, the Ukrainian Prime Minister presented a governmental action programme which aroused a lot of discussion in Ukrainian society and within the coalition itself. The programme was eventually changed with the addition of one significant sentence: the current coalition agreement was identified as an integral part of the governmental action programme. Why this detailed agenda of reforms and legislative initiatives designed by politicians and civil society representatives together was not deemed a sufficient action plan for government in its own right is anyone’s guess. We are now left with numerous contradictions between the Government’s plan and Coalition agreement with no agreed method for resolving them.
Successful reform requires not only good law but also effective implementation. Here are some of areas of reform identified in the Coalition agreement:
– Constitution: A proper political framework of checks and balances cannot be designed by one of branches of power, so a Constitutional Assembly should be created. According to the Agreement, a special working group in the Parliament will select delegates to constitute the Assembly.
– Anticorruption: So far anticorruption is the brightest example of reform in Ukraine. The October 5 anti-corruption law has been adopted by the Parliament. The creation of a register of real estate owners allows for the tracking of those who bought “New Mezhyhirya” and for questioning of suspicious landlords. It is a great success for the Minister for Justice. Beneficial owners legislation is another triumph, it allows for finding the ultimate holders and those who legally or illegally profit the most.
– Judicial: The “On restoration of confidence in the judiciary” law obligates checks on the general jurisdiction of judges and the prosecution of those who violated the oath or committed a criminal crime. In addition, a new law on prosecution has to change the paradigm of this institution from civil surveillance to actual prosecution. Those two laws have been adopted but they met natural resistance from the whole Court and Prosecutor system.
– Decentralisation and public administration: The main challenges faced by decentralisation are efficiency and authority. Hanna Hopko, a newly elected deputy registered a project of law that promotes quality deputies and leads to the cutting of unnecessary costs in the maintenance of local councils. The next step is to make amendments to the Constitution to steer duties from Kyiv to local and regional communities and it should be done before the New Year. This reform will boost the real transformation from a post-soviet to a democratic state.
– Economic development and growth
– Regulation, Business and competition
– Financial sector
The real indicator of reforms in economic and financial sector is the Budget 2015. When the Government presents it we will see what rule-set the Prime Minister has chosen: the old (crisis) or the new (reforms).
The previous Yatsenyuk government is not remembered for reformist solutions even within the government and administration itself. And Yatsenyuk, despite loud statements of his willingness to sacrifice his career, seeks to share responsibility for unpopular decisions with other political forces. Maybe he believes that will help him to become President himself one day. In other circumstances, this could be understandable. After the killing on Maidan in February and amidst a drawn out war in the East – it is not.
Yesterday Petro Poroshenko has appointed Oleksandr Turchynov as a Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council. The president wanted to send a clear signal that there will be no war between him and Yatsenyuk. His signals are transparent. Turchinov is a bridge in relations between Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk, a sign of mutual trust. Poroshenko gave a member of Yatseniuk’s team a position in his territory. This move shows understanding from the President that Ukraine’s future depends the Parliament and the President working together.
In general, the Governmental programme in concert with the Coalition agreement look promising; let’s see if there is enough political will to make it happen.Viktor Artemenko Democracy Eastern Europe Enlargment
Ukraine’s Reforms: Real or Fake?
17 Dec 2014
“Mantra” (Sanskrit मंत्र) means a sacred utterance… or group of words believed by some to have psychological and spiritual power. – Wikipedia
As 2014 is drawing to a close, let’s take a look at how the West has debated its reaction to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. With all the controversy, there is nevertheless a number of statements that more or less everybody can agree on, at least in Europe. I call them the four mantras of the Ukraine debate. I don’t claim they are false or mistaken. But the way they are formulated, none of them stands closer scrutiny, because they all are more or less massively beside the point.
1. ‘The West has made mistakes, too’:
Actually, the statement as such is what Americans call a no-brainer. Who doesn’t ever make mistakes? The question is: which were the mistakes? And here we get some interesting disagreement. One school claims that the West was too triumphant after the end of the Cold War, expanded NATO ignoring Russia’s fears, and crossed another Russian red line with its attempt to drag Ukraine into the West (thereby also forcing an unwanted choice upon the poor Ukrainians: Russia or us). This argument, or at least parts of it, has been made by many – probably in its most coherent form by the neo-realist U.S. pundit John Mearsheimer.
The other school is best represented by the American journalist Anne Applebaum: If anything, the West has nurtured the illusion of a cooperative Russia modernising along Western lines for much too long. Even when those who know better (i.e. the Poles, the Balts and a few others) had warned their Western partners that it was an illusion. As Estonian President Toomas Ilves likes to say: Georgia in 2008 was the wake-up call but we’ve been hitting the snooze button ever since. From France’s sale of the Mistral assault ships to our slow reaction to Russia’s blatant attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in February 2014: It was our mistake not to challenge Russia much earlier and more decisively. We might actually have saved Ukraine, ourselves and the whole of Europe a lot of trouble.
2. ‘We need to keep the channels for dialogue open’:
Sure, talking always feels good. Some say that ‘as long as people talk, they don’t shoot!’ – Nice. The problem with this conventional wisdom of Western diplomacy is that by the time it is uttered, the shooting usually has been going on for some time – just not by NATO, the U.S. or the respective coalition of the willing. Because to talk it takes two, but to shoot it only takes one who has at least a Kalashnikov and the determination to use it. And as we have seen, the shooting in the Donbas can very well go on while the talking is being solemnly carried out in Geneva, Vienna, Paris or Minsk.
It all boils down to the street thug techniques that Vladimir Putin learned as a teenager in the backyards of Leningrad, in what he still proudly calls his ‘street university’(look it up in Masha Gessen’s book). A good khuligan (=hooligan) first punches you in the nose, and then leaves you a choice: you can be unreasonable and escalate the situation, or you can be reasonable and work out a mutual compromise: You give him your wallet, and he will even smile at you again.
So where does this leave us? Communication is good, but only if it serves a purpose and if it doesn’t keep us from calling a spade a spade, and from doing what needs to be done, such as broad-based economic sanctions. The West needs to have a position that is based on our core values, and back up this position with hard power, otherwise it’s pointless.
3. ‘There is no military solution’:
This one is really popular. From UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to Chancellor Angela Merkel, even to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, everyone agrees on this one. Again, there is nothing wrong with the sentence as such. Of course wars never solve anything. They never sort anything out (except for slavery in the US, the holocaust and a few dictators, as P.J. O’Rourke likes to point out). The trouble with Russia’s new cold war is that there is no quick solution to it, period. Ed Lucas from the Economist has pointed that out brilliantly. As long as Putin wants it to drag on, it will continue, no matter what he signed. The fate of the Minsk agreement should have demonstrated that. What amazes me is that anyone in their right mind and not on the Kremlin’s payroll still believes that Mr Putin’s public statements, assurances in interviews, or even signatures, have any true meaning whatsoever.
Now, instead of uttering banalities such as ‘There is no military solution’, the much more interesting question is: Can there be an improvement in the situation as long as Ukraine is militarily as hopelessly inferior to Russia as it is at the moment? As for me, the answer is a clear no. Ukraine, after a democratic revolution, has been wrongfully attacked by its neighbor who is now bullying the whole neighbourhood. To take Western military intervention off the table from the very beginning, was tactically questionable but may have been necessary to calm down public opinion in Europe and America. But that does not mean that the West, or at least individual countries, shouldn’t help Ukraine to at least partly redress the imbalance militarily. That goes from training to the delivery of non-lethal equipment to modern small arms and anti-tank and air defence weapons.
The simple truth is that sanctions may not be enough to make Russia change course. The military price tag of Russia’s aggression counts: The more of those ‘vacationing volunteers’ come home in body bags, the more precarious Putin’s image will become at home, all Novorossiya talk notwithstanding. All this does not mean stability will return if and when military options are brought back to the table. But it means that the Ukrainian government will be able to talk and act with more self-confidence. Which should be a worthwhile goal, and would spur the domestic reform effort of Ukraine.
4. ‘There is no stability against or without Russia’:
This is another beauty. As if Putin’s Russia was interested in stability as we define it – or at least most of us do. Frankly speaking, I have no idea how people can consider a Europe with buffer zones and spheres of influence a stable place. I thought we’ve been through that for a few centuries. I cannot see why we should even endorse the idea that some countries which have the bad luck of being close to Russia, cannot freely choose their political system and alliances, and are somehow doomed to live in an authoritarian kleptocracy.
So it all depends on which Russia we’re talking about. As Mikheil Saakashvili said in 2013: We will have stability in Europe when Russia becomes a normal nation state. Because at the moment, it isn’t (and hasn’t been for a long time). Instead, at least in its self-description, Russia is an empire and empires have no borders. As long as that is the case, there will be no stability. We’d better prepare for a long conflict with Putin’s Russia. It will have political, diplomatic, psychological, economic and military aspects. It will neither be all-out war nor a repetition of the Cold War. It will even still contain elements of cooperation. But it will only be over when there is a fundamental change in Moscow.
If we really want a better future for the Ukrainians and the people in Eastern Europe (including Russians) and if we seriously aim at a Europe Whole and Free, we should go beyond the mantras. We need to shape up and win this. Otherwise, Mr Putin wins. And that would mean the end of NATO, the EU and Europe as we know it.Roland Freudenstein Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia European Union Foreign Policy
Ukraine beyond the mantras
15 Dec 2014
This week’s developments regarding the allegations of fraud and money laundering against Lukoil’s operations in Romania are an excellent case-study of EU politicians’ positions towards Russia. It highlights the difference between the EPP-affiliated, pro-European President Traian Basescu, and the Socialist, pro-Russian Prime Minister, Victor Ponta. We now see who walks the walk and who just talks the talk. It also shows a powerful Russian company trying to threaten and blackmail an EU member state; it just happens that in this case, the company’s position is very weak.
On 6 October 2014 Romanian prosecutors seized assets of a Lukoil refinery in Romania for allegations of fraud and money laundering amounting to 230 mil EUR. The Russian oil giant reacted by threatening to close down its operations in Romania and lay off 3500 people. Centre-left Prime Minister Ponta reacted by threatening prosecutors for jeopardizing the Romanian economy.
Centre-right President Traian Basescu explained in clear words that the Russian company has to respect Romanian laws and EU standards, if it wants to operate in Romania. He said that “Putin-style laws” do not apply in Romania; the Russian company should leave for Moscow, if it wants to operate according to “Putin-style laws”. “Leave the country, if you are not ready to obey Romanian law”, he said.
The behaviour of the Russian company and the positioning of the two Romanian leaders is highly relevant for EU’s attitude towards Russia: Traian Basescu, a second term president not seeking re-election in November’s presidential election, is known for his pro-European course and tough stance on Russia. Centre-left Prime Minister Ponta, affiliated with the European Socialists, is running in November’s Presidential elections seeking to become the country’s first Socialist President in a decade. Mr Ponta’s priority is to keep social peace ahead of the presidential elections. Any social unrest triggered by eventual lay-offs would jeopardize his campaign. Mr Ponta is ready to jeopardise the independence of the judiciary in order to keep social peace and to satisfy the interests of a Russian company suspected of having broken Romanian laws.
Lukoil painted a dark picture for its employees and for the Romanian consumers, in case it will have to close down its operations: closing down the refinery would lead to 3500 redundancies. This number is exaggerated, given that Lukoil employs only a total of 1100 people in the foreseen subsidiaries. This did not keep Prime Minister Ponta from adoptingtheir exaggerated number. Not being able to process its crude oil in the Romanian refinery would lead to fuel price increases at Lukoil’s gas stations, Lukoil claims.
Coincidence or not, on Thursday, Gazprom reduced by 15% the gas deliveries to Romania – this being just one of many similar measures taken lately. We are all familiar with Russian price blackmails, but in this case it will not work: Lukoil has a market share of just 20% on the fuel markets in Romania; this is far from a monopoly. If prices at Lukoil’s gas stations increase, every single consumer would just buy his or her fuel at any other European station across the street: An opportunity for every citizen to turn to European companies and to judge politicians on their behaviour in real crisis situations.Siegfried Mureşan Business Eastern Europe Energy EU Member States EU-Russia
Effectively Deterring Russia
10 Oct 2014
What about the war in the east and what about politics? Well, there were echoes of both, but not as intensively as you might imagine when you follow the news on TV.
Ukrainian patriotism was palpable in both Kiev and Lviv. One could see the yellow and blue colours on public buildings, bridge railings and other places. On the streets, volunteers even collected money for those yellow and blue paints. What was also noticeable was that not a single building featured the Russian flag, although flags of other countries were freely flown. The EU flag could be seen everywhere on public buildings.
Lviv seemed more religious in its patriotic commitment. One car proudly featured a flag with Christ’s head over yellow and blue, proclaiming ‘God and Ukraine Above All’:
I also visited the barracks of one of the many branches of Ukrainian ‘special forces’ in a Lviv suburb. In February, they were partly burnt as local demonstrators tried to prevent the soldiers from joining other government forces who at that time were suppressing the demonstrations on the Maidan. In the event, I was told by an active participant of the siege of the barracks that the young soldiers, themselves drafted, were more than happy not to go to Kyiv and stay at home.
On the markets in Lviv and Kyiv, there was plenty of toilet paper with faces of Putin, Yanukovich and other figures opposed to the pro-European forces (I am told that you can find similar merchandise in Russian cities but with faces of the representatives of the current Ukrainian government).
Disturbingly, in Lviv there was also plenty of red and black. These are the colours of the Right Sector, a far-right organisation with a voluntary militia which is fighting the Russians and Russian sympathisers in the east, alongside the regular Ukrainian army. The Right Sector criticises the regular army as corrupt and leaking information to the Russian government. According to the Right Sector’s own periodical, which you can pick up at a stand in Lviv, the organisation does not accept atheists, communists or socialists in its ranks. Not that I fit any of these affiliations but thanks, that’s not my mug of kvass.
On the radio, there was a lot of discussion regarding a lustration law to ‘clean up the Ukrainian state’. The allegation is that the public administration and the army are partly controlled by people whose sympathies go to the former Soviet Union or who have links to the Russian government.
In Lviv, we were told that a demonstration was just being organised in one of the suburbs. It gathered young men and their families opposed to military draft. These young men did not want to fight for a Ukraine some of whose citizens turn against their own state, backed by a foreign power to the east. In contrast, other young men volunteer for service and want to fight for a restoration of Ukraine in its borders recognised by international law. Still others are waiting, often with trepidation, to be drafted into the Ukrainian army. And if you want, you can support the Ukrainian army by a donation organised by the government:
Moving about in Kyiv and Lviv was easy. No-one ever accosted me on the street, although I took plenty of photographs and used my rusty Russian. Freedom seemed to be thriving. On the Maidan in Kyiv, I even saw a charming demonstration for the independence of Siberia: (http://ces.tc/XUMocb).Vít Novotný Eastern Europe EU-Russia Neighbourhood Policy
The only battle I witnessed was to make the Kyiv city centre clean and presentable again. And the only violence I suffered was inflicted on the locker of my suitcase at the Kyiv airport, either by the airport security or by thieves.
So, if you are looking for an affordable holiday with good food, a lot of greenery and historical monuments, I heartily recommend Lviv and Kyiv in Ukraine.
From the Brussels bubble to the (all quiet) Maidan front: A travel diary (Part 2)
08 Oct 2014
The Eastern Partnership (EaP) Initiative is the bridge which connects Europe to the countries in its eastern neighbourhood. Those countries were left out of the cycle of peaceful development, which the European project brought to the continent following the Second World War. It aspires to transform these countries into more democratic and prosperous societies. Over the last five years, the EaP has achieved more in some partner countries than in others. Structural policy weaknesses and different socio-economic realities of the partner states notwithstanding, the main challenge to the success of the EaP has come from Russia, which chose to view this policy as a zero-sum game for geopolitical dominance in its shared neighbourhood with Europe. This paper argues that in order to achieve the desired transformations, the EaP needs a fresh start, focusing on different players, methods and political technologies. Failure of the EaP to achieve its goal could deprive another generation of Georgians, Moldovans, Ukrainians and others in the EaP countries of an opportunity for a better life.Brexit Democracy Eastern Europe Enlargment EU-Russia Neighbourhood Policy
Building a Lifeline for Freedom: Eastern Partnership 2.0
07 Oct 2014
Ukraine is passing through a civilisation change. Ukraine has made a fundamental strategic decision: UKRAINE DECIDED TO BELONG TO THE WEST. Similarly to how we in Slovakia decided in 1998. Russia’s reaction represents its response to this fundamental Ukrainian decision. This is no action organised by the United States, no CIA conspiracy against Russia – this is the free choice expressed by the Ukrainian people not only on Maidan, but also by electing a clearly pro-European President Poroshenko and ratifying the Association Agreement in Parliament by overwhelming majority on 16 September.
Why was Russia’s reaction to the decision of Ukraine so harsh? I believe that the main reason is that Russia strives to maintain its status of a global superpower. It is concerned about the loss of influence. And it also fears that Western influence would weaken the position of its ruling elite. The intervention in Crimea was quick and smooth because Crimea had always been, as it were, at Moscow’s disposal: the Crimean nomenclature, the ruling political elite was mentally closer to Moscow and had for years preserved considerable political and administrative independence from Kiev. Thus, it was not a big problem for Russia to intervene militarily in Crimea and to hastily organise a referendum on whether the Crimean population wants to join Russia. It was all the easier given the fact that many Russians felt in their minds and hearts that Crimea had “always” been Russian.
Why is the situation in eastern Ukraine so dramatic? The main reason is that after Russians took control of Crimea, they tried to use a similar scenario also in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions (Oblasts) of the Donbass area. However, this time Ukraine decided to defend its territory. Even at the cost of armed clashes and the loss of human lives. In the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Russians met with a much “less warm” reception than in Crimea. In response to the determined stance of Ukraine, the EU and NATO agreed on the need to draw a red line, which is represented today by economic sanctions.
IS THIS ONLY A FEUD BETWEEN RUSSIA AND UKRAINE? The Prime Minister says that this is a GEOPOLITICAL CONTEST BETWEEN RUSSIA AND THE UNITED STATES OVER UKRAINE. That is not true. However, the confrontation between Russia and Ukraine does have a more global character. IN THIS WAY, RUSSIA IS CHALLENGING THE WEST. The West did not and does not incite Ukraine to join the EU or NATO. The West says that it will fully respect Ukraine’s choice. Just the other way around – it was Russia that was actively and openly trying to make Ukraine join its Eurasian Customs Union. The West would have accepted that choice just as it accepts Ukraine’s choice to belong to the EU. It only made it clear that Ukraine must make a choice. It is not possible to belong to both the EU and the Eurasian Union. President Yanukovich apparently played to both sides. Like asking Russia for loans. And certain “strategic” investments. We don’t know what “guarantees” he offered for these loans. But it is very likely that he raised high and unrealistic expectations by Russia. This is probably why Russia responded as it did to the ousting of Yanukovich by Maidan. The fact that Russia is challenging the West and not only Ukraine is also witnessed by reduced gas deliveries to Poland, Slovakia and Hungary. It is therefore not only Ukraine that is concerned; it is also Russia challenging the West. It is a test about how far can the Russians go. This challenge to the West also conveys a strong message for the domestic audience: it should demonstrate the strength of the ruling regime and its determination to defend Russia against the penetration of the values or ideas of the Western world into Russia. Moscow does not want its Maidan.
WHY IS THE TENSION IN AND AROUND UKRAINE SO HIGH
The basis of Western political culture is democracy. Basic tenets of democracy are free elections and pluralistic society. An essential attribute of free elections is that the government defeated in the elections hands over the power to the opposition. And, moreover, that the winner of elections shares the power it has acquired. It shares it with the opposition to which it assigns, for instance, the function of parliamentary oversight. And also with civil society, which must be allowed to freely and independently carry out its activities. Democratic governance means the de-politicisation of the police, courts and prosecution.
Russia’s problem is that – practically at all times (except perhaps for the short period of perestroika) – it had been dominated, ruled by an authoritarian regime. First by the czars, then by the Bolsheviks, later (and up to the present) by the nomenclature, called the Family. The nomenclature opposes democratisation with the argument that loosening the reins to democratisation, liberalisation and pluralism would lead to the collapse of the state. In reality, it strives to maintain its power, and its policy often includes the search for an external enemy to make people ignore problems at home.
Not only Ukraine but also Russia faces serious challenges. Both internal and external. They are, in particular, adverse demographic trends, economic dependence on extraction and export of raw materials, and also the pressure – growing, albeit slowly – of civil society towards the promotion of pluralism. Russia’s neighbourhood – from its perspective – is not exactly favourable or friendly (in the words of one participant of a recent conference in Kiev – with big China in the east, Islam with its ever stronger extremist factions in the south, liberal “decay” in the west, and cold seas and ice in the north).
For these and also other reasons, a sustainable agreement with Russia has been and will remain a problem for the West. Russia, its ruling elite, will feel increasingly vulnerable and therefore increasingly less predictable. In particular, it will be afraid of what presents the most serious threat to its political monolith. This means the West. The ruling nomenclature will do anything to prevent the Maidan spark jump over to the Red Square.
WHAT OPTIONS DOES THE WEST HAVE?
In this situation, the West has only two options: to abandon the promotion of democracy in the world, abandon the support to Ukraine, and to subsequently backtrack and yield to the authoritarian regimes in other parts of the world, allowing these regimes to get increasingly “bolder”, or to accept the challenge of and engage in a hard struggle with Russia.
The baseline of the political struggle between the West and Russia must be the conviction of its citizens and gradually also of the others that the West does not present a threat to Russia. If anything, it presents a threat to its political monolith, the establishment, the nomenclature. The determination of the West to accept the challenge of Russia and respond to it has taken the form of economic sanctions imposed on Russia. The more often Fico criticises the sanctions, the more often it should be repeated to the citizens: ECONOMIC SANCTIONS HAVE BEEN IMPOSED ON RUSSIA BY THE EU. THIS MEANS BY INDIVIDUAL MEMBER STATES, INCLUDING SLOVAKIA. THUS, AS REGARDS SLOVAKIA, ECONOMIC SANCTIONS HAVE BEEN IMPOSED ON RUSSIA BY THE GOVERNMENT OF ROBERT FICO.
I do not criticise this decision of Robert Fico’s government. I do not criticise this decision because I perceive it as a fundamental, principled response of the West to the Russian challenge, and I consider it to be the best of available responses. However, I do criticise Prime Minister’s statements regarding the sanctions that received also his approval. It is highly immoral and damaging for Slovakia when the Prime Minister approves sanctions in Brussels on Monday, only to subject them to harsh criticism at home, in Slovakia, on Tuesday. Such conduct leads to distorting the truth, turning things upside down, confusing the cause and effect. All this leads to the rise of primitive anti-Americanism, opposition to the EU, and the subsequent polarisation, flaring of tempers, but mainly to the loss of Slovakia’s reputation. I do not recall any ambassador of a neighbouring country having ever commented the statements by the Slovak Prime Minister the way the Ukrainian ambassador did referring to Robert Fico: Robert Fico talks like a bad neighbour.
Ukraine is facing serious challenges. The most serious of them is the defence of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Ukraine has made its choice. It is defending its rights, even at the highest cost: the cost of human lives. That is one reason for its successful defence efforts. This is also the reason why Ukraine should be helped. Especially in the MORAL sense. I appeal to Prime Minister Fico to stop falsely claiming that Ukraine is breaking down, that Ukraine is falling apart. Such statements are false and cynically inappropriate. They harm Slovakia and do not help Ukraine. Who they help are the aggressors who want Ukraine to disintegrate.
Besides this crucial and vitally important challenge, Ukraine is facing and will continue to face three truly monumental and several major challenges. (Môj návrh: Ukraine is facing and will continue to face a few truly monumental and a number of major challenges.) Monumental challenges are, in our opinion, modernisation of its economy, restructuring of its industry, stabilisation of its currency and the financial sector, diversification of energy sources, and resolution of its defence capability and security issues.
These challenges are also challenges for the West. It is true that no one will do for Ukrainians what they must do themselves. But the West must help them. In each of these areas. It is commendable and encouraging that Slovakia has contributed by ensuring the reverse flow of gas to Ukraine. The Slovak Government deserves praise for having mastered this process much earlier than it had been initially indicated. But, by no means is it possible to claim victory. The fact that Russia is challenging not only Ukraine but also the West is documented by reduced deliveries of Russian gas to Poland, to our country, and to Hungary.
But there are many other serious challenges that Ukraine is and will be facing, such as the need to combat corruption, decentralise and streamline public administration, improve the quality of education, healthcare, modernise the pension system.
Not only the West but also Slovakia as its part have things to offer to Ukraine. Like moral and political support, and also experience with the transition process and reforms. This is also in the supreme interest of Slovakia, and not only of the regions in the eastern part of the country.
Among those who spoke in the opening section of the already mentioned conference which was held on 11-13 September in Kiev was the frontman of Ukrainian band “Okean Elzy”, Svyatoslav Vakarchuk. He is one of the most visible faces of Maidan. The last question he was asked was: What does Ukraine expect the West to do? Svyatoslav paused in thought. I expected he would make a request for financial or military assistance, a kind of a new Marshall Plan … But after some thought, Vakarchuk said: What is going on in Ukraine right now is painful for us. And we realise there still will be a lot of pain for us to bear. It would be good if also the West could bear and withstand some pain. Because, if the West does not do it and is not ready to do it at a lesser scale now, it will also suffer much pain later.
I understood what he meant. And I am convinced there are many of us who understand.Mikuláš Dzurinda Democracy Eastern Europe Neighbourhood Policy
What’s going on in Ukraine?
30 Sep 2014
The abduction of Estonian Secret Service Official Eston Kohver was an extraordinary event, even by the standards of the Cold War. It was yet another episode in the series of moves which Russia has been making recently to put pressure on NATO. Russian nuclear bombers have made incursions into US and Canadian air defence identification zones, Russia has seized the Lithuanian flagship vessel in international waters and Russian aircrafts have been violating NATO airspace with an increased frequency.
This is why Kohver is neither an Estonian-Russian problem, nor an isolated incident in a security operation gone off track. It is part of Russia’s attempt to undermine the system of Euro-Atlantic security.
Russia is pushing NATO to its extremes, testing its unity. In a run-up to the latest NATO Summit, a number of NATO members worried that Moscow would view NATO’s resolve to strengthen security and defence capabilities on its Eastern frontiers as a provocation. The Russians now are making it clear that they do. If the Kremlin has its way, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will enjoy NATO’s collective defence guarantees only formally, without having the needed military capabilities. If there are attempts to change this, there will be costs. The abduction of Kohver, for instance.
By attacking NATO on its own territory, Russia is also trying to put a final bullet into NATO’s enlargement agenda. Attacks on NATO’s security will divert attention to the challenges within the current borders. As NATO is regrouping to defend its existing members, any talk about extending security guarantees to Georgia, with 20% of its territory under Russian occupation, or to Ukraine, with an open economic, political and military confrontation with Moscow, becomes obsolete.
Vladimir Putin aspires for a resurrected Empire as his legacy. Getting back Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania, is not an option. Even Putin must understand that. By launching an offensive on NATO members, however, Moscow is pushing the line of defence further away from Ukraine, away from Georgia. Moscow empowers those who oppose enlargement and assert that accepting the Baltic countries to NATO was a mistake. It is part of Russia’s well-orchestrated plan to impose on the West a new ‘Munich’ agreement. This would imply abandoning any plans to bring democracy to Georgia, Ukraine and other former Soviet republics, thus forcing them to become the vassals of Moscow, once again.
Therefore, Kohver is a prisoner of war, a war which Putin has declared on the West. The fact that we have not found a name for this war yet, does not make his abduction in a foggy Baltic forest any less sinister.Salome Samadashvili Baltic Defence Eastern Europe EU-Russia Security
Eston Kohver: a prisoner of war?
29 Sep 2014
My trip to Ukraine in the second half of August was fun and safe. True, I visited only the capital Kyiv and the city of Lviv in the west of the country. I did not venture further east into the war area.
My first surprise was on the Maidan Square in Kyiv, the focal point of resistance to the Yanukovych government. I expected flames of burnt tyres and fights between the police and the remaining demonstrators. Such scenes were indeed taking place as late as 7 August: (http://ces.tc/XUI4JX).
When I arrived on the Maidan square on 17 August with my companion, I was welcomed by girls in zebra and rabbit outfits. They offered that the passers-by take joint photos with them as mementos from Kyiv, for a small fee of course.
How come, you may ask? I arrived in Kyiv just at the moment the city administration, now led by Vitali Klitschko of the UDAR party and under some pressure of the city’s inhabitants, sent the demonstrators away and started cleaning up the square (http://ces.tc/1x7opFO).
This renovation seemed like a difficult task. Some buildings are almost completely destroyed and the paving has been used to make barricades. One could see plenty of shrines to the fallen heroes of the Maidan, complete with improvised shields from the fighting (http://ces.tc/1slFCdG).
The next surprise was the easiness with which Russian and Ukrainian speakers in the capital and elsewhere interacted. There seemed to be no linguistic conflicts. I heard bilingual conversations everywhere on the streets and on the radio.
A third surprise was the amount of greenery in Kyiv. The capital boasts a lot of parks. Some are used by chess players in a fashion typical of the countries of the former Soviet Union.
True, the air in the capital seemed quite polluted in the busier places. But the river Dnipro was clean (http://ces.tc/1wJJSlm), clean enough for city dwellers and visitors, including myself, to take a dip in at the municipal beach on the island of Trukhanov.
The fourth surprise in Kyiv was that the customer service was really good, at least in some places such as Puzata Khata, a superb fast-food chain that serves Ukrainian specialties. Admittedly, good service is not a difficult feat to achieve if one compares with the shop service in central Brussels.
I took the ominously looking ladies in Kiev museums and rude information officers at the Kyiv airport as unavoidable flashbacks to the socialist past, which I know so well for having lived it in communist Czechoslovakia. I have to say, though, that I shook a little when one of the ladies in the Afghanistan War Museum picked up the phone and whispered something into the receiver whilst staring at me intently. It transpired that she complained about my photographing, not knowing that our museum guide had allowed me to take pictures.
In Lviv, the relatively recent history of the capital of Austrian Galicia is visible in architecture, cuisine and culture on every step. Poverty was a bit more in your face in Lviv than in Kyiv. If it were not for the cars, some corners of the city would even have looked like sceneries from a hundred years ago:
In both Kyiv and Lviv, there were plenty of street stands, selling anything imaginable, from food to flowers and memorabilia. It seemed that making ends meet was not easy for many people.
(To be continued)Vít Novotný Eastern Europe EU-Russia
From the Brussels bubble to the (all quiet) Maidan front: A travel diary (Part 1)
24 Sep 2014
I have just finished reading ‘Sleepwalkers – How Europe went to war in 1914’ by Christopher Clark, Professor of Modern History in Cambridge. He describes the statesmen who stumbled into War in 1914 as “sleepwalkers, watchful but unseeing, haunted by dreams, yet blind to the horror they were about to bring to the world”.
A web of interlocking commitments, designed to give individual countries security and peace behind their own borders, ended up tumbling the whole continent into War.
Austro-Hungary had a defensive pact with Germany. Russia set itself up as the protector of Serbia. France gave Russia a blank cheque in the Balkans because it needed Russian assurances against Germany. Britain had a rather more vague understanding with France. It feared any Russian rapprochement with Germany because Russia could threaten British interests in India.
So, when Franz Ferdinand was murdered in Sarajevo by assassins that had come from Serbia, the possibility that all these dominoes might fall in the direction of war opened up. But it was only a possibility.
Serbia could have taken resolute action to root out the conspiracy behind the assassins before Austria issued any ultimatum. Austria could have issued a more temperate ultimatum. Serbia could have given a less evasive response. Germany could have restrained Austria.
Russia could have held back from full scale mobilization in support of Serbia, and France could have made it clear that it did not wish to get involved in supporting a Russian attack on Austria so long as Germany stayed out too. Britain could have said it would remain neutral in a German war with France, so long as Germany respected Belgian neutrality.
The interlocking commitments between countries that led to war were not, according to Christopher Clark, “long term features of the European system, but the consequence of numerous short term adjustments” made in the immediately preceding years.
The War was not inevitable, but suited some leaders to pretend to themselves afterwards that it was, so as to avoid facing the consequences of some their own omissions, ambiguities and evasions.
Some of the issues involved are still current.
How does one pursue a criminal conspiracy launched from another jurisdiction? If the European Arrest Warrant was in place could Austria have obtained the extradition of some of the conspirators from Belgrade without threatening war?
Christopher Clark says Austria’s ultimatum to Serbia was milder than the one NATO issued to Serbia in 1999!
As we see a drift towards a confrontation between Russia and the West over Ukraine, the lesson I draw from this book is that leaders must not just think of the next move, but of the likely counter move, the move after that and so on, bearing in mind that nothing is inevitable until it has actually happened, and that they usually have more choices than they are willing to acknowledge.John Bruton Defence Eastern Europe EU-Russia
As tension mounts over Ukraine: Some lessons from 1914
11 Aug 2014
The EU’s uneven recovery from the economic turbulence of recent years has highlighted a fundamental shift in Europe’s growth dynamics. A new briefing by the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies argues that as much of ‘old Europe’ struggles to regain economic growth, several of the ‘new Europe’ member states of Central and Eastern Europe (such as Romania) seem poised to drive economic activity forward in the coming decade. This shift, allied to the significantly improved medium term growth prospects of ‘programme’ countries (Ireland, Greece, Cyprus, Spain and Portugal), illustrates the positioning of more peripheral EU member states as reform leaders who may act as the catalyst for longer term growth in the EU.
IN FOCUS is a new series of commentaries, in which the Martens Centre looks closely at current policy topics, dissects the available evidence and challenges prevailing opinions.Eastern Europe Economy EU Member States Growth
The EU’s Reform Cycle: Out with the old and in with the new? Romania and EU Growth dynamics
10 Jul 2014
As Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine finalise association and free trade (DCFTA) agreements with Europe today (27 June), these Eastern Partners, together with the EU, are proving that while geography is destiny, history does not have to be so.
The EU’s Eastern Partnership policy is the bridge which connects Europe to countries which were left out of the cycle of peaceful development brought to post-WWII by the European project.
Even as the voice of increased scepticism towards the EU rang loud and clear in the latest European elections, the citizens of these advanced Eastern partners still believe the European project offers them the best way forward.
They have proven ready to pay a heavy price for their European choice, in the knowledge that no sacrifice is too great for the sake of freedom.
The EU and its three Eastern Partners have come to this point against all odds. Russia failed to force these countries, considered to belong to its “privileged sphere of influence,” to give up on Europe in favour of joining the Eurasian Economic Union.
Neither political and economic pressure, nor direct military intervention, have managed to compete with Europe’s soft power.
While the agreements signed today will not automatically force open the doors to European accession, they are paving a way towards it. The road ahead, however, is a difficult one.
The immediate challenges will be to implement the agreements and to withstand continued Russian pressure.
The Kremlin is unlikely to bury the hatchet. The warnings from Russia have been crystal clear all along, most recently with Russiaan foreign minister Sergei Lavrov declaring that his country will take the necessary “countermeasures” in response to the EU accords.
If history is any point of reference, the Russian response might defy both the letter and the spirit of international law.
Additional Russian economic pressure can still have an impact on the economies of all three Eastern partners. Our voters have high expectations for the benefits of the agreements, but the positive socio-economic impact of the DCFTAs will not come immediately.
Knowing full well the value of predictability and stability for the international investors which these DCFTAs ought to attract to the signatory countries, Russia is unlikely to abandon its chosen policy of exporting instability.
As European integration will not deliver immediate prosperity, the Kremlin’s likely tactic is to foster growing disappointment of the public in its European choice.
The role of the Church
By offering to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine the way forward towards a more democratic, secure and prosperous future, the EU still has a much stronger hold on the hearts and minds of their citizens than Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
But the future support of our voters cannot be taken for granted. Further success of the Eastern Partnership will depend on securing continued support for democracy, as well as for the European choice of the public in these countries.
In the short term, helping Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine to cope with the implementation of the DCFTAs the and speedy introduction of visa-free travel for Georgia and Ukraine will be instrumental.
As the prospect of Nato membership looks less and less likely for any of the Eastern partners, enhancing the framework of co-operation between them and the EU in terms of security will be another important challenge.
A broad engagement with the citizens, supporting democracy and building solid constituencies for Europe, reaching out to the most influential opinion-makers in these countries, will also be key to success.
In some cases, the potential opinion-makers might be outside of the regular realm of civil society and include influential religious organisations or figures. Religion has started playing an increasingly important role in Russia’s current confrontation with the West. The authority wielded by the religious establishment in some Eastern partners is a sign of weak civil society and needs to be addressed in a medium and long term prospective.
In the immediate future, the Church will continue playing an important role in determining the public attitudes in Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. The EU needs to find ways to engage with the relevant players to counter Russian influence.
The successful transformation of the three advanced Eastern Partners can be managed only through a European policy which has clearly defined objectives.
Next year, the Riga Eastern Partnership Summit should offer concrete deliverables for each of these countries, aiming at enhanced contractual relations with the EU. Most importantly, it should deliver a membership prospective in the long term and the chance to join a Common Economic Area in the immediate future.
Today marks yet another important achievement of the EU’s transformative power, but Europe needs to be ready for the challenges ahead.
Injecting a new momentum into the Eastern Partnership Initiative, building on today’s success, will rectify the historical injustice which deprived the people of the Eastern Partnership countries of the chance to develop as democratic and prosperous societies for almost a century.
But it will also send an important message to the increasingly sceptical European voters about the magnetic pull of the European project for those, who, so far, have been left out of it.
[Originally published as a guest editorial in EUobserver: http://euobserver.com/opinion/124781 ]Salome Samadashvili Democracy Eastern Europe Enlargment EU-Russia Foreign Policy
The magnetic pull of Europe’s soft power
30 Jun 2014
In recent times, there is no shortage of people who check data and figures used by politicians in their electoral pledges. In this post I would like to carry out some kind of ‘theory checking’ regarding certain economic claims of anti-European leaders. In many cases, these claims have been found to be utter non-sense in economic theory since the time of Adam Smith, who is not exactly the most recent student of economics. Let us take, for example, the opposition of Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front, to trade liberalisation and her ceaseless calls for an ‘intelligent protectionism’ behind national frontiers.
Now, it turns out that no such thing as ‘intelligent protectionism’ has ever existed beyond the confused fancies of its upholders. ‘It is the maxim of every prudent master of a family’, Adam Smith wrote almost 240 years ago, ‘never to attempt to make at home what it will cost him more to make than to buy. […] What is prudence in the conduct of every private family can scarce be folly in that of a great kingdom’. In fact, the argument for free trade between states parallels the argument for interpersonal exchange within a state. They both depend on individuals freely deciding whose products meet their preferences best and thus directing societal resources to their most effective use. Who can possibly make that decision better than them?
Equally puzzling is the opposition of Eurosceptics to the free movement of persons within the European single market. It gets particularly entertaining when put forward by people who like to brand themselves as ‘classical liberals’, such as UKIP leader Nigel Farage. The dreams of this valiant orator seem to be haunted by hordes of Bulgarians and Romanians on the verge of invading the UK. Here again, the facts are known and there is no need to recap them (http://bit.ly/SAbLO1). The theory is more interesting. Labour is a factor of production, so there is a market for it. The bigger this market is, the higher the chances will be of an effective match between the demand and supply of labour. Within the European single market, the most effective match is sometimes likely to imply the utilisation of cheap labour, for example from new member countries, whose wages are still significantly lower than in Western Europe.
Why shouldn’t entrepreneurs buy from ‘foreigners’ what it would cost them more to buy from nationals, Adam Smith would ask? Because by pursuing their own economic profit, someone may answer, they will depress national wages and destroy national jobs. However, that’s not what economic theory predicts. If production costs decrease thanks to cheap labour, in the medium run prices in the affected industries will tend to fall relative to other prices, thus increasing people’s purchasing power and effective demand. This is likely to create new jobs, not destroy them, and to bring about a more effective use of societal resources. We can expect society at large to be better off, not worse off. It must be stressed that it is the entrepreneurial lure of profit that tends to bring prices down and make them converge towards the marginal costs of firms. Therefore, if competition is absent or insufficient in national markets, there is no way in which this virtuous spiral can be triggered. This conclusion is quite significant: the initial argument against the free movement of persons becomes an argument for more competitive national markets.
Let me consider for a moment the other usual objection against the free movement of persons, namely that it encourages ‘welfare shopping’, as they call it, in the EU. In other words, people are thought to resettle in countries where they can enjoy high welfare benefits and live a parasitical life off state finances. As above, I will put aside facts and focus on theory. If EU citizens take up jobs anywhere in the Union and contribute to public finances as much as nationals of the host state are we really to argue that they should be discriminated against just because of their nationality? I doubt that even the most hardline Eurosceptics would put forward such an argument.
The assumption must then be that they will not take up jobs and pay taxes, but simply stay idle and enjoy benefits for which nationals of the host country are paying. However, even if it were true, that is no argument against the free movement of persons either. At best it points to shortcomings in the way national benefit systems are structured and it should be addressed by redesigning them. After all, a system under which one, either national or not, can live for a long time off the public purse inevitably discourages everybody to actively look for jobs. That may be as true of some non-national EU citizens as of some unemployed citizens of the host country, who do not contribute to public finances either and may well remain unemployed for the same opportunistic reasons. Therefore, there would seem to be no reason for discriminating against foreigners as such.
My understanding is that any discrimination in the provision of welfare benefits based on nationality would hamper the working of the common market for labour, which represents the most powerful microeconomic justification for the free movement of people. For that market to work properly there must be no difference between the incentives to take up jobs for nationals and non-nationals from EU countries, except those inevitably implied by such issues as physical distance and language barriers. Only in this way can we be confident that the matching between demand and supply of labour will tend towards the best use of societal resources on the continent, and that competition will spread the benefits of this process to the highest number.Federico Ottavio Reho Eastern Europe EU Member States Migration Social Policy
Federico Ottavio Reho
‘Theory checking’: is unconditional free movement in the EU beneficial?
05 Jun 2014
In 2004 ten new members from Central and Eastern Europe joined the EU. At the time member states were concerned about the potential of the free movement of people from these countries to seriously undermine their economies by increasing unemployment and reducing wages. How would labour markets support the millions of new workers expected to arrive from the new states? To protect workers against the arrival of cheap labour, the majority of member states restricted labour market access. Ireland, Sweden and the UK were the only member states to allow unrestricted access from 2004 on.
One decade later and it is clear that the free movement of workers to Ireland has had a hugely beneficial impact on the economy and Irish society generally. Census figures show that in 2002 there were just 4000 Poles in Ireland but by 2010 this number had jumped to 120,000. The Poles have officially become the largest non-Irish group in the country. The census shows a similar trend for non-Irish residents from other 2004 accession states such as Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. In fact the Irish census figures record a steady increase in inward migration from both European and non-European countries in recent years. Surprisingly this trend does not appear to be changing in spite of the significant economic difficulties Ireland is experiencing.
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of Poland’s accession to the EU the Polish Embassy in Ireland released a video, entitled ‘Thank You Ireland’, in April 2014. The video thanks the Irish people for their ‘openness and kindness’ towards Poles in Ireland over the last decade. Many of the young Polish workers that came to Ireland immediately after accession have remained. They have become part of rural and urban communities across the island. Their children have been born in Ireland and attend local schools. They have joined local sport clubs and formed theatre groups. Increasing numbers of Polish people have opened businesses in Ireland; from the obligatory ‘polski sklep’ selling Polish groceries to hairdressers, garages, beauty salons, computer and software businesses. Ireland will have a local election later this month and there are many non-Irish candidates, standing as independents or as members of Irish political parties.
Ireland has always been a self-proclaimed emigration nation. In a recent address Taoiseach Enda Kenny told his audience that there are 70 million Irish abroad. In the last 20 years Ireland has had to transition from a predominantly emigration nation to one that welcomes immigrants. To counter populist and Eurosceptic arguments we must continue to support this societal transition. As we get closer to the European elections and are increasingly being bombarded with negative immigration messages from groups such as UKIP, it is important to highlight the positive integration message from Ireland. There are examples from across the EU that the free movement of people, a core tenet of our Union, is a success story and will continue to remain one in the years ahead.
[Photo source: flickr.com]Kathryn O’Donovan Eastern Europe Economy Enlargment EU Member States Immigration
‘Thank you Ireland’: A Success of Free Movement in the EU
13 May 2014
Adolf Hitler’s 1938 threats to, and eventual occupation of, Czechoslovakia bore some similarities to what is now happening between President Putin and Ukraine.
In 1938,Hitler exaggerated, and stirred up, grievances over language rights in the German speaking part of Czechoslovakia. He directed the local German speaking leaders inside Czechoslovakia to ensure that they did not reach any settlement with the Czech Government. He used the lack of an internal settlement as a basis for seeking to incorporate these areas in Germany, under the pretext of protecting the rights of the German speakers.
Western leaders tried to mediate and negotiate without success, culminating in the showdown at Munich, where Chamberlain abandoned Czechoslovakia in return for piece of paper signed by Hitler and himself in which both agreed on “the desire of our two peoples never to go to war again.”
Eventually, when Hitler broke his word and occupied the whole of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, trust broke down completely.
Hitler tried the same game with Poland in August 1939, possibly thinking he would get away with it again and the British and French would again huff and puff but do nothing. If that was his calculation, he was mistaken.
The crisis over the Sudetenland in 1938 played out more slowly than the one over Crimea. Putin has acted with much greater speed. In the former case, there was even time for a British Commission of Enquiry, the Runciman Commission, to spend a few weeks studying the situation on the ground in the Sudetenland and reporting back to London.
There is another important difference between the situation of Ukraine and that of Czechoslovakia. France had a Treaty of Mutual (military) Assistance with Czechoslovakia, which had been signed in 1925, guaranteeing Czech borders. Britain had no such Treaty but was drawn in because of its strategic commitment to France. That is why the Czechs feel, to this day, a particular grievance about France’s lack of action in 1938.
In contrast, Ukraine does not have a military alliance with any western country. It is not a member of NATO, and has no Treaty based military guarantees of its borders.
But, since 1994, Ukraine does have a general guarantee of its borders from Russia, the US, and Britain, given in return for giving up its nuclear weapons arsenal. According to this so called Budapest memorandum, Russia, the U.S., and the UK confirmed, in recognition of Ukraine becoming a member of the nuclear non proliferation Treaty and in effect abandoning its nuclear arsenal to Russia, that they would,
+ respect Ukrainian independence and sovereignty within its existing borders,
+ refrain from the threat or use of force against Ukraine, and
+ refrain from using economic pressure on Ukraine in order to influence its politics.
This is hugely important, and creates a major moral obligation because one of the goals of global policy is to get countries with military nuclear capacity to give it up in return for guarantees. If such guarantees can be unilaterally abandoned without consequence, this strategy for opposing nuclear proliferation breaks down.
President Putin may feel that Russia should not have agreed to that memorandum in 1994. But it did. Hitler certainly felt the then German Government should not have signed the Versailles Treaty. But it did. Indeed, German negotiators had much less choice, in signing the Versailles Treaty in 1919, than Russian negotiators had in 1994 in signing the Budapest Memorandum. There was no duress in 1994.
What is happening to Ukraine, and in a different way what happened to Libya, will make it more difficult to get nuclear armed regimes to give up weapons in return for guarantees, however solemn. This is not just a matter of international law. It is one of practical politics and global security, for everybody including militarily neutral countries, like Ireland.
Unlike Ukraine, the Baltic States, Latvia and Estonia, which also have Russian speaking minorities, are members of NATO and do have military alliance guarantees.
It will be the existential test for NATO, if Russia makes or carries out threats on Latvia or Estonia, similar to the ones it has carried out on Ukraine.John Bruton Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia
Are we seeing a repetition of 1938?
21 Mar 2014
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and a number of countries became independent on its former territory the number of states armed with nuclear weapons increased by three: Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine inherited the Soviet nuclear weapons on their territory. By far the largest arsenal remained in newly independent Ukraine, including 2500 tactical nuclear weapons plus 130 SS-19 and 46 modern SS-24 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) with about 1900 strategic warheads. At that time this was the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world. International diplomatic efforts led to the signing of the Lisbon Protocol to the START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) in 1992. Under this agreement, Ukraine (as well as Belarus and Kazakhstan) would join the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapons state and would return the nuclear weapons on its territory to Russia, which would become the successor of the Soviet Union as a nuclear weapons state.
The practical implementation, however, took time and met with resistance: the last weapons were only returned in 1996. In the meantime, a debate had begun whether the strategic nuclear weapons (ICBMs and warheads) should be retained by Ukraine. The 1994 Budapest Memorandum, signed by Russia, the United States and the UK was a key piece to overcome these problems in the transition of Ukraine to non-nuclear status by giving security guarantees (both against territorial and economic threats) to Ukraine as well as assistance for the return of the warheads to Russia and the elimination of the missile systems in Ukraine. Even though the Budapest Memorandum falls short of explicitly giving security guarantees that would trigger automatic military response, the document contains strong political assurances that are legally binding for the signatories.
Leaving aside the question whether Ukraine would have been able to maintain the nuclear weapons systems it inherited from the Soviet Union, one might ask (and people in Ukraine actually do this) if the current crisis would have evolved in the same ways if Ukraine were still a nuclear power. While this question is, of course, theoretical it has significant impact in the reasoning of those countries that are either thinking to develop a nuclear arsenal or those who think of giving up their nuclear weapons. What transpires from the current crisis is that you should not give up your nuclear weapons for declarations of political will or assurances unless your conventional capabilities are sufficient for self-defence or you are member of a military alliance with strong security guarantees and automated mechanisms to invoke defence of your territory by the alliance in case of attack. If you are thinking to ‘go nuclear’, the current events might boost your intentions even further. For the goal of international non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, for the NPT and naturally for the ongoing negotiations with Iran, these conclusions are of course disastrous. At the same time, the nervous responses from the Baltic countries are a reminder that the US concept of extended deterrence fundamentally relies on the assurance of its allies that the US will fulfil its security obligations. That assuring allies can be more difficult than deterring adversaries is a lesson already learned at different stages during the Cold War.
What are the conclusions from this for Europeans and transatlantic partners? The damage to nuclear non-proliferation efforts has already been done but the reactions of the West in the ongoing crisis will determine whether this damage can be contained or more ‘fallout’ is produced. For the West, this basically means that any changes to Ukrainian territorial integrity by force, pressure and action not in accordance with international law must be and have to remain unacceptable. There are many possible actions that fall short of military intervention that can and should be explored. But beyond the actual crisis in Ukraine there are things to be learned and considered. Any possible window of opportunity for further nuclear (reduction) treaties between the US and Russia is definitely closed for some time to come. But there is no need to be afraid of a new nuclear build-up at this moment. The US should remain focused on coming up with a nuclear force structure that is sufficient and also affordable in the mid to long-term. Current forecasts predict the US will spend a total of $1 trillion on the nuclear triad (aircraft based systems, land and submarine based missile systems) over the next 30 years. These costs are likely to be unsustainable. Therefore a discussion is needed on the future of the US deterrent including both strategic and budgetary implications. While this will primarily be a discussion going on within the US, the voice and opinions of those countries ‘under the US nuclear umbrella’ should be heard as well. For Europe, this means answering some rather uncomfortable questions: How do we deal with the threat perceived by NATO members on the Eastern periphery of the alliance? What is the political and military role of US tactical nuclear weapons in Europe? What kind of “assurance” do European allies of the US require and expect? How would Europe with its partners respond to a scenario in which the ban of intermediate range missile systems under the INF treaty fell? There have been ongoing allegations that Russia is either violating or at least trying to circumvent the INF treaty. On the other hand, Russia could simply terminate the treaty, arguing that a similar move had been made by the US in terminating the ABM (Anti Ballistic Missile) Treaty in 2002.
While one could say that these are indeed bleak perspectives, one should not forget that there are still areas for nuclear cooperation that should not be spoiled. The risk arising from nuclear terrorism is real not only for the West but also for Russia and other countries. Even though President Putin will not attend the Nuclear Security Summit that will take place next week in The Hague there can be little interest on the Russian side not to continue international cooperation. The same should be true for us.
[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog post are entirely those of the author and do not represent those of any organisation.]Marc-Michael Blum Defence Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia
Russia, Ukraine and the question of giving up nuclear weapons
18 Mar 2014
The weekends of February and March 2014 will be remembered for a long time to come. Russia’s unprovoked military attack on Ukraine has taken most of the West by surprise, and the implications of the intervention are staggering.
NATO and the EU are shell-shocked and still figuring out how to react. Direct military involvement is out of the question. But there are a few other things the West can do. Here are some ideas, which relate to mind-sets as much as to concrete actions.
First and foremost, the West must act together—notwithstanding the slightly undiplomatic reference to the EU made by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland. In fact, the Ukraine crisis could be the beginning of nothing less than a direly needed transatlantic reset.
In their joint efforts, the United States and Western Europe should take the newest NATO and EU member states in Central Europe more seriously. They should stop assuming that these countries are somehow traumatized by Russia and therefore slightly irrational. The West should use these nations’ knowledge and creativity on issues from cyberdefense to intelligence collection to their fullest potential.
The West has much to learn from Central Europe’s transformative experiences after the fall of Communism. It should apply that knowledge better to support democracy and the rule of law among Eastern partners, not only Ukraine. The EU should heed Central European states’ proposals for better energy networks and reduced dependence on Russian gas and oil. And the West must reassure countries with strong Russian minorities, if necessary by military exercises or redeployments of NATO forces.
There are also a number of sanctions the West can enact immediately: it can exclude Russia from the G8 group of industrialized nations, issue travel bans against Russian oligarchs and leaders, and freeze their assets. But these are only pinpricks, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has probably factored in to his actions. To take a real stand, the West will have to define Russia as a threat to its core values.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that diplomacy means seeing the world through the eyes of others. Even if that is true, diplomacy does not work unless it is firmly rooted in a system of values that one can defend against one’s adversaries. For the West, that does not exclude the option of talking to Russia. But the West must build up its military muscle, its capacities for intelligence gathering, its instruments for democracy support, and its long-term planning to counter the Russian threat.
The current Ukrainian crisis is ultimately about Russia’s future. Contrary to what some observers have said, this is not the last stirring of the Soviet Union. Rather, it is a reassertion of a deep-seated Russian pathology of which Soviet Communism was only one expression. The sleazy, aggressive authoritarianism that the West is witnessing now is another expression—and one that the West must mobilize against.
Europe and the United States need to find a new quality of response to the Ukrainian crisis, in both the short and the long term. To paraphrase a quote often misattributed to Winston Churchill: the West will end up doing the right thing, after it has exhausted all other possibilities!
[Originally published by www.carnegieeurope.eu]Roland Freudenstein Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia EU-US Transatlantic
Russia’s war on Ukraine and the coming transatlantic reset
04 Mar 2014
Not far south of Brussels is the village of Waterloo. In the museum of the battle there is one painting that should touch the heart of even the most cynical Eurosceptic. It depicts the French cavalry attacking one of the diamond-shaped British infantry positions. The field in front of the diamond is so thickly covered with bodies that the horses are unwilling to charge, refusing to step on the corpses.
The historic achievement of the European Union is that it brought lasting peace, prosperity, democracy and respect of human rights to a continent whose nations waged wars with each other for centuries. Only in the last two centuries blood was shed in the Napoleonic wars, Franco-German wars, Balkan wars, and Crimean war, not to mention the massacres of the First and Second World Wars. Since 1945 most Europeans have been enjoying the longest period of peace in its history.
In a sense the European Union put an end to a thousand year old problem on how to divide the Lotharingia part of the Charlemagne legacy for which France and Germany have been fighting ever after. It made partners out of former competitors for colonial power and brought former parts of empires as independent states under the same roof again.
But not all of Europe enjoyed the peace and not all the European nations are enjoying the end of history. The peace in the Balkans, particularly in Bosnia, looks fragile, but with a clear European perspective for all major players in the region, the situation appears defused.
On the other hand, even today the citizens of Ukraine are struggling to obtain what is taken for granted by the rest of Europe. It looks like one of those “us” vs. “them” conflicts where the players on the geopolitical chessboard are moving pieces to win positions. The people of Ukraine are just pawns in this match. The people of Belarus or Moldova could find themselves in a similar predicament. It is exactly the board that has been replaced – for western and central European countries – by negotiation tables around the Schuman roundabout in Brussels.
Russia has been an increasingly important player in European affairs over the last 500 years. It decidedly chose to become European with Peter the Great in the early 18th century. The Russian empire took European center stage during the Napoleonic wars and became one of the three key elements of the Holy Alliance that the Russian, Prussian and Austrian empires set up to maintain “justice, love and peace” after the defeat of Napoleon. Wars for the lands between Russia and Germany or Turkey resembled the wars for the lands between Germany and France. The latter conflict was made obsolete with the creation of the European Union.
In 2008 the European Council set up a Reflection Group to think about the future of Europe. One of the questions it was expected to answer was about where the borders of European Union should lie. The group, led by the former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, concluded that “the EU must stay open to potential new members from Europe, assessing every candidacy on its own merits and compliance with the membership criteria.” Compliance with membership criteria, it claimed, were “in fact the true limits of Europe.”
The recent events in Ukraine are a reminder that the European project is not finished. Historical experience in the European West and parallels to the European East challenge the introverted Europeans to think the unthinkable.
Russia should be encouraged to comply with EU membership criteria, with the principles of democracy, market economy and human rights on which the European Union is built. Since Peter the Great, Russia has had European ambitions. The European Union should make it clear that these ambitions are realistic and that potentially the true limits of the European Union could be on the Russian Pacific coast. Not tomorrow. Another former superpower, Great Britain, became EU member half a century after it lost its superpower status.
Europe must immediately do whatever it takes to stop the violence in Ukraine. On the longer term, however, the issue is not whether Ukraine should be in the Russian or European sphere of influence. The issue are the European perspectives of Russia, and all the countries at its western borders.
[Originally published in www.neurope.eu]Žiga Turk Eastern Europe EU-Russia
To Russia with Courage
26 Feb 2014
With world attention fixed on Ukraine, the referendum on Sunday (2 February) in Gagauzia, a part of Moldova which few people have heard of, did not get much attention.
The Gagauz – some 150,000 people, who are Turkic-speaking Orthodox Christians – voted overwhelmingly in favour of joining Russia’s Customs Union instead of EU integration.
EU neighbourhood commissioner Stefan Fuele had recently visited the region. He spoke of the potential benefits of closer EU-Moldova ties, highlighting prospects for EU visa-free travel. His intervention did nothing to change the outcome, however. As Gagauz envoys explained on a visit to Brussels last week, they want easier access to the Russian labour market instead.
Sunday’s referendum also had a question about Gagauzia’s right to declare independence from Moldova. Again, an overwhelming majority wanted the right to secede. The referendum has no legal consequences because Moldovan courts have ruled it illegal. But it does have the potential to revive recent protests against Moldova’s plan to sign an EU association and free trade treaty. More dangerously, it has the potential to enflame separatist tendencies.
Moldova already has one breakaway region, which has become a de facto state and a source of long-term instability: Transniestria. The business interests of the Transniestrian elite are becoming increasingly tied to the EU, however. The region has no border with Russia, and it is does not depend on Russian markets or subsidies to the same extent as other breakaway entities in the former Soviet territories.
If Moldova-Transniestria relations mend, the Gagauzia referendum is an alternative source of instability. Some pro-Russian politicians in Chisianu are already calling for similar votes in other parts of Moldova.
As a former Georgian ambassador, I can tell you that these processes can, in the worst case scenario, spiral into armed confrontation. This is what happened in Georgia in the 1990s. Our civil wars began with autonomous regions deciding, via referendums, to stay in the USSR.
The Gagauz development clearly serves Russian interests. There are rumours the referendum was funded by Russian oligarchs of Gagauz origin. Some low-level Russian MPs frequented the region recently and Russian media have increased pro-Customs-Union content in Moldova. But there is no hard evidence of a Russian destabilisation campaign.
Whether or not the Gagauz vote was a spontaneous event, the EU needs to maintain a watchful eye. It should step up its public diplomacy in Moldova, with high-visibility economic projects that benefit local people and more high-level visits, including to local municipalities. It should speed up preparations to sign the association and free trade pact. It should also start a dialogue with Russia to avert the kind of crisis which unfolded in Ukraine.
Russia, which knows the nooks and crannies of its former empire better than EU diplomats do, also knows how to make pro-EU reforms falter. It would be great if the Kremlin understood that the spread of stability, democracy, rule of law, and the prosperity they bring, are in Russia’s own interests. But it seems we are still a long way from reaching this point.
[Originally published by EUobserver on 04.02.2014: http://euobserver.com/opinion/123000]Salome Samadashvili Democracy Eastern Europe Enlargment EU-Russia
Gagauzia: A new attack on the Eastern Partnership?
05 Feb 2014
The battlefield for defending European values has shifted to the East, to the streets of Kiev, Tbilisi and other Eastern neighbours. While these regions are willing to take full responsibility for this push for freedom, this is not only their battle and the European Union should signal this loudly and clearly in its dialogue with Russia, writes Salome Samadashvili.
As the events in Kiev have taken on a truly dramatic, violent and bloody turn, Brussels is preparing for yet another EU-Russia summit. Russia’s Ambassador to the EU has declared that this summit will not be about Ukraine. His boss, Foreign Minister Lavrov, using the terms of ‘strategic rivalry’, reminiscent of the days of the Cold War, has asserted that Russia will not allow foreign powers to break-up Ukraine. Meanwhile the EU continues to talk about ’strategic partnership’ with Russia and has not, publicly at least, pointed a finger at Moscow as the party responsible for turning Ukraine into a virtual war-zone.
The Cold War has ended without a peace treaty which would settle the terms of the outcome of this decades long standoff between the West and Russia. It was assumed that the constituent parts of the former USSR, Russia included, as well as its former satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe would venture on to become full democracies. The ‘end of history’ would bring stability and peace to the European continent. While in a long term this assumption might still be true, believing that the strategic rivalry between Russia and the West has already become a distant history, will be of the most tragic consequences for us, people living in the former Soviet republics. It can will also certainly be damaging to the long term interests of Europe.
Let’s have no doubts – what we witness in Ukraine today is the Kremlin’s attempt to impose on the world its own terms of the end of the Cold War. The settlement is written not in ink, but blood, shed in the streets of Ukraine today and my own country, Georgia, five years earlier. So at the highest political forum of the EU-Russia cooperation, it would be both timely and necessary to ask, what does “strategic partnership” with the current Kremlin administration mean? If it means a shared vision for the future and cooperation around common objectives, than the EU-Russia summit indeed cannot be only about Ukraine, it has to be about even bigger questions, which should define the EU’s policy towards Russia in the years to come.
It would be helpful if Russia got a clear signal that it cannot aspire to remain a “strategic partner” of Europe, or be part of the club of nations consisting of the wealthy democracies, for example G8 or OECD, as long as in addition to disregard for democracy in its own country, the Kremlin continues to support instability and non-democratic regimes in its neighborhood. Russia needs to know that its vital interests – such as cooperation in the field of energy, will suffer due to its choice to undermine democratic transformation and modernization of the nations in its former Empire. Freedom to travel to Europe, both for the citizens of the Russian Federation and for the elites with diplomatic passports, is another point of influence at the EU’s hands. The EU can signal its readiness to use measures such as the Magnitski Act to make clear that it does not view the current Russian government as a partner with whom it can do business as usual.
While the options, which the EU has at its disposal are not numerous, the leverage which Europe has over Moscow is much stronger, than the EU has so far been willing to acknowledge. Russia cannot continue its economic development without access to the EU markets, technological know-how or investment. Europe can make it clear that these cannot be taken for granted. Using its leverage on Russia now rather than later is in Europe’s own strategic interests. While the economic interests of the European countries in cooperation with Russia are self-evident, in a long-term perspective, an increasingly assertive, non-democratic and aggressive Russia will also hurt the EU’s economic and business ventures in the region.
“No new Munich” has been the modus operandi of the past 20 years – the West has assured the newly independent states of the former USSR, over and over again, that there would be no more agreements on spheres of influence at the expanse of the small, formerly captive nations. The fact that this continues to be true, I hope, will also be made clear at the Summit. In the coming months this should also be proven not only through words, but by demonstrating a clear commitment of the EU for greater reengagement with our countries, focused on broad support for democratization and economic growth.
Yes, we live in an increasingly complex world and the EU needs the Russian cooperation on many fronts, not least on the Middle East and Iran. But the challenges posed by the recent economic crises notwithstanding, we also live in an increasingly prosperous world, secured by advancement of democracy and freedom. We see what EU integration has brought to the countries in Central and Eastern Europe and we aspire to the same for our nations. Freedom, security, prosperity and the right to make independent choices about the future: That is what we hope for. The fact that the current Russian regime, which denies those same rights to its own people, sees this as a threat to its security, does not make our choice any less wise or legitimate. Undermining these freedoms is not a “legitimate” interest of the Russian Federation with respect to its neighbors. Which I hope will also be made clear at this Summit.
In competition of different visions for the best value system for the advancement of humanity, the battlefield for defending European values has shifted to the East, to the streets of Kiev, Tbilisi and other Eastern neighbors. While we are willing to take full responsibility in this strife for freedom, this is not only our battle. I hope the European Union will signal this loudly and clearly in its dialogue with Russia.
[Editorial published by EurActiv on 28 January 2014]Salome Samadashvili Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia Values
What should the EU-Russia summit be about?
28 Jan 2014
Yanukovych still has the choice to emerge from the current ordeal as the man who has taken Ukraine’s statehood and democracy to the next level, by securing free and fair elections and making its European future irreversible. In exchange he will be allowed to get away with the economic benefits he has gained in his three years in power.
The stakes in the epic battle for securing democratic future of Ukraine have never been higher. A signature of the Association and Free Trade agreements between Ukraine and the EU would have been seen as an irrecoverable loss by Russia under any circumstances. However, if Ukraine’s European future is sealed by the massive democratic movement we are witnessing in Kiev today, it will bring a double blow to current Russian regime. It will create a substantial obstacle on the way of Russia’s ambition to rebuild an empire, but Kiev will also become a “Rubicon” for democracy’s advancement towards Kremlin.
Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the agreements with the EU in the coming weeks will only signal that he has never intended to do so, manoeuvring to buy more time. And time is of essence-Sochi Olympics are already starting to be a disappointing affair for Putin, with the heads of several European states refusing to attend the opening ceremony. Once Sochi is over, however, the Russian President will turn his full attention to the most important jewel of his crown-the Eurasian Union. The 15 billion credit line and substantial cut in gas prices presented to Yanukovych in Moscow, make it clear that the costs of the project, as with Sochi Olympics, do not matter.
In the coming weeks the EU cannot afford to yield-Yanukovych must either sign the agreements with the EU or the new elections are in order. The argument of the opposition is clear: When the elected representatives change the strategic alliances of the country, without having a popular mandate to do so, they lose any legitimacy to take the decisions on behalf of their people.
That said the challenge posed by the new elections, is also considerable. The opposition is divided and Vitali Klichko, the most likely candidate to defeat Yanukovych, lacks the necessary political infrastructure. Yanukovych’s hold on the administrative resources, which he will use to try to falsify the election results and the likelihood of heavy Russian interference, also present a considerable threats to the outcome of the elections.
However, the longer the period of uncertainty lasts, the greater will be the damage to Ukraine-massive collapse of the economy, social unrest and instability, are the most likely consequences. The EU’s margin of interference will diminish even further, as the conditions attached to the EU assistance will never be acceptable to increasingly cornered Yanukovych, focused on his survival. Weaker Ukraine, will be an even easier prey for Russia.
To paraphrase the Austrian Philosopher, Otto Neurath, the countries in transition from authoritarian rule into modern democracy are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship. “Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there.” Ukraine and other former Soviet republics are racing against time-longer is the interval between replacement of the beams, greater is the likelihood of sinking. In the coming weeks, the EU and the US need to think strategically how to avert sinking of Ukraine’s democratic future, which is clearly a looming disaster.
While the current administration in the US might think that it is time to take a backseat and let the EU lead in its shared neighbourhood with Russia, Putin views the absence of the US as an opportunity to bring the region back under his neo-imperial rule. The Russian government is only too well aware, when it comes to confronting them, the EU, plagued with its own internal economic problems, is still a rather divided camp. It does not respect the EU’s “soft power.” Transatlantic Unity is a sine qua non for advancement of the democracy in our part of the world. We see encouraging signs of the US reengagement in the region and hope it will continue.
Western support for democracy groups in Ukraine turned out to be the most efficient form of foreign assistance. One can only regret that the leaders of the civic groups behind the mass protests, who today might be Ukraine’s last hope for securing country’s European future, do not have the time to organize themselves into the coherent political force, able to lead beyond street protests. The West needs to continue assisting broad democratization in the countries of the former USSR-helping to replace the Soviet citizens used to passivity with the ones who know how to hold their governments accountable.
Granted that Yanukovych does not sign the agreements with the EU in the nearest future, it will be up to these groups, supported by the Western political pressure, to force Yanukovych to call early elections. The West should already start mobilizing massive electoral assistance to Ukraine to prevent electoral fraud, securing the right of the Ukrainian citizens to have their voices heard through the ballot box.
Yanukovych should feel a real threat of becoming an international pariah in case he tries to steal the elections. A serious discussion of the potential sanctions against Yanukovych and his economic interests in Europe and the United States would be a good start.
Finally, convening an internationally mandated group of experts to look at real economic foes of the country and considering the potential need for “Marshal Plan” for Ukraine, which the country will likely need in order to shore up its economy, as the political crises deepens, would also be helpful.
Yanukovych still has the choice to emerge from the current ordeal as the man who has taken Ukraine’s statehood and democracy to the next level, by securing free and fair elections and making its European future irreversible. In exchange he will be allowed to get away with the economic benefits he has gained in his three years in power.
An alternative would be abandonment to the mercy of Vladimir Putin. If this choice is clearly framed, one might hope that if not patriotism or other sentiments of higher moral category, than a simple instinct of self-preservation prevails and Ukraine will be given a chance to win the race against time, securing its democratic future.
[Originally published on EurActiv.com: http://ces.tc/1fDVP3Z ]Salome Samadashvili Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia Neighbourhood Policy Values
Race Against Time-The Democratic Future of Ukraine
18 Dec 2013
Two weeks can be a long time in politics. Remember the downbeat mood in the EU on 27 November, after Ukrainian President Yanukovych’s decision to ditch the deal with the EU? With the Eastern Partnership in near shambles, the finger-pointing, the recriminations, the understanding shown for Ukrainian industry dependent on Russian, not EU export markets, the suggestions that Brussels had not offered enough incentives to Ukraine, and, of course, the accusation that it had been a fatal mistake to stick to principles about Yulia Timoshenko?
All that seems ages ago now. Last Sunday’s mass demonstration in the streets of Kiev, the biggest since 2004, came as a culmination of a rising groundswell of protest against the government, and against its violent crackdown on a pro-EU demonstration on 30 November. Of course, only a fraction of the 45 million Ukrainians are demonstrating here. And yet, it’s some of the best and brightest, and they are not only from the West of the country. Plus, although this was initially a rather leaderless people’s protest, with Vitali Klitschko, the opposition now has a fresh leader that can at least hold out the prospect of a better future and credibly promise not to repeat the mistakes made by centre right Ukrainians after 2004.
To put it in a nutshell: Last Sunday’s toppling of the Lenin statue was the best expression of what this is all about: It’s about lies, it’s about Russia, and it’s about freedom.
Because three things have transpired in these heady two weeks:
Ukraine is in a mess. Its oligarch-based government is facing default. Yanukovych doesn’t seem to be able to raise the minimal credits required to keep the country afloat, not to mention sorting out the economy. Make no mistake: That man is no friend of Putin’s. In the world according to Yanukovych, Ukraine pushes its national interest in some kind of a balancing act between the West and Russia. In the eyes of the oligarchs, it thereby preserves lucrative sleaze and avoids bothersome controls by eurocrats. But a rising number of Ukrainians don’t buy this any longer because it doesn’t produce the minimal prosperity and stability they expect. They want freedom. And Russia wants Ukraine ‘back’.
Russia is playing hardball. Some people have known that for many years, but it has dawned on really everyone in the EU in the last couple of weeks. Russia is actively and ruthlessly rolling back the already meagre successes of democracy and the rule of law in the countries of the former Soviet Union. It is using not only strongarm tactics, such as trade boycotts, energy blackmail and threats about national security – or throwing money around by buying assets and people. It is also spreading ideology – as incredible as it seems. This ideology is based on the notion of a common past – sometimes referring to the good old days of the Soviet Union, sometimes to centuries before. But in any event, the putinist narrative goes, Western ways are evil ways. We Europeans can tell ourselves a thousand times that international relations in Europe’s east can be win-win for all: That is to no avail as long as Russia defines the game as zero-sum. But current Russia is a giant with clay feet. Its long term economic and demographic prospects are atrocious. And it has its own growing disenfranchised middle class whose first stirrings we have seen in the Moscow demonstrations a year ago.
The Ukrainians are showing us what believing in the West means. Hundreds of thousands of them are braving the cold, and even risking to get beaten up by riot police. As Ed Lucas wrote in the Economist, no one takes to the streets in favour of sleazy authoritarianism. What the demonstrators want is a whole range of things, from the rule of law and an end to corruption, to decent wages and pensions, to true independence for their country. For any future government, these are daunting expectations, in view of the current mess.
There is one drawback to the developments of the last two weeks, though: The political meta-concept of geopolitics has never been more fashionable in EU discourse. Now, I’m far from claiming that geography has no influence on politics. But if, as Napoleon claimed, geography was the destiny of nations (and, by implication, political ideas like freedom of secondary importance), NATO would have collapsed instead of the Warsaw Pact, and the Soviet Union might as well be alive and kicking. And today in Ukraine (just as in 2004), there is no neat automatic East-West divide that would suggest a politico-geographic split in the country. There is more of a divide between different groups in the population: Those with a desire for fundamental change, and those with an interest in the status quo, out of greed or out of fear.
And this is where the EU’s response to the situation has to begin: With the power of ideas such as freedom and the rule of law. We were losing faith in that ourselves. It took people like Vitali Klitschko and the men and women in ‘Euromaidan’ to remind us. However the situation in Ukraine develops now: At some point in the future, a new government will be in place that requires our help. It is good that the European People’s Party already has both Ms Timoshenko’s Batkivshchina and Mr Klitschko’s UDAR parties as observer members. And it is good that the EU and the US have unequivocally supported free speech and condemned police brutality and provocations in Ukraine. Second, we need to stick to the prospect of trade and political dialogue (in association agreements) while intensifying work on civil society, especially students, entrepreneurs and future leaders. Visa policy is extremely important in this respect, but also coherent democracy support. Third, of course more resources will be needed for some time to facilitate economic reforms – that’s unavoidable. Last but not least, we have to become much more patient and farsighted, not focused on political and economic success in a few years. The struggle over Eastern Europe is closer to its beginning than to its end. But it’s good that virtually everyone in the EU now recognises it as a struggle.Roland Freudenstein Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia Neighbourhood Policy
The message from the streets of Kyiv
10 Dec 2013
In its first part this publication contains a survey about the level of knowledge of young people in Bulgaria about the communist regime and the European democratic values. What significance does the educational system assign to the recent history of Bulgaria and what do young people know about the history of dictatorship in Europe as a whole? It turns out that 33 % of young people in Bulgaria have never heard anything about the Berlin Wall, more than 85% are unfamiliar with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact or Solidarność. According to the survey, 17.5 % of young people prefer to live during the time of the communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, and only 30.8% during the democratic period after 1989. The publication is thus intended as a methodological tool for history teachers and in its second part contains a compilation of best practices from different Central and Eastern European Countries for teaching the history of the communist regimes and their consequences. The aim is to provide a source of inspiration for people working in educational institutions, ministries and even administration and to improve the quality of tuition on the subject. The publication also offers a list of online information sources about this period of Bulgarian history which pupils and teachers can make use of.Democracy Eastern Europe Education
Teaching the History of Communism – Compendium for history teachers
15 Oct 2013
The monument commemorating the Soviet army in the centre of Sofia has long been a popular meeting point for Sofia’s youth. And if you, like me, happen to wonder where is the link between the communist relic of the Soviet army and Bulgaria’s juvenile skaters, the answer is simple: they both know nothing about each other.
This is confirmed by a recent project of CES in cooperation with KAS Sofia and Hannah Arendt Centre on “The education on the communist regime and the European democratic values of the young people in Bulgaria today.” A survey which is part of the project shows that 66% of Bulgarians aged 15-35 are not aware of the term ‘Iron Curtain’, 88 % know nothing about the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, 85.5 % have never heard about Solidarność, and 33.3 % don’t know what the Berlin Wall was.
Historical ignorance is shocking, especially for a country like Bulgaria whose stormy political and economic present is influenced so much by its recent communist past. The results of the survey however should not come as a surprise. The discourse on communist past has been well-hidden from the youth since the beginning of the 90s. As the debate after the presentation of the survey pointed, some of the reasons are educational gaps – programmes of history classes devote very little time to the topic and sideline it on the last pages of textbooks; state exams never include questions on the subject and as a result students have no incentives to learn about that part of history. At the same time, the little that is left in textbooks is totally de-personalised and presented as dry facts, making it extremely boring matter to read on. In addition, and as mentioned in the study, there are almost no memorials of the victims of the communist regime in Bulgaria, which to relate the scarce text in textbooks to real stories, events and places.
The bigger factors however, standing behind the ignorance is the lack of consensus on the discourse about the legacy of communism in Bulgaria and the incapacity to face the regime as part of the country’s own history. This disagreement could be seen by looking at other reincarnations of the Soviet army monument in Sofia. Every 9 September (the day when the Russian army entered in Bulgaria in 1944) there is a small but consistent group of citizens that comes with flowers to commemorate the date. In contrast, another group requests the permanent demolition of the monument as a shameful artefact representing a regime which tortured and imprisoned its citizens in labour camps for political reasons. In 2011, the figures of Soviet soldiers were “dressed up” by a secret graffiti artist to represent characters of western superheroes featuring Superman and Santa Claus. In April this year (2013) the soldiers were painted again, this time in pink and subtitled in Czech: „Bulgaria apologises“(as a reference to the Bulgarian participation in the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia to crack the Prague spring in August 1968). Those incidents sparked polarized comments in the public and media.
All this comes to show the deep discord in parts of Bulgarian society on the topic of communism, making it almost a taboo for everyone else. Such ambiguity and politicisation do not make the tasks of history teachers easy. How do you teach something that you do not agree on to your children? In addition, most of the elderly teachers have been practicing their profession from before the fall of the Wall and had been teaching history of communism as victorious times. Today’s lesson, in turn, puts them in a difficult situation, especially when it comes to personal and career integrity and even more, when they have to face inquisitive pupils and their questions.
Reconciliation of painful histories is a task many nations had to go through, however differently from other Central and Eastern European post-communist countries, Bulgaria seems to be stuck in an impasse. The mature decision would be to face the topic and try to find a socially accepted understanding on it. Digesting totalitarian past would enable young Bulgarians to use it as a resource for future development and will foster a political culture of compromise rather than revanchism. On the contrary, it will be dangerous to keep it in the drawer and thus prevent it from entering into collective social memory and identity. Showing a low culture of remembrance and sending the dictatorial experience into oblivion for the next generations runs the real risk of history repeating itself in the future.
Three processes can help in this respect:
First, as the aforementioned publication suggests an educational reform concentrating on history teaching programmes to include more attention and tangible artefacts about the period. Teachers should be aided in their difficult task of teaching history of communism which has been very politicised and trainings could be provided. The lack of additional platforms on the topic should also be addressed: audio-visual media, interactive internet content, participative projects for pupils, etc.
Second, it should be attempted to find social consensus about the discourse for teaching the history of communism. This is probably the most difficult to achieve since many of the people who lived under the regime have very emotional personal experiences – either very negative or very positive and nostalgic. Consequently, this would require a certain degree of self-censoring of emotions, however without hiding uncomfortable facts. Transparency of facts and accessibility for the society is essential. (In Bulgaria the opening of secret police dossiers was never completely conducted.)
Third, and related to the second factor, stories need to be told in a personalised way to the new generation including narratives of dissidents, political prisoners, but also people who worked for the regime and were part of the ‘system’. This will allow for teaching of ‘histories’ (as opposed to the ‘history’) of communist rule in Bulgaria.Boyan Tanev Democracy Eastern Europe Education
On communism, skating and education
15 Oct 2013
On 2 and 3 October 2013, prominent policy-makers from the European Parliament, Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia alongside experts from the European Commission, Frontex, diplomats and analysts discussed the EU policy towards the Eastern Neighbourhood from the perspective of mobility and migration management. It is a multifaceted topic where visa liberalisation and migration management interact with factors such as democratisation reforms, trade agreements, geopolitical considerations and frozen conflicts.
The first day of this expert hearing focused on the lessons with visa liberalisation processes of the Western Balkans and the link between visa liberalisation and readmission agreements for the countries of the Eastern Partnership (EaP). Jacek Protasiewicz MEP, Vice-President of the European Parliament, who hosted the hearing, outlined that the process of visa facilitation should make people to people contact easier with the ultimate objective being visa-free travel. However, the fears of EU citizens regarding any negative effects of this process need to be addressed. Following recent visa liberalisation with the Western Balkans some EU countries experienced increase in asylum applications.
In his keynote speech, Elmar Brok MEP, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, expressed the need of a strategic approach of the EU which includes both measures allowing for circular migration and responding to the pressure which Russia exerts on the countries.
During the panels on the following day the discussants made an assessment of the state of play in visa dialogues with EaP countries and agreed that the process towards liberalisation should continue as the mutual benefits of mobility exceed the negatives. Nevertheless, all further steps on liberalisation of visas should be merit-based – measuring individual progress and achievements by the Eastern partners.
CES’s Vít Novotný emphasised the fact that democracy in Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Belarus is not advancing in the right direction while at the same time citizens of those countries have limited contact to the EU. That is why a stronger involvement of the EU is needed with a focus on civil society and travel opportunities. Mr Novotný expressed his confidence that the partnership on which EaP countries have embarked with the EU will provide additional merits alongside with visa facilitation. It is a process involving durable reforms in the area of justice, security and democratisation. He also pointed out some concrete steps which the EU should take when treating migrants from the Eastern neighbourhood – improving consular services abroad and better management of applications from state immigration agencies. Integrating migrants from those countries is central to preventing abuses on the labour market and breaches of the migrants’ social rights.
The questions and answer session which followed shed some light on the various expectations towards the upcoming summit in Vilnius. The Summit will be held on the 28-29 November 2013 and will determine not only the objectives for the next two years but also the future character of EaP policy. It is a summit charged with many expectations and its outcomes are hardly predictable, especially since Armenia expressed its interest to join a customs union with Russia. The participants agreed that EU should approach the Summit positively, keeping possibilities open. However, all countries should be judged on their ability to live up to the commitments they have made regarding Association Agreements with the EU.Eastern Europe Neighbourhood Policy
CES provides expert advice on migration during European Parliament hearing
07 Oct 2013
The Centre for European Studies is proud to participate as a Strategic Partner at GLOBSEC 2013 (Bratislava Global Security Forum), a high level conference that will take place during April 18-20, 2013.
Founded eight years ago, the GLOBSEC Bratislava Global Security Forum has become a unique foreign policy and security platform – giving a Central European twist to the strategic debate on transatlantic foreign policy, economy and security. With the participation of over 500 key stakeholders from more than 40 countries, GLOBSEC has acquired a stable position among the elite club of major conferences in Europe and North America and is often compared with prestigious forums held in Brussels or Munich.
Organised by the Slovak Atlantic Commission in cooperation with a wealth of institutional and international partners, GLOBSEC 2013 will welcome, among others: H. E. Radoslaw Sikorski, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland; H. E. Karel Schwarzenberg, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic; H. E. Štefan Füle, Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood; Yves Leterme, Deputy Secretary General, OECD, Paris; Hon. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor to the President of the United States, Washington, D.C.
This year, the Forum focuses on issues central to transatlantic and regional cooperation, including European economic prospects and the future of global economic governance. Panellists will also engage in debates over the character of Central European defence cooperation and Central Europe’s energy concerns. Other burning issues to be tackled at GLOBSEC 2013 include NATO’s post-ISAF role, new threats to cyber security, China’s role in the global financial crisis and challenges on Europe’s South-East doorstep.
As part of a packed programme, CES Deputy Director and Head of Research Roland Freudenstein will appear as a speaker in a panel entitled ‘Addressing Iran: Prevention or Treatment?’; he will be joined by Richard Norton-Taylor, Security editor with The Guardian, Amb. Kurt Volker, Executive Director, of the McCain Institute for International Leadership, Ayman Khalil, Director of the Arab Institute for Security Studies in Amman and Emily Landau, Director of Arms Control and Regional Security Program with the Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv. CES Research Associate Katarina Králiková will moderate a panel on Arab transitions as part of the Young Leaders Forum side programme. Visiting Fellow Henna Hopia is also attending the Forum as commentator during one of the dinner sessions, entitled ‘UK in the EU: with Europe but not of Europe?’
For more details concerning GLOBSEC 2013, past editions and live streaming of this year’s public sessions, please visit: http://www.globsec.org/globsec2013/Defence Eastern Europe Foreign Policy Globalisation Security
CES joins GLOBSEC 2013 in Bratislava as Strategic Partner
16 Apr 2013
The dissolution of Yugoslavia at the beginning of the 1990s gave birth to seven independent states in the Western Balkans. After the wars that followed the initial proclamation of independence in several of these countries, a period of consolidation ensued, along with European integration as well as reconciliation efforts. The principal goal of this paper is to explain the reasons that led to the wars in Western Balkans, the main issues that remained in the 2000s and the EU initiatives that were supposed to help in resolving these problematic issues and to facilitate the accession of the countries of the region to the European Union.
One of the main goals of the original idea of European integration is defined as preserving peace in the Member States. This research paper argues that the same concept should be applied to the territory of Western Balkans, that is, that the European integration of the region could help to preserve peace in the region while also providing stability and, consequently, political and economic growth. Furthermore, the paper notes the growing need for interdependence amongst all of the European nations and states on different political and societal levels.
Moreover, as the main goal of the process of European integration is twofold—consisting of stabilisation as well as accession—the author critically assesses the relative value of the European Union applying either a regional or individual approach to the respective countries in the process of accession.
Despite the effort jointly performed by the EU as well as countries from the region, this new study shows that a lot of work will still have to be done before all of the countries become sufficiently mature in a political, economic and societal sense to become members of the European Union.Balkans Eastern Europe Neighbourhood Policy
European Integration of Western Balkans: From Reconciliation To European Future
01 Jun 2012
The upcoming Communication of the European Commission on the review of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) is likely to re-confirm conditionality and differentiation as the two guiding principles for the EU’s assistance to its Eastern neighbours.Eastern Europe Mediterranean Neighbourhood Policy
European Neighbourhood Policy: Addressing Myths, Narrowing Focus, Improving Implementation
14 Jun 2011
Mart Laar was the Prime Minister of Estonia for two terms, from 1992 to 1994 and from 1999 to 2002. His role in the successful democratic transformation of Estonia made him an internationally recognized expert in “democratic transition”. “The Power of Freedom” tells the gripping story of the journey of Central and Eastern European countries “back to Europe”. It maps the history of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe in times when Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain. On the western side people enjoyed freedom, democracy, the rule of law and successful market-based economies, while those on the other side suffered at hand of violent totalitarian regimes and the socialist planned economy. These regimes destroyed economies and provoked an environmental disaster. The book offers a detailed analysis of the transition to democracy and successful integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. It looks at past achievements, current political, social and economic developments, as well as the challenges ahead – and concludes that the transition has been a true success story. Mart Laar also provides several examples of how the reunification of Europe brought stability and prosperity to Central and Eastern European countries through sound economic policies and democratic political engagement.Baltic Democracy Eastern Europe Enlargment
The Power of Freedom: Central and Eastern Europe after 1945
31 Jan 2011
The six states of the ‘Eastern Partnership’ – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and the Ukraine – can be termed the “New Eastern Europe”. In this paper Svante Cornell, discusses the EU’s internal divisions and how to deal with the new Eastern Europe. He also outlines the prospects of the Eastern Partnership.Eastern Europe EU-Russia Foreign Policy
The New Eastern Europe: Challenges and Opportunities for the EU
01 Mar 2010
József Antall’s generation witnessed the painful conclusions of the partially democratic or outright totalitarian regimes which were in place between the World Wars. They recognised that the time had come for a humanistic political era which would exclude all kinds of inhumanities, injustices and features of dictatorship which differed so widely from democracy. This can be imagined principally as a conservative social policy concept based on Christian Democracy which is able to recognize its own faults and the frailties of human nature, promoting organic development of the world and calling for change without radical turns. Prime Minister Antall considered it essential to return to Christian traditions at a fundamental level which he believed to be the basis of Western Europe: “It is simply about that in Europe even the atheists are Christians. Europe’s Christianity means culture, ethics and approach.” He often referred to the fact that after the Second World War it was the Christian Democrat politicians who began to build a unified Europe and the founding fathers belonged to that circle. József Antall overcame much adversity during his sadly shortened time in government; his political accomplishments were outstanding in the development of Hungary and the neighbouring area. He recognized the challenges of his time and he was able to find substantive answers to promote the integration of Central Europe. That is why his thoughts are contemporary and exemplary even today and should be widely known in Europe and around the world. Speeches selected for this publication were delivered before the General Assembly of the United Nations, at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe summits, Central European Initiative Heads of the States meetings, or moving, visionary ones, such as those about the concept of Europe, Hungarian foreign policy and challenges of presence, or even pre-electoral ones still are inspiration for many and serve as a tribute not only to a great leader and statesman but also as a monument to the way of approaching political and social affairs.Democracy Eastern Europe Economy
Jozsef Antall: Selected Speeches and Interviews (1989-1993)
01 Dec 2008