Our president was the surprise guest of this week! He commented on issues such as the Sputnik vaccine crisis in Slovakia, Russia’s terrorism in Czechia in 2014, the Visegrad 4 vis a vis Moscow, or the Conference on the #FutureofEurope.Roland Freudenstein Mikuláš Dzurinda Central and Eastern Europe COVID-19 EU-Russia
The Week in 7 Questions with Mikuláš Dzurinda
Multimedia - The Week in 7 Questions
07 May 2021
As the loss of sea ice accelerates throughout the Arctic, as a direct result of the global climate emergency, so too does the opportunity for harnessing its potential. Although its fluctuation is well documented, each decade the ice further recedes by an average of 13.1%, making its riches increasingly accessible.
According to estimates, the Arctic Circle is home to roughly 90 billion barrels of untapped oil – an enormous 13% of Earth’s total reserves – and roughly one quarter of global gas reserves, in addition to vast deposits of minerals. So far, extraction has transpired only on land, due to obvious logistical obstacles and associated high costs. But the push for offshore development is accelerating, effectively firing a proverbial starting pistol for Arctic nations to mark their territory.
Comprised of eight states (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the United States via Alaska, Canada, Denmark via Greenland, and Iceland), the race for geopolitical dominance in the Arctic region is being driven predominantly by one country, Russia. Although territorial disputes among the five coastal nations (Norway, Denmark, the US, Canada and Russia) are largely settled by UNCLOS or ad hoc via other fora, Russia has been fast-tracking its Arctic agenda as of late, framing the Northern arena as one of its primary great-power ambitions.
In contrast, however, the EU appears to be struggling to find its footing. Since its 2016 Joint Communication laying out its Arctic policy, notwithstanding a few sporadic declarations, it has paid insufficient attention to the region and its fast-paced developments. Although the Commission is scheduled to deliver an updated policy later this year, questions loom as to how assertive and tangible its objectives will be.
In line with the very real challenges posed by developments in the region, the EU’s updated Arctic policy needs to avoid the typical EU folly of being as convoluted as the challenges themselves.
Meanwhile, as the EU remains in the planning phase, Russia is constructing and refitting military bases at an alarming rate, developing new high-tech weapons (like the Tsirkon hypersonic anti-ship cruise missile) and holding regular drills in the region to strengthen its grip. Satellite images over the past five years confirm this steady build-up along its Arctic coastline. This includes new facilities on the Kola Peninsula, air bases on the islands of Novaya Zemlya, Alexandra Land and Kotelny, each equipped with their own array of bombers and/or fighter jets, as well as new radar systems and quick-reaction forces off the Alaskan coast.
Experts have expressed particular concern about one Russian development, the Poseidon 2M39 torpedo, believed to be stored at its Kola site as it awaits further testing and deployment in the region. This new super-weapon is no joke, having the potential to sneak past the most advanced radar systems and launch “radioactive tsunamis” of contaminated water that could devastate large coastal cities and their surrounding environment for decades.
For Russia, the Arctic has always been of strategic importance. Hydrocarbon Arctic resources have played an essential economic role since the fall of the Soviet Union. As such, Russia’s heavy-handed Arctic strategy is keeping it afloat not only economically and thus facilitating Vladimir Putin’s stranglehold over the country, but it has helped preserve Russia’s position as a major player on the world stage for decades.
Another integral component of the Arctic puzzle is the potential for new global shipping lanes, namely Russia’s fabled Northern Sea Route, which has the potential to circumvent the Suez canal and cut shipping times from Asia to Europe by 10-32%. Although serious doubts have been raised about its viability, due predominately to high costs associated with climactic obstacles, it is rather a matter of when these routes will become viable, not if, giving Russia a monopoly on the management of a significant proportion of global shipping.
The exact cause of Russia’s recent sabre-rattling in the Arctic is debatable. Flexing its might in the region has, since the Cold War, been a key component of its nuclear deterrence strategy. It could therefore be an effort to further buttress its Northern Fleet, both conventional and nuclear. Its accelerated testing of its super-weapons in the region this year could be part of a larger Kremlin strategy to test the Biden administration, bolstering support for Putin as he grapples with domestic unrest. Conversely, the multifaceted build-up could simply be an attempt to stake its claim ever-closer to the North Pole and its many opportunities, coinciding with the melting ice. Ultimately, its rationale is likely a combination of some or all of the above-mentioned factors.
In line with the very real challenges posed by developments in the region, the EU’s updated Arctic policy needs to avoid the typical EU folly of being as convoluted as the challenges themselves. It needs to be direct, action-oriented and account for each of the developing challenges, from environmental and economic to addressing the Arctic ambitions of Russia and even China, who in 2018 announced itself to be a “near-Arctic state” and “an important stakeholder in Arctic affairs.” The EU must additionally consolidate its revised Arctic policy with pre-existing agreements, like the Green Deal and EU defence initiatives. It should also lay out how it intends to work with its three Arctic member states (plus Norway and Iceland) to pursue mutually inclusive objectives.
Importantly, the Commission should dedicate part of its Arctic policy to strengthening multilateral co-operation with its allies for security and strategic deterrence against Russia, balancing resolve and restraint, through NATO but also on a bilateral basis with other Arctic states, especially the US. Both could serve as a much needed stepping stone to reinforcing the strained transatlantic relationship and show Russia that it’s not the only player in the region.
After all, this so-called “geopolitical” Commission needs to assert itself and, in practical terms, lay out the roadmap for becoming a legitimate Arctic player. Otherwise, the EU risks letting another significant international event play out while it watches helplessly from the sidelines.Gavin Synnott Energy EU-Russia Trade
Walking on Thin Ice: The EU Must Define its Arctic Strategy or Risk Getting Left Out in the Cold
20 Apr 2021
“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
Jakub and Roland went through the EU strategy for Russia, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, Czechia’s and Brussel’s response to Russian disinformation campaigns, and Putin’s agenda.Roland Freudenstein Jakub Janda EU-Russia
The Week in 7 Questions with Jakub Janda
Multimedia - The Week in 7 Questions
26 Mar 2021
The EU needs to rethink its Russia policy. Instead of chasing after Vladimir Putin’s confrontational regime, European leaders, who are meeting on 25 March, should throw their support behind those who work for social change and promote democracy in Russia.
Europeans must rid themselves of any expectations or hope for constructive engagement with Putin. The Russian leader’s famous social contract—co-opting citizens into accepting authoritarian rule in exchange for economic security, social stability, and Crimea —is bankrupt.
After unprecedented state violence against nationwide protests in January, the regime has embarked on what activists call a “new era of repression.” The picture of a masked riot police officer sitting under a portrait of Vladimir Putin has become a symbol of the confrontation between the state and the people. Russian philosopher Oksana Timofeeva speaks of a “declaration of terror” against society.
But Putin does not represent Russia as a whole. Young, energetic Russians have emerged, working towards a freer, more open society. Local protests have been flaring up all over the country, with citizens rallying against unpaid wages, toxic industrial plants, unwanted landfills, and corrupt officials. Well-documented protests in support of jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny are the first to show that support can be mobilised on a nationwide scale.
And it’s not only protests. Russian civil society is more active, resilient, and dynamic than EU policymakers recognise. After ten years of repression, it is more creative and diverse than ever. Many groups reach larger audiences, fundraise successfully, and experiment with new business models. Independent online media have joined civic activism, uncovering corruption, reporting on abuses and informing citizens on their rights. Professional groups (journalists, doctors, and scientists) are coming out in solidarity with repressed colleagues. Volunteerism and philanthropy are on the rise.
For the Putin regime, this active civil society is an enemy. In addition to authorising police violence, the regime has pushed some 100 new laws through the Duma since December that attempt to strangle NGOs, civil rights, protests, education, media, and the Internet. Civic experts speak of the beginning of “quasi-totalitarian control of all citizens and international contacts.”
The 2012 “foreign agent” law, which affected only registered NGOs, has been expanded to target individual citizens or unregistered initiatives receiving international funds. It imposes penalties of up to five years in prison for those who fail to register and report on activities. Pressure is rising on the media, who have their own “foreign agent media” register, while new criminal defamation laws make it an offence to criticise groups like the police or security forces. Despite protests from scientists and academics, new laws aim at cutting the educational sector from international cooperation.
At their March summit, European leaders must confront this repressive Russia. “It’s a tsunami,” a veteran Russian civil society representative said recently, calling for more attention and support from Western policymakers.
Beyond imposing further sanctions against Russian officials, it’s time for Europe to actively engage with the “other Russia”. Individuals and groups working for social change and development in Russia are Europe’s best partners. Many of them support Western values and are keen to cooperate with EU partners, share know-how, and connect to cross-border networks, despite laws aimed at stopping them.
Instead of illusions of partnership with Putin and his officials, European policymakers should side with Russians who want their country “to be democratic, modern, dynamically developing, and free from a personalist Putin regime”, a petition signed by Russian supporters abroad states.
EU leaders must finally develop an attractive agenda for its ‘fifth principle’ guiding relations with Russia. This action plan must go far beyond aiding registered NGOs, to address the broad eco-system of activists engaged on the problems Russia’s regime has failed to address: ecology, corruption, domestic violence, torture, HIV/AIDS, election monitoring, migration, and prison reform.
The annual 11 million euros earmarked by the EU for Russian civil society support need to be increased, given the country’s size and its 145 million citizens. To reach new, informal groups, active in remote regions of Russia, the EU needs to develop smaller, more flexible funding instruments. Activists, students, scientists, and artists should be put at the head of the EU visa queue. An EU coordinator for civil society relations with Russia needs to be appointed.
For the Putin regime, the EU is an adversary. Europe’s best chance to support a better future for Russia is to connect to the country’s civic activists and wider Russian society.Barbara von Ow-Freytag Democracy EU-Russia Foreign Policy Leadership
Barbara von Ow-Freytag
The Other Russia – Europe’s Best Bet
22 Mar 2021
MEP Tom Vandenkendelaere discussed a series of timely EU-related topics with Roland Fredenstein like Brexit, Covid-19, the Digital Markets Act, or Russia.Roland Freudenstein COVID-19 Digital EU-Russia
The Week in 7 Questions with Tom Vandenkendelaere
Multimedia - The Week in 7 Questions
05 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
Tens of thousands of people, young and old, marched through Russian cities and towns in January to protest against the imprisonment of the Russian blogger and Kremlin critic, Alexei Navalny, detained upon his return from Germany. Navalny, after his treatment in the EU for a near-fatal poisoning, was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison on 2 February. The protesters have been met with an aggressive crackdown by the police – not unlike that of Lukashenka in Belarus. However, there is more to protest than the wrongful imprisonment of the opposition leader.
President Putin has faced growing discontent among the general public for several years amid a decline in real incomes and the dissipation of the patriotic fervour that accompanied his annexation of Crimea in 2014. This Martens Centre webinar will focus on the following points: what do these protests mean for the Kremlin? Is this the beginning of the end of President Putin’s rule? How does the future that awaits the Russian population look like? What role should the EU play, and should it revise its Russia strategy now? Join us for an engaging discussion!Carl Bildt Mikuláš Dzurinda Vladimir Milov EU-Russia
Putin’s Twilight? Assessing the Protests and the EU’s Position
Live-streams - Multimedia
23 Feb 2021
Niklas Nováky Álvaro de la Cruz Defence EU-Russia
Defence Dialogue Episode 9 – What should Europe learn from Borrell’s visit to Moscow?
Defence Dialogues - Multimedia
22 Feb 2021
Today’s episode had to be about what’s happening in Russia. For that purpose, we invited Maria Snegovaya to talk about her home country from D.C.Roland Freudenstein EU-Russia
The Week in 7 Questions with Maria Snegovaya
Multimedia - The Week in 7 Questions
05 Feb 2021
This time we bring you former Europe Minister of Portugal, Bruno Maçães, who answered 7 questions on Covid-19, Portugal’s presidency of the Council, Russia, or Transatlantic Relations.Roland Freudenstein Bruno Maçães COVID-19 EU-Russia Transatlantic relations
The Week in 7 Questions with Bruno Maçães
Multimedia - The Week in 7 Questions
29 Jan 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
Among those who remember their experience under communist, totalitarian regimes who imprisoned and sometimes killed freedom fighters, some are now asking: why did Navalny return to Russia? Doesn’t he know what happened to Kasparov, Khodorkovsky and other exiles? The fate of Nemtsov and Politkovskaya? Or has he already forgotten what he recently experienced while returning from Siberia? Moreover, Russian authorities had already stated that should Navalny return to Russia, he would be immediately detained.
Navalny’s return to Russia after his medical treatment in Germany is such a courageous act that it immediately gave rise to various conspiracy scenarios and ‘theories’. Some question his sanity or suspect he seeks martyrdom, while others search for broader geopolitical patterns or various power games.
The vocation of ‘politician’ is undoubtedly a very complex discipline, as is a decathlon in athletics. Like athletics, politics is a competition. And what determines the outcome of every competition is the heart which generates the will, along with the brain which draws up the strategy and the tactics.
To me, it seems that Navalny has the passion for politics. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have, for years, acted in Russia the way he did and does. Today, Navalny feels first and foremost that he has entered a contest, in the top political ‘league’ playable in Russia. Navalny is aware of having embarked on a real struggle. He is aware that he has no other choice. In his heart, he is absolutely clear about that. A fighter would never quit the marathon, mid-race, with slouched shoulders.
Navalny’s brain and intellect have confirmed to him that he has no choice, barring simply giving up. Navalny realises that he cannot achieve anything fighting from beyond Russian borders, the same as Kasparov, Khodorkovsky, and other exiles. But Navalny also knows that by being in Russia, he can potentially achieve something. Just like Wałęsa, Havel, Landsbergis, and many other jailed dissidents or church leaders who suffered and often died in communist prisons because they did not abandon their struggle for freedom. What Navalny does not know is the price he will have to pay for his struggle and victory. He does not even know if he will live to see his victory.
He is fighting for what we, living in the free West, also need: faith in ideals, values, and principles, along with the resolve to defend these principles every day.
In a time where the West has experienced unprecedented prosperity, consumerism, and consequently, selfishness and cynicism, Navalny’s act is morally and ethically revitalising. It reminds us of something much more valuable, and at the same time much more promising than money, villas, yachts, or other possessions: Navalny’s act is the manifestation of ideals. True, Navalny certainly hopes that the regime will not dare to remove him. He certainly believes also in the solidarity of the international democratic community and its impact. He is, however, plainly aware of the extreme risks associated with his return to Russia for himself and his family. That is why he deserves our respect and esteem. He is fighting for what we, living in the free West, also need: faith in ideals, values, and principles, along with the resolve to defend these principles every day. And, where necessary, even at the price of personal discomfort or risk. Those to whom these words seem like platitudes or clichés need only to look at the US Capitol these days.Mikuláš Dzurinda Democracy EU-Russia Leadership Values
The Reasons Behind Navalny’s Return
18 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
Today’s surprise guest is Lithuanian MEP Andrius Kubilius! Don’t miss his 7 answers to Roland Freudenstein on Belarus, Putin’s Russia, or the coming US Election between Biden and Trump.Roland Freudenstein Andrius Kubilius EU-Russia EU-US
The Week in 7 Questions with Andrius Kubilius
Multimedia - The Week in 7 Questions
23 Oct 2020
Mass protests have rocked Belarus since the 9 August presidential election, with thousands of people marching in Minsk and other cities throughout the country, demanding the resignation of Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The unprecedented wave of unrest was triggered by the results of the election, that handed Lukashenka a crushing victory with 80% of the vote. His main challenger, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and her supporters refused to recognise the validity of the result.
In the first days after the vote, Belarusian authorities cracked down brutally on the protesters, detaining hundreds of protesters and prosecuting top activists. Many prominent members of the Coordination Council for the Transfer of Power have either been arrested or forced to leave the country.
This online event aimed to discuss the recent developments in the country, focusing on the radical change within Belarusian society, the driving force of the revolution. How can the EU support the nation’s transition to free and democratic elections? Will Putin give his unconditional support to the last dictator in Europe? These and other questions will be tackled during the discussion.Katerina Jakimovska Andrius Kubilius Democracy EU-Russia
Online Event ‘Belarus: What’s Next?’
Live-streams - Multimedia
19 Oct 2020
Petri Sarvamaa is Roland’s surprise guest this time! Watch the EPP Group MEP’s answers on Rule of Law across the EU including his country, Finland, which should be the institution ensuring it, and how does Putin’s Russia see the debate.Roland Freudenstein EU Institutions EU Member States EU-Russia
The Week in 7 Questions with Petri Sarvamaa
Multimedia - The Week in 7 Questions
16 Oct 2020
Unresolved problems continue to haunt you no matter how hard you try to ignore them. Germany is painfully reminded of this after yet another turn in the never-ending Nord Stream 2 saga. The horrid poisoning of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny has put pressure on the German government (both at home and internationally) to rethink its commitment to the pipeline project, should the Kremlin refuse to cooperate in the investigation. There is little chance for Berlin to unilaterally cancel such a large infrastructure project, which is nearing completion. Any diplomatic hints that it might do so may be a well-calibrated attempt to test Vladimir Putin’s resolve. However, one thing is certain – the latest developments have shown again that the Gazprom-led pipeline is nothing more than a political project with grave implications for Europe’s energy security and uncertain economic gains.
For several years, the construction of Nord Stream 2 (NS 2) irked different European capitals and put a strain on Washington and Berlin’s relationship. The project is planned to double the volume of the existing Nord Stream 1 pipeline, with the total volume of both ventures being a maximum of 110 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year. Gazprom has pledged to guarantee 50% of the project funding and will be the sole shareholder in the project, which is backed by five other European companies. Although technically a private corporation, Gazprom remains owned by the Russian government and is used as an important tool in advancing the Kremlin’s economic and geopolitical interests outside Russia’s borders. The new extension of the pipeline will fortify the Russian Federation as the EU’s top supplier of natural gas – a position Moscow has exploited in the past through unfair price setting and partitioning gas markets in Central, Eastern, and Baltic EU member states. Regrettably, if the pipeline becomes operational, it will go against one of the European Energy Union’s main objectives – diversification of energy suppliers and reduced dependence on only a handful of third-country exporters.
Several European leaders have already objected to the project and its destabilising geopolitical consequences for energy security in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as its clear attempt to circumvent Ukraine as a transit country for natural gas to Europe. A recent European Parliament resolution, adopted with an overwhelming majority, called for the official halt of the project. There is little rationale for such costly infrastructure, given that it will not transport new volumes of gas, but will instead redistribute existing quantities flowing through Ukraine. The European Union has an abundance of existing gas infrastructure and has pledged to reduce fossil fuel dependence in the coming decades. There is a real possibility that NS 2 would become a stranded asset buried below the Baltic Sea in the near future.
For the time being, Gazprom looks set to complete the project, albeit with a significant delay due to regulatory hurdles and changes in the applicable European legislation. Irrespective of Russia’s military aggression in Crimea, foreign interference in elections, and energy blackmail of smaller EU-member states, it seems as if it will be business as usual for Germany when it comes to pipelines. There are at least two main reasons for Berlin’s dogged determination to see the project completed. First, Germany’s pledge to phase out nuclear energy by 2022 and reduce its reliance on coal means that households and industry will register a growing demand for natural gas as a transitionary resource throughout the 2020s. Second, the country is still path dependent on the dubious legacy of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), and its steadfast belief in a ‘modernisation partnership’, meaning a warmer attitude towards Russia. Prominent political figures from the SPD in the last two decades have committed Germany to the whole Nord Stream energy venture, regardless of the split it causes between Eastern and Western EU member states, and also the betrayal towards Ukraine.
One of the few plausible scenarios for preventing the completion of the pipeline would be additional pressure from the US – more expansive sanctions from the US State Department might prove painful for current and future investors. Even if the President changes after the November elections, the White House will likely keep its determination to prevent further tightening of Gazprom’s energy grip on Europe.
It is most likely that Germany will not unilaterally cancel the completion of Nord Stream 2 in the upcoming months. The path dependency of Berlin’s energy policy requires that the country remain committed to the pipeline, even at the cost of going against the interests of many European member states and the European Energy Union’s overarching goals. Only an external occurrence can tip the scale against NS 2 – strengthened political and economic pressure from Washington, or an extreme deterioration of EU-Russia relations in the next several months. It is more likely that the wedlock between Berlin and Gazprom will be reaffirmed, and the promise for Europe to speak with one voice on its energy policy will remain nothing more than a pipe dream.Dimitar Lilkov Energy EU-Russia Renewable Energy
Nord Stream 2: Business as Usual at Europe’s Expense
06 Oct 2020
Don’t miss her answers to Roland Freudenstein on Belarus and how its authoritarian regime is trying to stay in power with Russia’s propaganda help.Roland Freudenstein EU-Russia
The Week in 7 Questions with Kaciaryna Šmacina
Multimedia - The Week in 7 Questions
18 Sep 2020
Don’t miss Roland Freudenstein and Vladimir Milov discussing the latest events on Belarus and Russia, including Navalny’s poisoning and Putin’s interference in Minsk affairs.Roland Freudenstein Vladimir Milov EU-Russia
The Week in 7 Questions with Vladimir Milov
Multimedia - The Week in 7 Questions
04 Sep 2020
Revolution is unfolding in Belarus. We just witnessed its first phase – Alyaksandr Lukashenka has been struck by a landslide defeat, with 60-80 percent of voters choosing Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya. Lukashenka is trying to steal this victory from Belarusians, so the revolution continues in the streets and with strikes. People are going to the streets to defend their victory.
Some views can be heard in Lithuania and elsewhere in the West, that this revolution is useful for the Kremlin, that it may even have been orchestrated by the Kremlin’s secret service itself. Some believe that Lukashenka is the sole guarantor of the sovereignty of Belarus and that the alternative candidates are the Kremlin’s project. This way, the Kremlin wanted to weaken Lukashenka and drive him to beg for the Kremlin’s assistance, they say.
These are quite absurd conspiracy insinuations. The driving force of the Belarusian revolution is not one or another candidate, but the radical change within Belarusian society itself. A new civic nation has been born in Belarus. This civic nation is the true leader of the revolution, and Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya is its symbol.
The unconscious, and totally wrong willingness to accept the continuation of Lukashenka’s rule in Belarus reminds me of the Sąjūdis era, more than 30 years ago. Back then some in the West would call on Lithuanians to “slow down” our pro-independence revolution, as it was harmful to Gorbachev. They would say to us ‘we have to preserve Gorbachev because he is the guarantor of perestroika, your revolution is damaging him’. It is only normal that we did not listen to such insinuations. It is good that today, Belarusians are not so keen either to listen to similar “advice”.
And now on to the main question – why, in my firm belief, is the Belarusian revolution nothing but a big headache and a nightmare for the Kremlin?
First, because the birth of the civic nation in Belarus is “contagious” for Russia. We see persistent protests in Khabarovsk, which are very similar to the ones in Belarus – without clear leadership or organisation, but still continuing. Important elections are approaching in Russia – regional elections this September and Duma elections next year. Vladimir Putin understands very well these processes in Belarus, and how they constitute a signal that the authoritarian regimes in the whole post-Soviet hemisphere are approaching their “expiry date”.
Second, Putin must be aware that he is entrapped: he cannot support the revolution in Belarus (because a similar revolution may start in Russia), which is why he congratulates Lukashenka. However, Lukashenka is as toxic for Belarusians as Yanukovych was for Ukrainians in 2013. Back then, Putin supported Yanukovych, occupied Crimea and part of the Donbas, and became the No. 1 enemy of the Ukrainian nation (“Putin – chuilo”). He actually “helped” Ukrainians to unite and choose the Western path of development.
The same may happen to Putin with regard to Belarus – he cannot support the revolution, but by supporting Lukashenka he would alienate all those who voted against Lukashenka, making them eager to look for friendship elsewhere, not in Moscow.
Putin “helped” to consolidate the pro-Western Ukraine. Ukraine has finally left the post-imperial realm of the Kremlin with Putin’s “help” in 2014. Now it’s Belarus’ turn.
It’s a zugzwang for the Kremlin – whatever it does, it’s bad: if it supports Lukashenka, it will alienate the Belarusian nation; if it supports the revolution in Belarus, a similar fate awaits in Russia.
Bad times for autocrats: in Minsk and in Moscow!
Zhyve Belarus!Andrius Kubilius Democracy EU-Russia Foreign Policy
Belarus: A trap for the Kremlin?
12 Aug 2020
The role of small member states in EU foreign policy is increasingly being challenged, especially in view of the reforms being proposed to make the EU more effective as an international actor. These reforms, if adopted, will require the small Central and Eastern European member states, such as Bulgaria, to rethink their old foreign-policy strategies and practices. Instead of band-wagoning and balancing conflicting interests, these small member states will have to learn to be more proactive, to build their reputations and to form alliances if they want to continue to have any influence on EU foreign policy. These issues are discussed in the light of the EU sanctions adopted against Russia in the aftermath of the Ukrainian–Russian conflict of 2014.
Read the full article of the June 2020 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Jean F. Crombois EU Member States EU-Russia Foreign Policy
Jean F. Crombois
Lilliput Effect Revisited: Small States and EU Foreign Policy
30 Jul 2020
This article discusses hybrid threats and the steps that Europe, through various national, EU and NATO initiatives, has taken in recent years to address them. Although these threats do not constitute a new challenge for states and international actors, they became a major concern for European countries following Russia’s conventional and unconventional war in Ukraine in 2014. The article argues that addressing hybrid threats is a constant, never-ending process that requires the development of societal and governmental resilience. Hybrid threats are constantly changing and evolving, which means that our response to them also needs to be constantly evolving in order to keep up. The article also provides some recommendations for European policymakers on the next steps that Europe, especially the EU, should take when addressing hybrid threats.
Read the full article of the June 2020 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Eitvydas Bajarūnas Defence EU-Russia European Union Security
Addressing Hybrid Threats: Priorities for the EU in 2020 and Beyond
24 Jul 2020
You cannot miss this week’s surprise guest, Monika Richter, the woman at the heart of the China disinformation incident at the European External Action Service. She answered 7 questions on Chinese and Russian propaganda and agendas during COVID-19, the European lack of preparation to tackle them, and why is she leaving her job.Roland Freudenstein China EU-Russia
The Week in 7 Questions with Monika Richter
Multimedia - The Week in 7 Questions
17 Jul 2020
Today with Bruno Lété to discuss EU politics with Roland Freudenstein. Watch his points on matters such as online events, the post-COVID19 era in Belgium, Transatlantic Relations, or Merkel and Putin.Bruno Lété Roland Freudenstein COVID-19 EU-Russia Transatlantic
The Week in 7 Questions with Bruno Lété
Multimedia - The Week in 7 Questions
12 Jun 2020
This time with Rasa Juknevičienė, EPP MEP, discussing EU-Russia relations, the Baltics, and other political issues.Roland Freudenstein Baltic EU-Russia
The Week in 7 Questions with Rasa Juknevičienė
Multimedia - The Week in 7 Questions
15 May 2020
Russia’s situation regarding Covid-19 does not look good, by any definition. According to Worldometers, the country is currently ranked #2 by new cases (being surpassed only by the United States) and #7 by active cases. That said, one should bear in mind the extremely low reliability of Russian testing data. First, there are numerous recorded cases of people who fell ill with Covid-19 symptoms, receive negative test results, and are then tested repeatedly, and only after several tests do the results turn to be positive. The most outrageous cases include posthumous positive tests for people who died from coronavirus after having tested negative while they were still alive. Second, Russia only tests people who have returned from abroad, have clear symptoms or have contacted coronavirus-positive patients, while private testing of a broader (unlimited) range of people suggests that the number of infected is much higher than the official figures. Third, there are constant limitations with testing capacity – although Russia claims to have reached 150,000 tests per day, at times it is unable to operate at full capacity. Just recently, Moscow – the best-equipped region in the country – has reported a 25% drop in daily testing, due to a lack of auxiliary material (pipettes). Fourth, most tests are done in Moscow, and we don’t even know what the real picture is in the Russian regions.
Russian coronavirus mortality rates are relatively low (within the 1% range), but one should be warned against trusting them, due to multiple reports of corona-suspicious deaths being reclassified as ‘the flu’ or other diseases. I would advise against speculation on that topic until we are able to see the official mortality statistics for March-April by cause of death, which will allow us to track clear numerical anomalies.
In short, Russia is paying a heavy price for the authorities’ indecisiveness in introducing quarantine measures, the ambiguous nature of those measures, a poorly equipped health care system, and the extremely ineffective implementation of already introduced restrictions. For instance, the Russian web is flooded with videos of long lines, with thousands of people standing together – without any social distancing whatsoever – just to be checked by police for electronic passes before boarding subway trains. Or similarly, massive lines of people waiting to receive physical passes in regions where authorities didn’t really go digital in their restrictive measures. Or huge crowds of workers at factories, who are brought together after a working day for ‘sanitising’ measures. Ineffective bureaucracy doubles down on already severe infection risks. Russian hospitals are totally unequipped to handle Covid-19 patients in all regards – many reports on this from across the country can also be found on the web.
More serious are the economic motives for people to disobey quarantine rules. Vladimir Putin has declared five ‘non-working weeks’ until the end of April, but has never introduced any formal emergency, nor has he provided entrepreneurs with any compensation for this massive ‘paid leave’. According to a poll by the Center for Strategic Research, 30% of Russian employers have directly disobeyed Putin’s order and forced people to work; most of the others offered either reduced or no pay, or began firing people. A Higher School of Economics poll suggests that, as early as the beginning of April, 70% of Russians already felt declining incomes, of which 24% reported ‘total loss’ of income. The Government has been systemically refusing to provide meaningful and direct aid to ordinary citizens and SMEs – they have only pledged limited measures, about 70% of which are exemptions from payments due much later, and the remaining assistance is very hard to obtain due to administrative barriers.
In this situation, Russians are literally forced to get back to work as soon as possible – and two-thirds of the Russian regions have begun to partially reopen businesses and ease restrictions as early as the first days of April. This may have a catastrophic effect on the further spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in Russia. The latest news (April 23rd) is that Moscow has recorded a new spike in Covid-19 cases, by almost 30% in just four days.
It looks like Putin’s ineffective system of governance is taking a major toll on Russians in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, such as the one we are facing now. Political implications for Putin will be enormous: Russia is already tired of almost thirteen years of slacking economic growth, and six years of decline and stagnation of real incomes. Putin’s popularity was already worn out when Russia entered this crisis – now many people in the country are appalled by Putin’s lack of decisiveness and unwillingness to aid people and a collapsing economy. Consequences will inevitably follow.Vladimir Milov COVID-19 EU-Russia
Russia’s Covid-19 Time of Reckoning
27 Apr 2020
Disinformation and misinformation around COVID-19 continue to proliferate around the world, with potentially harmful consequences for public health and effective crisis communication. In the EU and elsewhere, coordinated disinformation messaging seeks to frame vulnerable minorities as the cause of the pandemic and to fuel distrust in the ability of democratic institutions to deliver effective responses.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said false claims “are spreading faster than the virus” and has already termed it an “infodemic of planetary proportions”. How can we beat misinformation? How to recognise disinformation and help stop it from spreading? What is the EU doing about it? Join our online debate to find out answers to those questions.Anna van Oeveren China COVID-19 EU-Russia
Online Event ‘Can the EU gear up against Covid-19 disinformation?’
Live-streams - Multimedia
23 Apr 2020
Watch Jan Techau answering 7 questions about Germany, Angela Merkel, France, the EU, UK, Russia, China, COVID-10, and even Super Heroes!Roland Freudenstein Brexit China COVID-19 EU Member States EU-Russia
The Week In 7 Questions with Jan Techau
Multimedia - The Week in 7 Questions
17 Apr 2020
A podcast series that aims to challenge commonly held assumptions about the European project in a tour de force through European history, culture and civilisation. Podcast host Federico Ottavio Reho redefines political correctness with the help of razor-sharp arguments and beautifully drawn historical parallels.Federico Ottavio Reho Christian Democracy Democracy EU Member States EU-Russia EU-US European Union
[Europe Out Loud] “The light that failed?” a chat with Ivan Krastev
Europe out Loud - Multimedia
10 Apr 2020
The Martens Centre was delighted to host Ivan Krastev and MEP Radosław Sikorski in a conversation on the alleged divisions between Eastern and Western member states. Based on the book The Light that Failed, Stephen Holmes and Ivan Krastev argue that the supposed end of history turned out to be only the beginning of an Age of Imitation. The Bulgarian author together with EPP’s MEP Sikorski answered the question why did the West, after winning the Cold War, lose its political balance?
What do you think? Give us your opinion!Mikuláš Dzurinda Roland Freudenstein EU Member States EU-Russia EU-US
Event ‘The Light that Failed’ in Brussels
Live-streams - Multimedia
04 Mar 2020
On January 15th, Vladimir Putin delivered a landmark address to the Russian Parliament, announcing changes to the Russian Constitution paving the way to shaping the post-2024 system of power, and dismissed Dmitry Medvedev’s cabinet, suggesting the new candidate for the position of Prime Minister for the first time since 2012. What happened and why did it happen now?
Why Putin made such major steps so early?
It is quite unusual for Putin to make such radical election-oriented steps four years before the expiration of his current Presidential term. Normally, his tactics were to keep his plan secret until about 2-3 months before the elections, to be able to catch his opponents off-guard and push his agenda through voters’ approval quickly, before its potential wears out. This happened in 2000, when Boris Yeltsin announced his early resignation to pave way for Putin’s Presidency; then in 2007, when Medvedev was announced Putin’s nominal seat-keeper successor three months before the March 2008 election; and further in 2011, when Putin’s comeback to power was announced two months before the State Duma elections. Why make such major steps now, when Putin still has a lot of time ahead?
One explanation is that Constitutional changes will take time to be adopted – but that still isn’t enough, because the current Constitutional majority of the ruling party and total control over the media allow Putin to adopt whatever changes he wants rather swiftly. The other odd thing is that there are no immediate reasons – neither economic nor political – to sack Dmitry Medvedev’s cabinet right now. Russia’s economy is not doing too well, but there’s nothing catastrophic happening either. The situation is hardly different from where it was months ago and where it is expected to be further into 2020: full-bodied stagnation, as described in economics books.
It may have made sense if only Putin had appointed a decisive reformist Prime Minister to reshuffle things and move the economy forward – but the candidacy suggested to replace Medvedev, the head of the Tax Revenue Service Mikhail Mishustin, is anything but that (a few more words on him below).
Politically, one would also expect that such an advantageous move as the sacking of the quite unpopular Medvedev would be tied to some kind of upcoming elections, but these are not on the immediate horizon (State Duma elections are only scheduled for September 2021, and there are no plans yet to move them earlier). The political effect of Medvedev’s sacking (which would most likely be approved by the majority of Russians) will rather quickly expire. So why throw everything at the table at once – Constitutional changes, sacking the Prime Minister, plus also announcing a major social spending package worth around $6,5-7,5 billion a year – while elections are quite far away?
The obvious answer is that Putin grows extremely worried about his plunging approval ratings and weakening political positions, and his nerve somehow shows up
It should also be noted that Putin’s moves came as a complete surprise to many top Russian officials. Russian media has even cited unnamed federal Ministers who admitted that Medvedev’s resignation came as a complete surprise to them. This corresponds to my own knowledge – I used to work in the Russian government and have a lot of contacts there, who confirmed to me the completely surprising nature of Putin’s decision on the cabinet’s fate.
The obvious answer is that Putin grows extremely worried about his plunging approval ratings and weakening political positions, and his nerve somehow shows up. An eye-opener was his annual December 2019 press conference, which was intended to be the usual show of popular support, but instead demonstrated the severe extent of society’s fatigue with Putin: even most of the questions from loyal media were about the country’s serious troubles instead of praising Putin’s leadership, and the commentary on social media was so overwhelmingly negative that Russian TV channels were forced to turn off comments and hide dislikes on Youtube broadcasts under pressure from Putin (the same thing happened with Youtube videos of his New Year’s address).
Looking at the broader context, another process which is happening in the background are the Kremlin’s preparations for the 2021 Duma elections, which shows a lot of panicking and desperation on the Presidential administration’s part. They seem to be in a desperate search for any fresh ideas and non-political celebrity recruits for the election campaign, ending up with such ridiculous moves as the recent announcement about the creation of a new political party led by the founder of the World of Tanks online game.
A solid, self-assured leader would definitely be rationing all the major steps that Putin made on Wednesday, gradually announcing them piece by piece on the pathway to 2024: Constitutional changes, Government reshuffle, major social aid packages. To throw them out all at once, way ahead of any elections, looks a bit like panic and desperation to me.
Act fast to prevent the disastrous political consequences
There are constant rumours circulating among the Russian power circles that the fresh “classified” opinion polling constantly done by the Kremlin shows that things are much too bad for Putin in terms of public opinion, such that he needs to somehow act fast to prevent the disastrous political consequences. It is also worth saying that the openly published polls also do not paint too bright a picture of him: his popularity is way down, and Russians are clearly unhappy about the situation in the country and disapprove most of the official policies.
Another sign that Putin may be getting nervous is the candidate for the new Prime Minister. Mikhail Mishustin is the anti-hero of the modern-day Russian economy, a true incarnation of The Beatles’ “Taxman” – he was essentially in the tax collection business for most of the past 20 years, and recent months were filled with headlines of him bragging about tax revenue collection growing by 10-12% year on year, despite a lack of economic growth (which essentially meant a dramatic increase of the tax burden on the economy through toughening tax collection administration).
Russians are clearly unhappy about the situation in the country and disapprove most of the official policies
FNS, or Tax Revenue Service headed by Mishustin, is arguably the most hated Government agency by Russian entrepreneurs, and high taxes and burdensome tax collection administration were always occupying the top positions in many recent surveys of business as key factors constraining economic growth. Mishustin was never known for any involvement in the forward-looking and reform-drafting business. He was always fully in the tax collection business. Most definitely, this appointment is not reassuring news for the Russian economy; it rather means further fiscal pressure.
So why appoint such a man? Arguably, the explanation is similar as to why the Government has been raising taxes and thus killing the economic growth, while at the same time the budget runs huge surpluses and has no immediate need for extra money. Putin is uncertain about the economic future and prefers to entrust Government to a man who guarantees him cash at hand – even at the expense of growth.
Essentially, the aura of Putin’s Wednesday speech was all about cash redistribution, not growth. He doesn’t seem to care about growth as such. Putin and the new Prime Minister-designate Mishustin are blood brothers in this regard.
Uncertainty and nervousness behind Putin’s actions
Uncertainty and nervousness. These are probably the keywords describing the whole set of Putin’s initiatives yesterday. The same goes for proposed Constitutional changes: despite many details announced, it is totally uncertain how the new system of power will work.
One thing is clear though: there will be no union with Belarus or any full-powered Putin successor as President, as Putin has deemed these scenarios too risky and challenging for his supremacy. He would prefer to stay in power beyond 2024 in a good old-fashioned Central Asian way, a replica of what his buddy Nursultan Nazarbayev did in 2019 – leaving the Presidential post, but retaining power in many ways. Putin has suggested various options to make that happen: we’ll see increased powers of the State Council (Gossovet, which he probably will chair beyond 2024), and more powers on forming the Government devolved to the State Duma.
Again, it is too early to see how all this will play out – we’re yet to see the draft Constitutional changes – but one thing is clear: Putin has proposed a shift from the current system, which is too centred on the powers of the President, to a more complicated system of checks and balances, which would allow him to retain power beyond 2024 in some new capacity (most likely as the Chair of Gossovet).
Which means he’s not going anywhere – at least by free will. We will have to get rid of him through political means – shifting the public opinion towards the support of the opposition, and participation in the parliamentary and presidential elections. More on that to follow – but Putin has just unveiled a plan to stay in power as lifetime leader.Vladimir Milov Democracy EU-Russia Foreign Policy
Putin and the road to 2024: What happened?
16 Jan 2020
After President Putin came to power in 2000, western Russia experts tried to find hopeful signs that would indicate that Putin’s intention was to make Russia more democratic. However, the Russo-Georgian War crushed these hopes. Since then, for almost ten years, western political scientists have analysed Russia’s developments and any signs of Putin’s problems as a potential end of his political reign.
Despite challenges and economic difficulties, Putin has successfully held onto power. For the past few years many analysts have again changed their views and now predict that Putin will have the potential ability to hold onto power for decades, or maybe even as long as he physically can. For many, the change of leadership in Russia is just wishful thinking.
However, for a considerable amount of time, various opposition representatives have claimed that something is changing in Russia. Western experts, having already been disappointed by unmet expectations, were suspicious if something substantive could change in Russia. Yet Putin’s problems are growing. To start with, Putin is decreasing in popularity.
Various incidents indicate trouble, such as the sudden massive support of the Russian press when journalist Ivan Golunov was arrested, as well as the current strong public reaction after the arrest of Pavel Ustinov, an innocent bystander close to the demonstrations, not to mention the lost positions in local and city elections.
We are still a long way from the fall of Putin. Nevertheless, since Putin’s second presidential term is ending, the question of how he will continue to rule and undermine the constitutional two-term limit of the presidential mandate is still unanswered. Nerves are already growing in Moscow. What will happen after the second term if Putin wants to keep the power, will he be able to protect the interests of the current establishment who have the most at stake?
Even though there would be a regime change, chances are someone that represents the current power establishment would replace Putin. But surprising changes have taken place in Russia before, and might also in the future. It could be that all of a sudden, the West could be facing a Russian government with a truly democratic core. The question for the West, especially after the lessons learned of the Yeltsin era, is how to react in such a situation.
Support both democracy and economy
Vladimir Milov, former Deputy Energy Minister and opposition leader emphasises that both the US and the EU in the early 2000s (when Russia was in transition) failed to deliver a clear message and to offer the carrot and stick approach to Russia. The domestic crackdown of the media during 2000-2004, the consolidation of power and turning elections into a totally government-controlled process, not to mention Russia’s increasing aggression abroad were all issues that the West should have reacted to, but it did not.
According to Milov, in a situation of true regime change in Russia, a good idea would be to establish a system of “autocratic restoration monitoring”, with clear criteria triggering immediate policy reactions in case of new backward trends emerging, for example in conjunction with free trade agreements.
Also according to him, time would be of the essence to achieve strong and quick economic growth, so that Russians would be content with the reforms, and the revisionist sentiment will have less of a chance to reappear. In this, free trade will be essential. Russia’s own domestic market is too small to count on national demand as the driving force behind the potential of quick economic growth.
What will be Russia’s future? From a Western point of view, even the best-case scenario will be complicated.
Milov also points out that in the 1990s and 2000s, slow progress in opening Western markets to Russian goods, tough WTO accession negotiations and protectionist measures by Western governments (including EU agricultural subsidies) were important in cultivating anti-Western sentiment among the Russian elite.
However, a direct comparison of the current situation with the Yeltsin years is not relevant, because during that time Russia was coming out of the Soviet system. Today’s challenges are very different. Milov believes that Russia does not need aid; economic growth and increasing foreign direct investments are enough for progress – Russia needs open markets.
What will be Russia’s future? From a Western point of view, even the best-case scenario will be complicated. Even with the current Russian opposition in power, the road to success will be challenging.
If a more positive government supported by the West and led by democrats takes over, the West needs to be ready to engage their support to make sure that positive political developments are combined with encouraging economic developments. A vocal debate on what the EU can offer democratic Russia will support the Russian opposition forces and could potentially add a positive element to the current state of EU-Russia relations.Tomi Huhtanen Elections EU-Russia
What can the EU offer to democratic Russia?
24 Sep 2019
The Arctic is changing. Facing challenges driven by resource demands, changing power relations and climate change, the top of the world demands the attention of European states and EU officials. This paper examines the main geopolitical issues in the Arctic, such as the development of the region’s energy resources, the underlying potential for conflict and the increasing presence of China in the region. It argues that to unpack the region’s complexities, we need to recognise the diversity within the Arctic across a range of issues and to differentiate different levels of analysis: the international and the regional.
Furthermore, this paper argues that the EU’s approach to the north suffers as a result of a general deficiency in EU external policies, namely incoherence and a multitude of voices and opinions. To have a more effective Arctic policy, the EU needs to distinguish between the different levels outlined here, raise awareness of the issues facing the Arctic among its member states and politicians, and better communicate the relevance of the Union to Arctic states. The EU must view the Arctic primarily as a long-term strategic priority and as an area of growing geopolitical importance.EU-Russia Foreign Policy Security
The New Geopolitics of the Arctic: Russia, China and the EU
08 Apr 2019
After a prolonged political and legal skirmish, EU officials finally reached an informal compromise last week on the reform of the Union`s Gas Directive. Hailed as an important achievement, the compromise mostly aimed to rein in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and ensure that the EU keeps Gazprom in check when it comes to gas supply and competition rules.
Who Calls the Shots
These changes were hastily proposed in 2017 by the European Commission in the desperate attempt to get some say over the construction of the Nord Stream 2 project which would substantially boost the direct gas flow between Russia and Germany. The construction of the pipeline has been the Apple of Discord between Germany and many Central European and Baltic countries. Berlin has faced growing criticism for allowing a pipeline project which will further increase Russia`s energy dominance and directly endangers the energy security of CEE countries.
The amendment of the Gas Directive didn`t intend to cancel Nord Stream 2 altogether but to make sure that the Gazprom-led project would comply with European energy legislation for ownership unbundling, third-party access and non-discrimination in tariff setting. Compliance with these provisions would require Gazprom to adapt their approach and be bound by a new set of rules which may hurt their business model.
The adopted compromise (text still not officially voted) make such rules applicable to new pipelines, but also grants the member state which is the first point of entry of the pipeline the right to ask for an exemption of these rules. This places Germany in a favourable position to push for such an exemption and ensure not only that the project goes through but that it also secures a lax regulatory treatment. Even though the Commission is the one which gives the final decision, it is unlikely that the freshly sworn-in EU executive will confront Merkel head on in late 2019.
The seemingly successful compromise on the Gas Directive manages to brush aside the most relevant question – why is Nord Stream 2 allowed to be constructed in the first place? This project has little rationale as it will not bring new gas to Europe but mostly redirect the current supply transmitted through Ukraine. The ultimate aim of Moscow is to completely circumvent Ukraine and redirect most of the energy resource directly through the Baltic sea.
Germany is going ahead with the construction of a project which has been condemned by several heads of state and the majority of the European Parliament as going against Europe`s interest. Moreover, Berlin is opening an additional avenue for further systemic corruption and political influence for Gazprom which is a direct conduit of the interests of the Kremlin.
For Angela Merkel, the current developments under the umbrella of a ‘European solution’ to Nord Stream 2 bring a sigh of relief. For several years she has been locked in this project mostly due to pressures from her coalition partner the Social Democratic Party (SPD). The infamous legacy of Gerhard Schröder and Sigmar Gabriel has committed Germany to this pipeline, regardless of the split it causes between Eastern and Western EU member states and also the betrayal towards Ukraine.
Irrespective of Russia`s military aggression, foreign interference in elections and energy blackmail of smaller EU-member states, for Germany it seems as if it will be business as usual when it comes to pipelines.
A Humiliation for Europe
Ensuring the diversification of energy supply and speaking with one voice on energy affairs have been top priorities for the European Commission and the still incomplete EU Energy Union. Regardless, the institution has struggled to play any meaningful role with respect to Nord Stream 2. The Commission even found itself in the embarrassing position of reminding journalists that the amendment of the Gas Directive was her proposal and not only the product of a Franco-German compromise.
The only upside is that this situation might potentially give the EU additional leverage in brokering a parallel favourable deal for Ukraine in her attempt to continue to provide a transit route to several CEE member states. The revision of the Gas Directive might improve the chances of incorporating the interests of Kiev in securing future transit fees from Russia and keep Ukraine`s infrastructure operational to some extent. All in exchange for an exemption on Nord Stream 2, of course.
And here lies the biggest problem. Instead of preventing the construction of the pipeline altogether, the member states have just managed to produce a lowest common denominator solution. Germany will get its cheap gas and even try to save face by promoting the importance of the achieved Franco-German compromise under European rules. In reality, this compromise is nothing more than a fig leaf for Germany.Dimitar Lilkov Energy EU Member States EU-Russia
Nord Stream 2: a pyrrhic victory for Germany
19 Feb 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
Over the past 15 years, the space for civic engagement in Russia has continuously shrunk, and it looks set to be cut further during Vladimir Putin’s fourth presidential term. Following a wave of repressive measures, it is already more restricted than it has been since 1991. Non-governmental organisations and activists have been stripped of funds as their activities have been criminalised.
They increasingly face a double disconnect: from international partners and within their own society. The clampdown on civil society reflects the growing repression of Russian society as a whole. But growing local initiatives and rising protests across the country undercut the narrative that Russian civil society is dead.
And despite the pressure, Russian civil society is proving to be more active, resilient and diverse than is generally assumed. It continues to have new ideas and the capacity to be a key agent of development and social change in Russia. Many groups and individuals continue to have a vision for the country’s future and are willing to work with Western partners. The example of Ukraine shows that civil society is an indispensable factor in overcoming the authoritarian legacy of post-Soviet societies.Democracy Elections EU-Russia Society Values
Filling the Void: Why the EU Must Step Up Support for Russian Civil Society
27 Apr 2018
The Nord Stream 2 project aims to double the capacity Russia currently possesses for delivering natural gas directly to Germany through the Baltic Sea. This paper provides an overview of the current developments surrounding the project and of opposition to the pipeline by the European Commission and a growing number of EU member states. It goes on to analyse the risks involved in the new gas infrastructure and argues that Nord Stream 2 would be detrimental to the energy security of a number of Central and Eastern European member states and of Ukraine.
The paper contends that while the pipeline offers uncertain economic gains, it would dangerously weaken the EU’s strategic goals in Eastern Europe, disrupt the European Energy Security Strategy and damage member state unity. Ultimately, the new German government should recognise this and take the necessary measures to stop Nord Stream 2.Energy EU-Russia Neighbourhood Policy Sustainability
European Energy Security: The Case Against Nord Stream 2
13 Apr 2018
The Arctic has received considerable attention over the last decade due to climate change, positive resource appraisals and the increased military presence in the region. Portrayals range from those that warn of impending conflicts to those that emphasise the region’s unique cooperative environment.
To what extent are the generalisations about Arctic security and geopolitics accurate? What fuels these generalisations? Moreover, what is the role of the EU in this changing geopolitical environment? This article examines the causes of conflict in the Arctic and argues that the disputes over territory, resources and the North Pole are limited in magnitude.
At the same time, the security dynamics within the Arctic are relevant, given each state’s relations to Russia. The EU’s role, however, is less a geopolitical one and more concerned with two dimensions, namely awareness and support. For EU policymakers and decision-makers, understanding the complexities of the north should take priority over re-inventing the Union’s role in the region.
Read the full article in the December 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Andreas Østhagen EU-Russia Resources Security
Geopolitics and security in the Arctic: what role for the EU?
27 Nov 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
I guess it’s clear now that Trump and Putin will indeed get along, much as I had predicted immediately after the U.S. Presidential election last November. The personal meeting between the two strongmen had played a groundbreaking role here, as was discussed at the Martens Centre panel on transatlantic relations at the EPP Congress in Malta in March.
Beyond any doubt, Vladimir Putin is the net winner so far, because he hasn’t had to make any concessions during the meeting. However, Donald Trump indeed made some. First, he kept key realist professionals out of the room (H.R. McMaster, Fiona Hill), and he was joined only by Rex Tillerson, perhaps the most comfortable figure for Putin out of all current U.S. foreign policy decision-makers.
Second, whatever the talk was about Putin’s cyber-intrusion into U.S. affairs (parties issue contradictory statements), one thing is clear: the issue hasn’t really gone anywhere and parties quickly moved on to other issues of the day.
Third, Trump didn’t want to hold Putin accountable on his past behaviour – aggression against neighbours, interference in affairs of Western democracies, attacks on the liberal world order, crackdowns on human rights in Russia. Instead, “there was not a lot of litigating the past”, as Rex Tillerson told the media.
Let’s be clear: there’s only one beneficiary of this sort of “move on” attitude – Putin. He wants to default on his past sins and be accepted as a normal guy by Western leaders again. Trump made a huge step in that direction in Hamburg.
But more importantly is the question – what comes next? Technically, I’m convinced that they agreed to hold a fully-fledged bilateral summit at some time soon, but just don’t want to announce it now, to allow flexibility. On the substantial part – few things.
First: much will depend on whether the professionals (H.R. McMaster, Fiona Hill, Kurt Volker) will return to have a say in crafting out future U.S. policy on Russia, or whether everything will continue in a napkin-drawn impromptu mode. The latter is a dangerous option: Putin is tricky and has great skill in selling his side of the story to unprepared and inexperienced people. Many reasonable people whom I know often left Putin’s office with his worldview.
Second: without doubt, Putin now sees Trump not as much as a tool for lifting sanctions against Russia (he sees the difficulties with that, bearing in mind what happens now on the Hill), but rather as a tool to sow further confusion and distrust in Transatlantic relations.
Putin is happy to hear Trump’s bashing of U.S. NATO allies for not spending enough on defence, as well as his other public attacks on the leaders of major Western democracies. It’s obvious that both leaders don’t like Angela Merkel very much, I’m sure part of their dialogue either was, or will be, focused on how to bypass her in important decision-making on major global affairs.
This leads us to the major third point. In the grave current geopolitical crises – Syria, the Korean Peninsula, and the Saudi-Iranian standoff – a United Europe, the key remaining pillar of Western democracy, is often dangerously absent. Trump is working to solve most of these crises together with a bunch of autocratic leaders – and Putin perfectly fits into that profile.
Why treat him so much differently? Technically, there’s still a lot more freedom in Russia than in China or Saudi Arabia (and Turkey is rapidly moving towards the same direction). So, we’re back into some sort of replica of the XIX century reality now – it looks like major international issues are set to be resolved through a number of “deals” between Trump and some autocrats.
Europe, as the major hope and leading force of the free democratic world at a time when the United States has taken (temporary?) leave from that role, should step up and increase its role in important affairs of the world, if we do not want to rely on the unpredictability of Trump. For President Trump, shaping the new world order through a series of deals with autocratic strongmen seems to be a temptation that’s too hard to resist.
He likes doing deals that way – we saw that in Riyadh, and now in Hamburg. But that’s a dangerous road for the future of the democratic world order, and the only way to defend it right now is if Europe amplifies its voice in global affairs. If not, we’ll be rapidly sliding into the XIX century politics, a glimpse of which we saw in Hamburg during the meeting between Putin and Trump.Vladimir Milov EU-Russia Foreign Policy Transatlantic
The Trump-Putin deal gets real
13 Jul 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
On June 7th the European Commission will put forward its proposals to enhance European military cooperation, framed as ‘The Future of the European Defence’. These proposals are very timely and necessary and will hopefully be embraced by all EU Member states. However, it is important that we don’t fall into a trap when we speak about European defence, because what is possible in the future is vastly different to the realities of European defence today.
The conclusion reached in various EU member states is that under US President Donald Trump, we can no longer rely on NATO as much as we did before, especially considering the increased aggressiveness of Putin-led Russia. Therefore, as a backup plan, we will need to boost European defence cooperation and increase our independent military capabilities. It is possible for this to happen within the NATO framework rather than contradicting or overlapping with it.
The logic is solid, but there is a danger in underestimating the urgency of the situation. The security that NATO provides cannot be replaced by any European defence cooperation in the near future. The fact is that, since 1990, European real military capabilities have decreased dramatically.
In many countries, real operation units have fallen to one third of what they were at their peak in the 90s, and even then they were operationally dependent on US support. When we examine the figures, we can see that they paint a stark picture for the EU’s military capabilities without the help of the US.
Within the NATO framework, the US spends 3 times more on its military than the combined total of the EU member states. And this ratio has not been not improving: from 2007 to 2015, the US increased their defence spending by an average of 3.1%, whilst the EU28 decreased their military spending by an average of 14.5%.
Figure 1: Changes in Western European Combat Battalions (1990-2015)
Source: IISS, The Military Balance 2016
The combat battalion figures of EU member states are also in sharp decline. Germany, for example, has decreased its total battalion count of 215 battalions in 1990 to just 34 in 2015. In key military equipment, the EU28 have collectively decreased their total stock of battle tanks by 70%, helicopters by 38%, and patrol and combat boats by 54%.
Across the board, there is one trend we can see in relation to EU defence spending and that trend is decline. Europeans still cannot and could not confront a large-scale military intervention from Russia effectively without the help of the United States.
Crucially, major military upgrades take years if not decades to complete. A good example is Russia, which started a major reform of its military after the war in Georgia in 2008, when they realised that they had a large, but ineffective army.
The reforms came with unquestionable political and financial support from Putin, who even cut domestic budgets such as social welfare and healthcare in order to pay for this military reform (a move which would be extremely unpopular in Western European states). However, even though Russia has invested massively in its military since 2008, Russia’s military reform is still far from complete.
When we talk about the future of the common European Defence without the US, we need to realise that we as Europeans have for decades been totally reliant on the support of the Unites States. The argument for a strong European defence also assumes that European military spending would be greatly increased and that enhanced military cooperation would turn to some form of integration.
It is also necessary to point out that if Europe is to build a military force which is capable of facing a worst-case scenario, then we need to speak about European nuclear weapon capabilities.
The Commission’s proposals for enhanced military cooperation are very welcome, we need more initiatives like them, and we need to embrace them. Investing in the future of European military cooperation is the only solution to independently maintain the integrity of the EU in the long term. However, in the short term, this goal is not possible without the support of the United States.
We can be disappointed by what President Trump did or did not say during his last European visit, but we should not neglect or fail to give credit to the fact that operationally the US continues to invest in Europe as it did before.
Just look for example at the US troops in the Baltics or the US bilateral defence cooperation agreement with Estonia. When we evaluate our investment in our transatlantic relationship with the United States, we need to take into account that so far nothing has changed in US-EU defence cooperation.
Whilst taking steps to enhancing European military cooperation and common capabilities, the EU member states need to continue the modernisation of their military and increase their independent capabilities. To achieve a genuine European Defence Union, this Union needs to be built on the modern and fully operative units of the EU Member states.Tomi Huhtanen Defence EU Member States EU-Russia Security Transatlantic
European defence can only be achieved by closing the capabilities gap
06 Jun 2017
Donald Trump’s election to President of the US in November 2016 might well become one of the most momentous events in the relationship between Europe and North America since the end of the Cold War.
Although this relationship has already gone through substantial changes in the last 25 years, the current challenges seem more formidable than many of the past crises.
External threats to Europe and, to a lesser extent, America are intensifying. Rather than unifying the West, these challenges have provoked internal divisions within the transatlantic community that are greater than ever before.Defence EU-Russia Security Transatlantic
A New Transatlantic Agenda: Challenges and Opportunities in the Trump Era
24 May 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
Massive anti-corruption protests on March 26th have effectively ended the sleepy landscape of the Russian politics that have existed for the past three years since the annexation of Crimea, a period dominated by the notion of “unchallengeable” sky-high approval ratings of Putin. The country is visibly fed up with Putin’s cronyism, obscene corruption and inequality, which were the prime targets of the protests.
There are a few remarkable things about Sunday’s rallies. First, about 100 cities were affected, including such names as Komsomolsk-na-Amure, Saransk, Novokuznetsk, Nizhny Tagil – provincial towns which are normally unheard of in regular Russian political life. In regional capitals, up to several thousand were attending, setting records of participation in many cases. Second, this is the first time when most of such rallies were forbidden by authorities – but people turned out regardless. Beforehand, opposition was only able to mobilize big masses of protesters on the condition that rallies were officially approved; non-sanctioned rallies normally scared off most people and were down to a narrow number of dedicated oppositioners.
This time, it was all different – people across the country have shown no fear despite arrests and heavy police pressure. This is a sharp contrast with anything we’ve seen before. There are clear signs that people in Russia are fed up with the rule of the same faces who have been in power for almost two decades now for the benefit of enriching themselves. Dominating young faces also suggest that the younger generation sees no opportunity for a decent future within Putin’s system, which largely provides benefits and social lifts to insiders, and excludes everyone else.
You can get a glimpse of people’s resolve to stand against pressure in my short video which I’ve captured right at the heart of the events at Pushkinskaya square in Moscow on Sunday – people chanting “Russia against Putin”. All right, I could have been wrong predicting last year that you may see such mass demonstrations of discontent with Putin’s regime at the September 2016 Parliamentary elections – but in fact this demonstration turned out just to be delayed for six more months. Elderly opposition figures at the Duma elections failed to impress Russians who want change, but a younger and much more energetic Alexey Navalny have finally managed to ignite people. Navalny has been remarkably successful in finding a common cause and building a wide network of support across the country and his regional visits gather huge crowds of supporters, something also unseen in many years, as a lot of opposition forces were, unfortunately, too Moscow-centric.
Together with Navalny’s ongoing Presidential campaign, further rallies like that would build more and more pressure against Putin and his regime in the coming months. Arrests won’t stop the momentum. The resolve of protesters on Sunday is a stark contrast with passiveness and fatigue of bleak pro-Putin demonstrations marking the anniversary of the Crimean demonstration just a week before. On March 26th, no one ever showed up on the streets in Putin’s defence, except heavily armed police and troops — supposedly existent “armies” of Putin’s diehard fans are nowhere to be seen. It seems that the tale of “universal 90% support for Putin in Russia” has effectively ended right in front of our eyes.
Mass arrests and exceptional armed police defence, however, clearly suggest that Putin doesn’t want to easily let go. But for the first time, this was confronted by real mass resolve to protest despite personal risks, and current pressure, arrests and insane accusations against protesters on state TV which only make people angrier. The bad news is that serious confrontation sometime in the future seems inevitable, as protest rallies have only just begun and Russians are passionate to turn to the streets once again. Youth forums are now filled with anger, particularly after Putin’s spokesman’s remarks that youngsters who attended rallies were “paid” to protest. It is very likely that things may turn violent soon if Putin doesn’t back down with his repression machine.
The good news is that Russia is back: our people have remembered who they really are, and demanded freedom and respect of their rights with energy previously unseen. Sunday was really a turning point.Vladimir Milov Democracy EU-Russia Values Youth
Sunday’s Protests: Russia Is Back
28 Mar 2017
This working paper looks at recent trends in the Russian economy after more than two years of recession. It analyses the fundamental reasons for the current economic crisis and argues against some of the mainstream views on ‘the end of the recession’ and the role of Western financial sanctions. The paper follows up the author’s publication on the same topic which was published by the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies in December 2015.Crisis Economy EU-Russia Growth Macroeconomics
The Russian Economy: Recovery Is Further Away than Some Might Think
12 Feb 2017
Russian officials have had to contain their glee in monitoring recent political events in America and Europe. They appear to think their days in the cold may soon be over. Much has been made of President-elect Donald Trump’s wish to improve relations with Moscow, but the last news out of France appears even more auspicious to Moscow.
The far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, is known for her pro-Putin sympathies. Now, with François Fillon’s nomination as the center-right candidate, both major contenders in next year’s French presidential election are favorably disposed toward Russia.
These warmer feelings towards Russia are based, mainly, on changing threat perceptions in the West. Since the emergence of the Islamic State and the proliferation of terrorist attacks in Europe and America, many Europeans and Americans appear to view Moscow’s aggression against its neighbors, such as Ukraine and Georgia, as an increasingly esoteric problem.
Particularly after Russia’s intervention in Syria, even on the right many now view Russia not as a threat to the West but as a natural ally in defeating the jihadi threat.
These warmer feelings towards Russia are based, mainly, on changing threat perceptions in the West.
While this notion is gaining popularity, it is at best the triumph of hope over experience, and at worst a dangerous delusion. Russia’s interaction with radical Islam over two decades shows that it is part of the problem, not the solution. In fact, leaders in Moscow have a track record of manipulating radical Islam whenever that has suited their purposes – including systematic collusion with Islamic extremists. A few examples illustrate this policy.
Exhibit one is the twenty-year insurgency in Chechnya and the North Caucasus. In this conflict, the forces fighting for independence from Russia were divided between secular nationalists and Islamic radicals. Because the secular nationalists enjoyed considerable legitimacy both in the West and among the local population, Moscow actively encouraged the growth of the jihadi elements, which were disliked locally and anathema to the West.
Moscow worked hard to kill off the leaders of Chechnya’s secular nationalists. By contrast, there is compelling evidence of collusion between Russia’s secret services and the region’s most notorious radicals, such as Shamil Basayev and Arbi Barayev, and of systematic Russian infiltration of the radical Islamic groups from the North Caucasus.
As Russia imposed a brutal proxy regime in Chechnya, it sought to leave Chechens and foreigners alike with a binary choice: tolerate the brutal Kadyrov regime, or side with the jihadis.
Russia’s interaction with radical Islam over two decades shows that it is part of the problem, not the solution.
Exhibit two is the case of Russia’s foreign fighters in Syria. Ahead of the 2014 Sochi winter Olympics, held next to the North Caucasus, Moscow in spite of its infiltration of jihadi networks faced an acute risk of terrorist attacks. So, as Novaya Gazeta’s Elena Milashina has showed, Russia’s Federal Security Service organized a “pipeline” to facilitate the export of North Caucasian radicals to fight in Syria. Would-be fighters were provided passports and safe passage; some were recruited by Russian intelligence services.
Indeed, foreign fighters from Russia have reached higher in the hierarchy of the Islamic State than any other foreign fighters, and work alongside Saddam Hussein’s former Baathist officers who – similarly – have deep connections to Moscow dating to the Soviet period. Is this a coincidence? The exact nature of these relationships is by nature murky, but the level of state infiltration of the jihadi circles in Russia at the very least raises serious questions about Moscow’s links to the Islamic State.
But, critics may counter, has not Russia’s intervention in Syria served to wipe out these jihadis? Again, while this is the Russian rhetoric, the record shows otherwise. Never mind that Russia has tried, falsely, to take credit for the American drone strikes that have decimated the Islamic State leadership.
By now, it is widely established that Russian airstrikes have not primarily targeted the Islamic State at all, but other rebel groups fighting the Assad regime, as in Aleppo. In reality, Moscow is taking a page from the playbook in Chechnya: by eliminating the rebel groups, it strives to mold a situation that presents a binary choice, and where the only alternative to the Assad regime is the Islamic State.
Exhibit three is Afghanistan, where Moscow since last year established contacts with the Taliban insurgency, which is responsible for the deaths of thousands of American soldiers. Citing the need to fight the Islamic State franchise in the country, Moscow began intelligence sharing programs with the Taliban, and provided this jihadi group with international legitimacy.
Even Russia’s claims to be a bulwark against Islamic radicalization in nearby Central Asia fails to hold up to scrutiny. In fact, it is by now established that most Central Asians fighting in Syria or Iraq are not radicalized in their home countries, where governments have a solid track record of countering radicalization.
In fact, the large majority of Central Asian recruits to Islamic radical movements have been radicalized while toiling as temporary and often illegal workers in Russia itself. Far from being a bulwark against extremism, Russia is domestically an incubator of radical Islam.
This bleak picture raises the question: if Russia is not fighting Islamic extremism, then what are its real goals? The answer is twofold. First, in places a different as Chechnya and Syria, Russia actively tries to shape the actors on the battlefield to leave a binary choice between Islamic extremists and brutal strongmen dependent on Moscow.
Second, in theaters as diverse as Afghanistan and Syria, Russia’s focus is squarely to undermine the national security interests of the United States. In Afghanistan, Russia is supporting the Taliban against Islamic State; while in Syria it claims to fight ISIS, but in fact ignores it and instead targets other rebel groups. The common denominator? Russia alternatively bolsters America’s main enemy, or actively targets its local allies.
The notion that Russia is, or could be, an ally against the threat of radical Islam is a dangerous delusion. Russia’s record makes it clear that it sees America, not Islamic extremism, as its main enemy. So long as Vladimir Putin runs Russia, Russia will remain part of the problem, not the solution.Svante Cornell Defence EU-Russia Foreign Policy
Russia: an Enabler of Jihad?
16 Jan 2017
Immediately after Donald Trump was elected 45th President of the United States, many commentators have suggested that his policies toward Russia will not be as accommodating as his campaign rhetoric on Vladimir Putin, and that Trump may eventually become a difficult counterpart for the current Russian leadership. Arguments for that theory include, among others, persistent fundamental differences on certain issues, Putin’s unreliability and unpredictability, Trump’s focus on ‘America First’, pressure from certain anti-Putin forces in the GOP establishment, etc.
However, all these arguments consider only the bilateral U.S.-Russia dimension as if it existed in a vacuum. But if you put Trump-Russia relations in the broader global context that is about to emerge because of Trump’s presidency, all these differences and problems don’t stand a chance to outweigh a perfect global match between the common interests of both Putin and Trump.
Trump’s foreign policy is largely uncharted waters, but one thing is very clear – he will be involved in many important global conflicts. Rearranging NAFTA and other trade agreements, dealing with China as a rising power, loads of issues in the Middle East (Syria and the potential scrapping of the Iranian nuclear deal to begin with, but there’s always so much more in that particular region).
What do you do when you’re about to engage in many tough battles of global significance, and want to cover your flanks and back? One of the first things – you look for important players with whom you can reach a solid ‘ceasefire’ to untie your hands for bigger things. This is what Turkish President Erdogan did a few months ago, almost simultaneously reaching out for a thaw with Russia and Israel, relations with both of whom were quite difficult recently, to untie his hands for multiple other ventures both at home and abroad.
In Trump’s case, Putin’s Russia dangerously fits into this fundamental logic. There are clear signs in Moscow that Putin has been carefully preparing for ways to approach Trump. He’ll appeal to his business logic (the flip side of which is his complete lack of experience in public governance and international affairs) and offer him a “deal” – the term so dear to the newly elected U.S. leader: Give me back some of the minor stuff which stands in the way of our relationship (Ukraine, human rights in Russia, financial sanctions) – and I’ll support you in your bigger global efforts.
Given Putin’s skills in psychology and recruitment inherited from his earlier profession – which were so brilliantly used initially with George W. Bush, for whom just one look into Putin’s “soul” seems to have overshadowed all Russian authoritarian trends in the beginning of Putin’s rule – that looks quite achievable.
Yes, on the other hand, there are established Republicans demanding sanctions for human rights violations – but Trump would easily answer by keeping in place the personal sanctions lists against Russian officials, such as the Magnitsky list, which, in fact, is not too much of a problem for Putin. The key problem for him are the financial sanctions imposed by the Obama administration – and here, there are huge U.S. corporate interests behind lifting those.
Lifting financial sanctions and keeping the window-dressing lists of Russian human-rights abusers banned from entry into the U.S.: Putin will be happy with that. What he wants most is to return to major borrowing in the Western financial markets, not allowing his prosecutors and judges to freely travel to Miami (in fact, Putin himself had recently prohibited all these people from travelling abroad).
Ukraine? Putin may even offer a real de-escalation in Donbass in return for a more general U.S. withdrawal from political and financial support for the current Ukrainian government. This would also give an opportunity to Trump to say ‘See, I’ve achieved what Obama couldn’t – real peace in Eastern Ukraine’.
This is how a big Trump-Putin deal might look like – and nothing serious seems to stand in its way, given Trump’s priorities focused on other things, and Putin’s apparent readiness to propose and psychologically ‘sell’ this new U.S.-Russia non-aggression pact.Vladimir Milov EU-Russia EU-US Foreign Policy Transatlantic Values
The Art of the (Trump-Putin) Deal
14 Nov 2016
“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
Despite deteriorating economic conditions, the Russian business community has remained loyal to the Kremlin. It has not protested or even questioned Vladimir Putin’s main domestic and foreign policies. A state monopolistic model of the economy had already been in deep crisis before Western sanctions against Russia over Ukraine started and oil prices collapsed.
However, both the government and business are reluctant to publicly admit this. Instead, the Kremlin has promised to help small and medium-sized businesses with predictable fiscal policy and relaxed regulation, but it has consistently failed to do so.
The entrepreneurs, in turn, have mostly reacted with more austerity and by moving into a shadow economy. As for the oligarchs, the elites have not become divided over the relatively mild Western sanctions, as Putin has managed to keep the wealthiest power brokers at bay through a variety of carrot-and-stick policies.
Large commercial entities continue to rely on state contracts and other government support, while the Kremlin’s business insiders have been finding innovative ways to circumvent Western sanctions. Given the current level of relatively superficial sanctions, the US and the EU will probably have to play a long-term game before the Kremlin changes its aggressive domestic and foreign policies.Business Elections EU-Russia
The Tsar and His Business Serfs: Russian Oligarchs and SMEs Did Not Surprise Putin at the Elections
20 Sep 2016
Yesterday Russia had an election that yet again disappointed hopes for a functional and reasonable parliament instead of “the mad printer” (that adopted all inhumane and reactionary laws given to it by presidential administration), as the previous Duma was commonly known.
Taking a deeper look at the prospects of the Russian business community raising a political voice, or at least a whisper, some myths, popular among certain western policy makers, are revealed: a) there is a possible split of business elites and b) some private businessmen will surely want to defend themselves from crazy Kremlin adventures abroad.
The harsh reality is that an overwhelming majority of Russian business – from oligarchs and large corporations to small and medium entrepreneurs – remain politically loyal to the Kremlin and are therefore self-censored.
Oligarchs depend on contracts and favours from the State and have such a long and compromising history of engagement with the Kremlin’s criminalised bureaucracy that not a single one of them has dared to protest against Putin in the last decade. The bravest they can afford to do is to mildly criticise the puppet government of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on its economic policies.
Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have shown a bit more protest activity. Disparate regional movements of farmers, truckers and owners of small kiosks in the cities have protested against arbitrary use of power by regional authorities and they also went on hunger strikes and marches to Moscow.
But they have never properly – as a movement – dared to criticise Putin or the Kremlin administration or raised any significant political demands. In fact, many of them tried to appeal to a kind Tsar (to be read President). Owners of kiosks even put up portraits of Putin next to icons in shop windows, only to be demolished anyway if those in power decide so one day.
Western sanctions are quite superficial: they merely send the signal that the West is not continuing business as usual.
Western policy-makers should face an inconvenient truth that is difficult to accept: there is not going to be a split of elites. The monopolistic model of the state economy had already been in deep crisis long before Western sanctions against Russia over Ukraine started and oil prices collapsed.
However, the Russian government and businesses are reluctant to publicly admit this and they find ways to get by. Western sanctions are quite superficial: they merely send the signal that the West is not continuing business as usual (which would be outright appeasement) and they warn Russia of what more may come if the Kremlin continues to advance in Ukraine.
However, less than ten cronies of Putin feature on the US and EU sanctions lists: that is not enough to seriously change Russia’s aggressive foreign policy or lead to a split of elites. The superficial sanctions can reduce the Kremlin’s ability to execute its policies, but not change its overall course. The West has a choice to expand the individual sanction list to include hundreds of individuals, or introduce large-scale sector-wide sanctions (e.g. a ban on Russian oil and gas exports to Europe, as was with Iran).
However, in doing so, the West would risk seriously escalating the conflict with Russia, and Western policy-makers are currently incapable of this. Instead, it appears that the West is betting on the long-term game of patience and the slow strangling effect of mild sanctions—that are unlikely to bring about a change in the regime’s policies until several years have passed, and perhaps even a decade.
Hence, if stronger sanctions are not an option, then at least the current ones should be maintained for a long time to come.Ilya Zaslavsky Business Elections EU-Russia
Business as usual? Russian oligarchs and Russia’s parliamentary election
19 Sep 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
One of the questions frequently raised after the devastating Brexit vote is on the consequences for the relations between the West and Russia. Vladimir Putin must clearly benefit from the loosening ties between Western powers and the disarray now evident in Europe’s own house.
The situation, however, is not as simple as it may seem, and this new dawn delivers new opportunities for the united European project, which were previously unheard of.
First of all, something that’s evident for most, except the 17 million British who voted “Leave”, Britain will face dire economic consequences. The nation’s trade deficit is at a record high, and about two thirds of it comes from trade with the EU. UK businesses face huge losses from changes in trade rules.
Apart from economics, there’s politics: let’s not rush to make judgments as to whether Scotland, Northern Ireland or Gibraltar may really leave the UK, but there are clear cracks emerging in the British empire with the EU acting as a major center of gravity. It’s quite clear that the “Leave” camp has problems both with its leadership and with viable agenda going forward. The ruling UK conservative party is divided on the Brexit issue. By the time the Conservative party chooses a new Prime Minister in October, the country may well have spiralled into a political mess.
The EU should waste no time in utilising this as a case in point for all the Eurosceptics: a sort of ‘look what happens when you quit’. This is where you’re heading.. The alternative: an incomparably successful project that brought so much freedom, prosperity, market integration and opportunities to its people. The European Union.
As a pro-European outsider, I can’t help but express my regret that EU is so “undersold” globally as a success story. The EU is always portrayed as a bunch of boring bureaucrats who “were never elected” but always want to regulate everything. As a matter of fact, it’s the contrary: EU leaders are elected directly by the European Parliament in a more democratic manner that a lot of European Governments are.
In recent years, the EU has undertaken a globally unprecedented effort to create a common space of freedom, market integration and liberalisation. Contrary to claims by those who label Eurocrats as people thirsty to regulate everything, it was Brussels which pushed forward liberalisation, meeting resistance from national governments and elites (The third energy package is just one example, and it works.). However, Brussels clearly has an image problem, which has been played against itself in the UK campaign, and which should be fixed.
If a United Europe succeeds in seizing the momentum of this opportunity that has opened after the UK referendum, then it has a chance to strengthen the joint European project and take it to new heights. And this challenge in itself is good: Europe rested long enough on the comfortable remains of the Berlin Wall, which is already history – new times are coming.
However, if the EU fails, and the momentum is seized by Eurosceptics – that’s when the global retrograde movement represented by Vladimir Putin and others will truly win. Make no mistake: Putin leads a systemic anti-European revisionist project (and he has a name for it: Eurasianism) whose aim is to dismantle democratic institutions and market freedoms wherever possible. These have already been dismantled in Eurasia, territory under Putin’s influence, and Ukraine, in this case, is just one of the battlegrounds, where people stood against being trampled under Putin’s feet.
If the EU weakens as a result of the UK referendum, Putin will have a much greater space in which to operate – diminished Western unity against Putin’s neo-autocratic offensive at Europe’s Eastern frontiers, emerging “illiberal democracies” replacing yesterday’s democratic states, divided nations, markets, etc. – all left for the taking by that rising non-democratic force in the East.
Despite Putin gaining tactical success, this now lies in the hands of Europe – it shall reassure those who want to resist the advance of resurgent authoritarianism and XIX century politics. Brexit, in this regard, is not only a challenge – it also offers a lot of opportunity to strengthen the united European project and push back Euroscepticism. It will require good leadership and a great deal of saving face, but let’s not waste this opportunity.Vladimir Milov Brexit EU-Russia Euroscepticism
Brexit: consequences for the relations between the West and Russia
04 Jul 2016
Most of the recent commentary around Russian politics has been focused largely on one issue, the high personal approval ratings of Vladimir Putin. But the Russian political system is complicated, and even the ruling force consists of many elements: government, the ruling ‘United Russia’ party, Parliament, regional governors, and so forth.
There are strong indications that, despite Putin’s personal approval rating remaining quite high, approval ratings for all other elements of the system of power are essentially down to pre–Crimea annexation levels and even lower. There are strong and growing signs that the Russian population is deeply unhappy with the current situation, and that discontent has a chance to spill over into the territory of political consequences.
Despite the fact that Putin’s overall hold on the country remains largely unchallenged, authorities run a very serious risk of showing weak results at the upcoming Parliamentary elections in September 2016. The weak result of the ruling party at the previous State Duma elections in 2011 sparked a large-scale political crisis in the country, although the party did not even lose a majority in Parliament.
It is too early to predict specific results of the September 2016 Parliamentary elections, but the weaker the result for United Russia, the more reason to expect some modification of the current system towards power-sharing deals, softening of the ‘vertical of power’, emergence of a more dialogue-based environment and calls for some kind of transformation of the Russian political system.Crisis Elections EU-Russia Security
From Disapproval to Change? Russia’s Population May Surprise Putin at the Next Elections
09 Jun 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
In the post-Soviet space as well as the Middle East, Western leaders have largely failed to heed ample evidence that the goals of the Russian leadership are fundamentally opposed to those of the EU and the US. Whereas Moscow seeks to counter Western influence and roll back the US’s role in the world, the West has proposed a win–win approach, seeking to convince Moscow that its ‘true’ interests should lead it to cooperate with the West.
When this has not worked, Western leaders have ‘compartmentalised’, isolating areas of agreement from areas of disagreement. This approach has come to the end of the road because the assumptions that undergird it are false. So long as Western powers fail to understand the fundamental incompatibility of their interests with the deeply anti-Western interests of the current power brokers in the Kremlin, they are unlikely to develop policies that achieve success.
Read the full articlein the June 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Svante Cornell EU-Russia Foreign Policy Middle East Security
The fallacy of ‘compartmentalisation’: the West and Russia from Ukraine to Syria
25 May 2016
Over the last 10 years, Russia under Putin has turned into an illiberal empire that is determined to weaken the West as a precondition for its own survival. This fact is still not fully appreciated by those Western leaders who believe that a return to cooperation with Russia is both necessary and possible.
Germany’s Social Democrats are particularly prominent among these leaders. They intend to use Germany’s 2016 presidency of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to lay the groundwork for a step-by-step confidence-building effort, eventually leading to a new European security architecture. Such hopes are utterly futile. They are based on old illusions about détente and Ostpolitik.
Moreover, they are understood by the Kremlin to be signs of weakness and appeasement. Instead of answering every Russian act of aggression with new offers for talks, the West should prepare for a long confrontation with Russia, maintain unity, and strengthen defence and deterrence.
Read the full articlein the June 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Roland Freudenstein Defence EU-Russia Security
Why there will be no Helsinki II—and why confidence building with Putin’s Russia is a bad idea
19 May 2016
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime has taken control of the traditional media in Russia: TV, radio and newspapers. As Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has stated, the Kremlin sees the mass media as a ‘weapon’.
Now Russia’s leadership is trying to take control of social media too, and for this massive operation a new information warfare tool has been mobilised—an army of fake social media Putin-fans, known as ‘trolls’.
My investigation has discovered that coordinated social media propaganda writers are twisting and manipulating the public debate in Finland, too. Trolls and bots distribute vast amounts of false information in various languages, and target individual citizens for aggressive operations.
Aggressive trolls have created a feeling of fear among some of my interviewees, causing them to stop making Russia-related comments online. Trolling has had a serious impact on freedom of speech, even outside Russia.
Thus, it should be viewed as a national security threat that needs to be addressed accordingly. The question is: how should the Kremlin’s trolls and disinformation be countered?
Read the full articlein the June 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Jessikka Aro Defence EU-Russia Internet Security Technology
The cyberspace war: propaganda and trolling as warfare tools
12 May 2016
Calls for the permanent deployment of substantial combat forces in Eastern European NATO states, primarily in the Baltics and Poland, have been part of the debates on strategy among the member states for years. In the wake of the Ukrainian crisis, the defence capabilities of the Eastern European allies must undoubtedly be strengthened.
However, in light of the yet-to-be-implemented measures that the allies decided upon at the Wales Summit, a more general shift of international security challenges towards ‘hybrid’ warfare scenarios, Russia’s centrality in the Middle East peace process and the long-term viability of the Alliance, permanently deploying substantial combat forces in Eastern Europe would not strengthen the security of Europe and the coherence of NATO.
Read the full articlein the June 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Roderich Kiesewetter Ingmar Zielke Defence EU-Russia Foreign Policy Security
Permanent NATO deployment is not the answer to European security
03 May 2016
What have we learned and what are the implications for Putin and for relations between Russia and the West from the ‘Panama Papers’ scandal? Here’s what we know so far.
Substantial evidence of Putin’s involvement
The owner of two Russia-linked offshore companies with an alleged turnover around $2 billion, cellist Sergey Roldugin, has no record of major involvement in business and nothing in Roldugin’s experience or career suggests that he is worth this much. In a 2014 interview with The New York Times , he said ‘I’m not a businessman, I don’t have millions’, a claim which is supported by the lack of evidence of meaningful business activity on his behalf.
Is there any reason major Russian businesses would pay billions through highly controversial deals to a cellist with no practical business experience and no value as a business partner?
Oh, wait, let’s not forget one important thing: the cellist is the closest personal friend of the Russian President. The money transfer schemes involved are mostly obscene in terms of full lack of commercial sense: unreasonably huge penalties for wittingly breached deals, generous buy-offs of publicly traded shares just days after they were sold to Roldugin’s firms at but a fraction of the future buy-off price, etc. All these deals will be subject to thorough money-laundering investigation because this is what bribes normally look like in the modern world.
What implications for Russia?
Most commentators agree that the publication of the ‘Panama Papers’ will have little public effect on the Russian society. There are a number of reasons for this: Russia’s state media almost completely silenced the revelation about the papers, Russians are used to it and, to a large extent, tolerate large-scale corruption. Some people would buy arguments that ‘it’s the Western plot to discredit Putin’ and that ‘Putin’s personal signature is not in the register = no proof’.
However, among the Russian elites, this publication will undoubtedly have a great psychological effect. Alongside Roldugin, many Russian officials and businessmen have been exposed in the papers as owners of offshore companies. And many of them have already had too much to deal with in previous years – Western sanctions, the international credit blockade, difficulties moving money back and forth across the borders, dealing with Western authorities and financial institutions. They thought that Putin’s system would offer them protection once they’ve been loyal to the Czar—but now it seems that the Czar is mostly busy covering his own deals, and the protection has vanished. On top of this, the additional sanctions and growing difficulty in cross-border business as a result of the Czar’s policies likely make them question if it is worth it supporting Putin and his system any longer?
I do not believe that an ‘elite revolt’ against Putin will occur in Russia any time soon—Putin has effectively managed to suppress the quality of the Russian elites, expel the most outstanding persons from power, and breed only loyal depoliticised technocrats around him, who are also under 24/7 surveillance by the security services. But the ‘Panama Papers’ are an important milestone in creating a situation where, there will be few who would stand to defend him, as, unlike previous years, a lot of influential people have had enough.
As for Russia’s relations with the West, clearly the issue of the alleged link between President Putin and the Panama offshore money will be investigated much more in-depth. There is enough evidence that a link possibly exists, so it is not enough to rely just on independent investigative journalists—it is time for governments to step in if they are serious in their rhetoric about combating corruption and money laundering.Vladimir Milov Economy EU-Russia Foreign Policy
The Panama Papers and the Russian Connection
11 Apr 2016
Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, there is no viable alternative on the horizon to NATO’s security umbrella over an expanded Europe. The idea floated a quarter of a century ago that Europe could scale down its defences and even dismantle the North Atlantic Alliance exposed a flawed fixation on an ‘end of history’ scenario that has never materialised. In practice, the forces of state nationalism and imperialist revisionism in Russia have proved stronger than those of liberalism and international cooperation with the West.
In many respects, a ‘return of history’ scenario has become more evident in and around Europe, with Russia re-emerging as a revanchist power and threatening Europe’s entire eastern flank. In addition, the EU itself faces existential problems, from the financial and institutional to the demographic and political. In a potentially unstable and fracturing continent, NATO is the sole remaining institution that upholds international security. And it may become the sole multinational organisation that can provide Europe with a measure of coherence. Moreover, NATO is the binding glue of the transatlantic link with Washington.
Read the full article in the June 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Janusz Bugajski Defence EU-Russia Security Transatlantic
Only NATO can defend Europe
04 Apr 2016
Last week at the Munich Security Conference, the Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev once again threatened the West with a “new Cold War” and repeated the old blame-game approach to relations with the West. There’s one problem: a growing call from ordinary Russians to reconcile with the West, and normalize relations.
According to recent polls as conducted by FOM, a polling agency which is traditionally loyal to the Kremlin, 60% and 62% of Russians say that Russian leaders “must aim to improve relations” with the United States and Europe respectively. These numbers match those of an independent polling centre, Levada, which claims that 54% of Russians believe that Russia should “strengthen its ties with the West” (up from 40% a year ago).
This is not to say that the viewpoint of Russian citizens to the West has changed for the better. All pollsters show that more than two-thirds of Russians view the U.S. and the E.U. in a negative light (which is no surprise, given the tireless 24-hour brainwashing by propaganda machines, which claim that Russia is “under attack” by the West and that they “aim to overthrow the legitimate government” and “exploit Russian resources”). However, given all that negativity, it’s also quite clear that this is not backed by some kind of deep-rooted aggression within Russian society.
Russian people have visibly grown tired over the past several years of confrontation, and are not truly interested in the Kremlin’s foreign policy-related mobilization efforts. For instance, according to Levada, only 18% of Russians follow Russian military campaign in Syria attentively (half a year ago, the maximum number of people interested was only 25%), whereas over 80% show limited interest in the subject. The same thing has happened in relation to events around Ukraine: Levada has shown a recent surge in public indifference to those, with the number of people who do not truly follow these events or not follow them at all reaching almost 70%.
All these developments are hardly surprising, given the severity of the developing economic situation in Russia. I have described the nature of this crisis, hitting the consumer purchasing power of Russians the hardest since 1990s, in more detail in December; since then, retail sales in Russia have fallen further by 15.3% year on year in December and by another 7.3% in January, and real wages – by 10% and 6.1% respectively. Notably, in January 2016 sharp declines continued contrary to the “low base effect” that optimists hoped for (in January 2015, the decline had already commenced, and optimistic outlooks were based on the assumption that the population’s purchasing power will level off compared to last year’s weak numbers).
It’s quite clear that Russians are unhappy with these developments, and demand that the Russian Government devote more effort to domestic economic policies so as to solve these problems and to reconcile with the West.
Given Medvedev’s Munich speech, Russian leaders seem to be totally ignorant of that demand from the Russian society by simply continuing with the old confrontational style. This is worth remembering for any Western politician talking to them further: The Kremlin’s international tough talk is not really backed by solid public support anymore.Vladimir Milov Crisis Economy EU-Russia
Medvedev’s tough talk does not match Russian public opinion
22 Feb 2016
This working paper looks at the recent trends in the Russian economy and argues against the official view of the Russian authorities that the worst phase of the Russian economic crisis is over.
The paper highlights the main driving factor behind the current crisis, the sharp decline of domestic consumption, unprecedented in the past twenty years, and argues that Western sanctions have had a great role to play in these developments.Crisis Economy EU-Russia
Russia’s Downfall: The Worst Economic Crisis Since the Collapse of the USSR
17 Dec 2015
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
This week, Europe gears up for the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Sure enough, Russian propaganda does everything to use the narrative of Russia the liberator – then and now – for their purpose of whipping up patriotic fervour. At the same time, the Central Europeans from the Baltics to Bulgaria have a different view: The Soviet victory of 1945 brought them from one catastrophe to another one. And today, Putin’s Russia is a clear and present danger to their freedom, and their ambitions to strengthen democracy and the rule of law in the Eastern Neighbourhood. So there is a clear alternative to Russia’s narrative about war and about its own place in history.
But there is another war we should think and talk about: Russia’s blatant aggression against Ukraine. The West should not have been as surprised as it was, back in March 2014. The writing had been on the wall since Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 – and its ongoing violation of the ceasefire agreement afterwards. The Kremlin is waging war against Russia’s neighbours because it sees successful democracies in the region as a threat to its own power. It needs the narrative of the alleged past humiliation at the hands of the West in order to justify its aggression. It needs the confrontation with the West in order to distract attention from the failure of the economy. In the words of Ed Lucas, the West’s reaction to this war has been mixed, at best. It is true, we have managed to maintain unity on sanctions – so far. And yes, NATO has reacted robustly by beefing up its capacities to come to the rescue of Balts and others threatened by Russian aggression. Despite this, the assessments among Europeans of the significance of Russia’s breach of basic norms have not converged. And, no, the danger of an unravelling of EU and NATO solidarity is not over.
This brings us to the war that Russia is now threatening to bring upon the West every day in its media. In March, 2014, Kremlin media mogul Dmitri Kisilyov stated that Russia was ‘the only country in the world really capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash’. Ever since then, the Kremlin has hammered the message home to Russians that war with the West is looming. This is accompanied by the narrative that the ‘decadent’ West will roll over if you only threaten it firmly enough. Look at the ending of the infamous ruski okupant video and you know what we have to react to now.
Si vis pacem, para bellum – if you want peace, prepare for war. This apparent paradox is at the core of what has come to be called military deterrence in modern times, but in reality is a principle of conflict as old as mankind itself. In order to keep your adversary from attacking you, you have to prepare your defences, including counter-attack, precisely because you don’t want to have to use your weapons. So we must re-learn deterrence. We have forgotten about it in the last 25 years, as articulated by Anne Applebaum last year. Some of the members of our political classes have also been traumatised by the ‘peace movement’ of the 1980s which was essentially directed against the principle of possessing nuclear weapons.
However if we want to prevail in this confrontation, further spread democracy and the rule of law eastward, and live in peace, we cannot avoid relearning a couple of simple truths. Most importantly, is the truth concerning deterrence. If it is to be credible, it must be based on three pillars: The capacity to defend yourself, the willingness to do so, and the communication of both to the opponent. At this point in time, the West must shape up in all three categories. That presupposes, first and foremost, a frank public debate about the military threat we are facing: conventional, hybrid and nuclear. It includes the insight that we can only live in freedom today because the United States has been, and ultimately still is, risking thermonuclear war for us – remember the Cold War? And it also means that we – political parties, leaders, think tanks and NGOs, need to start a frank and rational debate about all of this.
So do mention the war: the one that ended 70 years ago and about which Europe still has to find a narrative that lives up to our values. The one that Russia has started against Ukraine, and to which the West is still struggling to find a consistent, determined and sustainable answer. And the big one between Russia and the West, which will hopefully never happen but which we have to be ready to wage if we want to prevent it.Roland Freudenstein Defence Democracy EU-Russia Values
Do mention the war!
07 May 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
President Putin’s decision to cancel work on the South Stream pipeline may have far-reaching consequences regarding the development of a single energy market within the EU. Although Commission President Juncker (and Bulgarian Prime Minister Borissov) have publicly stated that South Stream remains a potentially viable project, its de facto mothballing by Russia provides the EU with an opportunity to develop alternative energy scenarios in south east Europe.
These are scenarios which would improve both the diversity and security of the EU’s energy supply. This IN FOCUS sets out five key reasons why the end of the South Stream pipeline should mark the beginning of moves towards an European energy union.
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.Energy EU Member States EU-Russia Renewable Energy Resources
European Energy Union: Why the end of South Stream should mark its beginning
16 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
The spa city of Carlsbad (Karlovy Vary) in Western Bohemia, counting 50 000 inhabitants. You might be surprised by sign posts written in Cyrillic alphabet and daily flights to several Russian cities. All this is thanks to the large Russian minority that came here in the 90s.
When the European Council was deciding on another round of Russian sanctions at the end of August, three Central European countries – Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary – showed reluctance to agree to the measures. For some, this might be surprising, taking into account the Soviet occupation of those countries. However, the communist period is paradoxically one of the reasons why Russians are still so influential in this region thanks to their links which I’ll show with the example of the Czech Republic. Poland is an outlier in this regard with a foreign policy marked by intense wariness in its relationship to Russia. This can probably be ascribed to Poland’s bad historical experiences with Russia during the partitions of Poland and World War II including the Katyn massacre).
DEPENDENCE ON RUSSIAN GAS
It is well known that much of central Europe is highly dependent on Russia for their energy supplies, there is no need to go into detail. The following figures tell all: Hungary and Slovakia are about 80 % dependent on Russian gas, Czech Republic about 57 %. However, although statistics suggest that the Czech Republic is less dependent than Hungary and Slovakia and it has an advantage in the possibility of gas reverse flow from Germany, there is a more interesting and less known fact: the Czech Republic is the first EU country where the major Russian energy company Gazprom started directly selling gas through a company called Vemex headed by Russian businessman Vladimir Ermakov nicknamed ‘Czech Mr Gazprom’. Vemex controls 20 % of the Czech gas market and has already expanded to Slovakia. Over 50 % of its shares belong to Gazprom Germania, a subsidiary of Gazprom and another 33 % of shares belong to Centrex Europe Energy & Gas AG which is believed to be a Gazprom front company.
Apart from gas Russian influence is also apparent in the Czech nuclear sector. Both Czech nuclear plants Temelín and Dukovany were built by Soviet construction plans (Temelín has a Westinghouse control system from the 90s though). When, in the past few years, the biggest Czech energy company, the state-owned ČEZ opened a debate about building another two blocks in Temelín, a Czech-Russian consortium MIR.1200 was the leading construction candidate in the competition against French Areva and American Westinghouse. The consortium consists of Russian companies Gidropress and Atomstrojexport and a Czech company Škoda JS/Škoda Steel. However, this Czech company is actually also in Russian hands – it was bought by a Russian company OMZ aka United Heavy Machinery. And who owns OMZ? Gazprom again…
RUSSIAN INFLUENCE THROUGH BUSINESS
There are also other Russian key players in the Czech energy sector – Russian oil company Lukoil Aviation Czech gave a major donation to the political campaign of the current Czech president Miloš Zeman. Lukoil Head of Office Martin Nejedlý is now working as a Presidential advisor. Also Zeman’s former collaborator Miroslav Šlouf worked as a lobbyist for Lukoil. Is it then so surprising that the Czech president seems quite fond of Russia?
He showed his kindness to Moscow at a conference called Dialog of civilizations that was organized this September on the Greek island Rhodos by Russian oligarch Vladimir Jakunin, head of the state-owned Russian railways and a close associate of Putin who features on the US black list. At this conference Zeman compared the Ukrainian conflict to ‘something like a flu‘ and pleaded against the sanctions.
Gazprom and Lukoil are big names but there are also many smaller Russian companies. Russians own over 17 000 companies in the Czech republic which puts them on the top of foreign investors in terms of the number of companies (in terms of capital the Germans and Dutch are bigger investors). The problem of Russian companies is that they are sometimes used to peddle Russian influence in local administration and for espionage, as stated by the Czech secret service (BIS) report. The 2013 report moreover warns that those spies are supported by official Russian diplomatic services and also warns against infiltration of Czech media by pro-Russian journalists.
Russian companies are often non-transparent and some of them fail to conform to legal standards (for instance they often do not file yearly balance lists). One example of such a‘sleeping company‘ was company Albion CZ that belonged to Alexander Babakov, member of the Russian Duma and one of Putin’s men who figures on the EU black list. He recently liquidated this company, however, there are other companies that haven’t been dissolved yet (that do not fulfill their legal obligations.These companies should be automatically dissolved by Czech courts.
Russians still profit from their ties established during the Communist regime. Many former Czech communist apparatchiks secured themselves influential posts in various companies and institutions thanks to their contacts and language abilities that ordinary people who could not travel easily during the communist era often lacked. There was (and still is) a lustration law that limited the access of high communist functionaries and communist secret service collaborators to certain high positions in the state administration, state businesses, academic and judiciary positions. But this did not apply to all positions and there was often a problem with a lack of evidence of collaboration, because some documents were discarded right after the Velvet Revolution.
Václav Petříček, the head of the Chamber of Commerce of the the Commonwealth of Independent States (essentially the former Soviet Union), worked in the State planning commission before 1989. In the 90s he worked at the Ministry of Industry and now he is a strong opponent of sanctioning Russia, fear mongering that if we apply sanctions it will ruin our trust and connections with Russia. However Czech exports to Russia don’t even reach 4 % of Czech exports in comparison to 31% of exports to Germany alone. Russian companies and their Czech supporters stress our cultural ties and the magnamity of Czechs towards Russians. When the discussion about Temelin’s extension began MIR.1200 claimed that they will employ Czech employees and Czech managers unlike the ‘Westerners‘ who will bring their own people.
There is also a substantial Russian communication influence. Russian media try to use the fact that some Czechs tend to be suspicious of the European Union, the United States and the West in general, sometimes even resorting to conspiracy theories. Those conspiracy theories are then brought to the Czech Republic by various ‘outsider media‘ and blogs of former politicians like the former president Václav Klaus‘ advisor Petr Hájek (who writes a blog called Countercurrent) or the former senator, MP and judge Jiří Vyvadil whose blog states a motto: ‘And what if everything is otherwise/different?‘
In Slovakia, where religion is more important, the Russian propaganda often targets conservative religious people who point out the ‘decline of values Western values‘ (usually directed at gender or feminist issues). Russia is sometimes seen as the protector of ’these conservative values where a man behaves like a ‘real man‘ and a women’s role is to be a good wife and mother. However, those admirers of Russian conservative values often tend to overlook facts like that the abortion rate in Russia is multiple times higher than in western European countries.Vladka Vojtiskova EU Member States EU-Russia
Russian ties and lies in Central Europe
06 Nov 2014
Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (PL), Vice-President of the European People’s Party, is known for his clear and often controversial opinions on Europe’s relationship with Ukraine and Russia. In this interview he offers his views on the Eastern Partnership program. He also explains why the Euromaidan movement that he nominated for the Sakharov prize should win this prestigious award (the winner will be announced on October 21st).
Is the Eastern Partnership a successful project?
The project was first drafted when Europe’s relationship with Russia was approached within a different paradigm. The design was right, but our assumptions were wrong. We wanted to be encircled by a ring of friends whereas it is now apparent that we are in fact encircled by a ring of fire. Eastern Partnership is a geopolitical project – had it been perceived as such from the beginning we wouldn’t have the current problems. As signora Mogherini said during her hearing: ‘There is no such thing as strategic partnership with Russia.’ When diplomacy fails, the time comes to act, so we should now move from appeasement to containment. We need to move from the paradigm of ‘Russia first to Russia next’. When we are eventually successful in our Eastern Partnership, I believe that we will also achieve change in Russia, because that nation doesn’t deserve the today’s situation.
How should we reform the Eastern Partnership project?
The goals should remain as they are: to provide our Eastern neighbours a chance to achieve European standards in society, economic life and the rule of law. But we should move from the current state-centric approach to a citizen-centric approach. The project should be also enshrined by the European Union as public. Unfortunately it was seen in the beginning as a purely political project and the public wasn’t involved.
How can we involve the public?
By encouraging EU civil society to engage with civil society in our Eastern neighbours. We should provide financial assistance directly to civil society and not through intermediaries. Also, gates of programs like Erasmus+ should be opened as wide as possible. Nowadays, Ukrainian students can participate only in Erasmus Mundus program. And as was already achieved with Moldova, we should have a visa-free relationship with the Eastern Partnership countries.
Why should the European public care about these countries?
We should care because European values in our neighborhood mean more security and prosperity for us. Countries like Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are not distant. They are closer than we imagine.
Should the aspiration of the Eastern Partnership be accession to the European Union?
At this stage, no: because there is no agreement among the member states about enlargement, so we should stick with the position enshrined in all the documents of the European Parliament that based on Article 49 of the European Treaties these countries may apply for membership only if they fulfill the prescribed conditions. But at this stage we should focus on the association stage, which is very robust already. It means wide opening in political and economic terms, but also meeting most European standards.
Is Georgian or Azerbaijani accession realistic, even in the distant future, considering that they don’t share a border with the EU?
They do share a border – the Black sea. In the more distant future they are potential members, but at this stage raising this debate is counterproductive.
How will the situation develop after the elections in Moldova and Ukraine that are taking place in October and November?
It depends whether Russia will continue its warfare. It is highly probable that it will continue and we should be prepared to help those countries resist Russia by raising sanctions and by helping them to arm .
You nominated Euromaidan, represented by four people: Mustafa Nayem, Ruslana Lyzhychko, Yelyzaveta Schepetylnykova and Tetiana Chornovo, for the Sakharov prize. Do you think Euromaidan is deserving of this prize?
To the highest degree. If Sakharov was alive he would surely give his vote to Euromaidan as the very embodiment of the values for which he fought for.
Isn’t it just a political decision? Wasn’t there also violence on Euromaidan? And can it succeed in a competition with such candidates as a Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege, who treated over 30 000 women raped by war criminals?
All of the nominees are excellent people deserving this award. My candidate is Euromaidan because of the precedent it sets in nature, size and courage of the people. For the first time in history, people were dying under the European flag.Democracy Enlargment EU-Russia
MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski: “On Russia, we should move from appeasement to containment”
21 Oct 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
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
For the time being, France is still committed to delivering both Mistrals to Russia, but on the other hand, it is unthinkable that France would help modernise the Russian navy given the aggressive behaviour of Russia in Ukraine and the general future outlook for the whole region – and especially the rather offensive character of the weapon system concerned. This commentary assesses the viable alternative to the sale of the Mistrals to Russia.
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 EU Member States EU-Russia Security
EU-Russia relations: How the EU should handle the Mistral case
16 Sep 2014
On the 1st of August 1975, the then Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave was one of the signatories of the Helsinki Final act governing relations between European states. He signed along the United States, all other European countries (except Albania), and the USSR, which at the time encompassed both Russia and Ukraine.
Article one of the Helsinki Final Act said that the signatory states would “respect each other’s sovereign equality, juridical equality and territorial integrity” and that they would refrain from the “use of force or the threat of the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”.
As a small militarily neutral European state, Ireland has a greater interest, even than has a state which enjoys the comfort of a military alliance, in ensuring that these clear interstate principles are respected.
The Russian annexation of Crimea by force and its present increasingly overt invasion of Eastern Ukraine is obviously a flagrant breach of the Helsinki Final Act. It is the first of its kind since the end of the Second World War, unless one includes the NATO action against former Yugoslavia over the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, which was then part of sovereign former Yugoslav territory. I argued at the time that this was a dangerous precedent.
As Taoiseach, I happened to have been invited to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on the very day the Assembly was voting to admit the Russian Federation to membership of the Council. I spoke in favour of Russian accession. Russia became a member on 28 February 1996. The Council of Europe is the source of a dense and comprehensive network of treaties on many topics, including human rights. The Council of Europe, and its Treaties, only have meaning to the extent that its members are willing to abide by international law.
The European Union itself also rests on the foundation of respect for international law. The EU only EXISTS because there is an assumption that international Treaties will be respected in ALL circumstances. The EU has no force to govern its own members beyond the force of international law in the form of EU Treaties. The European Court of Justice interprets these Treaties and its rulings are accepted by all EU states.
Dividing the EU has been a long standing Russian goal, and President Putin’s aggressive tactics appear to be succeeding in the goal of dividing the EU, in a way that previous Russian efforts have failed. At a meeting I attended last June, the new EU Foreign Representative, Federica Mogherini, admitted that, as then Italian Foreign Minister, she had been “advocating for Putin” within the EU. Her promotion will now encourage Putin, and is more eloquent than any verbal warning he may have been given about the EU ending its “partnership “with Russia, whatever that means.
Within the EU, countries like Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Spain, Italy are relatively accommodative towards what Russia is doing, while others, like Lithuania, Poland, Estonia and Latvia are alarmed and looking for resolute action. The bigger EU states are, painfully and unsuccessfully, trying to balance commercial interests against professed principles. The Russian tactics are very similar to those adopted by Hitler in his dealings with the Czechs in 1938, and the present tactics of the EU are not dissimilar to those adopted by the French and British Governments of the day.
As 28 nations, the EU will never be able to move with the dexterity of an autocracy like Russia, but if it is not to have its policies dictated in the Kremlin, as a result Russian pressure on energy supplies, it needs to make a radical change in its own energy policies. It needs to build a proper energy union in Europe, independent of Russia, with complete inter connection of its energy distribution grids. That will require a lot of (job creating) investment, and the diversion of funds from current consumption. But a long term decision like this would create a new momentum with which Russia could not ignore.
The EU also needs to reflect on the contradictory messages it is sending out about nuclear disarmament.
Libya, which had got rid of its nuclear weapons programme, was attacked by EU countries, who were supporting the ouster of the Gaddafi regime. In an agreement to encourage it to give up the nuclear weapons on its territory, Ukraine’s sovereign integrity was guaranteed, in the Budapest memorandum, by a number of countries, including Russia, the UK, and France. Against the background of what happened in Libya, more recent developments in Eastern Ukraine reduce the incentives for nuclear disarmament in a very dangerous way.
Given the vast economic superiority that EU countries enjoy over Russia, it is surprising that they have so little influence on it. If EU countries refused to buy Russian gas, Putin would have to stop and think. But the effect of such a decision would hurt some EU countries much more than others, and that would require the EU to set up a budget big enough to compensate the countries that would suffer the most. The biggest resistance to this would come from countries, like the UK, that do not want a large EU budget. Likewise German business interests who are heavily invested in Russia.
It is really difficult to see who can now stop Putin, except perhaps an awakened Russian public opinion that will become sickened by the casualties Russian soldiers will suffer in a needless war against another Slav country.John Bruton Defence EU-Russia Security
Events in Ukraine threaten both the international rule of law and nuclear non-proliferation
05 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
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
Russia’s tactics in annexing Crimea and destabilising Ukraine have torn up the assumptions, on which the relationship between the West and Russia had been based since the end of the Second World War.
Forcible annexations of neighbouring territory, a reality in the 1930’s, are now a reality again, thanks to what has happened in Crimea.
Power politics, and spheres of influence of great power, have replaced international law and respect for sovereignty, as the motive forces of European security.
As recently as 1994, EU countries, including Britain and France, reached an international agreement with Russia guaranteeing Ukraine’s frontiers, in return for the non trivial matter of Ukraine abandoning its nuclear weapons, and thereby weakening its deterrent security capacity in an important way. With the annexation of Crimea, that agreement has now been put in the bin.
Already, the EU is visibly divided on how to respond, even though international law on this matter is clear.
On the 1 August 1975, the then Irish Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave was one of the signatories of the Helsinki Final act governing relations between European states. He signed along the United States, all other European countries (except Albania), and the USSR, which at the time encompassed both Russia and Ukraine.
Article one of the Helsinki Final Act said that the signatory states would “respect each other’s sovereign equality, juridical equality and territorial integrity”, and that they would refrain from the “use of force or the threat of the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”.
As a small militarily neutral European state, Ireland has a greater interest, even than has a state which enjoys the comfort of a military alliance, in ensuring that these clear interstate principles are respected.
As Taoiseach, I happened to have been invited to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on the very day the Assembly was voting to admit the Russian Federation to membership of the Council. I spoke in favour of Russian accession. Russia became a member on 28 February 1996. The Council of Europe is the source of a dense and comprehensive network of treaties on many topics, including human rights. The Council of Europe, and its Treaties, only have meaning to the extent that its members are willing to abide by international law.
The European Union also rests on the foundation of respect for international law. The EU only EXISTS because there is an assumption that international Treaties will be respected in ALL circumstances. The EU has no force to govern its own members beyond the force of international law in the form of EU Treaties. The European Court of Justice interprets these Treaties and its rulings are accepted by all EU states.
Dividing the EU has been a long standing Russian goal, and President Putin’s aggressive tactics appear to be succeeding in the goal of dividing the EU, in a way that previous Russian efforts have failed. At one end of the spectrum, countries like Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Spain, Italy and Hungary are relatively accommodative towards what Russia is doing, while others, like Lithuania, Poland, Estonia and Latvia are alarmed and looking for resolute action. The bigger EU states are, painfully and unsuccessfully, trying to balance commercial interests against professed principles
The talks in Geneva yesterday have had two important tactical outcomes, the fact that Russia appeared to do business with the new Ukrainian authorities at all, and that it agreed to a request to all armed groups to desist from forcibly occupying official buildings. This will presumably apply equally to the Maidan protesters in Kiev as to the pro Russian protesters in eastern Ukraine. But as Russia does not accept any responsibility for the pro Russian protesters inside Ukraine, Russia will be able to wash its hands of responsibility if the occupations continue.
The key test will be whether the Presidential elections take place peaceably and fairly in May, and whether outside election observers are allowed to do their work.
Putin has shown that he is capable of moving fast, and of changing direction unexpectedly to suit the needs of the moment, while Europe is still laboriously scratching its head.
As 28 nations, the EU will never be able to move with the dexterity of an autocracy like Russia, but if it is not to have its policies dictated in the Kremlin, as a result Russian pressure on energy supplies, it needs to make a radical change in its own energy policies. It needs to build a proper energy union in Europe, independent of Russia, with complete inter connection of its energy distribution grids. That will require a lot of investment, and the diversion of funds from current consumption. But a long term decision like this would create a new momentum with which Russia could not ignore.John Bruton EU-Russia Foreign Policy Security
Putin is splitting up the EU, and tearing up Europe’s post war security order
18 Apr 2014
The chessboard has become the metaphor of choice in the debate about Russia’s aggression. For more than a month now, our condition humaine can be aptly described as ‘waiting for Putin’s next move’ [http://ces.tc/1gsEU2b]. On a more abstract level, this is reflected by the inflationary use of the term geopolitics. Especially among conservatives, we hear appeals that the West, and especially the ‘post-modern’ European Union, has to learn hardcore geostrategy. But on the Left as well, it is fashionable to frame the conflict as an imperial struggle between the West and Russia over a Ukraine which is, in itself, allegedly the embodiment of an East-West split. Geopolitics is not mentioned, but clearly implied. Now, this is how Wikipedia [http://ces.tc/1fQK8oZ] defines the term: ‘… a method of foreign policy [http://ces.tc/1kwRod1] analysis which seeks to understand, explain, and predict international political behaviour primarily in terms of geographical variables.’ Or, as Napoleon put it more bluntly: ‘La géographie, c’est le destin des peuples’.
I beg to differ. Because if that was true, then neither Ukraine nor Georgia, neither Belarus nor Kazakhstan, would ever have the chance to be free countries and choose their alliances, as long as Russia remains as big as it is. Needless to say, this perspective very much suits the Kremlin view in which NATO enlargement (and increasingly also EU enlargement or even association) to Russia’s borders represents a hostile act because they penetrate Russia’s sphere of ‘privileged interest’.
Zoom in on the Euromaidan and it’s easy to see that the geopolitical perspective is profoundly mistaken. What is it that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets for? For what were many of them risking their careers, their health, their personal freedom and their lives – and about 100 actually lost their lives. Was that for this or that empire? For a direction on the compass? Definitely not! What these Ukrainians wanted was something ultimately very simple: a decent future in a halfway modern state, without rampant corruption, with freedom of expression and a fairly functional justice system, and the ability to democratically choose its alliances. Or, as Anne Applebaum [http://ces.tc/Pv2NA2] put it: ‘this conflict pits Ukrainians (both Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking) who want to live in a “European” democracy with human rights and the rule of law, against Ukrainians (also both Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking) — who support an undemocratic, oligarchic capitalist regime that is politically and economically dependent on Russia.’ That is not geopolitics. That is a struggle of political systems. Incidentally, this also puts the alleged conflict between Western and Eastern Ukraine into perspective.
In fact, even Putin and the Russian power elite seem to have at least enriched their erstwhile purely geopolitical narrative with an increasingly comprehensive Eurasian ideology [http://ces.tc/1pYFr17] that casts itself as a grand alternative to the West – although admittedly on clay feet, as far as stringency and philosophical underpinnings are concerned. Nationalism and – increasingly – ‘traditional values’ are blended into imperial rhetoric by the Kremlin and its ideologues. They believe liberal democracy is finished. Hence, like all really important conflicts between political models, this one is ultimately about which one owns the future and which one belongs to the past.
This is actually good news for the EU. Its soft power finds traction with the people of Eastern Europe – or, at least, with their most dynamic parts, including Russians, by the way. But this will only work under four conditions: firstly, for the EU’s soft power to be effective, it has to be backed up by NATO’s hard power – both to deter further aggression and to reassure the allies. That requires political resolve. Secondly, the EU has to be serious about answering to the aspirations of the people who want to live in ‘European’ countries. That requires short term help as well as a long term perspective – which must, in the end, include membership. All this will be a hard sell inside the EU. Thirdly, the West will have to reinvent itself, both in terms of a new transatlantic bond, and in terms of the West Europeans taking the Central and East Europeans more seriously. Fourthly and maybe most importantly, this conflict with Putin’s Russia has to be seen for what it is: a political struggle not identical to, but with a similar intensity as the Cold War. And just like the systemic conflict between 1945 and 1989, this one is winnable.Roland Freudenstein Democracy EU-Russia Foreign Policy
It’s not geopolitics, stupid!
07 Apr 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
At the Election Congress of the European People’s Party (EPP) in Dublin, EPP affiliated leaders from Eastern Partnership countries Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan discussed the situation in Ukraine and its wider implication for Europe’s Eastern Neighbourhood during a panel organised by the Centre for European Studies (CES), the political foundation and official think tank of the European People’s Party (EPP).
In his opening remarks, CES President and former Prime Minister of Slovakia, Mikuláš Dzurinda kicked off the panel by paying tribute to Ukrainian citizens for making huge sacrifices for democracy. Alexander Stubb, Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade of Finland, emphasised that “money is the best pacifier”, as demonstrated by the reaction of the markets in Russia in the recent days. The European Union needs to act firmly to secure Ukraine’s European future and, in this context, the Association Agreement and an EU visa policy towards Ukraine remain essential.
Leonid Gozman, President of the Union of Right Forces in Russia, pleaded for the strengthening of democratic forces in Russia, by saying: “Let me make it clear that thousands of Russians do believe that Russia committed an act of aggression in Ukraine. Crimea is the worst action taken by my country since the invasion of Czechoslovakia.”
Speakers moved on to analyse ways of dealing with Russia in light of the lessons learned from the Ukrainian crisis. Elmar Brok, member of the European Parliament, emphasised that a comprehensive solution for Ukraine requires a more coordinated European policy and a united Western front towards Russia. According to the International Republican Institute Eurasia Regional Director, Stephen Nix, channels of communication with Russia should be kept open, which does not necessarily exclude sanctions against Russia, as US policy shows.
The panel concluded with a discussion on the lessons learned and consequences of the Ukrainian crisis on the wider EU Eastern Neighbourhood. CES Visiting Fellow and former Head of Georgia’s Mission to the EU Ambassador Salome Samadashvili highlighted the fact that the Cold War ended without a settlement and that Russia is currently taking advantage of the lack of clear terms of engagement in the region. Yusif Bagirzade, Chairman of the National Independence Party of Azerbaijan, declared: “The Ukrainian crisis should serve as an incentive for the EU to offer real opportunities to Moldova and Georgia before similar crises erupt there.”
Speakers agreed that in the long run, the EU will have to strengthen its Eastern Partnership Initiative and address civil society (which desires modernisation and stronger ties to the EU) more than governments (which resist that).Defence Democracy EU-Russia Foreign Policy
Eastern Partnership leaders discuss crisis in Ukraine during debate at EPP Congress in Dublin
07 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
Georgia is unquestionably the most open polity of the South Caucasus, and its political development will be a bell-wether for the prospects of democratic development across Eurasia. This research paper analyses the achievements and shortcomings of the Rose Revolution era as well as the prospects for the country under the leadership of the Georgian Dream Coalition. Furthermore, it discusses the influence of Russia on Georgia’s development on the path of European integration and democracy-building. In the past decade, Georgia has transformed from a failed state to a functioning one; President Saakashvili helped modernise Georgia’s conception of itself and moved Georgia irrevocably toward integration with Euro-Atlantic institutions. Prime Minister Ivanishvili has continued Georgia’s foreign policy priorities of EU and NATO integration, declaring these to be irreversible. Meanwhile, Russia is doubling down on its efforts at coercive integration of the post-Soviet space, with the explicit purpose of undermining the east–west corridor. Should Georgia’s democratic progress be reversed, the very feasibility of democratic governance in post-Soviet countries as a whole would be called into question. Should it continue to progress towards European norms, the viability of the model of state–society relations that Vladimir Putin euphemistically terms ‘sovereign democracy’ would instead be challenged.Democracy EU-Russia Foreign Policy Neighbourhood Policy Security
Getting Georgia Right
02 Dec 2013
A decade has passed since the colour revolutions ushered in a new wave of democratisation into some countries of the former USSR.
Later this week the capital of another former Soviet republic, Lithuania, an inspirational model for the other Newly Independent States emerging from the ruins of the “evil empire,” will host what was hoped to be a historical summit of the Eastern Partnership Initiative. The Initiative encompasses six former Soviet republics with the overarching goal of strengthening the political and economic ties between them and the EU. An ambitious action-plan, or “Roadmap to Vilnius,” envisioned cementing the European future of the most advanced eastern partners at this milestone event.
Sadly the outcome of Vilnius summit will be falling short of these high expectations. Following the decision of Armenia to abandon the path towards the European integration and consider joining the Russian led Eurasian Customs Union, another partner, Ukraine has also refused to sign the association and free trade agreements in Vilnius, leading to mass public protests and deepened political confrontation in the country, the outcome of which is yet to be seen.
Georgia and Moldova are now set to be the “stars” of the Vilnius summit, initialing association and free trade agreements with the EU. This will be an important step forward for both countries. However, the game is far from over.
The declining economic performance of Georgia under its new government, as well as the concerns about selective justice it applies against political opponents, rampant corruption and the volatile domestic political scene in Moldova, alongside the ongoing security challenges posed by unresolved conflicts, all create a fertile ground for impeding the progress of the two champions of the Eastern Partnership in the nearest future.
Four years since the inception of the Eastern Partnership initiative it is both timely as well as necessary to ask, why has this EU policy managed to deliver more in some partner countries than in the others?
Looking at the political, economic and security factors, it is clear that the level of democratic development, the degree of economic dependency on Russia and the nature of the security concerns facing individual partners, all have played their pivotal role in determining respective successes and failures achieved by the Eastern Partnership Initiative vis-a-vis them.
As witnessed most recently in my own country, Georgia, free and fair elections which resulted in the first democratic transfer of power, were largely made possible due to the commitment of the governing elites to the European future of the country. The elections, so far, have not altered the fiercely pro-Western foreign policy orientation molded by the government led by former president Mikhail Saakashvili. As long as democracy and the commitment of the Georgian voters to the European choice survive, it seems that the country will remain safely on the EU path.
A messy, but still democratic process in Moldova, for reasons similar to the ones in Georgia, has also managed to take the country forward towards Europe.
The entrenched political interests of the governing elites in Belarus, Azerbaijan and Ukraine, however, despite the respective differences in the quality of the democratic development of these countries, have been the decisive factor for failure of the Eastern Partnership Initiative to achieve the desired progress there.
As the examples of Armenia and Ukraine also clearly show, strong economic ties with Russia pose a serious threat to the European choice of both the governing elites and the voters amongst the Eastern partners, as do the concerns with respect to the potential security threats and dependency on Russian military assistance.
In this light, what does the future of the Eastern Partnership look like following Vilnius?
The Russian pressure on these countries is likely to increase – as of spring of next year, Russia’s current vanity project, the Sochi Olympics – will be a thing of the past. It is therefore probable that the second, strategically even more important and ambitious project – the Eurasian Union – will be given full attention by the Russian leadership. While the viability of this project still remains uncertain, its potential for undermining the EU’s interests in the region, in light of the recent developments, can no longer be ignored. In the months and years to come, Russian policy towards the countries in its shared neighborhood with the EU will be multifaceted.
Russia will try to agree on deals behind the closed doors with the leadership of those countries where lack of democracy makes it possible to ignore the voters. In the countries where a still nascent but functioning democratic process makes it difficult to discount public opinion, such as Georgia for example, Russia will continue wielding economic and soft power tools to thwart support of voters away from the European future. Russia will also likely deepen security concerns where it can by supporting instability.
What will be the response of the European Union to this increasingly assertive role of Russia? Will it stand up for its strategic interests in the region or will it retreat? Clearly, if the EU is serious about its commitment to the region, after Vilnius it will need to devote substantial intellectual and financial resources to rethinking the policies directed at supporting democracy, economic development and security of its Eastern neighbors.
Five years ago, the disastrous war between my country and Russia served as an impetus for some serious policy thinking in Brussels and other European capitals on the way to stabilise the EU’s eastern neighborhood. This has resulted in the creation of the Eastern Partnership initiative, which despite its limitations, was an important step forward in securing the democratic and European future of our countries.
Let the recent setbacks serve in a similar role, as catalysts for renewing the commitment of the EU to its eastern neighbors.
The strategic interests of the European Union in creating a stable and prosperous neighborhood around its borders, access to the human and natural resources of the Eastern partners and the benefits from the common economic space with them, all are self-evident.
However, strategic interests aside, the people who braved to confront the authorities in the streets of Tbilisi and Kiev some 10 years ago demanding their freedom, who, despite all the disappointments of the decade following the colour revolutions, have not lost their faith in democracy and are willing to go back to the Maidan to defend their European choice, count on the European Union.
Europe must not disappoint us.
[Originally published on euobserver.com: http://ces.tc/1iZpsPD]Salome Samadashvili Defence Democracy EU-Russia Foreign Policy
What next after the EU’s Vilnius summit?
29 Nov 2013
It has been five years since the banking crisis erupted in the United States. If, instead of boasting of having the most robust financial system in the world, the Spanish Government had immediately begun the process of restructuring its financial system, Spain would not have needed European aid to complete this arduous task. However, we should not cry over spilt milk. The important thing right now is to ensure that this type of crisis will never be repeated.
One year ago the Spanish savings banks finally acknowledged that they had serious problems after making excessive loans to the construction sector. Months later, problems with the saving banks turned into a government crisis: after injecting money into the financial system in order to save the banks, they continued to experience problems with financing because of the lack of trust of investors. This problem in countries like Spain and Ireland spread to the rest of the European Union. What started as a banking crisis ended up being a threat to the euro. It created a vicious circle between the banks, the trust in the Member States and the euro.
If we have learned anything from this crisis is that the architecture of the euro was flawed, since we created a monetary union with different economic policies and banking regulations. The result was that the citizens ended up paying for the banking disaster. Now we have the opportunity to change the structures supporting the euro which we were not able to be put in place at the time of its introduction..We are entirely committed to this task.
In order to do this, the European Parliament has been proposing to create a banking union for more than a year. The primary goal of this proposal is to protect taxpayers being forced to pay for the banking crises. Firstly, we need a single supervisor to ensure that all EU banks are supervised and they do not pose a risk to the rest of the banking system. This would guarantee that, for instance, a badly supervised saving banks in Spain or poorly supervised banks in Ireland would not pose a risk to the rest of the countries. This joint monitoring system, along with a Deposit Guarantee Fund and a common crisis resolution mechanism should be the three axes of a reform that will protect the citizens of all euro countries from another banking crisis.
The truth is that progress in the last year has been substantial. However, there is some cause for concern in relation to the speed at which European institutions are responding to the problems posed by the banking crisis. Sometimes it seems that we fail to react until we are on the brink of another crisis. Progress was made last year because Europe felt the pressure of rising bond spreads. With lower spreads, we probably would have not reacted. Therefore, this year we risk failing to take decisive action and creating the banking union that is so urgently needed as bond markets appear more stable.
These days there is a heated debate on a bailout for Cyprus which seems to be breaking the taboo of the deposit insurance fund and its consequences for the fledgling banking Union. It is important to contextualize the measure. A high percentage of deposits in Cypriot banks are foreigners, mostly Russians. This is not the case in other euro zone states. Also, whether we like it or not, we must not forget that Germany faces an election in two months. I tend to be positive and believe that the Cyprus bailout may be the price we have to pay so that the Banking Union becomes a reality.Pablo Zalba Banking Crisis Economy EU-Russia Eurozone
Cyprus bailout and the banking union
20 Mar 2013
In this paper, three long-time observers of Russia and the EU perform a reality check on the EU–Russia relationship. All three authors agree that a more realistic EU policy would deal with Russia as it is, not as the EU wants it to be. The reality of today’s Russia is complex, as is the policy formulation process in the EU. Nevertheless, the EU should start with a clearer idea of where its own interests and priorities lie. It should accept that it can achieve fruitful cooperation with Russia in some areas while openly disagreeing with it in others. The EU needs to be prepared to work with Russia as an equal partner without compromising its own norms and values.Energy EU-Russia Foreign Policy
EU-Russia Relations: Time for a realistic turnaround
01 Mar 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
It took only several months for Russia and a number of other developing markets that had been experiencing miraculous economic growth to deteriorate to the point of near economic collapse.The financial crisis has been a central issue in Russia’s monetary and credit sphere since September 2008. This paper presents trends and prospects for the development of Russia’s economy in 2009 and beyond.Crisis Economy EU-Russia
The Russian Economy in the Crisis: Trends and Perspectives
01 Jan 2009