01. 10. 2013. www.ir.lv
EU Eastern Partnership Summit will be held in Vilnius soon, which may make its entry in the history as the Eastern Partnership activating summit where the EU Neighbourhood Policy’s Southern direction would be to some degree balanced by the attention paid to the neighbours on the other side of the Union’s Eastern frontier. The former Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, while speaking in the Riga Conference of this September, announced that the Summit in Vilnius would be a great success. However, the neighbourhood policy is not made on a vacant place, and Russia, too, has its view of the future of its Western and Southern neighbours.
The idea of the initiated in 2004 European Union Neighbourhood Policy is quite simple – to achieve the situation when the EU neighbours are secure, well administered, democratic and economically free states, respecting human rights. In order to reach the goal, both example, advice and rebuke – “normative” foreign policy, and financial assistance and sanctions – “carrot” and “stick”, are used. The Eastern Partnership as a part of Neighbourhood Policy, with the aim to pay more attention to Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia, was initiated by Poland and Sweden in 2008. The Eastern Partnership target countries have succeeded in implementation of democratic reforms to different degrees. The Summit in Vilnius will probably stress the differences in the countries’ progress.
Even in 1998, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, while speaking at the EP Parliamentary Assembly, announced the Ukraine’s strategic choice in the favour of joining the European Union. Unlike Kuchma’s Administration, Viktor Yuschenko and Yulia Tymoshenko made practical steps to achieve this objective, however, their efforts were insufficient. Presently the accession to EU is out of question, but Ukraine has a real possibility to conclude an Association Agreement and join the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA).
Although in this August, D.Medvedev still made attempts to persuade Ukrainian Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov about advantages of the prospective Eurasian Union, nevertheless Ukraine made Russia to understand clearly that Kiev had made its choice in the favour of a closer economic and political integration in Europe. This year, in various international forums Putin has spoken about Ukrainians and Russians as a single people. If Ukrainians are allowed to democratize themselves, one of the Kremlin’s myths of the special, Moscow-related mission of Eastern Slavs would be destroyed. Presently a wave of propaganda is flooding Russian media: Ukraine is warned about eventual bankruptcy, the signing of an Association Agreement is equalized with suicide. Putin has mentioned that in case Ukraine liberalizes considerably its customs regime with the EU and begins to import inexpensive goods from Europe, the Customs Union member states will be forced to take defensive measures. Putin’s adviser Sergey Glazyev went still farther, indicating that the defensive measures would include considering the cancellation of free trade between Russia and Ukraine. Russia has made warning shots in the direction of Ukraine – prohibiting of import of Ukrainian chocolate on the pretext of its unhealthy content. A real trade war may arise right after the potential signing of Association Agreement during the Vilnius Summit in late November. If such “warfare” takes place, it will probably not last for a too long period, Russia would face a reaction on the part of the World Trade Organization including warning about the rules of the game in the club, joined recently by Russia. In case such step is insufficient, both the EU officials and states’ diplomats would be eventually involved. Ukraine has real economic problems, and having not received external financial support, it would get still deeper in the mire. However, the fact is noticeable that Ukraine has chosen the EU, not Russia’s newly developed Union.
Neither soft power – the visit of September 7 of the Patriarch of Russian Orthodox Church Kirill, nor hard power – arrival of Russian Vice-Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin in Moldova on September 2, were helpful. Rogozin warned official Kishinev that it would possibly lose Transdniester in the process of Euro-integration. The dropped hint about eventual problems with energy supplies was also quite clear: “Energy is important with the approach to winter and cold autumn. I hope you will not get frozen”, Rogozin said. On September 11, Russia interrupted import of Moldovan wine on the pretext of low quality standards… While talking with Moldova and speaking about Moldova, Russia often mentions that sovereignty is the value to be maintained by Moldova, and which is supported also by Russia. Moscow is worried about the possibility that Moldova forms a union with Rumania in the future, thereby the initial inciting of the conflict and its freezing later on would turn out failure for Russia, its goal – prevention of Moldova’s accession to the EU and NATO – would not be reached. Over the last years, Moldova has intensively been looking for the ways how to diversify energy supplies. That has resulted in an agreement with Rumania on construction of a gas pipeline connecting the two countries. And Moldovan wine will be consumed in Europe. Similar to Ukraine, Moldova is also quite close to concluding an Association Agreement with the EU.
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia
In the discussion of Armenia’s future between European Union and Customs Union, the Collective Security Treaty Organization turned out the winner. This popular in the media joke characterizes quite well the main reason of Armenia’s choice – worries about its security. So far Russia has been the main balancer of Azerbaijan on the issue of Nagorno Karabakh. This summer, information was spread that Russia was planning to supply arms to Azerbaijan for the sum of four billion US dollars. That was followed by the rapid Armenian President Serz Sargsyan’s announcement that his country would join the Customs Union and later on also the Eurasian Union. European Commissioner Stefan Fule has stated that no documents will be signed with Armenia in Vilnius, thereby the Sargsyan’s ideas about approaching both Unions have been compromised at the very initial stage. Soon after the announcement made by Armenian President Sargsyan. Georgian Prime Minister Bidzinalvanishvili mentioned that he was observing the Customs Union, and at that moment they had no position on that issue. In case they see in the future that it meets Georgia’s strategic interests, then why not? An experienced Georgian political scientist Alexander Rondeli has told the Centre for East European Policy Studies that the leading Georgian political parties agree that Georgia’s future is integration in the European Union and NATO. According to him, the Prime Minister just used diplomatic language not to insult Russia, indicating that Georgia is not on its way to Eurasian Union. Also the ILIA University professor Giorgi Abashishvili, while talking with the CEEPS representatives, expressed a similar opinion, indicating that a minimal number of Georgian citizens supported Georgia’s participation in the Customs Union.
Although Belarus is in a relatively closer integration with Russia, nevertheless this summer again, similar to the pre-election period of 2010, it has begun to make signals that it wishes to improve its relations with the EU. Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makei, whose ban on entering the EU has been recently lifted, while visiting Brussels in July, stated that Belarus wished to activate its participation in the Eastern Partnership program. Anyway, considering the current deficit of democracy and its membership in the Customs Union, Belarus cannot expect an invitation to sign Association Agreement with the EU, however it also does not wish to be a whipping boy at the Vilnius Summit.
Until recently, Ukraine, Moldova and Armenia have been closest to signing of Association Agreement. It is obvious that Armenia has just strongly slammed on the brakes. Disregarding the political changes in Tbilisi and Prime Minister Ivanishvili’s separate statements, Georgia is among the countries maintaining their foreign policy course in the direction of the West. Azerbaijan is behind these states, but it still does not leave the track. Putin has indicated that Russia should become the centre of attraction in order to achieve integration of the Eurasian Union. Thereby he admits that so far there has been lack of attraction. We see that many neighbouring nations (also those called “brothers” by Russia) use any possibility to escape the strong clasp of Russia. It seems that the Kremlin is not worried too much about that – if we are not welcome, then at least they should fear us… If bribing works – we give bribes, if blackmailing works – we use blackmailing, we just need to maintain the grey buffer area around us. However, the Russia’s tactical success, sometimes achieved by forcing neighbours, sooner or later turns in strategic loss – the aggressive ones have neither friends, nor true allies.