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Should NATO and Europe seek to contain or cooperate with Russia?

Nargiz Hajiyeva

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Over the history, Russian-West relations have been distinguished with various kinds of factors. From the standpoint of the western policymakers, Russia has never been the West and will never be West in the whole periods of history due to different behaviors and a huge gap of misunderstanding between Russia and West.

It is mentioned: “We have not only utterly different understandings and behaviors but also variety of goals, morals and traditional values that cannot coincide with each other, therefore we are unable of doing direct conversation about our differences, thus, because of these different approaches and misinterpretations, in a broad term, the glaring sense of cultural alienation, antagonistic maneuvers have taken a dominant role upon them over time. ”

Generally, 2014 cannot be considered as a successful period for Russia and West due to the Russian annexation of Crimea, instead, it can be characterized the beginning of a new era marked by rivalry and competition between not only Russia and United States but also Russia and the European Union. Before moving on to taking approaches toward Russia by NATO and EU, it is crucial to trace back to the last years and recent periods in order to state in a few words, the main pivot of Russian assertively political actions and attitudes in international system concerning Georgian-Russian war, Ukrainian-Russian war, frozen conflicts of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Nagorno Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the annexation of Crimea.

During recent years, Russia has devastated the image of a stable, safe and economically healthy Europe that guided NATO and the EU strategy for two decades. In the meantime, the Russian actions in the region have not been left unanswered. The US, mainly NATO and EU responded with the tools of coercive diplomacy namely economic sanctions on Russia and other conventional military measures. During the past 10 years, Kremlin’s attitude toward EU has changed significantly and today, Russia no longer regards Europe as a model in the international arena. One crucial fact is that after the first year administration of Vladimir Putin, Russian media considered his policy by stating the famous sentence from Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita: You should never ask anyone for anything, never, especially not from those who are more powerful than you”, then Bulgakov’s next sentence: “They will make the offer and they will give of their own accord” From this sentences, everything has shown itself on the example of Georgian and Ukrainian War, especially, the annexation of Crimea and other political alteration.

The five-day long disastrous Georgian War and the conflict over Abkhazia and South Ossetia ignited mass havoc and put the situation in the jeopardy in the region. Although the parties have met many times in Geneva in order to analyse the politically arduous situation and gain achievements concerning the disputes over two territories, but efforts on the ground remained bleak. When it comes to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, the security of this territory impedes somehow Azerbaijan’s accession to NATO and EU. After Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, the pendulum has swung back to the reassertion of the idea of territorial integrity. The Ukraine crisis in 2014 caused the deterioration of Russian-West relations and thereby, the situation got much worse.

Consequently, all of these political events raise some questions how and through which ways or strategies West can make a mutual deal or and an engagement with Russia in the shadow of cultural alienation, though? How the West can be able to change its political moral and regards towards Russia? – First of all, NATO and the EU should have to take the Russian keen attitudes and intentions into account in advance and persuade Russia to get rid of zero sum approach. The essay will investigate the possible solutions and give main ailments in order to make a mutual deal or decisive collaboration with Russia at later periods.

The implementation of smart diplomacy: avoiding winning the East, and beating Russia. From the historical course, it is ostensible that NATO and the EU interests have collided with Russian genius affinities in the region. Although the EU has geographical proximity with the partner countries to influence these countries constantly, however, this closeness does not mean that the EU has a strong and balanced capability of meddling into the region sufficiently. Furthermore, geographical nearness is a weak indicator to take decisive actions towards region countries compare to Russia. Therefore, opting for containment strategy rather than engagement toward Russia is more likely to be very costly for the EU. Take an example of EaP programme; The EU should have to understand its possible interests in these countries and why the EU established EaP programme and what do partner countries mean for it. Yet, there is a potential danger that in some way, the EU has launched the Eastern Partnership programme to involve these countries into the Union and isolate Russia away from the region. In some way, the EU has used the Eap programme as a strategy against Russia and today, it has to avoid using this programme as a strategy against Russia. It is a fact that during the onset of ENP, Russia had also a huge enthusiasm to join in it, however upon the commencement of EaP programme; Russia began to demonstrate assertive and intense actions against the EU, and saw it as a threat to its interests in the region and as a response to the EU, launched the Eurasian Economic Union in 2011 by involving Armenia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan. Therefore, Russia yet does not want to give all oily sides of meat to the EU even to NATO in terms of partner countries. So, what is a major solution for the reengagement of Russia is to choose positive sum strategy rather than a zero-sum game.

First and foremost, the EU policy should be shaped around major challenges and obstacles stemming from these countries rather than the Russian factor. As mentioned in Riga summit, the EU external policy toward the Eastern European countries does not have to be against anyone and bearing in mind that should not irritate Russia. Second of all, the West (EU and NATO) should not create the chance of choice with Russia that partner countries have to make a choice between Russia and the EU. It is more likely away from reality. The real thing is that if the EU and NATO takes a choice strategy, it put high cost on them, the reason is that Eastern countries (mainly post-Soviet countries) understand well that getting away from Russia and choose only the West can cause high price for them in face of Russian intense action that it threatened trade sanctions, energy supply interruptions, and security retaliation against these countries. Another point is to select engagement rather than containment towards Russia in the region. Hence, it put demands on the EU to change its role theory and strategy toward Russia. Russia can be a reliable partner for the EU and NATO rather than a regional antagonist. According to the strategy of diplomacy by Hans Morgenthau, diplomacy is a technique to take into consideration not only the interests of one side but also another side, by doing so is to make a possible deal between them. By taking into account this paradigm, both the EU and NATO has a broad potential to make an engagement with Russia in the region and should have to avoid using their policy mechanisms against Russia. If the West again does not keep a meat on bones, Russia will absolutely expose its antagonist actions and maneuvers against them, and it is less likely to be beneficial for both the West and partner countries. Even, after the presidential election in the US. new president-elect Donald Trump mentioned that he will mainly concentrate on closing the ties with Russia in different kind of areas including military, economic, and social spheres. This step can lead to the weaken the Western-dominated international order and to strengthen the relations between Russia and the West in order to achieve their shared interests. Consequently, the EU and NATO needs to not only do opt for smart diplomacy and values-oriented version of geopolitics but also to continue to engage with Russia through effective offers of regional collaboration and inclusive trade arrangements in order to persuade it to overcome its zero-sum approach.

The strategic change: Focusing more on the involvement of Russia rather than Eurocentric impression and lofty objectives. The one of the main reason of shortcomings in the EU policy premises on its technocratic approach toward Russia. (it can also include other neighborhood countries). This bureaucratic attitude gives little chance of participation and engagement with different communities in Russia. The major false engenders from the merely focussing on the enlargement policy of EU that does not give an extensive place for the countries to be involved in the strategic thinking.

A technocratic aspect of the EU foreign policy is less likely to improve its broad thinking in the way that prevents the EU from achieving the cooperation with Russia. In order to make an engagement, first and foremost, the EU need to solve the coherence problem, otherwise, its eurocentric attitude will prevail over Russia and hinder the progress of cooperation between Russia and the West. Before the inception of ENP, European Commission president Romano Prodi stated that the EU would share “everything but institutions… Major false comes from this approach. Thereby, the EU should have to remove its lofty objectives and Eurocentric attitude towards Russia. (Note: it also relates to the partner countries) and pave the way for Russia to involve and engage in the implementation of different projects with the EU.

Development of civil society. The most effective policy to re-engage Russia is the development of civil society could boost the reengagement policy in Russia. Currently, the major obstacles are dealing with the less development of a civil society that impedes the progress and leaves them behind in foreign policy issues. The progress of civil society concerning on civil and political society dynamics is the optimal chance for the West to reset and then strengthen their cooperation with Russia. Therefore, the creation of a cooperation environment is tied to people’s ability to evaluate cultural values which, in turn, is closely tied to the growth of a civil society and a mutual compromise between the West and Russia. The development of civil society can bring many benefits for both sides and give them an impetus to be involved in deep engagement on the economy, business, cultural activities, tourism, exchange programs. At later stages, the development of relations can lead to phase out visa restrictions over ordinary Russian citizens and will give them to benefit from a visa-free regime as well. So, this not only will reset a good image of the EU, but also create a better environment for the EU in the east.

In conclusion, nowadays, the challenges that the West faces is unavoidable. In order to tackle the problems that the EU is facing first and foremost, it should have to undertake crucial responsibilities and duties concerning the rational arrangement or the strengthening of relations with Russia. Over the history, relationship between Russia and the West has undergone many ups and downs. However, there is a clear reality that their effective partnership might give them an opportunity to tackle the problems. Thus, the transition from competition to collaboration can give them benefits and gain them a “win-win” position in different kind of fields including energy, free trade and visa liberalization, economy, military, tourism, healthcare and education and related areas. Hence, in any cases, the collaboration is much more beneficial than the competition. Collaboration or engagement (less assertive) stands on the “win-win” proposition and is inclined to the mutual perceptions of the parties. However, the competition (more assertive) mainly focuses on the success of only one party and does not give a chance to another one and evokes the antogonistic maneuvers. Therefore, the relationship between Russia and the West should have to be characterized from the prism of the collaboration rather than competition, because both of them have a huge potential in order to participate in and get “win-win” position within international system.

Nargiz Uzeir Hajiyeva is a policy analyst and independent researcher from Azerbaijan. She holds master degree from Vytautas Magnus University and Institute de Politique de Paris (Science Po). She got bachelor degree with distinction diploma at Baku State University from International Relations and Diplomacy. Her main research fields concern on international security and foreign policy issues, energy security, cultural and political history, global political economy and international public law. She worked as an independent researcher at Corvinus University of Budapest, Cold War History Research Center. She was also a successful participator of International Student Essay Contest, Stimson Institute, on how to prevent the proliferation of the world's most dangerous weapons, by Harvard University, Harvard Kennedy School. She is also an independent researcher and a policy analyst at Observer.ge and Politicon.net platform, and Wikistrat.Between 2014 and 2015, she worked as a Chief Adviser and First Responsible Chairman In International and Legal Affairs at the Executive Power of Ganja. At that time she was defined to the position of Chief Economist at the Heydar Aliyev Center.

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From Davos to Munich

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An overview of the views and attitudes of European officials during the Davos and Munich Conference and their comparison with each other suggests that the security, economic, and political concerns of European countries have not only not diminished but are increasing.

During the World Economic Summit in Davos, the Chancellor of Germany and the President of France both gave a significant warning about the return of nationalism and populism to Europe. This warning has been sent in a time when Far-Right movements in Europe have been able to gain unbelievable power and even seek to conquer a majority of parliaments and form governments.

In her speech, Angela Merkel emphasized that the twentieth century’s mistake shouldn’t be repeated. By this, the German Chancellor meant the tendency of European countries to nationalism. Although the German Chancellor warning was serious and necessary, the warning seems to be a little late. Perhaps it would have been better if the warning was forwarded after the European Parliamentary elections in 2014, and subsequently, more practical and deterrent measures were designed. However, Merkel and other European leaders ignored the representation of over a hundred right-wing extremist in the European Parliament in 2014 and merely saw it as a kind of social excitement.

This social excitement has now become a “political demand” in the West. The dissatisfaction of European citizens with their governments has caused them to explicitly demand the return to the twentieth century and the time before the formation of the United Europe. The recent victories of right wing extremists in Austria, Germany and…, isn’t merely the result of the nationalist movement success in introducing its principles and manifestos. But it is also a result of the failure of the “European moderation” policy to resolve social, security and economic problems in the Eurozone and the European Union. In such a situation, European citizens find that the solutions offered by the moderate left parties didn’t work in removing the existing crises in Europe. Obviously, in this situation “crossing the traditional parties” would become a general demand in the West. Under such circumstances, Merkel’s and other European leaders’ warnings about the return to the twentieth century and the time before the formation of the United Europe simply means the inability of the Eurozone authorities in preventing the Right-extremism in the West.

These concerns remain at the Munich Security Conference. As Reuters reported, The defense ministers of Germany and France pledged to redouble their military and foreign policy cooperation efforts on Friday, inviting other European countries to participate if they felt ready to do so.
In a speech to the Munich Security Conference, German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen said Europe’s countries would not be able to respond nimbly enough to global challenges if they were stymied by the need to decide joint foreign policy approaches unanimously.

“Europe has to up its pace in the face of global challenges from terrorism, poverty and climate change,” she said. “Those who want to must be able to advance without being blocked by individual countries.”

Her French counterpart Florence Parly said any such deepened cooperation would be complementary to the NATO alliance, which itself was based on the principle that members contributed differently depending on their capacities.

“The reality has always been that some countries are by choice more integrated and more able to act than others,” she said.

The push comes as Germany’s political class reluctantly concedes it must play a larger security role to match its economic pre-eminence in Europe, amid concerns that the European Union is unable to respond effectively to security concerns beyond its eastern and southern borders.

But in their deal for another four years of a “grand coalition” government, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats have agreed to boost spending on the armed forces after years of post-Cold War decline.

The deal, which must still be ratified by the Social Democrat membership, comes as Germany reluctantly takes on the role of the continent’s pre-eminent political power-broker, a role generations of post-war politicians have shied away from.

Days after U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis reiterated President Donald Trump’s demand that European countries spend more on their militaries, Von der Leyen pledged to spend more on its military and the United Nations, but called in return for other countries not to turn away from mulitlateralism.

The pledges come as the EU seeks a new basis on which to cooperate with Britain, traditionally one of the continent’s leading security players, after its vote to leave the EU.

Earlier on Friday, the leaders of the three countries’ security services said close security cooperation in areas like terrorism, illegal migration, proliferation and cyber attacks, must continue after Britain’s departure.

“Cooperation between European intelligence agencies combined with the values of liberal democracy is indispensable, especially against a background of diverse foreign and security challenges,” they said.

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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Election Monitoring in 2018: What Not to Expect

Alina Toporas

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This year’s election calendar released by OSCE showcases a broad display of future presidential, parliamentary and general elections with hefty political subjecthoods which have the potential of transforming in their entirety particularly the European Union, the African Union and the Latin American sub-continent. A wide sample of these countries welcoming elections are currently facing a breadth of challenges in terms of the level of transparency in their election processes. To this end, election observation campaigns conducted by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Council of Europe, the Organisation for American States (OAS), the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division, the National Democratic Institute, Carter Center and even youth organisations such as AEGEE and Silba are of paramount importance in safeguarding the incorruptibility of election proceedings in fraudulent and what cannot be seen with the naked eye type of fraudulent political systems, making sure elections unfold abiding national legislation and international standards.

What exactly does an election observation mission supposed to accomplish?   

An election monitoring mission consists of operational experts and analysts who are all part of a core team and are conducting their assignments for a period of time varying between 8 and 12 weeks. Aside from the core team experts and analysts, there can be short-term or long-term observers and seconded observers or funded observers. Joining them, there is usually a massive local support staff acting as interpreters and intermediaries. Generally, an election observer does not interfere with the process, but merely takes informative notes. With this in mind, it is imperative of the observer to make sure there isn’t any meddling with votes at polling stations by parties and individual candidates; that the people facilitating the election process are picked according to fair and rigorous benchmarks; that these same people can be held accountable for the final results and that, at the end of the day, the election system put in place by the national and local authorities is solid from both a physical and logical standpoint. Oftentimes, particularly in emerging democracies, the election monitoring process goes beyond the actual process of voting by extending to campaign monitoring.

In practical terms, the average election observer needs to abide by certain guidelines for a smooth and standardised monitoring process. Of course, these rules can vary slightly, depending on the sending institution. Typically, once the election observer has landed in the country awaiting elections, their first two days are normally filled with seminars on the electoral system of the country and on the electoral law. Meetings with candidates from the opposition are sometimes organised by the electoral commission. Talking to ordinary voters from builders to cleaners, from artists to businesspeople is another way through which an election observer can get a sense of what social classes pledged their allegiances to what candidates. After two days in training and the one day testing political preferences on the ground, election day begins. Since the early bird gets the worm, polling stations open at least two hours earlier than the work day starts, at around 7am. Throughout the day, observers ask voters whether they feel they need to complain about anything and whether they were asked to identify themselves when voting. Other details such as the polling stations opening on time are very much within the scope of investigation for election monitors. Observers visit both urban voting centres and rural ones. In the afternoon, counting begins with observers carefully watching the volunteers from at least 3 metres away. At the end of the day, observers go back to their hotels and begin filling in their initial questionnaires with their immediate reactions on the whole voting process. In a few weeks time, a detailed report would be issued in cooperation with all the other election observers deployed in various regions of the country and under the supervision of the mission coordinators.   

Why are these upcoming elections particularly challenging to monitor?  

Talks of potential Russian interference into the U.S. elections have led to full-on FBI investigations. Moreover, the idea of Russian interference in the Brexit vote is slowly creeping into the British political discourse. Therefore, it does not take a quantum physicist to see a pattern here. Hacking the voting mechanism is yet another not-so-classic conundrum election observers are facing. We’re in the midst of election hacking at the cognitive level in the form of influence operations, doxing and propaganda. But, even more disturbingly, we’re helpless witnesses to interference at the technical level as well. Removing opposition’s website from the Internet through DDOS attacks to downright political web-hacking in Ukraine’s Central Election Commission to show as winner a far-right candidate are only some of the ways which present an unprecedented political savviness and sophistication directed at the tampering of the election machinery. Even in a country such as the U.S. (or Sweden – their elections being held September of this year) where there is a great deal of control over the physical vote, there is not much election monitoring can do to enhance the transparency of it all when interference occurs by way of the cyber domain affecting palpable election-related infrastructure.

Sketching ideational terrains seems like a fruitful exercise in imagining worst-case scenarios which call for the design of a comprehensive pre-emptive approach for election fraud. But how do you prevent election fraud? Sometimes, the election observer needs to come to terms with the fact that they are merely a reporter, a pawn which notwithstanding the action of finding oneself in the middle of it all, can generally use only its hindsight perspective. Sometimes, that perspective is good enough when employed to draft comprehensive electoral reports, making a difference between the blurry lines of legitimate and illegitimate political and electoral systems.

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Can Europe successfully rein in Big Tobacco?

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Photo by Mateo Avila Chinchilla on Unsplash

In what looks set to become the ‘dieselgate’ of the tobacco industry, a French anti-smoking organization has filed a lawsuit against four major tobacco brands for knowingly selling cigarettes with tar and nicotine levels that were between 2 and 10 times higher than what was indicated on the packs. Because the firms had manipulated the testing process, smokers who thought they were smoking a pack a day were in fact lighting up the equivalent of up to 10, significantly raising their risk for lung cancer and other diseases.

According to the National Committee Against Smoking (CNCT), cigarettes sold by the four companies have small holes in the filter that ventilate smoke inhaled under test conditions. But when smoked by a person, the holes compress due to pressure from the lips and fingers, causing the smoker to inhale higher levels of tar and nicotine. According to the lawsuit, the irregularity “tricks smokers because they are unaware of the degree of risk they are taking.”

It was only the most recent example of what appears to be a deeply entrenched propensity for malfeasance in the tobacco industry. And unfortunately, regulatory authorities across Europe still appear unprepared to just say no to big tobacco.

Earlier this month, for instance, Public Health England published a report which shines a positive light on “tobacco heating products” and indicates that electronic cigarettes pose minimal health risks. Unsurprisingly, the UK report has been welcomed by big tobacco, with British American Tobacco praising the clear-sightedness of Public Health England.

Meanwhile, on an EU-wide level, lawmakers are cooperating too closely for comfort with tobacco industry executives in their efforts to craft new cigarette tracking rules for the bloc.

The new rules are part of a campaign to clamp down on tobacco smuggling, a problem that is particularly insidious in Europe and is often attributed to the tobacco industry’s own efforts to stiff the taxman. According to the WHO, the illicit cigarette market makes up between 6-10% of the total market, and Europe ranks first worldwide in terms of the number of seized cigarettes. According to studies, tobacco smuggling is also estimated to cost national and EU budgets more than €10 billion each year in lost public revenue and is a significant source of cash for organized crime. Not surprisingly, cheap availability of illegally traded cigarettes is also a major cause of persistently high smoking rates in the bloc.

To help curtail cigarette smuggling and set best practices in the fight against the tobacco epidemic, the WHO established the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005. The first protocol to the FCTC, the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, was adopted in 2012 and later ratified by the EU. Among other criteria, the Protocol requires all cigarette packs to be marked with unique identifiers to ensure they can be tracked and traced, thereby making smuggling more difficult.

Unsurprisingly, the tobacco industry has come up with its own candidates to meet track and trace requirements, notably Codentify, a system developed by PMI. From 2005 through 2016, PMI used Codentify as part of an anti-smuggling agreement with the EU. But the agreement was subject to withering criticism from the WHO and other stakeholders for going against the Protocol, which requires the EU and other parties to exclude the tobacco industry from participating in anti-smuggling efforts.

The EU-PMI agreement expired in 2016 and any hopes of reviving it collapsed after the European Parliament, at loggerheads with the Commission, overwhelmingly voted against a new deal and decided to ratify the WHO’s Protocol instead. Codentify has since been sold to the French firm Impala and was rebranded as Inexto – which critics say is nothing but a front company for PMI since its leadership is made out of former PMI executives. Nonetheless, due to lack of stringency in the EU’s draft track and trace proposal, there is still a chance that Inexto may play a role in any new track and trace system, sidelining efforts to set up a system that is completely independent of the tobacco industry.

This could end up by seriously derailing the EU’s efforts to curb tobacco smuggling, given the industry’s history of active involvement in covertly propping up the black market for cigarettes. In 2004, PMI paid $1.25 billion to the EU to settle claims that it was complicit in tobacco smuggling. As part of the settlement, PMI agreed to issue an annual report about tobacco smuggling in the EU, a report that independent researchers found “served the interests of PMI over those of the EU and its member states.”

Given the industry’s sordid history of efforts to prop up the illicit tobacco trade, it’s little surprise that critics are still dissatisfied with the current version of the EU’s track and trace proposal.

Now, the CNCT’s lawsuit against four major tobacco firms gives all the more reason to take a harder line against the industry. After all, if big tobacco can’t even be honest with authorities about the real levels of chemicals in their own products, what makes lawmakers think that they can play a viable role in any effort to quell the illegal cigarette trade – one that directly benefits the industry?

Later this month, the European Parliament will have a new chance to show they’re ready to get tough on tobacco, when they vote on the pending proposal for an EU-wide track and trace system. French MEP Younous Omarjee has already filed a motion against the system due to its incompatibility with the letter of the WHO. Perhaps a ‘dieselgate’ for the tobacco industry might be just the catalyst they need to finally say no to PMI and its co-conspirators.

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