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Eastern Europe – The World’s Last Underachiever

Anis H. Bajrektarevic

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25 years ago, the Russian historical empire melted down. Although often underreported, this also marked the end of alternative society in Europe. Collapse of the II world, made the 3rd way (of Yugoslavia and further, beyond Europe – globally, of the Nonaligned Movement) obsolete.

That 9/11 was a moment when the end of history rested upon all of us, the day when the world became flat. The EU entered East, but only as a ‘stalking horse’ of NATO. No surprise that Eastern Europe –following the slaughter of its pivot, Yugoslavia – has soon after abandoned its identity quest, and capitulated. Its final civilizational defeat came along: the Eastern Europe’s peoples, primarily Slavs, have silently handed over their most important debates – that of Slavism, anti-fascism and of own identity – solely to the recuperating Russophone Europe.

Terrified and rarified underachievers

Is today’s Eastern Europe a classic case of indirect rule? Is that a deep imperial periphery of nominally independent native rulers, while in reality the true power holder resides outside, although is domestically supported by a dense web of NGOs, multinational corporations and locally handpicked ‘elites’?

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Everything in between Central Europe and Russia is Eastern Europe, rather a historic novelty on the political map of Europe (see four maps above). Very formation of the Atlantic Europe’s present shape dates back to 14th–15th century, of Central Europe to the mid-late 19th century, while a contemporary Eastern Europe only started emerging between the end of WWI and the collapse of the Soviet Union – meaning, less than 100 years in best cases, slightly over two decades in the most cases. No wonder that the dominant political culture of the Eastern Europeans resonates residual fears and reflects deeply insecure small nations. Captive and restive, they are short in territorial depth, in demographic projection, in natural resources and in a direct access to open (warm) seas. After all, these are short in historio-cultural verticals, and in the bigger picture-driven long-term policies. They are exercising the nationhood and sovereignty from quite a recently, thus, too often uncertain over the side and page of history. Therefore, they are often dismissive, hectic and suspectful, nearly neuralgic and xenophobic, with frequent overtones.

The creation of a nation-state (on linguistic grounds) in the Atlantic, Scandinavian and Central Europe was relatively a success-story. However, in Eastern Europe it repeatedly suffered setbacks, culminating in the Balkans, Caucasus and the Middle East, but also remains evident in the central or Baltic part of Eastern Europe.

Above statement might come as a shock for many. Why? For the last 25 years, our reporting on Eastern Europe was rather a matter of faith than a reflection of the empirical reality. This ‘rhetoric’ was dominated by fragmented intellectual trends that are more cultural (e.g. poetry, paintings, film, etc.) than coherently economic and geo-political in focus as they should be. How one defines a challenge largely determines the response – effectively points out Brzezinski. Hence, the arts will always elaborate on emotions, science will search for and examine the facts.

If the front of Atlantic-Central Europe lately suffered (an economic) problem which has been diagnosed as a distributional and compositional, than who and when is holistically and scientifically to examine the Eastern-Rusophone Europe and its burning geo-economic (distributional, compositional), socio-political/ideological (space-time in history) and geopolitical (logical and areal) problem? Where is a serious research on that?

If the equality of outcome (income) was a communist egalitarian dogma, is the belief in equality of opportunity a tangible reality offered to Eastern Europe or just a deceiving utopia sold to the conquered, plundered, ridiculed and cannibalized countries in transition?

What is the current standing of Eastern Europe – state of its economy, the health of its society and the efficiency of its governance?

By contrasting and comparing available HDI data (UN DP’s Human Development Index) and all relevant WB, OECD, UNCTAD, ILO and WHO socio-economic and health indexes including the demographic trends of last two decades, we can easily spot a considerable green, economic and socio-human growth in Asia, in Latin America and moderate growth elsewhere. The single trend of negative growth (incl. the suicide and functional illiteracy figures) comparable by its duration and severity to this of Eastern Europe, is situated only in the sub-Saharan Africa (precisely the CHAD-lake region and partially between Grand lakes and Horn of Africa). Further on, recent generational accounting figures illuminate a highly disturbing future prospect for the youth of Eastern Europe. Neither their economic performance nor birth rates would sustain the financial burden left for the future by the present, irresponsible and defeatist, generation.

Ergo, euphemisms such as countries in transition or new Europe cannot hide a disconsolate fact that Eastern Europe has been treated for 25 years as defeated belligerent, as spoils of war which the West won in its war against communist Russia.[1]

It concludes that (self-)fragmented, deindustrialized, rapidly aged rarified and depopulated, (and de-Slavicized) Eastern Europe is probably the least influential region of the world – one of the very few underachievers. Obediently submissive and therefore, rigid in dynamic environment of the promising 21st century, Eastern Europeans are among last remaining passive downloaders and slow-receivers on the otherwise blossoming stage of the world’s creativity, politics and economy.[2]

East does not exercise its political sovereignty (gone with the EU), its military sovereignty (gone with the NATO), its economic and monetary sovereignty (gone with the massive domestic de-industrialization ‘preached’ by the IMF, EBRD, EIB and eventually ECB),[3]and its financial sovereignty (gone by full penetration of German, Austrian and Swedish banks).[4]Those national currencies still existing in Eastern Europe lost – for already long ago – the vital substance: their anthropological and economic function.

Most of the Eastern European states do not control a single commercial bank on their territory.[5]East does not control its own narrative or (interpretation of) history: Due to the massive penetration of Central Europe, East grossly relativized, trivialized and silenced its own past and present anti-fascism. Additionally, this region does not effectively control its media space. Media there (of too-often dubious orientation and ownership) is discouraging, disorienting and silencing any sense of national pride, influence over destiny direction and to it related calls for self-(re)assessment.

East is sharply aged and depopulated –the worst of its kind ever – which in return will make any future prospect of a full and decisive generational interval simply impossible.[6]Honduras-ization of Eastern Europe is full and complete.[7]If the post-WWII Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe was overt and brutal, this one is tacit but subversive and deeply corrosive.[8]

East between Ukrainization and Pakistanization

It is worth reminding that the NATO remains to be an instrument of the US physical, military presence in Europe. Or, as Lord Ismay defined it in 1949: ‘to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down’. The fact that the US remained in Western Germany, and that the Soviet Army pulled out from Eastern Germany did not mean ‘democratization’ or ‘transition’. It represented a direct military defeat of the Gorbachev Russia in the duel over the core sectors of Central and Eastern Europe. As direct spoils of war, DDR disappeared from the political map of Europe being absorbed by Western Germany, while the American Army still resides in unified Germany.[9] In fact, more than half of the US 75 major overseas military bases are situated in Europe. Up to this day, Germany hosts 25 of them.  

Admittedly, by the early 1990s, the ‘security hole’– Eastern Europe, has been approached in multifold fashion: Besides the (pre-Maastricht EC and post-Maastricht) EU and NATO, there was the Council of Europe, the CSCE (after the 1993 Budapest summit, OSCE), the EBRD and EIB. All of them were sending the political, economic, human dimension, commercial signals, assistance and expertise.[10]These moves were making both sides very nervous; Russia becoming assertive (on its former peripheries) and Eastern Europe defiantly dismissive. Until this very day, each of them is portraying the NATO enterprise as the central security consideration: One as a must-go, and another as a no-go.

No wonder that the absolute pivot of Eastern Europe – Ukraine, is a grand hostage of that very dilemma: Between the eastern pan-Slavic hegemony and western ‘imperialism of free market’.[11]For Ukraine, Russia is a geographic, socio-historic, cultural and linguistic reality. These days, this reality is far less reflected upon than the seducing, but distant Euro-Atlantic club. Ukraine for Russia is more than a lame western-flank’ geopolitical pivot, or to say, the first collateral in the infamous policy of containment that the West had continuously pursued against Russia ever since the 18th century. For Moscow, Kiev is an emotional place – an indispensable bond of historio-civilizational attachment – something that makes and sustains Russia both Christian and European. Putin clearly redlined it: Sudden annexation of Crimea (return to its pre-1954 status) was an unpleasant and humiliating surprise that brings a lot of foreign policy hangover for both the NATO and EU.

Thus drifting chopped off and away, a failed state beyond rehabilitation, Ukraine itself is a prisoner of this domesticated security drama. Yet again, the false dilemma so tragically imploded within this blue state, of a 50:50 polarized population, over the question where the country belongs – in space, time and side of history. Conclusively, Eastern Europe is further twisting, while gradually combusted between Ukrainization and Pakistanization.[12] The rest of Europe is already shifting the costs of its own foreign policy journey by ‘fracking’ its households with a considerably higher energy bills.

In short, Atlantic Europe is a political powerhouse, with two of three European nuclear powers and 2 out of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, P-5. Central Europe is an economic powerhouse, Russophone Europe is an energy powerhouse, Scandinavian Europe is all of that a bit, and Eastern Europe is none of it.

 

*   All displayed maps per the author’s idea made by Anneliese Gattringer.

References:

  1. Bajrektarević, A. (2013), Future of Europe (Of Lisbon and Generational Interval), EU Journal Europe’s World, Brussels
  2. Brzezinski, Z. (1997), The Grand Chessboard, Basic Books (Perseus);
  3. Fukuyama, F. (2012), The Future of History, Foreign Affairs Magazine 91(1) 2012
  4. Friedman, G. (2009), The Next 100 Years, Anchor Books/Random House NY;
  5. Ferguson, N. (2005), Colossus – The Rise and Fall of the American Empire, Penguin Books (page 255)
  6. Bajrektarević, A. (2005), Green/Policy Paper Submitted to the closing plenary of the Ministerial (Chairmanship summarizing the recommendations and conclusions of the OSCE Ministerial Summit Prague 2005), OSCE Documents/EEA 2005/05/14857/En
  7. Clark, C. (2013), The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, HarperCollins Publishers
  8. Eco, U. (2001), Eternal Fascism: 14 way of looking at a Blackshirt, Five Moral Pieces – Essays (orig. Cinque Scritti Morali, 1997),Essay first published in the NY Review of Books, 22 VI 1995 (pp.12-15)
  9. Stiglitz, J.E. (2012), The Price of Inequality, Penguin Economics
  10. Wallerstein, I. (1999), The End of the World as We Know it: Social Science for the XXI century, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
  11. OECD (2014), Society at a Glance 2014 – The Crisis and its Aftermath (OECD Social Indicators), OECD Paris Publications
  12. World Bank (2014), World Development Report 2014: Risk and Opportunity – Managing Risk for Development, WB Publications
  13. Mead, W.R. (2014), The Return of Geopolitics – The Revenge of the Revisionist Powers, Foreign Affairs Magazine 93(2) 2014
  14. Greco, T.H. (2009), The End of Money and the Future of Civilization, Chelsea Green Publishing
  15. Serfaty, S. (2014) Why we need to be patient with Russia, Europe’s World – the EU Foreign Policy Journal, Brussels (page 73)
  16. Bajrektarević, A. (2013), Multiculturalism is D(r)ead in Europe – MENA Oil and the (hidden) political prize Europe pays for it, Nordic Page, Oslo Norway
  17. Ikenberry, G.J. (2014), The Illusion of Geopolitics, Foreign Affairs Magazine 93(3) 2014
  18. Kagan, R. (2004), Of Paradise and Power, Vintage Books (page 85)

 


[1] A sharp drop in LE (life expectancy) in Russia, from age 72 to 59, is something faced only by nations at war. The evidence that Russia has suffered such a steep decline, unreversed ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, is unprecedented in a peace-time history of any industrialized nation. Although not so alarming like in the post-SU Russia, the rest of post-Soviet republics and Eastern Europe closely follow the same LE pattern – not to mention devastating birth rates, brain drain and other demographic data. E.g. the projected LE of the today’s born Berliner is around 100 years, while of Muscovite is only 67 years. Simply, the East is unable to (re-)produce its own life. Or, once it is conceived, to keep (the best of) that life at home. Some would argue that it again is the war for a lebensraum, but this time of the self-imposed Endlösung (final solution).  

[2] With some exceptions of Visegrád countries (such as Poland or Czech Republic, and lately Hungary) sporadically opposing a constant bandwagoning (but even that only in the domain of narrow EU fiscal or economic matters), Eastern Europe of today is unable to conceive and effectively promulgate a self-emancipating, balanced and multivector foreign policy. Fergusson goes as far as to claim for Eastern Europeans that: “they looked at Brussels (of NATO) the way former British colonies obeyed everything said and done in London.”

[3]“The entry criteria for Eastern European states was particularly costly: the so-called small and open economies, de-industrialized and over-indebted didn’t have any chance to be equal partners. For most of them, FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) is the only economic solution, which turned them into colonies…” – admitted even the Nobel laureate, economist Stiglitz in his The Price of Inequality. Moreover, the overly strong and rigid exchange rate of the domestic currencies in Eastern Europe is good only for foreign landers. It awards importers while disadvantages domestic manufacturing base and home exporters. This outdated anti-growth and anti-green economic policy has been universally abandoned long ago, even by the LDC (the UN-listed Least developed countries). No wonder that the GDP in the most of Eastern European states is well below its pre-1990s levels, and their ecological footprint index is of an alarming trend.  

[4]According to findings of the Budapest Institute of Economics (Corvinus University), for the past two decades, the volume of Austrian banking sector has increased 370%. How is this spectacular percentage achievable for the country of a flat domestic economic and negative demographic growth? This covert occupation of south-eastern Europe by the foreign financial sector did not create new jobs or re-create any industrial base there. As the Budapest Institute concluded aftermath, it was only meant to dry-out the remaining liquid assets (and private savings) from the rapidly pauperized, defeated belligerent. In 1914, Austria controlled banks as well; in Croatia, Bosnia, western Romania, northern Serbia, Hungary, southern Poland and western Ukraine. However, at that time, it also had a strict governing obligation as all of them were a part of the Monarchy. By having recognized the formal sovereignty to each of these entities, Austria today (like Sweden towards the three Baltic States in the northeast flank of Europe, and Germany in the central sector of Eastern Europe) has no governing obligations whatsoever. It can easily externally socialize (externalize) all its costs including banking risks, and individualize all profits (internalize), yielding it only for itself. Hence, the EU accession criteria, combined with a nominal independence of Eastern European entities (pacified by the pre-paid media and guided by the post-paid ‘elites’), means that the economic and other assets are syphoned out, but the countries have to take a burden of the state maintenance solely on themselves. “Creating the market economy attractive for FDI (foreign direct investments) in our case meant a de-industrialization, pauperisation, which eventually led to defunding of most of the state social activities. When someone dare say ‘our education, housing and health sectors are knocked down due to this’, they are quickly denounced as socio-romantics and accused for the social conservatism…” says Head of the Croatia’s Economic Institute prof. Slavko Kulic, and concludes: “…suffering of ever larger segments of societies means nothing to the architects of misery, to those Talibans of neoliberalism.” Recently released edition of the Oxfam study on the wealth distribution worldwide, unfortunately, confirms this bleak picture.

[5] Current labor relations in the most of Eastern Europe (Rusophone Europe, too) resembles pictures of the 18th rather than of the 21st century’s conditions, especially in the private sector of employment. It is all with a weak or even totally absent trade unionism, dismal labor standards, as well as the poor protection of other essential social, environmental and health rights. “We have stringent labor conditions to the unbearable maximum, so that the few self-styled ‘top managers’ can play golf more frequently and for a longer time… How can you possibly build any social cohesion when disproportionately many suffer for the dubious benefit of the asocial, predatory few…” – confessed to me the Ambassador of one of the largest Eastern European countries who served as a mayor of his country’s capital, before his ambassadorship in Vienna.

[6]Some ten years ago, at the special OSCE forum for demographics, I warned: “…lasting political, social and economic changes including very important technological breakthroughs – throughout our history – primarily occurred at generational intervals. This was an engine of our evolution…Presently, with demographically collapsing East European societies (natality rates, generational and brain drain), the young cohort will never constitute more than a tiny minority – in the sea of aged, backward-looking, psychologically defeatistic and biologically incapable, conservative status quo keepers. Hence, neither the generational change that brings fresh socio-political ideas, nor technological breakthrough –which usually comes along – will successfully ever take place in future of such demographies.” (For a detailed demographic outlook and tentative recommendations/ conclusions, see: Bajrektarevic, A. (2005), Our Common Futures: EURO-MED Human Capital beyond 2020, Crans Montana Forum, Monaco, 2005, as well as Bajrektarevic, A. (2005), Green/Policy Paper Submitted to the closing plenary of the Ministerial (Chairmanship summarizing the recommendations and conclusions of the OSCE Ministerial Summit Prague 2005), OSCE Documents EEA 2005.)

[7] Eastern Europe is Hondurized – this term refers to an operationalization of Monroe Doctrine in Central America, by which Washington allows its strategic neighborhood to choose their own domestic political and economic systems to an acceptable degree, while the US maintains its final (hemispheric) say over their external orientation. The so-called Brezhnev doctrine (of irreversibility of communist gains) postulated the Soviet (Suslov-Stalin) equivalent to Honduras-ization – Finlandization.

[8] Eastern Europe, the (under-)world of dramatic aging which, is additionally demographically knocked down by the massive generational and brain drain. Passed the dismantling of the communist order, these emerging economies, countries in transition of the new Europe contain reactionary forces (often glorifying the wrong side of history), predatory ‘elites’ and masses of disillusioned (in a life without respect and dignity, humiliated and ridiculed in the triviality of their lasting decline). Even if the new jobs are created or old kept, they are in fact smoke screens: Mostly a (foreign-loans financed) state-sponsored poverty programs where armies of the underemployed and misemployed cry out miserable wages in dead-end jobs. Former Slovakian cabinet minister laments in private: “Our ‘liberated East’ lives on foreign loans, or in the best case as the industrial suburbia of West Europe, having these few ‘generously’ franchised factories like Renault, VW or Hugo Boss. Actually, these are just automotive assembly lines and tailor shops – something formally done only in the III World countries. Apart from the Russian Energia-Soyuz (space-program related) delivery system, what else do we have domestically created anywhere from Bratislava to Pacific? Is there any indigenous high-end technical product of past decades known? … Our EU accession deals are worse than all Capitulation agreements combined that the Ottomans and Imperial China have ever signed in their history.”

[9] Gorbachev’s capitulation helped Germans to further gain confidence: Once territorially extended (or to euphemistically say; unified), Western Germany transposed that new size and its centrality into the advanced version of Machtpolitikdrang nach export-based über-economy. No wonder that the über-Mutti’s cabinet is gradually maneuvering the country out of the NATO-enforced Westbindung (an alliance, it does not see any more as its strategic necessity) towards an old, solely/unilaterally determined Ostpolitik of Wandel durch Kopf-Handel (change via altered mindset). Chancellor Markel’s ambassador Michael Schäfer is even more forthcoming on this eventual post-Western Made in Deutschland foreign policy. In the interview for the leading Chinese press he concludes: ‘I do not think there is such a thing as the West anymore.‘ /Kundnani, H. (2015), Leaving the West Behind – Germany Looks East, Foreign Affairs Magazine 94(1) 2015/

[10] Through the EBRD–EIB conditionalities and EU accession criteria, Eastern Europe was dictated to practically dismantle its essential industrial and service base. This dictatum upon defeated belligerent – euphemistically called countries in transition or new Europe – was followed by loans and assets received from the EU Accession and Structural funds. It was ‘sold’ to the East as award and as such presented to the deceived population. (However, it was rather to tranquilize the population at large and to pacify their local scenes, not at all aimed to modernize, re-industrialize or diversify economy, or to make production and service sector more efficient or competitive. Consequently, it was merely to subsidize the deteriorating purchasing power of the East – to make the peoples there accustomed to and encouraged for the foreign goods and services.) Thus, the funds were predominantly consumed for the western commodities. Ergo, Atlantic and Central Europe extended themselves geographically, while economically they skillfully managed to subsidize their own industrial base. To this very end, Eastern Europe’s elites readily took loans, while –in return– laying down sovereignty by issuing the state-debt guaranties. By doing so, they indebted their own states beyond bearing, and hence, they finally eliminated their own countries as any current or future economic competitor or politico-military challenger.  

[11]This is further burdened by the imperialism in a hurry – an inflammable mix of the Lithuanian-Polish past traumas and German ‘manifest destiny’ of being historically yet again ill-fated; impatient for quick results – simply, unable to capitalize on its previous successes. One of my German students recently very vividly satirized: “The irony of unintended consequence is that the intense relationship between Über-mutti (Chancellor Merkel) and boxman at large Klitschko is interpreted by Moscow as asexual, but not as apolitical.”To say, overly cosmopolitan interest for a faith of foreigners living in Germany for someone who infamously said: “multiculturalism is dead in Europe…” (Sarkozy, Cameron and Merkel openly and repeatedly viewed and diagnosed ‘death of multiculturalism’), as if the cluster of Atlantic-Central Europe’s national-states lived a long, cordial and credible history of multiculturalism on its soil.   

[12]Ukrainization could be attributed to eastern and western Slavs– who are fighting distinctions without significant difference. Pakistanization itself should describe the southern Slavs’ scenery: In lieu of truth and reconciliation, guilt is offered as a control mechanism, following the period of an unchecked escalation, ranging from a hysteria-of-a-small-difference to a crime-of-otherness purge.   

Modern Diplomacy Advisory Board, Chairman Geopolitics of Energy Editorial Member Professor and Chairperson for Intl. Law & Global Pol. Studies contact: anis@bajrektarevic.eu

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Eastern Europe

Foreign Affairs of the Absurd: The Strange Case of Abkhazia 2019

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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While very few Americans (and Western Europeans for that matter) would be hard pressed to successfully locate the Republic of Abkhazia on a map (it’s the northwest corner sandwiched in between the Russian Federation and Georgia, its western shores lapped by the Black Sea), even fewer (de facto, no one) would be able to tell you that for the last month a very curious and potentially tense international situation has been brewing there over the holding of presidential elections. There has already been plenty of local and regional coverage over just how the first two rounds have gone for President of Abkhazia. In short, no one won a commanding victory in the first round, which automatically triggered a second round run-off between incumbent local leader Raul Khajimba and head of the opposition party, Alkhaz Kvitsiniya. In that second round, which just took place last week, Raul Khajimba was declared the winner in an extremely close race (39,793 votes for Khajimba vs. 38,766 for Kvitsiniya). Kvitsiniya has subsequently spent the past week declaring the illegitimacy of the election, even going so far as to take the decision to court with the Central Electoral Commission, which reviewed the complaint and ultimately decided unanimously to uphold election results. Kvitsiniya is still hoping to garner enough local, regional, and international support to nullify the elections, claiming illegitimacy basically on two principles:

Khajimba did not garner a 50% majority share of the votes in the second round run-off (his percentage was 47.39%).

The overall amount of ‘against all’ in the election was 3,155. This amount, combined with the amount of votes received by Kvitsiniya, exceeds the amount tallied by the declared winner and thus it is illegitimate that Khajimba should be President.

There are two immediate problems at the local level with this logic. Firstly, there does not seem to be a provision in Abkhazian electoral legal documents that demands a second round run-off winner has to receive more than 50% of the votes cast. It seems as if people who favor Kvitsiniya are taking the first round rules (in which any candidate that received more than 50% of the overall vote would have automatically won the presidency and no second round run-off would be necessary) and applying them arbitrarily to the second round. But again, it is not clear that Abkhazian electoral law stipulates this and there is some documentary evidence to show the opposite is true: in the second round, you simply need to win a simple majority against the main opponent. Secondly, the idea of combining the losing candidate’s votes together with the ‘against all’ tally is simply absurd and ludicrous. Those in support of Kvitsiniya seem to be very conveniently arguing that a vote ‘against all’ is obviously a vote against Khajimba. Even more conveniently, they are also forgetting that a vote ‘against all’ is without doubt a vote against Kvitsiniya as well. So, the idea that his supporters have an exclusive right to take the ‘against all’ vote for their own favor is ridiculous. After all, if you add the ‘against all’ votes on the same principle and give them to Khajimba, his overall total now becomes 42,948, which is actually 52.55% of the overall vote, which would make null and void Kvitsiniya’s first complaint of illegitimacy. Not surprisingly, supporters of Kvitsiniya strive to keep these numbers out of the media.

The idea of local elections, even at the ‘presidential’ level, across areas of the former Soviet Union being hotly contested, with claims of corruption, chicanery, and unfair double-dealing, is not exactly surprising. This type of controversy has happened all over the Post-Soviet space since the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. And there are plenty of extremely talented political analysts and electoral observers all over Russia and Georgia fully capable of covering this race. The race itself does not explain why I am so interested suddenly in Abkhazian affairs. What intrigues me most is how much foreign affairs, Russian-American relations, and global power competition are embedded within these elections while Western observers try to claim innocence and pretend that the current tense state between Russia and America does not play a role. Note that at the very beginning of this article I mentioned the declared winner of the Abkhazian Presidency was the local leader Khajimba. Most western media outlets are using the term ‘separatist’ to describe him but conveniently NOT explaining what this ‘separatism’ means. Khajimba is a local resident of Abkhazia who in the past has been a member of Parliament in Georgia and has previously participated in presdiential elections in Abkhazia in 2004, 2009, 2011, and 2014. This was all before there was ever any formal conflict or tension with Georgia and Russia. Khajimba simply believes the best future fate of his native region lies with more sovereignty and independent governance for Abkhazia by Abkhazia. For him the issue is not about whether Russia or Georgia should control Abkhazia at all. He has even put in his own case in court to push for this, but through the proper legal process and with respect to the rule of law. It has been the opposition opponent and his group that have tried to block, postpone, and delay this court petition, subverting the rule of law de facto. This subtlety is missed in the West and instead Khajimba is painted with the broad and negative brush, ‘separatist.’ That record should be corrected.

So when more than a dozen western countries come out against not just the election results but actually against the very holding of elections at all (calling them a ‘sham’ and ‘fake’), it is not so much about legal precedents as it is about America fearing the Russian bogeyman, seeing Abkhazia destined to go the way of Crimea – back into the territorial fold of the Russian Federation – regardless that Khajimba has never uttered any desire for that to happen. Russian readers can be forgiven if they do not know that since Crimea rejoined the Russian Federation, every single western media outlet, bar none, has addressed that event as the ‘annexation’ of Crimea. To date, I am the only Western scholar I know on record as using the term ‘secession’ instead. What’s in a word? Quite a bit, actually. The use of the term ‘annexation’ implies forced compliance and non-voluntary action. ‘Secession’, on the other hand, means the opposite. Since Western analysis of Russia today is incredibly biased in portraying Russian interests as always heavy-handed and manipulative, Crimea will always be ‘stolen’ rather than a willful vote of the majority of the local population to decide their own future political status. Abkhazia, to me, is very much in a similar position with the election of Khajimba as President. Perhaps more cynically, it is highly doubtful the United States really cares so intensely about the ‘territorial integrity’ of Georgia. It is also highly doubtful that it truly believes hard data and factual evidence shows that Abkhazia would be better off under Georgian rule rather than under its own management.

The only real reason the United States voices such staunch opposition is simply because it is an American cardinal interest to keep Russian dominance within its own regional neighborhood tamed. At the time, many in the West warned that Crimea was going to be a ‘stepping stone’ to Russia taking over other parts of Eastern Ukraine, and then Poland, and after that the Baltics. Of course, none of that has even come close to happening, with Russia not really showing that much interest in causing so much regional disruption. Not surprisingly, no one in the West has recanted those dire predictions and or admitted to being wrong about declaring the ‘rebirth of a violent new Russian empire.’ So people should be forgiven if they are not willing to listen now to similar American claims about how allowing Abkhazia to become closer in diplomatic and economic terms with Russia will signal a new cascade of annexations, where soon enough there will be no more Caucasus at all but a new Russian empire in its place. The American boy who cried about the Russian power wolf. Again.

The greater philosophical questions worth debating deal with power. Who has the right to secede? Who does not? What reasons are legitimate to change territorial allegiance or membership status in a given country? What reasons are illegitimate? Should such considerations be a strictly local issue, based on the true and fair political will of the local people expressed through elections? Or are these considerations at the mercy of greater international powers, rendering regions like Abkhazia nothing but pawns in a greater chess game taking place on the international stage? It is beyond the scope of this article to answer those questions. But this article does warn all readers from believing anyone who would give easy and trite answers to such complex, profoundly problematic questions, with Russia always conveniently being placed in the role of villain.

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Eastern Europe

The Economic Roots of Georgia’s “Defection” to the West

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An important part of a country’s foreign policy lies in its economic moves. This is particularly true in the case of large states seeking a bigger role in the international arena.

For example, China has been implementing the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI), while the US during the Cold War brought in the famous Marshall Plan to help Europe restore its shattered financial strength. Both projects pursue(d) projection of political power through economic means.

Long gone are the times when it still was possible to occupy territories solely through military power. Increasingly, as modernity enabled the rise of self-consciousness and nationalism among small states and ethnic minorities in large countries, it has become difficult to rely on repressive measures. A policy of active economic initiatives targeting one ethnic group inside the country or a separate state has thus gained additional importance.

Looking at the last 30 years of Georgian-Russian relations, there has been almost everything one could imagine: from cordial talks to wars to a full-scale economic embargo. More negative than positive, but well illustrative of the limits of Russia’s foreign policy.

It is true that Georgia has not been economically so important to Moscow as, for example, Ukraine, Kazakhstan or Belarus, but Russia is always interested in influencing Tbilisi. Still, Georgia is a vital transit corridor between west and east as well as north and south. Moreover, without Georgia, it will always be difficult for Russia to effectively control the restive North Caucasus in the long run.

The Russian political establishment failed to see that a major reason in Georgia’s shift to the West in the early 2000s was a shattered post-Soviet economy and no help from Moscow. Russia was not perceived as an enemy when the Rose Revolution was about to happen in 2003: there were simply no concerted efforts from the Russian side to lure Georgia economically.

Russia was also experiencing turbulent times and was self-absorbed with internal problems when Vladimir Putin came to power in 1999. Even when Russia became financially stable in the late 2000s, no viable long-term economic vision was offered to the former Soviet countries. The announcement of the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) did not produce the expected results nor did it stop Ukraine drifting from Russia in 2014.

Again, Russian political thought failed to recognize that Kyiv’s choice to move closer to the European Union was based on the latter’s economic attractiveness. As no brotherly relations with Russians could stop Ukrainians’ drift to the western economic space, much less surprising is Georgia’s eagerness to join the European market.

Simply put, Russia has not been attractive enough. Even those countries which are economically close to Russia are so because they have no alternative. Take for example Armenia, the large population of which is not inclined to Russia but is close to the Russian economy because there is no other option. The same goes for the Central Asian states, which still prefer the Russian economy to the Chinese market (however even this trend based on Central Asia’s cultural and historical closeness with Russia has been shifting and the region’s economic relations with China now thrive).

When it comes to choosing between Western and Russian economic spaces even countries culturally closest to Russia still choose the West. The roots of this problem for Russia are its inability to build powerful state institutions and a thriving economic space with opportunities for peaceful development across the former Soviet territories.

What is troubling is Russia’s failure to understand the source of that weakness – the need for a rapid restructuring of the economy to yield higher industrial and technological results. When high-level politicians openly discuss this, it often ends with no specific results.

It can be argued that for the last 30 years, Russia has not pursued a consistent economic policy towards Georgia. Investments were occasional, while other political decisions only further hampered bilateral relations. The case of Georgia’s “defection” to the West well reflects how less attention is paid nowadays in Russia to economic components in the country’s foreign policy. There are even hints that Moscow now prefers military moves to economic ones.

Even from a strategic point, one can say that Russia simply has not had a foreign policy towards Georgia, except for militarily preventing the country from joining NATO and the EU. No long-term approach of economic, cultural and other components was ever formulated. As a result, by 2003 it was already too late to reverse the existing trend in Georgia, while a similar process is now being seen in Ukraine.

Author’s note: first published in Georgia Today

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Eastern Europe

Lost Independence of the Baltic States

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In 1991 the Baltic States gained independence. They started to develop their new way. This choice was highly appreciated by the residents of the Baltic countries, as well as by people all over the world.

People craved independence then, and they still crave it now. They understand independence as “freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others.”

Today some political decisions reduce the significance of achieved results. Thus, NATO personnel deployed in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia is so numerous that it is hard to speak about the independence of these countries. In other words they are not free from the NATO’s control, influence, support, aid, or the like.

Around 700 NATO personnel based in Estonia are took part in a major training exercise in Latvia on September, 3, Baltic News Service reports.

Exercise Furious Hawk takes place at the training area at Ādaži, NATO’s Canadian-led Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battlegroup base in Latvia, and brings the Estonian-based troops from the British-led Estonian battlegroup based at Tapa.

The exercise means military convoys, directed by Military Police units, are already moving along routes between Tapa, southwards via Paide, Pärnu and Ikla, as they make their way to the Latvian border.

It is not even about the presence of foreign troops on the territory. The matter is locals are limited in their freedom of movement’s right. It was announced that the convoys will include heavy military equipment, which could slow down traffic in that direction. The Papiniidu bridge in Pärnu is likely to be closed to the public during the period.

So, foreign troops move freely across countries, while locals are restricted in their rights. Hey NATO, who are you in the Baltic States? Are you a guest or a host?

The more so, damage to public road transport infrastructure made by heavy military equipment is considerable. Repairing damage requires large budgetary funds, which could be spent on social needs.

The officials of the Baltic States declare openly that the Baltic countries cannot defend themselves. This means that NATO supports, aids and controls the military and security spheres. NATO also influences and controls the decisions made by the Baltic States authorities in these fields. NATO hereby discards results of Baltic States’ fight for independence.

It could be even said that desired independence has been lost again.

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