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A Magnum Crimen in 1941−1945

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Currently, Serbia and Croatia are in the final process of negotiations of settling all historical disputes and questions as the part of E.U.’s conditions for Serbia in order to join the Eurobloc in 2020. Nowerdays Serbia’s PM Alexandar Vuchic and Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic are expected to achieve a “historical” deal according to which the past is going to be finally “settled”, i.e., forgotten and forgiven between two nations – the Serbs and the Croats.

In the following text we would like to contribute in this “historical” agreement by lightening one but crucial episode in Croat-Serb relations: a Magnum Crimen from the time of the WWII.  

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Territorial destruction of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in April 1941

After the April War of 6−18th, 1941, the Germans, Italians, Bulgarians and Hungarians occupied and divided the territory of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia into several parts. The Germans annexed the North Slovenia and put under their direct occupation the Yugoslav part of Banat and the Central Serbia with Kosovska Mitrovica. The Italians occupied the South Slovenia, established their marionette regime in Montenegro and annexed the Gulf of Boka Kotorska, parts of Konavli and Dalmatia. The Hungarians annexed Prekomurje, Baranja and Bachka. The Bulgarians occupied the East and Central Vardar Macedonia and the South-East Serbia. The Italians established their own marionette state of a Greater Albania with the East Montenegro, Kosovo (without its northern part that was occupied by the Germans for economic reasons) and the West Vardar Macedonia [B. Petranović, Istorija Jugoslavije 1918−1945. Druga knjiga: Narodnooslobodilački rat i revolucija 1941−1945, Beograd: NOLIT, 1988, 25−51].

However, the most important post-April War creation on the territory of ex-Kingdom of Yugoslavia was an Independent State of Croatia that was officially proclaimed on April 10th, 1941. It was composed by Croatia, Slavonia, parts of Dalmatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and the East Srem (today in Serbia). The official name of the state was Neovisna država Hrvatska (the NDH) with a capital in Zagreb. It had 6.663.157 inhabitants according to the last pre-war census and covered the territory of 102.725 sq. km [S. Srkulj, J. Lučić, Hrvatska povijest u dvadeset pet karata. Prošireno i dopunjeno izdanje, Zagreb: Hrvatski informativni centar, 1996, 105]. According to the Rome Treaties from May 1941 the NDH gave to its patron Italy Kastav and Sushak with its hinterland, the islands of Krk and Rab, the North Dalmatian and parts of the Central Dalmatian littoral, the biggest part of the Adriatic islands and a part of Konavle. Therefore, Italy realized all paragraphs of the secret London Treaty signed between Italy and the Entente in April 1915. Nevertheless, after the capitulation of Italy on September 8th, 1943 the NDH tried to incorporate parts of Dalmatia but did not succeed to establish a real state-administrative sovereignty over these territories due to the German obstruction.

The collapse of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1941 was very rapid for at least three reasons:

1. The country was not prepared for the war at all.

2. The aggressors were much stronger from all points of view.

3. The Croat treachery during the April War.

As a consequence of the military defeat, some 375.000 officers and soldiers of the Yugoslav army, but only of the Serb origin, fell into the Axis hands and became the prisoners of war in Germany. Nevertheless, on the territory of the NDH fanatical Serb-hating Croat Nazi-Ustashi were on the loose, perpetrating appalling massacres which very soon led to the Serb uprising and the loss of de facto control over the large areas [T. Judah, The Serbs. History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, New Haven−London, 1997, 117]. Destruction of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, her occupation followed by the creation of a Greater NDH and massacres of its Orthodox and Jewish population were the historical triumph of Vatican and the Roman Catholic separatism [М. Екмечић, Дугокретањеизмеђуклањаиорања. ИсторијаСрбауНовомвеку (1492−1992). Треће, допуњеноиздање, Београд: Евро-Ђунти, 2010, 438].

After the April War in 1941 and the occupation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, as a leading pre-war Croat politician Vladimir Vladko Machek refused the Italian and German offer to become a head of the new quisling state of the NDH, the Croat Nazi-Ustashi leader, Ante Pavelic was brought back from Italy to lead this Independent State of Croatia. V. Machek himself clearly noted that the declaration of the NDH on April 10th 1941 was greeted with “a wave of enthusiasm” in Zagreb “not unlike that which had swept through the town in 1918 when the ties with Hungary were severed” [V. Maček, In the Struggle for Freedom, London, 1957, 230]. The territory of NDH, as the rest of ex-Kingdom of Yugoslavia was divided between the German and Italian zones of influence and administration. When the Nazi-Ustashi Poglavnik (Führer) Ante Pavelic was returned from Italy to be appointed by the Italians as the leader of the NDH he came with some 300 supporters, but it turned out soon that he got a silent massive support by the ethnic Croats in the country. The Ustashi movement, established in 1929, found their ideological roots in the mid-19 century chauvinistic Roman-Catholic and Serbophobic ideologist Ante Starchevic – a founder of nationalistic Croat Party of Rights. A. Starchevic was exactly the person who formulated within the ideological framework of a Greater Croatia the Nazi-Ustashi-committed brutal and sadistic genocide against the Serbs during the WWII on the territory of the NDH (On this issue, see more in [В. Ђ. Крестић, ГеноцидомдовеликеХрватске. Друго допуњено издање, Јагодина: Гамбит, 2002]).

The Italian installation of the Ustashi regime in the NDH meant nothing else than the Serbophobic Roman Catholic fanatics were now in power in a state where the law and order were framed on the pattern of the Nazi Germany’s anti-Jewish law and order – in a state whose population was barely 50 per cent Croat followed by 12 per cent Muslims (today Bosniaks) and at least one-third the Serbs whose destiny was to disappear by these or other means. The Bosnian-Herzegovinian Muslims officially were declared by the Ustashi regime as the “flower of the Croat nation”, i.e., as the ethnic Croats of the Islamic faith and as such the Bosniaks took a full participation in the Croat-run four years of sadistic genocide against the Orthodox Serbs. During the war the most infamous Bosnian-Herzegovinian Muslim military unit was the SS Hanjar Division that was inspected by H. Himler himself. However, differently to the Muslim case in the NDH, the implacable extreme Serbophobic regime in Zagreb sought to exterminate all Serbs on the territory of the NDH according to the self-proclaimed principle by the NDH Minister of Education, Mile Budak on June 22nd, 1941: one third to kill, one third to expel and one third to convert to the Roman Catholicizm (to Croatize) (According to [Hrvatski narod – official NDH newspaper, dated on June 26th, 1941]). The first laws in the NDH were to ban the Cyrilic script and to outlaw the Serbs who had to wear a special sign on their cloths that they are the Orthodox [ХДХрватскадржавагеноцида, Дверисрпске. Часописзанационалнукултуруидруштвенапитања, Год. XIII, број 47−50, Београд, 2011, 24−31]. The Serb Orthodox churches and schools were firstly closed and later destroyed. The Ustashi organized bloody massacres of the Serbs even inside the churches (in Glina in August 1941) or the schools (in Prebilovci in August 1941). Deportations of the Serbs to Serbia were part of the Ustashi-designed “Final Solution” of the Serb Question in the NDH – in 1945 there were around 400.000 Serb refugees in Serbia from the NDH.

We do not have right to forget that the essence of the NDH was that this state was the first Vatican-sponsored state in the Balkans. The Roman Catholic Church in the NDH put itself to the full exposal to the new Nazi Roman Catholic Ustashi authorities and even participated directly in the massacres of the Orthodox Serbs [V. Novak, Magnum Crimen. Pola vijeka klerikalizma u Hrvatskoj, Zagreb, 1948−Beograd 1986; V. Dedijer, Vatikan i Jasenovac, Beograd: Rad, 1987; M. A. Ривели, Надбискупгеноцида. МонсињорСтепинац, ВатиканиусташкадиктатурауХрватској, 1941−1945, Никшић: Јасен, 1999; Л. Лукајић, Фратрииусташекољу. Злочинциисведоци. ПокољСрбауселимакодБањаЛукеДракулићу, ШарговцуиМотикама 7 фебруараиПискавицииИвањској 5 и 12 фебруара 1942. године, Београд: Фондзаистраживањегеноцида, 2005]. For the Roman Catholic clergy in the NDH one of the most controversial demands of the Ustashi authorities was the conversion of the Serbs to the Roman Catholicism. In principle, the clergy was uncomfortable with this policy of direct conversion, without the converts first accepting the Union act (recognizing the Pope as a head of the church but keeping Slavonic liturgy). Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic Church in the NDH accepted a forced conversion of the Serbs under the formal pretext of saving their lives. It is estimated that a total number of converted Orthodox Serbs in the NDH was around 300.000, but it is recorded also that many of already converted Serbs became anyway murdered by the Ustashi detachments. In the spring of 1943 the Ustashi government created a Croatian Orthodox Church that was headed by Bishop Hermogen – the Russian Orthodox priest who escaped from the USSR.    

The first organized massive massacre of the Serbs in the NDH was committed on April 28th, 1941 when 187 Serbs from the village of Gudovac and its surroundings were massacred. Among the most brutal and sadistic massacres at the beginning of the NDH was in Glina on August 5th, 1941 when some 1.200 Orthodox Serbs dressed in their Sunday best were called to the local Orthodox church from surrounding villages to be converted into the Roman Catholicism. However, instead of the conversion they were locked inside the church and slaughtered by knives. In August 1941 occurred and the Prebilovci massacre of the local Serbs in the East Herzegovina including and the children in the village school. A report on this event by the local Italian commander to Mussolini is very sensitive and anti-Catholic as the commander noticed that after the Prebilovci massacre is shameful to be a Roman Catholic. The organized Ustashi genocide against the Serbs very soon became rapid and efficient that according to the U.S. official reports up to August 1942 there were some 600.000 killed people in the NDH, overwhelming majority of them the Serbs [Р. Л. Кнежевић, Ж. Л. Кнежевић, Слободаилисмрт, Сијетл, 1981, 44]. The massacres of Croat-Muslim Ustashi forces were to such extent that even Adolf Hitler was forced to personally intervene in this case in order to restrain the Ustashi barbarism. It is also recorded that the German troops were in some cases in Bosnia-Herzegovina opening fire on the Ustashi solders in order to save the lives of the Serbs. That was a fact that the Serbs and the Jews were fleeing from the German to the Italian occupation zone of Yugoslavia for the very reason as the Italians protected them from the Ustashi knives [O. Talpo, Dalmazia: Una cronaca per la storia (1941), Roma, 1985]. This book is of the crucial importance for the reconstruction of the Croat-Muslim massacres of the Serbs as it contains the large number of the Italian military and other documents from the Italian archives (see more on this issue in [S. Avramov, Genocid in Jugoslavija, Beograd, 1995]).

In the attempt to finally solve the Serb Question westward the Drina River, the Ustashi government established a network of death camps among all Jasenovac (a Yugoslav Auschwitz) nearby the Sava River on the very border with Bosnia-Herzegovina became the most infamous in which perished around 700.000 people among them 500.000 the Serbs. The extermination techniques included a slaughtering of the prisoners by a special type of knife known as the Srbosjek (a Slaughterer of the Serbs) made in the Solingen factory in Germany under the Ustashi design or making the hand-washing soaps of alive boiled human bodies sold in the shops in Zagreb. The evidences of extermination of the Serbs were sent by the local executors to Zagreb and from Zagreb later to Vatican. The most enduring of this genocide is for sure the scene described by the Italian journalist and writer Curzio Malaparte in his book Kaputt. This book is account of his wartime experiences as a war correspondent. Therefore, several months after the NDH became proclaimed Malaparte went to make an interview with Ante Pavelic – a head of the state and a leader of the Ustashi movement. On this occasion he was joined by the Italian minister in Zagreb, Raffaele Casertino. What he wrote as a witness is:

While he spoke, I gazed at a wicker basket on the Poglavnik’s desk. The lid was raised and the basket seemed to be filled with mussels, or shelled oysters – as they are occasionally displayed in the windows of Fornum and Mason in Piccadilly in London. Casertano looked at me and winked, “Would you like a nice oyster stew?” “Are they Dalmatian oysters?” I asked the Poglavnik. Ante Pavelic removed the lid from the basket and revealed the mussels, that slimy and jelly-like mass, and he said smiling, with that tired good-natured smile of his, “It is a present from my loyal Ustashis. Forty pounds of human eyes.” [C. Malaparte, Kaputt, Evanson IL: Northwestern University Press, 1997, 266; B. J. Fišer (priredio), Balkanski diktatori. Diktatori i autoritarni vladari jugoistočne Evrope, Beograd: IPS−IP Prosveta, 2009, 229].  

The NDH was internationally recognized by Germany, Italy, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Japan, Spain, National China, Finland, Denmark and Manchuria. It existed from April 10th, 1941 to May 15th, 1945. In the other words, the NDH existed a whole week after the German capitulation as the last Nazi state in Europe. After the war the new communist authorities in Yugoslavia, led by Josip Broz Tito of the Croat and Slovenian origin, did everything to eliminate the evidences of the Croat-Muslim Magnum Crimen against the Serbs during the war. A most notorious case happened with the death camp of Jasenovac that was totally demolished. Very soon after the war simply nothing left as an evidence of the 9th Circle of Dante’s Hell followed by destruction of the written and other documents. After 1990 a new nationalistic government of Franjo Tudjman in Zagreb did everything to disgracefully whitewash a history of the NDH directly supported by the official scientific institutions in Croatia. In this context, we have to mention probably the most shameful “scientific” publication on the WWII in Yugoslavia which was even published in several languages by the Croatian Institute of History: V. Žerjavić, Population Losses in Yugoslavia 1941−1945, Zagreb: Dom i Svijet−Hrvatski institut za povijest, 1997.

Today, it is much more reliable to consult the German and Italian sources on the NDH than the archival material from the Yugoslav archives. Therefore, the most useful reports to Berlin and Rome are by the German and Italian embassies in Zagreb, German General Artur von Flebs, German dr. Josef Fessl, German Wilhelm Hetl, German Lothar Rendulitz, German Herman Neubacher, German dr. Josef Matl, Italian General Pitzio Biroli, Italian General Mario Roata, Italian Colonel Guisepe Angelini, Italian Enzo Cataldi or Italian historian Salvatore Loi who published an extremely valuable anthology of the Italian documents and reports on the Italian military operations in Yugoslavia in 1978. S. Loi’s account on the NDH is probably one of the most relevant and realistic. According to him, the NDH became transformed into the lake of Serb blood until the mid-August 1941. The Croat-Muslim genocide against the Serbs was, according to the same author, the most barbaric part of the WWII, even more barbaric than the holocaust against the Jews [М. Екмечић, Дугокретањеизмеђуклањаиорања. ИсторијаСрбауНовомвеку (1492−1992). Треће, допуњеноиздање, Београд: Евро-Ђунти, 2010, 445].

Subsequently, it is not of any surprise that the U.S. President Th. F. D. Roosevelt told in 1944 that after the war the Croats as a nation has no any right to their own national state as they showed to be the animals during the war. For such nation as the Croats were, Roosevelt anticipated an international monitoring but not any kind of Croatia. However, after the war a Croat led the Communist Party of Yugoslavia created even bigger Croatia within Yugoslavia than it was before the war reducing Serbia into the borders before the Balkan Wars of 1912−1913. Finally, the Croats backed by Vatican and Germany continued a policy of the NDH in 1991 and in essence succeeded as today in Croatia there are only up to 4 per cents of the Serbs in comparison to 25 per cents in 1940 or 12 per cents in 1990.        

Europe

Crossroads or a dead end: Do Germany and Europe face a triumph of indecision?

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In late November, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a number of rather controversial statements. On November 26, Germany, together with France, issued a brief “road map” for EU reform. Within the next two years this plan is to be discussed by the “Conference on the Future of Europe,” tasked with working out proposals and drawing up a strategy for “structural reforms” aimed at making the European Union “more united and sovereign.” Until recently, analysts interpreted such a tonality in European documents as the leading European countries’ readiness for a future, if not without NATO, then alongside it nonetheless. In early November, French President Emmanuel Macron described NATO as being “brain dead,” and urged Europe to reassess its foreign policy, including its relations with Russia. However, in her November 27 address to the Bundestag, Angela Merkel said that the EU would not be able to protect itself without NATO and, therefore, should work to keep the alliance in place. Merkel is known for her political pragmatism, but will it be enough to smooth out the growing contradictions regarding the future of the European Union?

It was none other than Angela Markel who, at the close of the May 2017 NATO summit, the first one attended by President Donald Trump, said that Europe could no longer rely on the United States. Since then, she has repeatedly voiced the Europeans’ fears that since the end of the Cold War, America’s geopolitical interests in Europe have consistently been undermining Europe’s global competitiveness. Many representatives of the European and even American in the Atlantic establishment have even discussed the possibility of nominating the German chancellor as an alternative leader of the Western civilization to the increasingly isolationist America. This has made Germany the main target of strong criticism by Washington and accusations of sabotaging NATO’s decision to increase the country’s defense outlays to 2 percent of GDP by 2024, thus setting a bad example for other EU countries.

At the same time, Merkel has always been well aware of Germany’s inability to act as a world leader all by itself. As a result, continued European integration remains a major political priority for Berlin.

Until recently, Berlin’s strategy was clearly aimed at strengthening the EU’s global role. What is also clear, however, is that US non-participation would effectively deprive NATO of its combat capability, because in terms of security Europe is almost completely dependent on America. This, in turn, objectively undermines any attempts to strengthen the EU’s independence even in matters pertaining to the European continent, let alone the world. Over the course of the past two years, the task of strengthening the “sovereignty of Europe” has been topmost on the minds of the EU leaders, with Germany being a prominent advocate of the idea of an “independent and strong Europe,” including in matters of security and defense. Indeed, it was Germany, in tandem with France, which, a year ago, pitched the idea of creating a full-fledged EU army.

In her “impassionate speech in defense of NATO” Angela Merkel emphasized that “NATO is more vital now, more even than during the Cold War.”

Merkel’s demonstrative return to the rhetoric of transatlantic unity could also be a tactical ploy now that the US Congress continues to threaten sanctions against companies building the strategic Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. While the December 3-4 NATO summit in London was officially held to mark the 70th anniversary of the organization, many Western commentators still predicted a “tense” meeting, primarily because of Donald Trump’s well-known criticism of the military alliance, and, above all, of many of its European members. Meanwhile, the influential US publication Foreign Affairs does not rule out the possibility of Trump being removed from office already before this year is out.  In this context, public support for NATO comes as a confirmation of the bloc’s commitment to the strategic ties traditionally existing between Europe and America, which are still popular among the Washington establishment. Finally, such a show of firmness could have been just another tactical move by Berlin in the run-up to the December 9 “Normandy Four” meeting in Paris.

At the same time, Merkel’s increasingly controversial position on EU-NATO relations may also be dictated by strategic reasons.

 First, there is a growing sense of general uncertainty in Germany, whose economy has barely avoided falling into recession and showed a 3rd quarter growth of just a measly 0.1 percent. It looks like the economic boom of the past few years is now over. Second, Germany remains caught between an objective need to pursue a more “more thorough” defense policy – so that it is “taken seriously” both in Europe and the world – and fears that any dramatic military buildup could only stoke up fears of a revival of the “German diktat.” Without openly disputing Emmanuel Macron’s idea that Europeans need to regain their “military sovereignty,” Angela Merkel demonstrates either duality or indecision: just a few days ago, she promised to increase the country’s defense spending to 2 percent of GDP, which Trump insists on, but not before the start of the 2030s, by which time her term in office will have long expired.

Third, Germany’s domestic political prospects are getting increasingly dim as Merkel’s CDU party is losing voters in local elections to other parties, including the “far-right” “Alternative for Germany.” There is growing discontent within the CDU, including its senior members, who are blaming Merkel for the loss of the party’s ideological “face,” all of which undermines the Christian Democrats’ popularity among German voters. There is a struggle currently going on for leadership both in the CDU and at the very top of the country’s political hierarchy. Finally, the media is raising alarm about Germany’s “foreign policy paralysis.” And this at a time when the country is facing a mounting wave of foreign policy challenges and, according to Die Zeit, “can no longer shy away from defending its own interests.” Thus, “expectations of a change of power” within the country coincide with a period of “foreign policy transition when the longtime orientation to America has exhausted itself and a new one is not foreseen.” Merkel’s critics say that, stunned by the situation of a “double political transition,” Merkel “is no longer able and, obviously, does not want to take the initiative.”  

The political “stupor” that Berlin has found itself in is negatively reflecting on the European Union, where no reforms are possible without German endorsement. The situation is aggravated by the inevitable “return of geopolitics” to the EU agenda. Many in Europe fear that Brexit could deprive the EU of its “strategic weight,” with the European Commission’s new head, Ursula von der Leyen, saying that Europe needs to learn to speak the “language of power,” and describing the Commission’s present lineup as “geopolitical.” It looks like maintaining “political unity” is topmost on the EU’s mind. The new European Commission has yet to show how far it is prepared to go in an effort to fend off attacks by “populists” in a number of its member states, and counter the general tendency for the fragmentation of the Union. More recently, Emmanuel Macron confirmed EU fears about his claims to supremacy in the community by almost single-handedly blocking negotiations on the start of a new expansion phase, much to the chagrin of many German politicians. This could seriously complicate the distribution of roles both in the “European tandem” and in the EU as a whole.

In mid-November, The Economist outlined his vision of the two most likely scenarios of the future European Union.

In the first, mildly positive, one the EU muddles its way towards a multi-tier structure in which overlapping and concentric circles of states can better co-operate. Different “coalitions of the willing” within the EU emerge to do different things. Militarily adventurous states like France and Italy complement NATO with midsized interventions close to Europe. By the 2030s, Europe emerges as a more hard-nosed figure, with a patchwork of shared interests. Though not comparable in military or technological power to America or China, it is a relevant broker between them, The Economist writes.

In the second, more negative, scenario the EU’s relative decline is sharper. Anemic growth sidelines long-term geopolitical and industrial considerations at the expense of short-term fixes and narrow national advantage-seeking. Outside challenges turns states inward and against each other. The EU enters the 2030s in one piece, but divided and less relevant, its high relative living standards fraying as Europe falls behind economic rivals and its population ages and shrinks, The Economist concludes. What is common in both these scenarios is the factor of European division over interests that need to be defended, and also the strategy and resources that need to be utilized, as well as the increasingly difficult task of reaching a consensus on shared goals.

Relations between Europe and Russia offer a good example of a crisis of goals and interests. According to some experts, even in NATO “all members, except Poland and the Baltic countries, see no signs of Moscow planning an offensive.” Besides, it was certainly not Russia, who initiated the scrapping of the INF Treaty, which had for decades benefited the Europeans, even more than it did others. On the eve of the NATO summit, the British media proposed an alliance to “build bridges” with the largest eastern neighbor.  Paradoxically, a trade and economic union, which is exactly what the European Union happens to be, still sticks to the Cold War logic. The fact that “the situation is more complicated” is better understood in Paris. As for Berlin, it seems that it would like to see Europe “tormenting itself” over a dilemma, which is as far-fetched as it is intractable. What is more important for the EU – to avoid “undermining NATO”? Moreover, America’s pivot to Asia began already before Trump, and in the long haul “appears irreversible.” Or maintain its status as a subject of global politics? Right now, they view Germany as a threat, someone whose activity or passivity could potentially lead to equally unfavorable results, at least for the pan-European project. And they prefer not to hear those calling for an expansion of the pan-European dialogue.

Europe finds itself in a situation of either stalemate or zugzwang. A potentially stronger EU objectively threatens the future of NATO. Conversely, attempts to reformat, revive NATO could undermine the prospects of making the EU more independent. Meanwhile, critics accuse Merkel and her government of preferring not to deal with issues “where there is no consensus” in order to avoid “disagreement.” Germany would have to choose “between the US and France.” In the present context, this means a choice between America and Europe. It seems that, sooner, rather than later, such a choice will become practically inevitable both for Berlin and for the European Union as a whole.

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The threats to Hellenism from the circumstances of the gradual decline of the West

Giannis Mitsios

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What has been happening in the international arena lately, and in our European neighborhood in particular, is indicative of the great fluidity in international relations and its complexity. The general features of our time are the new conditions of equilibrium and imbalance, for both the global protagonists, but above all, for the West now in a phase of degeneration and gradual decline.

For the first time since the end of the Cold War and the global sovereignty of the US, there has been a marked retreat of Western hegemony. The G7, the seven major economic powers of the planet (USA, Canada, Japan, Germany, Britain, France and Italy), recently met In France. At the annual meeting of French ambassadors, Macron stated: “The era of the West’s supremacy is coming to an end because of huge geopolitical shuffles”.

What we call the westernization of the world began in the late 18th century and persisted until the late 20th (around 1880 to 2000). The 21st century is undoubtedly in the East. But, that does not mean that the West will back down. A few years ago, the G7 countries accounted for 70% of world GDP, while today they do not exceed 30%.
India has outpaced France’s economy this year, with more population than all the G7 countries combined: 1.3 billion people, 65% of whom are under 35 years of age. China, with its new “one belt-one road” silk road, will connect Asia by land through Russia to Europe, while its investment-markets around the globe pose the greatest threat to the US and the Western system.

In addition to the G7, the G20 club covers most of the global economic and geopolitical issues more credibly as its members include Russia, China, India, Brazil, Korea, Indonesia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Australia, even Argentina and Turkey that have economic issues.  And, the group of BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are paving their own way.

Unrest in the Western camp

But beyond the economic dimension and rise of the forces of the East, Europe, and the Western world in general, has political internal issues to resolve, new threats such as demographic issue and immigration but also issues of cooperation, alliances, identity and cohesion.  The US with Trump’s tariff policy (trade war with China and the imposition of duties on European products) are hurting Europe economically and politically. They are weakening it, and that has and will have consequences for NATO.

The European camp is in a state of turmoil and anxiety for tomorrow’s EU. Brexit is on the threshold and the consequences of a possible withdrawal will be equally harsh for the EU itself, especially for the German economy. The EU’s annual growth rate is anemic at 1.2%, which in combination with the global economic slowdown may fall below 1% in 2020.

The German economy is in a pre-crisis phase, and voices of anxiety are increasingly all the more along with the rates of anti-systemic political forces. Christian Democrats and Social Democrats are retreating everywhere, creating conditions for future political instability. Draghi’s latest moves to cut interest rates from the European Central Bank have been unpopular in Germany.

As for the other countries: Spain has not formed a government since May. In Italy, fears for Salvini have united ideological enemies into a new government whose stamina will be revealed soon. Finally, in France, Macron cleverly tries to balance this European and international scene, but with problems.

Adverse international environment for Hellenism

As for us, we are confronted with Turkey’s threats and the pervasive violations of international law in Cyprus. The sanctions are ignored, the British are backing Turkey, the Americans are not daring to come into direct conflict and the rest of the countries are whistling indifferently. A solution to co-exploit the deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean would primarily serve the interests of large companies.

In this suffocating context of the coming months, Hellenism is called upon to organize its defenses and its alliances. Strengthen its forces, both material and spiritual, and prevent any immediate threat that might appear on the Thrace-Aegean-Cyprus axis. We have a combination of refugee-migration, Turkish blackmail for energy-sharing, and the strategic choice of the Turks to neutralize the Greek presence in the eastern Aegean Sea and in Kastellorizo. This combination is a threat to Hellenism.

At the same time, it is a powerful reminder to the country’s elite and its political system callingfor a change in their perceptions: serenity, political correctness, deliberate and vigilant analysis of the application of international law, compliance with agreements, hollow rhetoric about multiculturalism, open boarder practices.

Let us not forget that the surrender to the sirens of foreign interests is catastrophic. A small, obedient, and huddled Greece is convenient for them. We have an obligation to become more assertive and to defend legitimate national rights. This means a strong economy, a strong national mindset and a persuasive deterrent.

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Russia–EU Relations in 2020: Opportunities, Limitations and Possible Trends

Dr. Andrey KORTUNOV

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Any attempt to predict the development of Russia–EU relations in the upcoming years must certainly acknowledge the fact that relations between the two sides have remained remarkably stable since 2014, and the momentum of current dynamics (or, instead, the momentum of no dynamics) will most likely continue. 2019 marked European Parliament elections, the “overhaul” of the European Commission and other EU governing bodies, as well as the formation of a new balance of political power on the continent. It may be safe to assume that 2020 will be a quieter and altogether less nerve-wracking year for the European Union, although certain states (for example, Poland or Italy) may very well have some surprises in store. Additionally, a shift towards tackling the most critical issues associated with Brexit is a distinct possibility.

Most experts believe that the political system in Russia has a sufficiently large “safety margin” to pass through 2020 without being exposed to any significant destabilization risks, and the accumulated financial “safety cushion” will allow the country’s leadership to guarantee socioeconomic stability despite possible fluctuations in the global economy or world energy prices, or any changes to the international sanctions regime against Moscow. A real political challenge to the authorities may appear later, probably no earlier than the parliamentary elections of September 2021. Accordingly, it is unlikely that any new domestic factors will pop up before the end of 2020 that may trigger a significant shift in the EU’s approach to Moscow or Russia’s approach to Brussels.

Uncertainty Factors

Nevertheless, the features and orientation of internal processes in the European Union and Russia will undoubtedly influence their bilateral relations. In our opinion, the main uncertainty factor for the European Union rests in the level of political unity and the ability or inability of the new European Commission to successfully withstand centrifugal trends in the EU, as well as pressure exerted by populists in individual EU member states. Clearly, the new offensive launched by populists and deepening internal contradictions within the European Union will tempt Moscow to use the organization’s disunity to achieve “separate” agreements with its traditional European partners. At the same time, many in Europe will inevitably lay principal responsibility for confusion and vacillation in the European Union at Moscow’s doorstep. A strong and cohesive European Commission will restrict the possibility of the Kremlin pursuing “selective involvement” with convenient European partners.

On the other hand, it is highly unlikely that a weak and disjointed European Union will dare to launch a serious internal discussion of the prospects of its Moscow strategy beyond the five “Mogherini principles” that were formulated four years ago, given its concerns about further undermining the already fragile foreign political unity of its member states. It is common knowledge that the ongoing sanctions regime against Russia is less of an instrument of exerting influence on Moscow than it is one of the few remaining symbols of “European unity.” A weak European Union will be forced to prioritize maintaining the existing status quo and minimizing potential change-associated risks.

For Russia, the main uncertainty factor, it would seem, is still the level of socio-political tension in the country, and how authorities respond to it. If tensions continue to grow during 2020 (which can be expressed, for instance, in an increase in the number and size of rallies, picketing, demonstrations and other manifestations of street political activities) and the authorities tighten the screws in response (dispersing rallies by force, carrying out pre-emptive arrests and searches, holding trials and imposing harsh sentences), the European Union will be forced to somehow respond. This will inevitably create additional obstacles to the dialogue between Brussels and Moscow, energizing the forces that have no desire whatsoever to pursue discourse with Russia.

If the overall level of tension turns out to be relatively low and the response of the authorities relatively mild, then a prerequisite for the Russia–Europe dialogue will be more favourable. In addition to everything else, a low level of tension will serve as an additional argument for those forces in the European Union that consider Russia’s socioeconomic and political systems to be sufficiently flexible and adaptive, to remain stable for the foreseeable future. If this is the case, then it makes no sense for the European Union to repeatedly postpone dialogue with Moscow in the hope that inevitable radical political changes will take place.

The following external factors affecting relations between Russia and the European Union in 2020 will likely be most significant:

1. The outcome of the 2020 United States presidential election. Victory for the Democrats would mean that erstwhile transatlantic solidarity will be at least partly restored, and the United States and the European Union will be able to coordinate their policies towards Russia better.

Moscow will once again face a “consolidated West,” which will inevitably restrict Russia’s room for political manoeuvre. On the other hand, should Donald Trump emerge victorious, this will likely further deepen contradictions between the United States and the European Union, which will allow Moscow to solidify its current tactical advantages in its relations with the “disjointed West.”

2.The state of U.S.–China relations. Further exacerbation of the trade, economic, political and military confrontation between the United States and China, as well as the movement of the international system towards rigid bipolarity, will create additional restrictions for interaction between Russia and Europe, for instance, in implementing multilateral “Eurasian” projects. Russia will be oriented towards an increasingly close alliance with China, while Europe will be forced to follow in the wake of the policies of the United States. Conversely, if the confrontation between Washington and Beijing softens, this will allow Moscow and Brussels to avoid many of the restrictions that a rigid bipolar configuration entails.

3. The situation in the Middle East. Unexpected and significant negative dynamic in the Middle East (escalation in Syria or Lebanon, an acute crisis in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, a conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia or between Iran and Israel, or a new large-scale outflow of refugees from the region) may prove to be essential incentives for deepening Russia–Europe cooperation, especially if the situation worsens against the background of the United States continuing to roll back its commitments in the region. The preservation of the current status quo also means that Russia and the European Union will be able to maintain their current (low) level of interaction in the region. However, certain escalation scenarios (for instance, Damascus launching a large-scale offence on Idlib, with one of the parties to the conflict using chemical weapons) will create an additional problem for Russia–EU relations. Any aggravation of the problem of migration from the Middle East to the European Union will be construed as part of Moscow’s hostile strategy towards Europe.

4. The global economic situation. The global economy may enter another stage of the cyclical crisis in 2020, or even fall victim to a systemic global financial crisis similar to that of 2008–2009. The future systemic crisis will likely be more dramatic than the previous one, since the principal actors in the global economy are less inclined today to cooperate than they were ten years ago. The new crisis will undermine the economic foundations of Russia–EU relations and give rise to more pronounced protectionist and nationalist sentiment in both the European Union and Russia. In a crisis, the opportunities for positive interaction between Moscow and Brussels will be limited. Conversely, economic acceleration in the European Union and Russia will increase the interest of both parties in expanding cooperation.

Probable Risks

The current trends in Russia–EU relations carry a number of risks that should be mentioned when predicting possible scenarios for the further deterioration of these relations:

The general deterioration of European security due to the expiration of the INF Treaty; the degradation of confidence-building measures; and the start of an arms race, including hi-tech weapons (understanding that the military-political situation in Europe cannot change drastically in 2020, and military spending in European countries is not expected to rise sharply);

The continued competition for influence in the post-Soviet space, including Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia (the collapse of the political coalition in Moldova in the autumn of 2019 is a negative sign); and the further divergence of stances on the Donbass settlement will have a particularly negative effect on relations;

The intensification of sub-regional competition between Russia and the European Union (this competition appears to be particularly dangerous in the Western Balkans, given the possibility of an acute political crisis in one or more of the countries in the region);

The intensification of the information war in Europe (in particular, the European Union may approve a “blacklist” of Russian media outlets, while Russia may significantly expand its own list of “undesirable” European organizations); we cannot rule out the possibility that investigations may be launched in some EU states in connection with accusations of Russia interfering in their elections and supporting separatists and political extremists.

The harsh confrontation between Russia and some EU member countries in pan-European organizations (PACE, OSCE); 2020 will be a challenging year in the history of these organizations, which will be put under immense political pressure;

The further politicization of energy cooperation between Russia and the European Union (for instance, the emergence of new issues in completing work on Nord Stream 2; and the blatant refusal of some EU states to prolong gas contracts with Russia);

The clash between Russian and European interests in some regions of the world, including Africa and Latin America; and competition between Russia and Europe for preferential relations with Turkey might posit a particular issue.

Unfortunately, “black swans” may very well throw a spanner in the works – the unfortunate incident in Salisbury in March 2018 and the events in the Kerch Strait in November of the same year are prime examples. Such events may again lead to a deterioration of relations between Moscow and Brussels, regardless of who is to blame. A distinctive feature of Russia–EU relations today is that significant progress should be visible along the entire line of interaction between the parties, while a single negative event in any of these areas is enough to provoke a new crisis. This makes the process of restoring even limited cooperation extraordinarily fragile and unstable. And this a situation will continue throughout 2020.

Potential Opportunities

At the same time, we can identify several most promising areas of Russia–EU cooperation where, under favourable circumstances, certain practical results may be achieved as early as 2020:

Progress in settling the conflict in the east of Ukraine. The recent domestic political scandal in the United States in connection with Ukraine further obstructs Washington’s constructive involvement in resolving the crisis. The Ukrainian crisis is objectively less critical for the United States than for Europe, and certainly for Russia.

On the other hand, the new leadership in Kyiv is more focused than its predecessors on achieving a peaceful settlement to the situation in the Donbass. By all accounts, Moscow is ready to (or could) demonstrate more flexibility than before in its approach to Ukraine’s implementation of the Minsk agreements. If progress is achieved at the upcoming Normandy Four summit in terms of implementing the Steinmeier formula, then opportunities will appear as early as the first few months of 2020 to involve the European Union in the peace process, including post-conflict reconstruction programmes in the Donbass.

Expanding interaction in the “shared neighbourhood.” Neither Russia nor the European Union are interested in further escalation in the area. The example of several post-Soviet states, for instance, Armenia, shows that the balance of influence between Russia and the European Union does not necessarily have to be a zero-sum game.

Deepening interaction on Iran-related issues. The positions of Russia and the European Union on topics such as the Iranian nuclear and missile programmes and Iran’s role in Syria and the Middle East are not identical, although they are close. Given the current escalation in relations between Iran and the United States, as well as between Iran and Israel (this trend will most likely continue in 2020), Russia and the European Union can and should coordinate their actions more closely concerning Iran.

Launching full-fledged dialogue between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union. In 2020, this dialogue can be moved from the current technical to political level. It could include coordinating multilateral cooperation in Central Asia, implementing the European “connection” concept and possibly even discussing progress in implementing China’s “Belt and Road” project.

Developing a new “energy/environmental plan” for Europe. There is reason to hope that politically difficult problems related to Nord Stream 2 and the future of gas transit via Ukraine will be partially resolved in 2020. If this does happen, then it may be possible to try to “depoliticize” the European energy agenda. This could include, for instance, climate change, prospects for energy cooperation between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union, issues of standards, energy security and energy efficiency, training personnel and the exchange of experience.

Making Europe’s Russian sanctions regime more flexible. We should not expect the European Union to lift the sanctions against Russia in 2020, even if progress in settling the Ukrainian crisis is achieved. However, the European Commission might set itself the more modest task of modifying the mechanisms of applying the sanctions. History shows us that sanctions, especially bilateral sanctions, do not work if the sides do not have the option to respond to even small behavioural shifts promptly. In mid-2016, Frank-Walter Steinmeier proposed modifying the EU’s sanctions mechanism, and this idea has maintained its relevance for the last three and a half years.

Preserving pan-European areas. Despite the growing divide in Europe along the East-West axis, common European areas of science, education and culture can still be maintained. If progress is achieved in other areas in 2020, then the connecting role of humanitarian areas should be strengthened further. For instance, the parties could spearhead a joint plan to liberalize the visa regime or introduce visa waivers for students, scientists, scholars, artists and cultural figures.

Developing a new “road map” for the development of the OSCE. 2020 will mark the 10th anniversary of the Astana declaration, the 30th anniversary of the Charter of Paris and the 35th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act. Structured dialogue on military and political issues was launched in 2016, and it turned out to be one of the most productive formats of East-West communication in Europe. The OSCE still needs political support from both the European Union and Russia.

Of course, we should not assume that activating some or even most of the abovementioned areas of cooperation in 2020 will result in a “reset” of Moscow–Brussels relations. The current “strategic disconnection” between Russia and Europe is not caused by their differences on specific issues (even issues as serious as Ukraine and Syria), but rather by their profoundly opposing views on the fundamental problems of global politics, its contents, driving forces, priorities and the desired model of the future world order.

Until these differences are overcome, relations between Moscow and Brussels will remain primarily focused on rivalry. Consequently, the next common task for Russia and the European Union is to cut the costs and reduce the risks that are inextricably related to such rivalry. However, achieving even modest progress in this area in 2020 and creating an atmosphere of positive dynamics would be a significant outcome of the year that concludes a challenging decade in global politics for both the European Union and Russia.

From our partner RIAC

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