Over the history, Russian-West relations have been distinguished with various kinds of factors. From the standpoint of the western policymakers, Russia has never been the West and will never be West in the whole periods of history due to different behaviors and a huge gap of misunderstanding between Russia and West.
It is mentioned: “We have not only utterly different understandings and behaviors but also variety of goals, morals and traditional values that cannot coincide with each other, therefore we are unable of doing direct conversation about our differences, thus, because of these different approaches and misinterpretations, in a broad term, the glaring sense of cultural alienation, antagonistic maneuvers have taken a dominant role upon them over time. ”
Generally, 2014 cannot be considered as a successful period for Russia and West due to the Russian annexation of Crimea, instead, it can be characterized the beginning of a new era marked by rivalry and competition between not only Russia and United States but also Russia and the European Union. Before moving on to taking approaches toward Russia by NATO and EU, it is crucial to trace back to the last years and recent periods in order to state in a few words, the main pivot of Russian assertively political actions and attitudes in international system concerning Georgian-Russian war, Ukrainian-Russian war, frozen conflicts of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Nagorno Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the annexation of Crimea.
During recent years, Russia has devastated the image of a stable, safe and economically healthy Europe that guided NATO and the EU strategy for two decades. In the meantime, the Russian actions in the region have not been left unanswered. The US, mainly NATO and EU responded with the tools of coercive diplomacy namely economic sanctions on Russia and other conventional military measures. During the past 10 years, Kremlin’s attitude toward EU has changed significantly and today, Russia no longer regards Europe as a model in the international arena. One crucial fact is that after the first year administration of Vladimir Putin, Russian media considered his policy by stating the famous sentence from Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita: You should never ask anyone for anything, never, especially not from those who are more powerful than you”, then Bulgakov’s next sentence: “They will make the offer and they will give of their own accord” From this sentences, everything has shown itself on the example of Georgian and Ukrainian War, especially, the annexation of Crimea and other political alteration.
The five-day long disastrous Georgian War and the conflict over Abkhazia and South Ossetia ignited mass havoc and put the situation in the jeopardy in the region. Although the parties have met many times in Geneva in order to analyse the politically arduous situation and gain achievements concerning the disputes over two territories, but efforts on the ground remained bleak. When it comes to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, the security of this territory impedes somehow Azerbaijan’s accession to NATO and EU. After Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, the pendulum has swung back to the reassertion of the idea of territorial integrity. The Ukraine crisis in 2014 caused the deterioration of Russian-West relations and thereby, the situation got much worse.
Consequently, all of these political events raise some questions how and through which ways or strategies West can make a mutual deal or and an engagement with Russia in the shadow of cultural alienation, though? How the West can be able to change its political moral and regards towards Russia? – First of all, NATO and the EU should have to take the Russian keen attitudes and intentions into account in advance and persuade Russia to get rid of zero sum approach. The essay will investigate the possible solutions and give main ailments in order to make a mutual deal or decisive collaboration with Russia at later periods.
The implementation of smart diplomacy: avoiding winning the East, and beating Russia. From the historical course, it is ostensible that NATO and the EU interests have collided with Russian genius affinities in the region. Although the EU has geographical proximity with the partner countries to influence these countries constantly, however, this closeness does not mean that the EU has a strong and balanced capability of meddling into the region sufficiently. Furthermore, geographical nearness is a weak indicator to take decisive actions towards region countries compare to Russia. Therefore, opting for containment strategy rather than engagement toward Russia is more likely to be very costly for the EU. Take an example of EaP programme; The EU should have to understand its possible interests in these countries and why the EU established EaP programme and what do partner countries mean for it. Yet, there is a potential danger that in some way, the EU has launched the Eastern Partnership programme to involve these countries into the Union and isolate Russia away from the region. In some way, the EU has used the Eap programme as a strategy against Russia and today, it has to avoid using this programme as a strategy against Russia. It is a fact that during the onset of ENP, Russia had also a huge enthusiasm to join in it, however upon the commencement of EaP programme; Russia began to demonstrate assertive and intense actions against the EU, and saw it as a threat to its interests in the region and as a response to the EU, launched the Eurasian Economic Union in 2011 by involving Armenia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan. Therefore, Russia yet does not want to give all oily sides of meat to the EU even to NATO in terms of partner countries. So, what is a major solution for the reengagement of Russia is to choose positive sum strategy rather than a zero-sum game.
First and foremost, the EU policy should be shaped around major challenges and obstacles stemming from these countries rather than the Russian factor. As mentioned in Riga summit, the EU external policy toward the Eastern European countries does not have to be against anyone and bearing in mind that should not irritate Russia. Second of all, the West (EU and NATO) should not create the chance of choice with Russia that partner countries have to make a choice between Russia and the EU. It is more likely away from reality. The real thing is that if the EU and NATO takes a choice strategy, it put high cost on them, the reason is that Eastern countries (mainly post-Soviet countries) understand well that getting away from Russia and choose only the West can cause high price for them in face of Russian intense action that it threatened trade sanctions, energy supply interruptions, and security retaliation against these countries. Another point is to select engagement rather than containment towards Russia in the region. Hence, it put demands on the EU to change its role theory and strategy toward Russia. Russia can be a reliable partner for the EU and NATO rather than a regional antagonist. According to the strategy of diplomacy by Hans Morgenthau, diplomacy is a technique to take into consideration not only the interests of one side but also another side, by doing so is to make a possible deal between them. By taking into account this paradigm, both the EU and NATO has a broad potential to make an engagement with Russia in the region and should have to avoid using their policy mechanisms against Russia. If the West again does not keep a meat on bones, Russia will absolutely expose its antagonist actions and maneuvers against them, and it is less likely to be beneficial for both the West and partner countries. Even, after the presidential election in the US. new president-elect Donald Trump mentioned that he will mainly concentrate on closing the ties with Russia in different kind of areas including military, economic, and social spheres. This step can lead to the weaken the Western-dominated international order and to strengthen the relations between Russia and the West in order to achieve their shared interests. Consequently, the EU and NATO needs to not only do opt for smart diplomacy and values-oriented version of geopolitics but also to continue to engage with Russia through effective offers of regional collaboration and inclusive trade arrangements in order to persuade it to overcome its zero-sum approach.
The strategic change: Focusing more on the involvement of Russia rather than Eurocentric impression and lofty objectives. The one of the main reason of shortcomings in the EU policy premises on its technocratic approach toward Russia. (it can also include other neighborhood countries). This bureaucratic attitude gives little chance of participation and engagement with different communities in Russia. The major false engenders from the merely focussing on the enlargement policy of EU that does not give an extensive place for the countries to be involved in the strategic thinking.
A technocratic aspect of the EU foreign policy is less likely to improve its broad thinking in the way that prevents the EU from achieving the cooperation with Russia. In order to make an engagement, first and foremost, the EU need to solve the coherence problem, otherwise, its eurocentric attitude will prevail over Russia and hinder the progress of cooperation between Russia and the West. Before the inception of ENP, European Commission president Romano Prodi stated that the EU would share “everything but institutions… Major false comes from this approach. Thereby, the EU should have to remove its lofty objectives and Eurocentric attitude towards Russia. (Note: it also relates to the partner countries) and pave the way for Russia to involve and engage in the implementation of different projects with the EU.
Development of civil society. The most effective policy to re-engage Russia is the development of civil society could boost the reengagement policy in Russia. Currently, the major obstacles are dealing with the less development of a civil society that impedes the progress and leaves them behind in foreign policy issues. The progress of civil society concerning on civil and political society dynamics is the optimal chance for the West to reset and then strengthen their cooperation with Russia. Therefore, the creation of a cooperation environment is tied to people’s ability to evaluate cultural values which, in turn, is closely tied to the growth of a civil society and a mutual compromise between the West and Russia. The development of civil society can bring many benefits for both sides and give them an impetus to be involved in deep engagement on the economy, business, cultural activities, tourism, exchange programs. At later stages, the development of relations can lead to phase out visa restrictions over ordinary Russian citizens and will give them to benefit from a visa-free regime as well. So, this not only will reset a good image of the EU, but also create a better environment for the EU in the east.
In conclusion, nowadays, the challenges that the West faces is unavoidable. In order to tackle the problems that the EU is facing first and foremost, it should have to undertake crucial responsibilities and duties concerning the rational arrangement or the strengthening of relations with Russia. Over the history, relationship between Russia and the West has undergone many ups and downs. However, there is a clear reality that their effective partnership might give them an opportunity to tackle the problems. Thus, the transition from competition to collaboration can give them benefits and gain them a “win-win” position in different kind of fields including energy, free trade and visa liberalization, economy, military, tourism, healthcare and education and related areas. Hence, in any cases, the collaboration is much more beneficial than the competition. Collaboration or engagement (less assertive) stands on the “win-win” proposition and is inclined to the mutual perceptions of the parties. However, the competition (more assertive) mainly focuses on the success of only one party and does not give a chance to another one and evokes the antogonistic maneuvers. Therefore, the relationship between Russia and the West should have to be characterized from the prism of the collaboration rather than competition, because both of them have a huge potential in order to participate in and get “win-win” position within international system.
The Decay of Western Democracy
Centralization of power, judiciary politicization, freedom of speech, attack on many independent media, ignoring many classes, and representing some classes are now shining like a supernova in the Western World. Eastern European populism, high inequality, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and the recent reaction on immigration, the western world is experiencing a very challenging democratic setback since the rise of fascism in 1930. Nevertheless, all was not lost entirely; the 21st century is either the stand-in or the destructive century for liberal democracy.
In the new age, Western democracy is rigid and fragile; the west democratic leaders always turn blind eyes to the issues people care and ignoring people’s basic need thus democracy become a game or competition between political parties and campaigning for the vote. Like many other democratic countries, in Europe, once a political party becomes a ruling party, the party becomes unresponsive to the real needs of the people. Consequently, people are becoming less enthusiastic about politics and votes; the election becomes a small group, fighting for power and their interests.
The fundamental values of democracy are justice, liberty, and equality, which are barely exist in the Western world. The upsurge of populism (the claim to promote the interest of ordinary people against the elite or some other opponents) in the western world is a vibrant sign of racial discrimination, unjust, and inequality. Moreover, many institutions in the EU are now challenged by the political leaders, since democracy mostly relies on excellent and well-reputed institutions; such institutions are now under-attacked. The institution is the lengthened shadow of one person; institutions are just the collection of rules and norms agreed upon by the human being. If political leaders attack and abuse such institutions, they will be weakened in this, in turn, will undermine the quality of democracy. In the EU, most of the institutions are still robust but not immune to these evil forces of democracy decay.
Despite the acknowledged success in promoting political transformation in the candidate countries, the validity of democratic conditions has long been debated. Deep from Democracy Index 2018, Western democracy score declined uninterruptedly for three years – to 8.35 from 8.38 in 2017 and 8.42 in 2015 while the average rating remained 7.49 in 2017 and 7.54 in 2018. The list also indicates that among western states, 14 are full democratic, six are flawed democratic, and one is hybrid (Turkey). Among western states, only three states have shown an improvement in their rating, Malta, Germany, and Finland, while three countries show continues to declines, Turkey, Italy, and Austria.
One of the critical reasons behind such persistent deteriorating in the quality of democracy is the new anti-establishment parties; even these anti-parties are now in offices, in the interior of inside competition and representation such circumstance has dragged down the political structure and created insecurity as well as undermined the rules-based democratic institutions.
In the same vein, in Eastern EU democracy index to some extent improved to 5.42 from 5.40 in 2017, but the actual rating, which was 5.76 recorded in 2006, remained nothing more than a dream. Coalescing all, in the region of 28 countries, none of the state qualify for “full democracy” among 28 members states; 12 are listed as flawed democracy, of which 11 belongs to EU plus Serbia, nine is regarded as hybrid states other than, Serbia, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, and the Kyrgyz Republic. The remainder is listed as authoritarian regimes.
The selection of political leaders is now based on popularity, never based on merit, no matter who a person is, but being famous means a preferred leader in different areas — the new Ukrainian Prime minster Oleksiy Honcharuk was elected by the people because of his popularity even with just three months of government experience. Later argued by most of the intellectuals that being a prime minister, he would not be an independent leader of not having proper experience about government. Thus, in democracy, most of the time, our choices are driven by emotions and intense feelings of famous individuals.
The profound cause was also described by Plato about twenty-five hundred years ago. He realized that democracy is failed. He said; “When a democracy which is thirsting for freedom has evil cupbearers presiding over the feast, and has drunk too deeply of the intense wine of freedom, then, unless her rulers are very agreeable and give a plentiful draught, she calls them to account and punishes them, and says that they are cursed oligarchs[…] In such a state of society the master fears and flatters his scholars, and the scholars despise their masters and tutors; young and old are all alike; and the young man is on a level with the old, and is ready to compete with him in word or deed; and old men condescend to the young and are full of pleasantry and gaiety; they are loth to be thought morose and authoritative, and therefore they adopt the manners of the young” (Plato’s Republic, Book 8)
Plato never meant that democracy is the worse political system, sometimes when people lack the sense of understanding and driven by some emotional desires — choose the later-regret choice.
Even today, the EU is facing same comparable problems; in full-democratic countries, the people are suppressed of voicing which means all kind of freedom is restricted, people are denied their dignity and refused to their fundamental freedom. Many independent media are now under attack, and some of the chief presses at this time are in the hands of elite leaders. The populist leaders are now gaining supports from thousands of people because of the media they controlled. Nevertheless Most of the time, our emotions are also abused by populist politicians. When these populist leaders trying to simplify their political discourse raise our feeling of either anger or nostalgia, later, these populist leaders adopt their language into a new political discourse, which led to populism. The populist leaders seem happy across the world when they misrepresent the fact and reduce the complex issues of yes-no questions.
Even supposing the EU was forced to cope with the growing number of democratic regressions and backsliding in the region, at the same time, researchers worry that increasing external pressures may exacerbate countries’ current cynicism about the Euroscepticism and increase domestic support for authoritarian leaders. An analysis of the interaction between EU pressure and state actors and their sources of action can help expand the EU’s toolbox to adopt an effective democratic approach.
The modern democracy is becoming a Bandwagon Fallacy, the popularity and the authority of a person make things validate by getting the support of many people under the auspicious of fallacy. Still, we people are trapped by the Bandwagon Fallacy owing to some elites?
The geopolitical substance of the fall of the Berlin Wall
Currently the material break, rather than the real fall, of the Berlin Wall is at the core of many strategic and historical misrepresentations.
The naive rhetoric of “global democracy” that broke into Potsdam for the will of the conscious people – just to use an old definition of Communist propaganda – or the inevitable victory of the famous Western values over everything else.
Nonsense. The negotiation, which also led President Mitterrand and Prime Minister Thatcher to use the single EU currency, namely the Euro, as strategic blackmail against the unified German Mark, was geopolitical and military strategy.
Meanwhile, the shrewdest leaders in Western Europe struggled to say they did not want unification – but it was just so.
Giulio Andreotti’s witty remark is now well-known, “I love Germany so much that I want two of them”, but also Prime Minister Thatcher and President Mitterrand had many doubts, which were never dispelled.
The French Socialist President was clearly against German unification. Probably his aides were not fully against it. They imagined a united Germany, although without military protection, but President Mitterrand was certainly against it.
All what I heard from the agents of the French intelligence Services and the many friends I had in France agree on this point.
For a moment, President Mitterrand’s France even thought of its own geopolitical and military shield for the German Democratic Republic(GDR), and anyway invited Erich Honecker, the GDR leader for a State visit to France, in which he was treated as a Head of State.
At the time no one treated the GDR leaders like that.
The French idea was to stop reunification indefinitely and then negotiate . from a position of strength – the ways and timeline of a democratic “federation” between the two Germanies.
The role of the two Germanies in the EU remained unknown, but it was clear that the future French presence in the German Democratic Republic was France’s decision-making axis, also from an economic viewpoint.
The German Democratic Republic was by no means a collapsing State. Until July 1, 1990, the day of its dissolution, it had paid all its international debts.
Probably Krenz and Hohnecker’s heirs-politicians of the old world -thought that the USSR would continue to support them and the day before July 1, 1990, it was West Germany that decided a one-to-one exchange rate.
Beforehand, the exchange rate between the two Germanies was 1 to 4.44, and – as we can easily imagine – it was a real disaster for the German Democratic Republic.
It obviously lost all the Soviet COMECON markets and then – as an Italy ante litteram – it also lost Western markets.
Production in East Germany collapsed by 30% in a short lapse of time. After the elections in West Germany, East Germany was on its last legs and agreed to reform some laws: unemployment ceased to be unconstitutional, in a country that had the Compass and the Hammer, two Masonic symbols, in its national coat of arms. Later Potsdam’s Germany entered the West as a whole of regions, not as an autonomous State.
The West Treuhandanstalt privatized companies in a superficial way, but those that had been destroyed by the one-to-one exchange rate – decided overnight – were sold at budget-friendly prices.
With specific reference to private homes, 2.17 million lawsuits were initiated, but it was President Gorbachev himself, with a destroyed State budget, who accepted the economic and political destruction of the old East Germany to get credits from West Germany.
He also accepted reunification within NATO, again to plug the Soviet budget holes, but even gave Chancellor Kohl free rein on the treatment of the old GDR leaders.
This is how the story went.
However, the French President, who wanted above all a moderate approach to German reunification, was not – in principle – against reunification, but wanted it without destabilizing President Gorbachev, in particular, while Prime Minister Thatcher’s Great Britain was always explicitly opposed to reunification.
The Iron Lady, in fact, fully supported President Gorbachev’s project in the USSR. She did not want destabilisation in Eastern Europe and finally she did not want the US costly acquisition of the old Soviet Union, with possible unpredictable effects.
The “grocer’s daughter” – as Queen Elizabeth II snobbishly called her -thought that, in a different context, there would also be a fully British part in the sharing of the spoils of the collapsing USSR.
Acquisition estimated by Jeffrey Sachs at 10,000 billion US dollars in business terms, which then generated all the vouchers distributed to USSR citizens that later Yeltsin’s government probably produced in greater quantities than needed.
As foreseeable, during the economic and food crisis of 1992-1993 many vouchers got into the wrong hands- those of the future “oligarchs”.
By their very nature, however, the German events happened when someone (possibly the USA or the Soviet Union) strongly stepped up the pace of riots in the GDR streets so as to reach an immediate and irrational reunification.
What, in fact, could be the rationale of an USSR that, at the end of its Communist history, gave up the pearl of the Soviet Empire, namely East Germany?
I remember that when we talked about it, the former Italian President, Francesco Cossiga, was convinced that the Soviet Union had offered to the West that big poisoned chalice, namely reunited Germany, to block it and make it uncontrollable.
The German bite was too big to be swallowed and digested calmly and quietly.
Prime Minister Thatcher knew all too well that united Germany would decide the future of the Eurasian peninsula.
However, Chancellor Kohl, who was very clever, made President Gorbachev understand that Germany would easily bear the costs for the return back home of the Soviet troops stationed in East Germany, while Kohl himself easily won the 1990 German election he would probably lose without the prospect of reunification.
Despicable – and I say so without pretence – was instead Angela Merkel (who owes his political career to Chancellor Kohl that discovered and sponsored her) who, at the funeral of the great German leader, while Helmut Kohl’s wife tried to hug her, retracted by saying “keep your distance”.
Without Helmut Kohl, Angela Merkel would have been just an ordinary immigrant from the GDR, with a Protestant theologian father inevitably compromised with the Communist regime, and she herself the youth leader of the Eastern Party, SED. No one has ever fully investigated Merkel’s role in the GDR intelligence services.
As a strategist born, Francesco Cossiga knew what the real stake with reunification was and endeavoured with Kohl to slow it down, but not to avoid it, by promoting a phase of integration between the two Germanies that would be decided – in an ad hoc Conference – by the other European nations, as well as by the USA.
Margaret Thatcher was firmly opposed to it.
The real turning point was the end by self-destruction of Gorbachev’s regime in the USSR, which allowed the fast and irrational reunification, seen above all – as Kohl wanted – as an “enlargement” of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG).
The USA had no idea on which to work.
There were those who, in the State Department, thought of a more solid Europe, with the old GDR unified with the FRG, against everything was rising in the old USSR. There was also CIA, which rightly saw how useful was, for the United States, a new weak Europe to allow the non-competitive penetration of the US capital into Russia and Central Asia.
One of the most attentive U.S. analysts was John Mearsheimer, according to whom the end of the Cold War had put an end to the great powers that had dominated the Eurasian peninsula until that time, starting from the end of World War II.
This meant that, from then on, world instability would probably return to the heart of Europe – a strategic dream of which the USA had never ceased to dream.
The US decision-makers still recalled a classic piece by Walt Whitman, the author of Leaves of Grass, who wrote:
“I see the European headsman;
He stands masked, clothed in red, with huge legs, and strong naked arms, And leans on a ponderous axe.
Whom have you slaughtered lately, European headsman?
Whose is that blood upon you, so wet and sticky?”
Hence to interpret the current US global strategy for Europe, even Walt Whitman would be enough.
Let us analyze the geoeconomic and strategic determinants of German reunification.
Before committing suicide with his family, after having heard of the Morgenthau Plan, which provided for the forced ruralisation of Germany, Goebbels said: “They want to turn my country into a potato field”.
It was a plan that, inter alia, envisaged peaceful collaboration, not the future Cold War with the USSR.
The US directive JCS 1067, however, signed on May 10, 1945, provided exactly for the full entry into force of the Morgenthau Plan.
350 factories, still in perfect working order, which had to be moved to France or the Soviet Union, were dismantled ab ovo and many German patents were also transferred, including that of aspirin.
The fact underlying the nationalization of the German occupied allied areas was that the cost of maintaining a population impoverished of any factory, technology and productive income was too heavy to bear, precisely by the occupiers themselves.
The reconstruction business, the esoteric solve et coagula of the U.S. speculative post-conflict strategy, was in crisis, because the surviving Germans could not pay for the goods that the Americans wanted to sell them.
The speech delivered by General George C. Marshall at Harvard in 1947, before 15,000 students of the prestigious U.S. University, was in fact designed primarily for the USSR. It had been written by Chip Bohlen, an expert on Soviet affairs, and spoke of “millions of European citizens starving and even dying”.
The city-country relationship, designed by Marshall in his famous speech, was the design of a correlation with the Europe of cities, namely the European and Western one, which finally reached the eternal Eurasian granaries, since the Journey of the Argonauts on a quest for the “golden fleece”, i.e. the huge expanses of wheat fields of the East.
Another assessment made by the United States was that widespread anger among Germans, after World War II, would lead to the same political results of the First World War after the unfair Agreements of Versailles, opposed by Keynes in vain.
Moreover, the planned process of West Germany’s impoverishment would have brought wind also in the USSR sails and, considering its productive dimension, it would also have stopped the relaunch of the rest of Western Europe freed by the Allies.
It was precisely the fear of the “Communist contagion” that made it possible for the United States to fund the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) which,as from 1943 – four years before Marshall’s speech at Harvard – tied the German territories to itself in order to avoid them falling into the coils of the Communist regime, according to the certainly correct US plans.
To some extents, however, this triggered Stalin’s foreseeable reaction. It was exactly the United States that asked Great British and France to unify – under its own protection – all the Western Allies’ control zones in Germany. It should be recalled that the French occupation zone was a source of primary information for the Communist penetration into the rest of the West.
The deutschemark was in circulation at the time – a currency revalued as against the old mark and printed directly in the United States.
Hence the USSR-controlled zone was flooded by huge requests for goods to be bought with the deutschemark, considering that they were at capped and supervised prices.
At that juncture, Stalin ordered to stop the inflow of food into Germany and into the USSR-controlled area, but it was impossible and hence he tried to make the deutschemark not valid in the USSR-controlled areas.
The rest is recent history, including the German reunification.
Reverting to Mearsheimer, we can better understand – as the US analyst said – that since then the United States has been “the peacemaker of the European region”.
Going back to our previous considerations, the greatest coldness for German reunification was expressed precisely by Prime Minister Thatcher, who stopped in Moscow after her State visit to Tokyo in September 1989, where she spoke to Gorbachev in private, in the Hall of Saint Catherine at the Kremlin.
The Iron Lady clearly told Gorbachev that she did not want German unification at all, because she thought that “the post-war equilibria would be undermined by the new territorial changes”.
She was perfectly right.
Just because of its inevitably pluralistic and equal partnership logic, Europe could not contain a Great and New Germany that, alone, represented all the “European plain” that was the plain where – as Raymond Aron maintained – the final war of the Worlds between East and West would be waged – a war also planned as early as 1995, at least by the heirs of the former USSR.
Regimes disappear, but the objective laws of geopolitics do not.
Hence Prime Minister Thatcher told Gorbachev that “NATO would not endeavour for the end of the Warsaw Pact”.
We must also recall Operation Unthinkable, which envisaged the penetration – from the Balkans – of the Allies and, above all, of Great Britain, to block the direct passage of the Red Army to Germany and to directly control the whole European continent, after the end of the hostilities, with or without the US involvement.
The plan advocated by Churchill was not implemented.
Eastern Partnership Countries: Buffer Zone or Platform for Dialogue?
2019 marks the 10 th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership, a political initiative the EU launched in 2009 for developing relations with six eastern countries of the former socialist bloc. The collaboration program with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine was primarily intended as a means for introducing these countries to the European experience and approaches to developing their economies, political institutions and civil society. Given current events, however, Russia has a highly negative perception of the EU’s policies concerning the Eastern Partnership, viewing them with an utmost mistrust, while this program’s results have so far fallen short of expectations.
The program’s 10 th anniversary allows Europe to draw some interim conclusions and attempt to modify the agenda. The experience has thus far proved that the development of each member state of the Partnership is unique, which makes collaboration based on identical standards and measures challenging.
On the other hand, as soon as Russia began to oppose the European discourse on the domination of European values in these countries, almost immediately, the EU started shaping the image of an “aggressive Russia” striving to expand its area of influence.
The Eastern Partnership countries face a difficult choice between the European and Russian development tracks. Such opposing policies have resulted in some countries joining the confrontation between the two poles, thus becoming a buffer zone between them, while some states prefer to be outside observers and strive to create a venue for potential collaboration between the opposing parties.
The power of values and discourse
Considering the situation in terms of the theory of discourse (M. Foucault), we see that broadcasting one’s values is far from a harmless practice. At some point, the gift of democratic and liberal values will transform into a carefully thought-through strategy for expanding power onto new territories. In the information dominated world of today, those who set the discourse framework determine the rules of the game and run the situation. So the objective of each centre is to spread their value models and practices as broadly as possible.
We should also take into account the overall tendency of European civilization to proselytize and promulgate its value models.
That has been its invariable behavioural strategy in the international arena since the time of the great European empires. Eurocentrism, otherwise known as the rejection of other cultures and perception of foreign practices as barbaric and uncivilized, still exists in Europe today in various forms.
Our European partners broadcast their values within the framework of the Eastern Partnership as part of aiding more institutionally backward countries. Essentially, in a crisis, more powerful actors introduce their rules of the game to draw new resources and territories into their area of influence. Simultaneously, an unattractive image of the opponent is created. Russian and European media have been doing this for the last five years.
The Eastern Partnership is a war of values and institutional systems
Robust European economic development throughout the 20th century is the basis of the appeal of European democratic institutions. Favourable living conditions, a free creative environment, and understandable, yet strict rules of life attract the best minds from developing countries. Cooperation with Europe opens the way to institutional innovation and knowledge but does not guarantee security and protection of national interests for, in particular, Armenia (Nagorno-Karabakh) and several Balkan states.
At the same time, Russia perceives the Eastern Partnership as Europe’s geopolitical project aimed at expanding its influence. Yet several experts believe that Europe today is not in conflict with Russia, with the central conflict being between Russia and the US. Nonetheless, this underlines a legitimate question as to whether the EU is capable of developing its own geopolitical strategy.
When the project was planned in 2009, an entirely different picture of the world and outlook were constructed. Back then, the planning did not account for China’s growing role or the influence of the Islamic factor. These ascendant international forces do not see any distinct differences between Russia and Europe. China’s growing global power and the spread of Islam (particularly of its radical forms) can become common challenges that Europe and Russia will have to think about combating together.
In 2009, Russia’s view of the situation was not taken into account or only one-sidedly; today, Russia’s proactive position has come as a great surprise for many in Europe. Moscow demands that its opinion and interests be taken into account, and they do not fit well into the old model of the Eastern Partnership.
The experience of implementing the program has demonstrated that joining the Eastern Partnership in no way means that the journey will be wholly positive. Europeans blame integration failures on the intense pressure exerted by Moscow on some countries’ leaders. Despite that, the Partnership countries are now themselves, too, in the process of choosing a collaboration formula. Generalizing current experience, we can identify the Partnership states’ two basic strategies concerning the two opposing poles, Russia and the West: the buffer zone strategy or the dialogue platform strategy.
The buffer zone is a situation of confrontation between the poles of influence when they are engaged in conflict on their periphery, without involving their resources. We see this in the open conflict in the Donbass, when passionate radicals find no outlet for their energy at home and are willing to take part in military gambles in a neighbouring state. Take, for instance, Moldova, where the outcome of the people’s political choice depends on who supports the candidate, Russia or Europe. In Georgia, success in domestic politics also largely depends on the elite’s foreign political preferences. Buffer countries have chosen a zero-sum game strategy, betting on one player only and thus putting themselves in a more vulnerable position. If their chosen side loses, they also lose.
The bridge metaphor has not taken root, and experts lean somewhat toward the platform for dialogue metaphor. Belarus is active here, providing a venue for the peace talks on the Donbass; Armenia acts as a prototype testing range for EU–EAEU economic cooperation; Azerbaijan, which was, until recently, a closed state geared toward its prosperity, is another example. The position of a platform for dialogue is stronger and more stable in the long term, though it is costlier to implement this strategy. The transaction costs involved are rather high.
Non-zero sum game
Currently, EU–Russia relations concerning the Eastern Partnership countries are stuck in the zero-sum game mode: the “West or Russia” choice cuts off many additional opportunities for these countries. With the US actively intervening in European processes, no-one is insured against the negative-sum game scenario unfolding.
Armenia has taken realistic stock of the situation and is seeking options for cooperating with the two regional associations on mutually beneficial terms. Belarus is pursuing a similar policy. Such actions prompt frequent media attacks on the states concerning “cooperation with the West” or “cooperation with Russia.”
Europe’s expert community is gradually developing a concept of the importance of studying and understanding Russia’s position and Russian discourse. Since sanctions bring economic difficulties but do not influence Russia’s political and social climate, while confrontation results in nothing but mutual losses, the need to seek alternative ways to collaborate is becoming imminent.
Moving toward a non-zero sum game appears to be the most favourable outcome. Yet there can be no way out of confrontation without implementing a specific dedicated policy. I will outline several possible steps that are already being mentioned in expert discussions. First, one should focus on fact-based rather than stereotype-based knowledge of each other. In this respect, developing EU studies in Russia and Russian studies in Europe is the desired format for restoration and development. Second, expert knowledge should not be obstructed if it draws conclusions that do not fit perfectly into the general propaganda framework. Third, when making a specialist assessment, findings must be called into question, and non-standard solutions must be sought. It is useful to compare discourses used by Russians and Europeans to denote the same facts. Imposing one’s expert opinion will not bring positive results, even if this is initially successful.
Additionally, a separate important task is to seek common goals for Europe and Russia. The experience of cooperating in the Arctic demonstrates that Russia and Europe can interact effectively in the face of a common threat. Finally, in the future, it will benefit all parties to create venues for dialogue in the Eastern Partnership countries. In this situation, Eastern European countries will undoubtedly compete to be the best and most convenient such venue. Growing competition will result in improved quality and reduced transaction costs. Such venues may also become specialized. Negotiation hubs on various issues, with a developed infrastructure and expert support, constitute a somewhat favourable alternative to buffer zones in an armed and political confrontation. For the Eastern Partnership countries, it will mean developing education and further training programs in negotiating practices. As a result, instead of buffers, states can become regional and global confidence-growth points.
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