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Opportunity within Constraints: The OSCE and its Next Italian Presidency

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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The current OSCE Chairperson-in-Office is the Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Sebastian Kurz. The OSCE Chairmanship is held for one calendar year by the OSCE participating State designated as such by a decision of the Ministerial Council. Kurz has outlined his activity in the largest security structure in the world which tries to prevent internal conflicts between members and beyond.

The OSCE comprises 57 participating States and 11 Partners for co-operation (5 Asian and 6 Mediterranean). The network allows a range of operations never experienced before by a network for collective security. Furthermore, these are crucial areas for the future development of the globe and not only at an economic level. The latest action, but certainly not the least relevant, is the 2017 Business Conference for “green” and telecommunication technologies, which will be held in Vienna on January 25. This is a good example of the activities carried out by the OSCE, an international security and stability structure which could potentially replace or otherwise improve the work of other collective security organizations. In a recent interview, Minister Steinmeier, the previous Chairperson, noted that the OSCE has organized as many as 300 major events in Vienna, Berlin, and in the whole region of the organization. In terms of geographic scope, the OSCE truly does represent the world from ‘Vancouver to Vladivostok.’

From Ukraine to Turkmenistan to Armenia, ODIHR – hence the OSCE – has endeavored to observe the proper organization and development of many legislative and local elections and will do so also in the near future: in February, elections will be held in Liechtenstein and, on February 12, in Turkmenistan; on March 15, elections will be held in the Netherlands; in April 2017, presidential elections are scheduled in France and, on April 2, elections will be held in Armenia. Furthermore, in May and June the OSCE will also carry out electoral observation activities in Serbia and Mongolia. It is important to note that ODIHR is the human rights institution of the OSCE. Its mandate tasks ODIHR with assisting governments in meeting their commitments in the field of human rights and democracy. To this effect, ODIHR observes (ie, does not “monitor”) elections, promotes and monitors respect for human rights, and runs democracy assistance projects throughout the OSCE region. In addition, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly also leads election observation missions, and some OSCE field operations carry out elections-related activities, including training for election commission members, media and police, as well as voter education initiatives.

These are all highly sensitive areas where observing the regularity of the electoral process is key to international political legitimacy and hence also to the economic and financial stability of those new governments. Keep in mind that election observation is conducted with a view to assess the electoral process and make recommendations in order to improve it so that participating States meet their commitments in this area. While, initially, the issue may make a cynical proponent of Hobbes or Machiavelli smile, think of what would happen if all these elections were devoid of international legitimacy and certification? The process of democratic maturation would surely be lessened and damaged. There would be the blocking of international funding, destabilizations carried out by various international actors, the “sword jihad” and the economic disruption of those countries, as well as tumultuous refugee migration.

Hence, if Trump’s new US Presidency does not want NATO as a guiding star – an organization that the US President believes, and not entirely wrongly, to be obsolete – or if the EU is only going to be a “general partnership” for individual EU Member States’ interests, only the OSCE will be in a position to convey and meet in a credible way the demands for collective security. This reality should not be disregarded too easily.

The amount of electoral activity and scope of political importance coming before the OSCE should not be underestimated. Next June general elections will be held in France and, on June 18, elections are also scheduled in Albania. On June 26, presidential elections will take place in Iceland, a country which only those who know the full complexion of NATO’s network can understand. We do not know yet when general elections will be held in Germany, while next September parliamentary elections are scheduled in Norway. No matter whether they are democratic countries, it is clear they are essential countries for global balance. In 2017 important elections will be held in Slovenia and Bulgaria even though, once again, we do not know yet the precise dates. In 2017 also the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) will hold its municipal elections, which are crucial in political terms. Finally, in October 2017, presidential elections are due in Kyrgyzstan and parliamentary ones in the Czech Republic. These are all on the OSCE electoral observation activities list and should make everyone understand the importance and impact of the organization.

Hence, during the 2018 Presidency – granted to Italy by consensus via the Ministerial Council – it shall also monitor the efficacy of the electoral process in Ukraine. This means not only with specific reference to elections, but also in relation to the extremely complex issue of intercontinental migration and the relationship with Southern Mediterranean countries. Hence the decisive lines of Italy’s foreign policy and the essential issues for the structure and future of many European countries and many of the other 57 OSCE Member States will be decided between 2017 and 2018, the latter year being under the OSCE Italian Presidency.

One issue which the 2018 Italian Presidency will certainly give great attention to is the solution of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. As we may recall, the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia led to the Armenian occupation of approximately 20% of Azeri territory and military operations ended with the bilateral agreement reached in Bishkek in 1994. Heaven knows how badly this agreement is desired by Russia, which does not want backyard wars on its borders. Indeed, all international resolutions, namely Resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884 of the UN Security Council, as well as the others adopted by the UN General Assembly itself, call for the unilateral withdrawal of Armenian forces from Azeri territory. Please note, however, that no Resolution, Declaration, or Decision was taken by the OSCE on this topic so far this year but it could very well be a main topic on the overall 2017 or 2018 agenda.

This will be an interesting test at the strategic level: how can the OSCE make its decisions and negotiated talks credible and enforced? As we have seen repeatedly, the UN “Blue Helmets” are not always effective or comprehensive. They freeze the clash until they are on the field, but unfortunately later everything returns inevitably to the way it was. Hence, during the Italian Presidency, it would be useful for the OSCE – as a collective security framework – to equip itself with an effective system to control decisions on the field. A purely military system is not needed. Rather, a network of “sensors” on the ground would be enough. These sensors could signal to other traditional military structures – ranging from NATO to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, up to individual countries such as Turkey and Russia – the need to assess, control, and prevent undesired or compromising clashes in the new Eurasian framework.

What this truly means is that the large alliances born on the basis of the Cold War are obsolete. NATO is obsolete and will not be taken seriously by Donald Trump’s new US Republican Presidency, even if he does not have the fortitude to try to disband or withdraw formally from the organization. The new US President does not want useless entities standing in his way: if he wants a global agreement with the Russian Federation – and certainly so – he will reach it without, and possibly against, the Atlantic Alliance itself. It is worth noting that the issue does not only lie in the American money spent on European security while the EU and NATO de facto earn a “peace dividend” for which they have not paid a penny. As we might soon see with the new US President, this is not the only problem. The issue is much broader. As Lord Ismay used to say, NATO was established to “keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down.” Today the Atlantic strategic equation is completely different. If anything, the issue is now about keeping the Germans in, the Russians close, and the Americans not aloof or dismissive.

Indeed, Russia has no direct national security interest in keeping the United States out of the regions in which it currently operates and is currently winning the geostrategic game. In Syria, in Central Asia, in new regional wars taking shape across the Middle East, Russia wants to make the United States matter in a positive way – which it would consider a welcome change from Barack Obama’s vision which lacked strategic and logical sense, torn between naïve and disastrous, and was too heavily ideological. “Democratic interventionism” in geostrategically important countries must be done by consensus and not unilaterally. Russia does not want to bear the whole burden of its international operations, which have pulled many chestnuts out of the fire and taken the United States off the hook in Syria at least. In all likelihood, a great peace conference will be held in the Middle East, or, in any case, there will be a network of bilateral and trilateral relations which will redesign a new balance of regional power. Russia will certainly be the final arbiter, after its progress in Syria, as well as the agreements with Israel and the stabilization of the Shiite system along the Iraqi and Jordanian borders. Not to mention Russia extended invitations to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to participate in the upcoming negotiations on Syrian peace.

Some might ask what will or can the OSCE do in this regard, since it is certainly desired by many to have a leading role in Syria, and not only in terms of observing future elections? Unfortunately, the OSCE cannot and will not monitor elections in Syria. Syria is neither a Participating state nor a Partner for co-operation of the OSCE. The Organization therefore cannot conduct any activities in that country. But can the Italian Presidency in 2018 come up with new ideas and a new perception of regional equilibria, capable of providing original and safe solutions? Within the OSCE could it try to ensure the management of migrant flows, as many European and Italian leaders are calling for? It would certainly be good if the Italian Presidency made inroads in making the Russian Federation a more integral and cooperative partner for the OSCE. The organization likes to stress that the Russian Federation is one of the founding participating States of the CSCE and therefore has always been a full-fledged participating State of the OSCE. But when it comes to the desire to see perhaps China have a more participatory or partnership role with the OSCE, there are problems: China, quite simply, cannot become a participating State as it is not part of the Euro-Atlantic region. Turkey is already a member and it should be made more active explicitly within the framework of OSCE collective security action. This is in terms of both migrants and refugees, who should not be a tool to blackmail Germany with EU money, as well as the redesign of arrival lines and, most importantly, the selection of migrants/refugees from the Middle East. Potentially, within the OSCE and the framework of the 2018 Italian Presidency, an important issue will lie in further integrating and progressing the Maghreb countries – at least those not destabilized forever by the silly madness of the “Arab Spring” – into a collective security project for migrant and Mediterranean stability. Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Israel are all OSCE partners for Co-operation, after all, but they cannot become formal participating States.

If, as is likely, the Russian Federation will be present – with two bases in Libya – in the territories controlled by Khalifa Haftar and the Tobruk government – while the West in general and other “humanitarian operators” in specific are still tinkering with Fajez al-Serraj’s Tripoli government – the 2018 Italian Presidency should try to be an influential thought-leader and potential change-agent in order to settle the Libyan issue. This is speaking optimisictally, however, as it has to be stressed that Libya is neither a participating State nor a partner for Co-operation with the OSCE. The OSCE does not have a mandate to deal with issues related to Libya, nor can it take any initiative to convene an international conference on that subject. But that does not mean OSCE leadership cannot be a moral and humanitarian voice for good over this conflict area.

We must remove from this increasingly important collective security organization the impression of it being a Northern-countries-of-the-world-only club, as the incomparable Willi Brandt called them. If Italy succeeds in this endeavor, of being a true thought-leader and change-agent for the world, it will have a chance to replace two declining organizations which have been weakened significantly as of late, namely NATO and the EU, with a new, broad, and credible collective security network. If we remain linked to old orthodox thinking and we are afraid of our own shadows, every effort will be in vain and Italy shall move to a phase for which it is totally unprepared: a nationalized and autonomous foreign and defense policy absent any real consensus or partnership beyond its own borders.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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A Recipe For The War

prof. Zlatko Hadzidedic

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Authors: Zlatko Hadžidedić, Adnan Idrizbegović*

There is a widespreadview that Germany’s policy towards Bosnia-Herzegovina has always been friendly. Also, that such a policy stimulated the European Union to adopt a positive approach to the Bosnian quest to eventually become a part of the Euro-Atlantic integrations. However, Stefan Schwarz, a renowned German politician, in his recent comment for Deutsche Welle, raised the question of the true nature of Germany’s policy towards Bosnia,from 1992 to the present day.Here we shall try to offer possible answers to this question, so as to present a brief history of that policy.

A history of (un)recognition

Germany officially recognised Bosnia-Herzegovina as an independent state on April 6, 1992.Prior to that, such recognition had been grantedto two other former Yugoslav republics, Slovenia and Croatia,on January 15, 1992. Germany recognised these two states against the advice by Robert Badinter, a jurist delegated by the European Commision to arbitrate in the process of dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, to recognise all Yugoslav republics simultaneously. Under the pressure by Germany, 12 members of the European Community (United Kingdom, Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Greece, Austria) recognised Slovenia and Croatia in January 1992. As Washington Post wrote on January 16, 1992,

The German government hailed today’s event as a historic development and immediately opened embassies in the two republics. But France and Britain, which still harbor doubts about the wisdom of early recognition, said they would wait to see if Croatia fulfilled its promises on human rights before carrying out an exchange of ambassadors.

There is a well-known myth, spread by the diplomats of Britain and France, that ‘early recognition’ of Slovenia and Croatia triggered the war in the former Yugoslavia. Such a claim is both absurd and obscene, bearing in mind that Serbia had already waged war against Slovenia and Croatia and was preparing a military attack on Bosnia for several months. However, the question that should be posed here is, why Germany recognised Slovenia and Croatia separately, instead of recognition of all the Yugoslav republics simultaneously, as advised by Badinter and strongly supported by the US? Does that imply that Germany practically left the rest of the republics to their fate, to be occupied and annexed by Serbia, which controled the former Yugoslav army and its resources? Was it a deliberate policy, or simply a reckless decision? In the same article, WP quotes the then German Minister of Foreign Affairs: 

“The German policy on Yugoslavia has proved correct,” said German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. “We’ve said for months that if the Community decided on recognition . . . that would initiate a process of rethinking, above all by the leadership of the Yugoslav army.”

Mr. Genscher probably offered a definite answer to that question. Also, the actual response of the Yugoslav army’s leadership to the German push for separate recognition of Slovenia and Croatia, counted in hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of ethnically cleansed in Croatia and Bosnia, testifies to the ‘correctness’ of such thinking. Yet, was it a momentary miscalculation by Genscher, the then Minister, or a long-term German foreign policy towards Bosnia, already projected to be the ultimate victim of the Yugoslav army’s agression?

An answer to this question is not very difficult to reach if we consider the German policy concerning the initiatives for ethnic partition of Bosnia, disseminated through the channels of the European Community. These proposals may have been initiated and instigated by the British Foreign Office and the French Quai d’Orsay; yet, partition along ethnic lines has always been the only European consensus about Bosnia, a consensus in which Germany participated with all its political will and weight.

Appeasement, from Munich to Lisbon

Prior to the 1992-1995 war, the European Community delegated the British and Portugese diplomats, Lord Carrington and Jose Cutileiro, to design a suitable scheme for ethnic partition of Bosnia, and in February 1992 they launched the so-called Lisbon Conference, with the aim of separating Bosnian ethno-religious communities and isolating them into distinct territories. This was the initiation of the process of ethnic partition, adopted in each subsequent plan to end the war in Bosnia. However, at the Lisbon Conference such a ‘solution’ was imposed by Carrington and Cutileiro as the only available when there was no war to end, indeed, no war in sight; and, curiously, it has remained the only concept the European Community, and then the European Union,has ever tried to apply to Bosnia.

Contrary to the foundations of political theory, sovereignty of the Bosnian state was thus divided, and its parts were transferred to the chiefs of three ethnic parties. The EC recognised these usurpers of the state sovereignty, having promoted them into legitimate representatives of their respective ethnic communities. The Carrington-Cutileiro maps were tailored to determine the territorial reach of each of these communities. What remained to be done afterwards was their actual physical separation, and that could only be performed by war, genocide and ethnic cleansing. For, ethnically homogenous territories, as envisaged by Carrington and Cutileiro, could only be created by a mass slaughter and mass expulsion of those who did not fit the prescribed model of ethnic homogeneity. In this way, the European Community created a recipe for the war in Bosnia.Yet, ever since the war broke out, the European diplomats have never ceased claiming that the ‘chaos’ was created by ‘the wild Balkan tribes’, who ‘had always slaughtered each other’. 

No one ever noticed German opposition to the Lisbon principles of ethnic separation and territorial partition, clearly leading to war and bloodshed. Is it, then, possible that German foreign policy was truly surprised by the Lisbon’s bloody outcome? Or the Lisbon Agreement was tailored in the best tradition of the Munich Agreement, as a consensus on another country’s partition between the three leading European powers – Great Britain, France, and Germany –  again,in the name of peace?

Landgrab rewarded

In the following ‘peace plans’ for Bosnia, the European Community was represented by Lord Owen, accompanied by the representatives of the Organization of United Nations, Cyrus Vance and Thorwald Stoltenberg. Although the British diplomacy was clearly dominant in these attempts to find a ‘proper’ model for Bosnia’s ethnic partition, Germany’s Foreign Ministry was always fully present there through its Director of Policy Planning Staff, Wolfgang Ischinger. In the structure of the German Ministry, this position is occuppied by the most senior career diplomat, so that there can beno doubt about Ischinger’s capacity to articulate Germany’s strategic interests. During the process of negotiations under the Vance-Owen and Owen-Stoltenberg plans, Ischinger coordinated German policy towards Bosnia together with Michael Steiner, the head of„SoBos“ (Sonderstab Bosnien), a special Bosnian unit established within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.[i]

During the war in Bosnia, from 1992 to 1995, Germany and the European Community never abandoned the concept of Bosnia’s ethnic partition. In 1994,Germany took a more active role in its implementation within the (informal) International Contact Group, consisting of the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the US, where Germany was represented by both Ischinger and Steiner. The Contact Group Plan defined the final model of ethnic separation, having led to the ultimate breakup of the Bosnian territory into two ethnically cleansed and homogenised ‘entities’, tailored in accordance with an arbitrary proportion of 51:49%, which was subsequently implemented in the Dayton Peace Accords. The entire struggle within the Contact Group was fought over the percentage and disposition of territory granted to particular ethnic communities, two of which served as Serbia’s and Croatia’s proxies. The principle of ethnic partition was never put in question. In this process, Germany became the exclusive advocate of Croatian interests, in Croatia’s attempts to cede the south-western part of Bosnia, whereas Britain and France advocated the interests of Serbia in its efforts to cede eastern and western parts of Bosnia. To some people’s surprise, the United States was the sole defender of Bosnia’s territorial integrity within the Contact Group. However, under the pressure by the European Community, the US was forced to make concessions, so as to eventually accept the prescribed 51:49% territorial distribution as an’internal reorganisation’ of Bosnia.

The US thus tacitly accepted the European initiatives to reward the landgrab of Bosnia’s territory, performed by Serbia and Croatia, against the UN Charter and international law. The European Community’s leading powers –Great Britain, France, and Germany – claimed that there was no other option but to accept such a landgrab, because the status quo, caused by the neighbours’ military aggression, could not possibly be altered. To strengthen this argument, the European Community also played the main role in imposing an arms embargo on the ‘warring parties’. This embargo effectively deprived the landlocked Bosnian army of the capacity to purchase weaponry and thus alter the status quo and liberate the country’s territory. Here the EC acted as a whole, again, without any dissent on Germany’s or anyone else’s part. 

Whose responsibility?

The Dayton Peace Accords is commonly perceived as an American political project. The partition of Bosnia is thus being interpreted as a concept that emerged for the first time during the Dayton negotiations, and its authorship is ascribed exclusively to the American negotiator, Richard Holbrooke. However, it is not so. The history of Bosnia’s partition clearly demonstrates that this very concept has persistently been promoted by the European Community, and then by the European Union, from the 1992 Lisbon Conference to the present day. Even the notorious partition proportion of 51:49% was determined by the Contact Group, well before the Dayton Conference. A clear responsibility of the US negotiators is that they caved in to the pressures by the EC within the Contact Group. Still, the consistent striving to impose ethnic partition as the sole appropriate concept for Bosnia should definitely be attributed to its real advocates – the members of the European Community. Since Italy and Yeltsin’s Russia certainly played a minor role in the Contact Group, the lion’s share of responsibility for the final outcome, verified in Dayton, belongs equally to three EC powers, Great Britain, France, and Germany. The fact that the British policy-makers conceived the very principle of ethnic partition, that their French colleagues were so enthusiastic about its implementation, while the Germans accepted it as the best available mode of appeasement, abolishes neither of them of gigantic moral and political responsibility for all the suffering the Bosnians have had to go through.

*Adnan Idrizbegović, Independent Researcher, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina


[i]As consequent advocates of the German foreign policy in the Bosnian episode, both Ischinger and Steiner have continuously enjoyed upward promotion within the ranks of the German foreign policy establishment. Thus Ischinger first took the position of the Ministry’s Political Director under Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, and then of the Staatssekretär (deputy foreign minister) under Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.Ischinger also represented Germany at numerous international and European conferences, including the 1999 G8 and EU summit meetings in Cologne/Germany and the 2000 Review Conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at the United Nations, New York. He was also appointed as the European Union Representative in the Troika negotiations on the future of Kosovo in 2007. Since 2019, Ischinger has been co-chairing on the Transatlantic Task Force of the German Marshall Fund and the Bundeskanzler-Helmut-Schmidt-Stiftung (BKHS) and, finally, has become the Chairman of the Munich Security Conference (!). During his mandate in the Contact Group, Steiner was awarded the position of head of the Ministry’s co-ordination unit for multilateral peace efforts. After the war, he served six months (January–July 1997) as a principal deputy to Carl Bildt, the first high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 1998, he was selected by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to work as the Chancellor’s foreign and security policy adviser.

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Why the West Needs a New Eurasian Strategy

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The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which was established in 2014, has earned a bad international reputation. In 2012, Hillary Clinton called Eurasian integration “a move to re-Sovietize the region,” although the Eurasian Economic Union had yet to emerge.Other Western high-ranking politicians have largely avoided the topic of Eurasian integration in their speeches, but they actually appear to have accepted Clinton’s vision. After the Ukraine crisis, Western policy towards Russia was simply extended to include Russian-led integration projects: the EAEU was denied recognition, whereas EU-EAEU economic cooperation was and is out of the question. Is this policy worth it?

Strictly speaking, when it comes to elaborating a Eurasian strategy, non-EAEU countries have a limited range of policy options to choose from. First, they could actively resist Eurasian integration through supporting alternative integration projects and inciting conflicts among EAEU nations. Second, they may passively counteract integration processes by means of neglecting the realities ensuing from the EAEU’s existence. Third, they could recognize the EAEU’s right to exist and establish comprehensive relations with the Union. Finally, they may use Eurasian integration to advance their own interests.

The active and passive resistance strategies are based on several assumptions. The first one is that Eurasian integration boosts Russia’s influence in the post-Soviet space. In fact, this logic does not always work, since institutional limitations associated with Eurasian integration may have an opposite effect. The Board of the Eurasian Economic Commission, which is one of the key EAEU bodies, is composed of 10 commissioners representing 5 member states, and the Board’s decisions are made by a qualified majority. Other governing bodies of the Union make their decisions by consensus. This means that Eurasian integration can serve as a check on Russia’s economic policies: Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan can collectively block any official decision of the Union. Moreover, there is no indication that the EAEU ensures Russia’s effective leadership in the post-Soviet space: the Eurasian Economic Union lacks a positive agenda for the future, which actually makes Moscow’s role fairly contextual. Therefore, the perception of the EAEU as subordinated to Russia and its interests appears to be misleading: incredible as it seems, Western countries could effectively use EAEU institutions to promote their agenda instead of counteracting Eurasian integration as such.

To put it bluntly, any new international institution can be described as an empty vessel that needs to be filled with a particular content. Eurasian integration is a very young project, and its future identity is contingent upon many internal and external factors. Instead of serving as an instrument of Russian expansionism, the EAEU may well be transformed into a mechanism of Russia’s modernization and Westernization. Few people would argue today that ASEAN is hostile to Western countries, although the Association was initially conceived to keep South-East Asia away from both Soviet and American influence and involvement. So is there any reason to portray the EAEU as hostile to America and Europe? As of 2020, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, which are EAEU members, maintain cordial relations with the West. These are the very countries that could serve as conduits for reshaping the EAEU according to Western interests and ideals by blocking unfavorable decisions and pushing a more pro-Western agenda, and they do have institutional capabilities to do so.

The second assumption underlying the resistance strategy is that Eurasian integration is a very weak project driven by the momentary interests of the Russian Federation. Hence, it is inferred that there is no point in maintaining the dialogue with the EAEU because the whole integration project is doomed to failure in the long term. This perception is emblematic of a very limited understanding of post-Soviet politics in Western countries: in reality, it is highly likely that the EAEU will outlast the political regimes that currently govern EAEU countries, as Eurasian integration is conducive to quite a few forces and interest groups present in the region. Migrant workers are only one of such groups: Russia has been the key destination for Central Asian migrants for decades, and this is a fact that exists independently of political developments. Elaborating some kind of a modus vivendi with the EAEU is worthwhile, as Eurasian integration is more complex that it is thought to be.

The Integration Dilemma

The third assumption of those opposing Eurasian integration is that the EAEU is a potential competitor for European and Euro-Atlantic institutions. This argument has a solid basis, since the intensification of Eurasian integration processes in the 2010s can rightly be characterized as Russia’s response to NATO enlargement and to the EU’s Eastern Partnership project. Samuel Charap and Mikhail Troitskiy refer to this competition between Europe and Eurasia using the term “integration dilemma.” They argue that “[b]y promoting engagement with the states of post-Soviet Eurasia largely through integration initiatives that are de facto closed to one another, the West and Russia have (often unintentionally) forced these states to make zero-sum choices.” The “integration dilemma” can strike at almost any post-Soviet country: Belarus, Moldova, and Armenia can fall victim to this dilemma, just as Ukraine did in 2014.

However, following the logic of the “integration dilemma” is a flawed strategy. What we have seen in practice is that a country’s accession to the EAEU has little impact on its relations with external actors. For instance, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) freely operates in Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, although these countries are frequently described as belonging to Russia’s sphere of influence. The Open Societies Foundations operate in Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, although George Soros, its founder and chair, has a bad image in Eastern Europe. This once again proves my point that influencing and shaping the EAEU is more effective than counteracting it.

Since the integration dilemma is still there, let me assume that the resistance strategy is a perfect fit. If so, counteracting Eurasian integration requires creating and nurturing alternative identities, which would be strong enough to defy the Eurasian core. This resembles the all too familiar strategy of isolating Russia through detaching it from other post-Soviet states, which was one of the roots of the ongoing crisis in Russia’s relations with the West. Although Russian state media contends that the West has been adept at nurturing anti-Russian sentiments in the post-Soviet space, it can be said that the resistance strategy has been less successful and effective than is often supposed.

First, while surveys show that strong pro-Western sentiments exist in Ukraine or Armenia, the situation is quite different in Central Asian countries, where Russia continues to enjoy unquestionable moral authority. Second, European integration is a more difficult path than Eurasian integration when it comes to institutional, political, and economic prerequisites, which means that popular support for European integration might erode over time if there is no or little noticeable progress in the integration process. Finally, detaching Russia from its neighbors is quite costly, since it requires this very progress, which presupposes conducting comprehensive political and economic reforms in post-Soviet countries and stimulating these reforms through financial aid.

All this means that the strategy of resisting Eurasian integration is unlikely to achieve its objectives at an affordable cost, whereas the policy of wisely influencing it seems to be more fruitful and less bellicose. Then why not adopt this policy for the good of America, Europe, and Eurasia?

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Migrants threaten EU again

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Migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea are rescued by a Belgian ship. Frontex/Francesco Malavolta

The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing social and economic crisis in Europe have resulted in an aggravation of the migration issue Unlike in 2014-2015, when this issue was considered an “external” one and was related to the influx of refugees and illegal migrants from North Africa and Middle East to EU countries, now the situation has become worse due to the realignment of the newly arrived migrants and the different extent of their integration in the traditional European societies. The crisis in the European economy is making things yet worse, causing a “vicious circle” that may jeopardize the future of the entire European Union and undermine the unity of the EU as an organization.

Roughly 5 million migrants have arrived in Europe since 2014, which contributed to an increase in crime, exacerbated terrorist threat and led to the crisis of the very system of “welfare state” which was the pride of Europeans in the past decades. The head of the French delegation in the Identity and Democracy faction of the European Parliament Gerome Riviere believes that there are all grounds to talk about the catastrophic failure of the EU migration policy. “This is the collapse of the entire asylum giving system: two thirds of applications are rejected, while only one third are sent out. In France, the number is less than 10%”, – Valeurs Actuelles says.

However, the number one danger in the current circumstances is not the rising number of migrants or migrant-related threats, but the build-up of crisis in the EU political sphere and the deepening confrontation between countries of Western Europe, on the one hand, and countries of the Central and Eastern Europe, on the other. Countries, such as Poland and Hungary, strongly refuse to meet European Commission requirements concerning filling the Brussels-elaborated quotas on receiving illegal migrants. Moreover, differences on migration issues give rise to controversy on other issues of domestic and foreign policies within the EU and encourage euro skeptics and nationalists.

At present, developments to this end can be observed in Poland. According to reports, it’s Warsaw’s desire to pursue a nationally oriented security policy that secured the return of ex-Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynsky, a key opponent to Brussels, who made a comeback into the Polish government after a 13-year absence. Under a Cabinet reshuffle last week, the leader of the ruling Law and Justice Party holds the post of vice-premier overseeing the power bloc. He announced the formation of a national security committee, which incorporates the ministries of justice, defense and interior, – that is, those directly involved in tackling migration issues. In addition, the return of Yaroslaw Kaczynsky may exert a tangible impact on Poland’s relations with the EU, which sees the former prime minister as a symbol of East European skepticism. In the summer of 2018 the Law and Justice leader said that Poland could receive the unpaid reparations from Germany on the results of the Second World War.

A similar strengthening of euro skeptics is currently under way in other countries of the EU, including in Germany, while the inarticulate policy of Brussels on migration is playing into the hands of these forces.

What adds to the problem is that Brussels officials are de facto unable to provide an appropriate response to multiplying threats in the above mentioned area. «The European Commission intends to tighten border control (a good idea but the funds allocated for its implementation are ridiculously small) and officially register more migrants with the help of new legitimate immigration procedures. It is thereby putting more restrictions on the sovereignty of our countries, by introducing a system of obligatory migrant distribution in the name of solidary of member countries. The blow will thus be aimed at Hungary and Poland, which have no intention of accommodating the migrants, as demanded by their people», – Valeurs Actuelles points out.

Earlier this year German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer warned about the possibility of a new wave of migrants in Europe, which would be comparable to that of four years ago. «We ought to render more assistance to our European partners in controlling EU external borders», – he said in an interview published by Bild am Sonntag: «If we do not help, we will face an influx of refugees similar to that of 2015, or even worse».

Refugees and illegal migrants who have been trying to find their way into Europe over the past two years come from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Nigeria and Turkey.

Given the situation, a further aggravation in Europe may lead to the deepening of the crisis in the European Union. A lot will depend on relations between the EU and Turkey – which are currently deteriorating owing to the Ankara-pursued policy in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and Trans-Caucasus. In turn, crisis phenomena of this kind create the so-called “opportunity windows” for Russia to cement cooperation with those forces in the EU that hold more responsible and independent positions on the key issues of international politics.

From our partner International Affairs

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