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Russia vs. West: EU-Russia strained relations

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] W [/yt_dropcap]est continues to be anti-Russia even during the early reign of President Trump who claimed to try and drastically improve relations with its Cold War foe. End ideology in Russia and Eastern Europe has not helped the situation to improve. USA continues to control policy making processes in Europe and does not let Europe think for itself and EU does not want lose the US help. As such Russia’s efforts to bring EU out of US control mechanisms have not been successful for obvious reasons.

US hand in Ukraine

Russian ties with the western world have never been smooth though at times they are seen making some efforts to make up and even stop fighting each other. Mutual mistrust is the main cause for the conflictual situation and this mistrust is not without any base. The 9/11 that helped both to forget their differences and forge a common front against Islam on the promotion of media Islamophobia, could not sustain itself too long as the trust deficit between them is too strong.

USA influenced the government of Kiev (Ukraine), considered historically bound with Russia since its early formatary stages, to oppose Russia. That indeed annoyed Russian iron President Vladimir Putin who in order to redeem Russia’s lost prestige retook Crimea. Annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, now a part of Europe and EU, by Russia has cut its relations with both USA and Europe almost simultaneously.

Mutual sanctions hurt EU and Russia, economically. USA continues to press EU not to lift the sanctions on Russia. It is three years since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and began its covert invasion of eastern Ukraine. At the time, it seemed like the start of a more ambitious Israel-like land-grab. His rhetoric implied that Ukrainian and Belarusian independence was only a historical anomaly.

President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB boss working in Europe, first came to power in 2000 by killing Chechen Muslims in a well planned military attack on Chechnya; he has made all efforts to make Russia super power once again and he shrewdly managed the foreign policy, made Russia emerge as a super power. When Putin described Russians as “one of the biggest, if not the biggest ethnic group in the world to be divided by borders,” Russia’s neighbors — some of them homes to large Russian minorities — wondered whether he meant to erase those borders. Eastern Europe, dotted with frozen conflicts of Russia’s making, is stuck in transition to an uncertain future. Though he still holds Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine, Putin has alienated the rest of Ukraine. But the West also has little to congratulate itself on.

Putin’s pet project has been to bring in former Soviet states into Russian fold. Three years on, one is not quite sure if Putin’s project has made any headway. But the west says he has clearly failed. But Moscow’s willingness to use economic and military coercion in its neighborhood has alienated many who might otherwise have felt an affinity with Russia.

Conspiracy

With Superpower instinct, Vladimir Putin opposes the fall and disintegration of the mighty Soviet Union as a western conspiracy and said that Ukrainian and Belarusian independence was only a historical anomaly. When he described Russians as “one of the biggest, if not the biggest ethnic group in the world to be divided by borders,” Russia’s neighbors — some of them homes to large Russian minorities — wondered whether he meant to erase those borders.

Today, the USA and the EU remain extremely cautious about Russia’s imperial intentions and see a hidden agenda of the Kremlin to revive Soviet Union in another format. Russia is unhappy that most of the former Soviet Republics have been admitted into US led NATO and Germany led European Union (EU). The European Union has consistently dodged the issue of possible EU membership for any of the six former Soviet states that now lie in Europe (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine). Russia has a clearer vision for the region than the West does. It has never treated the six states as fully sovereign. After Putin became president for the third time, in 2012, he stepped up efforts to keep former Soviet states inside what his predecessor, Dmitriy Medvedev, described as a “region of privileged interests”.

As USA guides European policies, Western leaders do admit that Russia has a veto on its neighbors’ foreign policies. But even a few want a fight with Russia even with US backing. They are scared of Russian military prowess. Eastern Europeans who want their countries (and Turkey that would join the EU) to meet European “standards” of governance and join Western institutions have become disillusioned by the West’s failure to offer full-throated support against the Kremlin.

Meanwhile, a After Kiev announced the travel ban on Samoylova from entering Ukraine for the next three years, the Russian TV network Vesti declared that Russian television will not broadcast this year’s Eurovision contest, though the broadcasting rights for the 2017 competition actually belong to a rival station in Russia, Channel One. It’s not yet clear if Channel One will agree to the EBU’s offer, having announced previously that it will send Samoylova as Russia’s contestant for Eurovision 2018, in light of Ukraine’s “unreasonable” decision.

Eastern Europeans who want their countries to meet European standards of governance and join Western institutions have become disillusioned by the West’s failure to offer full-throated support. Few Western leaders admit that Russia has a veto on its neighbors’ foreign policies. But even fewer want a fight with Russia.

So what can Eastern European countries do if they do not want to be in Russia’s orbit but cannot join Western institutions? Have they lost their independent capacity to decide their own matters?

Region of privileged interests

Russia has a clearer vision for the East European and former Soviet zone regions than the West does. It has never treated the former six Soviet states as fully sovereign. After Putin became president for the third time, in 2012, he stepped up efforts to keep former Soviet states inside what his predecessor, Dmitriy Medvedev, described as a “region of privileged interests”. But Moscow’s willingness to use economic and military coercion in its neighborhood has alienated many who might otherwise have felt an affinity with Russia.

The top priority of EU should be establishing the rule of law. Countries where courts work and laws are stable will be more attractive to foreign investors and less vulnerable to economic pressure. The West can help by making it harder for local elites to launder the proceeds of corruption through the EU or US. Denying Turkey its due place in EU as a European state just because of Islamic religion is not at all fair.

Meanwhile, Russia needs to treat all regions fairly. Geography and economics mean that the Eastern Partnership countries would benefit from good political and trade relations with Russia. They should not shy away from this, as long as relations are on the basis of sovereign equality, consistent rules and mutual benefit. Ensuring that minority ethnic groups are fairly treated is also vital. Disaffected minorities have been fertile soil for Russia to promote separatist conflicts — there is less scope for mischief if all communities have a stake in society.

The West should use the coming years to try to persuade Moscow that, whether or not more countries join Western institutions (and even the most advanced are decades away from membership), it is in everyone’s interests that they should be prosperous, stable and well-governed.

West tells Moscow that it is time to give up its nostalgia for empire. The biggest policy shift must come from both USA and Russia that continue to behave as though their prestige and fate depends on controlling Europe and neighbours. Europe’s other imperial powers have realized that it is better to create shared economic and other interests with former possessions than to try to coerce them.

Putin said US-Russia relations have touched the lowest level now as President Trump continues to behave erratically, especially with his bombing Syria, in order to   get special media coverage.

A major issue

The European Union has consistently dodged the issue of possible EU membership for any of the six former Soviet states that lie in Europe (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine). NATO leaders agreed in 2008 that Georgia and Ukraine “will become members of NATO.” But after Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, NATO dragged its feet on fulfilling that promise.

Europeans have an important job at hand as they have the future of the fragile union in their own hands. As they strive to remain united because in unity lies their strength they Russia a disturbing or destabilizing factor.

Both USA and EU talk about ‘common values” and say Russians do not share their values. While, any genuine rapprochement with Russia is difficult to foresee in their differences in the near future, the EU would strive to engage Russia where possible and speak out when their views clash as they are too important to one another. But any engagement is firmly based on the grounds of the international rules-based system and its principles and values. The spirit of Eurovision’s values of inclusivity goes against any real truck with Russia.

Between Russia and the EU, Eastern Europe’s Future is Uncertain. Eastern Europe, dotted with frozen conflicts of Russia’s making, is stuck in transition to an uncertain future. It is three years since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and began its covert invasion of eastern Ukraine. At the time, it seemed like the start of a more ambitious land-grab.

Three years on, Putin’s project has clearly failed. Though he still holds Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine, he has alienated the rest of Ukraine. But the West also has little to congratulate itself on. Eastern Europe, dotted with frozen conflicts of Russia’s making, is stuck in transition to an uncertain future.

Will European Union survive?

Lighting or illumination is considered to be a happy expression for something that has happened well, the Tel Aviv city hall building in Israel was illuminated in “solidarity” with Russia after the blast in the St.Petersburg metro in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 3, 2017. As a terrorist nation, making terrorizing the besieged Palestinians as their major hobby, Israel is through about state terror operations and their needs.   Whether or not Israel was happy and over joyous about the terror attacks in Russia is not very clear, though.

The survival of European Union as multinational continental entity is a major theme of debates and media reports as the fate of survival depends on factors that seem to be intractable.

Obviously, Brexit has given a jolt to Germany’s efforts to strengthen the Union with further measures. Though many in Britain rethink the decision to quit EU for good, the decision of the people and parliament is final and only few formalities need to b completed to make UK a totally soverign nation.

In fact, the fate of EU had been the subject of heated debates even much before Britain opted out of EU. Over years of meticulous steps undertaken by the EU make it look a cohesive multi-nation, now it is much better than a few years ago.

Recently, European leaders came together to celebrate 60 years of the continent’s greatest peacetime project: the European Union. And today, 60 years later, the vision remains alive and we can be proud of our achievements. Europe has turned from a continent of war to a continent of peace. This project has brought together 28 European states, more than 500 million people speaking 24 languages in one union, the EU.

The EU today might symbolize peaceful cooperation, respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality and solidarity among European nations and peoples. It is the largest trade power and development and humanitarian aid donor. The world’s largest single market and the euro is the second most important global reserve currency.

Back on March 25, 1957, the Founding Fathers signed the Treaty of Rome – an act that resolutely put an end to the trend of devastating wars between neighbors on our continent. Fundamentally a people’s project, Europeans pledged “farewell to arms” and “never again war.” President Juncker stated that they are the heirs of those who first established Europe, of those men and women who in 1945 returned from the front and the concentration camps to towns and villages which had been destroyed. He added that putting behind them animosities among neighbors and reconciling the feeling of national identity with a commitment to the common good, Europeans vowed to work toward a vision of a peaceful, united and prosperous Europe.

EU today may be home to the largest union of democracies in the world and legally European citizens are free to live, work and retire anywhere in Europe. It is at the cutting edge of innovation. EU membership has resulted in increased and shared prosperity. This makes them a strong partner when they all together need to adapt and to face the new challenges of the world: effects of rapid globalization continued armed conflict and the rise of terror, poverty and migration, a degrading environment and resource depletion.

USA insists that Russia is a destabilizing factor in their ties and the term “challenge” is also used nowadays to describe the state of EU-Russia ties. As spelled out in the EU Global Strategy, “managing the relationship with Russia represents a key strategic challenge for the European Union.” For the last couple of decades, the EU and Russia had assumed a strategic partnership based on the convergence of values, economic integration, and modernisation of our societies.

Economic partners

However, the partnership faced a breakpoint in 2014 with the illegal annexation of Crimea and the destabilization in Eastern Ukraine. From that point forward and today, it is clear that Russia and the EU have some deep differences: they relate to the European security order, principles of pluralism and human rights, the need for an open market economy and a rules-based trading system. At the same time, Russia and the EU remain strategically important to each other.

The EU remains the largest trading partner for Russia, while Russia is the EU’s fourth largest. We also have a number of shared concerns, such as the threat of terrorism, climate change and the situation in the Middle East. The success of the joint efforts to reach a nuclear deal with Iran demonstrates that we can cooperate in the international arena.

Many see Europe’s long-term security in regime change in the Kremlin would welcome the opportunity to bring into question the incumbent’s assertions that Russians are alone and embattled. A few small-minded individuals somehow think St. Petersburg does not “deserve” sympathy because of Sevastopol, who assume that every terrible incident is some kind of “false flag” operation instigated by Putin to generate some kind of “rally-round-the-flag” sentiment, is not only wrong, it’s dangerous.

To move forward by shedding the US luggage, the EU would continue to undertake substantial and significant steps that provide a direct impetus to strengthening people to people contacts both within the Union and with Russia. From cooperation across our common border through student exchanges to support for civil society – those are the efforts that form the real glue between our peoples.

Observation

The West seeks to spread confusion, dismay, suspicion and uncertainty, globally. Everything is symbolic, and by not showing solidarity, Europe played into the hands of a Kremlin narrative that has been deployed again and again on far flimsier grounds. The Kremlin argues that the West is fundamentally Russophobic, and it delights in seeing woes of every kind besetting Russia.

Unlike the Cold War between superpowers, Europe wages a “hybrid war” or ‘political war’ against Russia engineering disinformation and political subversion. The corollary is that every time the European Court of Human Rights censures Moscow, every time an EU delegation calls for greater transparency, every time a Western observer notes flaws in electoral processes, it can neatly be discounted as European mischief-making at best, and at worst ‘hybrid war.’

World is in the midst of a renewed Cold War and there are all kinds of reasons for Europe to feel hostile toward Russia, from its annexation of Crimea, to its aggressive intelligence activity. Nonetheless, there is a higher calling of human sympathy, a sense that we are all united in the face of the unexpected and undiscriminating threat of terrorism.

Many in EU seek a ban their dirty-money oligarchs and their paranoid-patriot lawmakers, but they do welcome their students, tourists, artists and entrepreneurs. This supposedly denies the Kremlin’s propagandists easy opportunities. Indeed, it actively undermines their pernicious narrative that seeks to force Russians into an artificial choice between us and them, patriot or traitor.

NATO and EU do not want any truck between Russia and former Soviet republics most of them are now their own members NATO leaders agreed in 2008 that Georgia and Ukraine “will become members of NATO.” But after Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, NATO grew panicky and dragged its feet on fulfilling that promise.

Notwithstanding the US opposition to Russia and future of Euro-Russia relations, 60 years of experience since the signing of the Rome Treaty shows that a united EU is capable of strengthening and extending the wellbeing of European people. And a united EU will be a strong and reliable partner to countries around the world, including Russia.

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Europe

Dayton Peace Accord 23 Years On: Ensured Peace and Stability in Former Yugoslavia

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For the past twenty-three years life has been comparatively peaceful in the breakaway republics of the former Yugoslavia. The complicated civil war that began in Yugoslavia in 1991 had numerous causes and began to break up along the ethnic lines. The touching stories and the aftermath effects of the breakaway republics of Bosnia- Herzegovina, Croatia and in Kosovo are still unfolding. Though the numbers of deaths in the Bosnia- Herzegovina conflict in former Yugoslavia are not known precisely, most sources agree that the estimates of deaths vary between 150,000 to 200,000 and displaced more than two million people. During the conflict a Srebrenica a North-eastern enclave of Bosnia once declared as a United  Nations  (UN ) safe area” saw one of the worst atrocity since second world war.

It has been estimated that more than 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks were massacred in Srebrenica and it was one of the most brutal ethnic cleansing operations of its kind in modern warfare. The US brokered peace talks revived the a peace process between the three warring factions in Bosnia- Herzegovina. For Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina a United States (US ) -brokered peace deal reached in Dayton on 21st November 1995. In a historic reconciliation bid on 14 December 1995 , the Dayton Peace Accord was signed in Paris, France, between Franjo Tudjman president of the Republic of Croatia and Slobodan Milosevic president of the Federal Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), Alija Izetbegovic, president of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

When conflict in Bosnia- Herzegovina, Croatia ended, the reconciliation began between ethnically divided region. The US played a crucial role in defining the direction of the Peace process. In 1996, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) -led 60,000 multinational peace enforcement force known as the Implementation Force (IFOR)) was deployed to help preserve the cease-fire and enforce the treaty provisions. Thereafter, the Court was established by Resolution 808 and later, Resolution 827 of the United Nations Security Council, which endorsed to proceed with setting up of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to try crimes against humanity . International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was the first United Nations (UN) war crimes tribunal of its kind since the post-second world war Nuremberg tribunal.

In the late 1990’s, as the political crisis deepened a spiral of violence fuelled the Kosovo crisis between the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and the Yugoslav forces. Unlike the Bosnia- Herzegovina, Kosovo was a province of Serbia, of former Yugoslavia that dates back to 1946, when Kosovo gained autonomy as a province within Serbia. It is estimated that more than 800,000. Kosovos were forced out of Kosovo in search of refuge and as many as 500,000 more were displaced within Kosovo.

Subsequent t hostilities in Kosovo the eleven week air campaign led by NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) against Yugoslavia in 1999 the Yugoslavian forces pulled troops out of Kosovo NATO. After the war was over, the United Nations Security Council, under the resolution 1244 (1999) approved to establish an international civil presence in Kosovo, known as the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Nevertheless UNMIK regulation No 1999/24 provided that the Law in Force in Kosovo prior to March 22, 1989 would serve as the applicable law for the duration of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

In this  context reconciliation is a key to national healing of wounds after ending a violent conflict. Healing the wounds of the past and redressing past wrongs is a process through which a society moves from a divided past to a shared future. Over the years in Serbia, Bosnia- Herzegovina, Croatia and in Kosovo the successful peace building processes had happened. The success of the peace building process was possible because of participation of those concerned, and since appropriate strategies to effectively approach was applied with all relevant actors. The strengthening of institutions for the benefit of all citizens has many important benefits for the peace and stability of former Yugoslavia. Hence, the future looks bright for the Balkan states of Serbia, Bosnia- Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo.

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Hungarian Interest, Ukraine and European Values

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Diplomatic conflicts that have recently arisen between Hungary and its neighboring countries and the European Union as a whole most clearly show the new trend in European politics. This trend is committing to national and  state values of a specific  European country, doubting  the priority of supranational  interests within the European Union. Political analyst Timofey Bordachev believes that “the era of stale politics and the same stale politicians, who make backstage decisions based on the“ lowest common denominator,” are finally coming to an end. Politicians with a new vision of the world order come to power, such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Austrian Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurtz, or the new head of the Italian Interior Ministry, leader of the right-wing League of the North Party, Matteo Salvini ”.

It is not the first year that Hungary is trying to protect the interests of its citizens and the state from external influence, to protect the Hungarians in the territory of neighbouring states  by establishing for this  a special position (Commissioner  for the development of the Transcarpathian region of Ukraine), to determine relations with other countries on the basis of their attitude to the rights of Hungarians. This is how conflicts with the European Union arose, after Hungary refused to let migrants into the country, in the same manner, a conflict  arose with Ukraine, which is trying to build a state ideology, based on nationalism, which a priori does not provide for the proper level of realization and protection of the rights of non-titular nations.

In relation to Hungary, Ukraine follows the same policy as in relation to Russia – to initiate various accusations, to call for punishment, to talk about the inconsistency with European values of the Hungarian policy under the leadership of  Orban. Doing so Kiev has its multifaceted interest: cooperation with NATO and the EU, support  for any decisions of Brussels, the anti-Russian course, domestic policy based on the nationalist  ideology. And in all these areas  Hungary poses  a problem for Ukraine. In the description of relations with Hungary  Kiev even  uses the word “annexation“.

Hungary is hardly planning to seize any Ukrainian territory, but on what  grounds Ukraine falsely accuses Hungary of its annexation intentions in relation to Transcarpathia?  The Ukrainian side highlights several positions:

Issuing Hungarian passports  to Ukrainian citizens (ethnic Hungerians)

This  is an old story, it has come to light again recently due to the growth of Ukrainian nationalism. Moreover,  there are concerns about the implementation by Hungary of the “Crimean scenario” in relation to Transcarpathia.

The Hungarian government has created the position of  “Commissioner  for the development of Ukraine’s Transcarpathian region and the program for the development of kindergartens in the Carpathian region”.

Ukraine demanded an explanation. A note of protest was delivered to the Hungarian Charge d’Affaires in Ukraine, and the Foreign ministers of Ukraine and Hungary had a telephone conversation on the problem. Hungary continues to ignore the requirements of Kiev.

Ukraine fears further disintegration processes

At the same time, in Kiev there is no understanding  of the fact that combining the ideology of nationalism with the country’s national diversity and European integration is hardly possible.

Ukrainian experts note the growth of separatism in the Transcarpathian region, as well as the “strange behavior” of the governor, who plays on the side of Hungary. They also complain that “pro-Ukrainian ideology”(?) is not being сonsolidated in Transcarpathia, and this region is not controlled and monitored by  the Ministry of information. In a word, the state is losing control over the territory, which it neither develops nor controls. Such behavior of the governor and the region’s residents may indicate that the state is not sufficiently present in the lives of residents of Transcarpathia, and this a financial and humanitarian drawback they compensate with the help of Hungary, – experts believe.

Apparently, Ukraine is unable to reach an agreement with Hungary as relations are tense. In response to the Ukrainian law on education, adopted in the fall of 2017, which infringes the rights of national minorities, Budapest blocked another, the third, Ukraine-NATO meeting. Ukraine witnessed this embarrassing  situation  in April 2018.  At the same time elections were held in Hungary, in  which Viktor Orban’s party won a majority in the parliament. Such a tough stance of Budapest in relation to the Ukrainian educational policy Kiev considered to be just a sign of electoral populism. However, this was a mistake.

Viktor Orban’s victory in spring 2018 was convincing, and a convincing victory means obvious support of his migration policies as well as his support  for compatriots abroad. The party of Orban – Fides – not only won a majority but a constitutional majority – 133 of the 199 seats  in the National Assembly of Hungary.

There is no doubt  that Hungary has become Ukraine’s another serious opponent in the process of its European integration. And it is unlikely that either  country  will take a step back: there will be presidential elections in Ukraine soon, and in Hungary, the victory won by Orban, apparently, confirms the  approval of his independent  foreign  policy  by  the citizens.  So the conflict is likely to develop.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Belt and Road Alternatives: The European Strategy

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The European Union (EU) has put forward a plan for enhancing connectivity within Asia, which has been dubbed as the Asia Connectivity Strategy.

The EU does not want to give an impression, that the Asia Connectivity Strategy (ACS) is a counter to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Yet, senior officials of the EU, while commenting on the broad aims and objectives of the project, have categorically stated, that the primary goal of the Asia Connectivity Strategy, is enhancing connectivity (physical and digital) while also ensuring, that local communities benefit from such a project, and environmental and social norms are not flouted (this is a clear allusion to the shortcomings of the BRI). There are no clear details with regard to the budget, and other modalities of the project (EU member countries are likely to give a go ahead for this project, before the Asia-Europe Meeting in October 2018). EU has categorically stated, that it would like to ensure that the ACS is economically sustainable.

Other alternatives to BRI 

It is not just the EU, but even the US, along with Japan and Australia. which are trying to create an alternative vision to the BRI.

The US alternative to the BRI, is being funded by the recently created United States International Development Finance Corporation (USDFC) (an organization which will merge Overseas Private Investment Corporation and other Development Finance Programs) which came into being after the passing of the BUILD  (Better Utilization of Investments leading to Development) Act recently.

It would be pertinent to point out, that the US which has been accused of lacking a cohesive vision to counter China’s BRI has in recent months spoken, on more than one occasion, about greater the dire need for robust connectivity in the Indo-Pacific. In July 2018 US Secretary of State while speaking at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum committed an amount of $113 million for U.S. initiatives to support projects related to digital economy, energy, and infrastructure. The Secretary of State, while speaking about close links between US and Indo-Pacific, also spoke about the need for greater private sector involvement in projects in the Indo-Pacific. Pompeo off late, has also been reaching out pro-actively to a number of countries in South East Asia, and visited Malaysia, Indonesia in August 2018.

It would be pertinent to point out that OPIC  (now part of USFDC) has already signed with the overseas finance development arms of Japan and Australia, and is in talks with India to work jointly. Some of the areas being explored for joint investments are energy, infrastructure.

It is not just the US, even Japan has come with it’s own alternative, Partnership for Quality Infrastructure (PQI), to the BRI.

Potential Appeal of the Asia Connectivity Strategy

So the question then arises, why would countries seeking an alternative to China, not come on board the US’ connectivity initiative. The ‘Asia Connectivity Strategy’ may be especially acceptable to leaders, who do not want to be seen as blindly following US diktats, but who are also uncomfortable with Beijing’s economic policies, and want to avoid falling into what has been dubbed as Beijing’s ‘debt trap’ diplomacy. A perfect example being Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohammad who scrapped projects worth 40 Billion USD, and also referred to the rise of a ‘new colonialism’ being promoted by China. The Malaysian PM has not shared a particularly cordial relationship with the US in the past. While addressing the United Nations General Assembly (unga), Mahathir made some interesting points, saying that Malaysians want a Malaysia, which seeks relations based on ‘mutual respect’ and a Malaysia, that is ‘neutral’ and ‘non aligned’

EU itself trying to strike a balance

EU Chief, Jean Claude Juncker, has been pitching for a more pro-active response to Trump’s insular policies, as well as China’s BRI. Given the fact, that EU has taken a divergent stand from US on the Iran issue, and has proposed a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) which will ensure that trade with Iran continues, even before the impending US sanctions to be imposed on Iran in November 2018. The SPV was announced, jointly with Russia and China, on the sidelines of the UNGA.

At the UNGA, French President, Emmanuel Macron disagreed with Trump’s views with regard to Iran, and supported the 2015 Vienna Accord. Said Macron: We know that Iran was on a nuclear military path but what stopped it? The 2015 Vienna accord.”

While it remains to be seen, if the SPV set up by EU works or not, but a number of countries which do not want to be part of the Chinese or American orbit would be attracted towards the EU, in spite of all the problems it is facing, due to it’s capacity to take an independent stand.

Asia Connectivity Strategy is not only about competition

It remains to be seen whether the Asia Connectivity Strategy can gain traction. In terms of connectivity, there may even be strong overlaps with the ‘Indo-Pacific vision’. France, which has strengthened strategic ties with Australia and India, is already seeking to play a pro-active role in the Indo-Pacific.

French President Emmanuel Macron had referred to the need for a strong Paris-Canberra-New Delhi axis, during his Australia visit, as a counter to China’s increasing assertiveness.

Interestingly, while there is a realization, that Asian Connectivity Strategy has a competitive element, and there are some clear differences between EU’s strategy and BRI, there are also some who believe, that there is space for collaboration between the Asia Connectivity Strategy and BRI. This point has been put forward by some policy makers and strategic commentators in EU, as well as sections of the Chinese media. Wang Wen Wen in an article for the Global Times, argues:

‘Asia needs Europe as much as it needs China. Since the EU and China are the two largest economic entities in Eurasia, it is vital that they steward the continent’s economic development agenda. Some programs in the BRI have carried out cooperation with the European side on technology and equipment procurement.’

In conclusion, the Asia Connectivity Strategy is an interesting idea. A lot will depend upon available resources and the response of potential stakeholders. But EU going ahead with such an initiative in spite of numerous problems within is truly laudable.

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