New “executive branch” of EU and Russia: EU hostile, but not united
The recent decision by the European Council to nominate Ursula von der Leyen of Germany for the post of European Commission Chairperson and Christine Lagarde of France for President of the European Central Bank has caused many eyebrows to raise. Nevertheless, since this “feminist” set of candidates will surely receive the approval of the European Parliament, it’s these people that Russia will have to deal with. (Nominees for the posts of European policy chief and president of European Council – Josep Borrell of Spain, and Charles Micheln of Belgium – became less of a surprise: their victory in the European Parliament is a sure thing too.)
Significantly, both the “prime minister” and the “foreign minister” from the European Union’s new team have been spotted making outrageously averse remarks regarding Russia. Ursula von der Leyen, holding the post of Minister of Defense of the Federal Republic of Germany, said less than a year ago that one ought to speak with Russia from a position of strength. In response, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu advised Ms. von der Leyen and other Germans to ask their grandfathers what happens when Germans try to speak with Russia from a position of strength. Josep Borrell, speaking in an interview with the Spanish El Periodico, described Russia as “an old enemy” of Spain and Europe that is somewhat “posing a threat again,” whereas China, in his words, is but a “rival”.
The Russian Foreign Ministry reacted by demanding that Borrell account for these words, which clearly do not fit into the framework of friendly relations between Russia and Spain. The EU’s foreign policy chief-to-be came out of this situation with an elephantlike grace, chiding the Russian Foreign Ministry for “excessive” reaction and explaining his position by saying the following: “I said that Europe’s old defender – the United States – is no longer defending it, causing the rise of Europe’s former rival – the USSR “. Thus, the European diplomat has managed to strengthen a prejudice-based lie (about Russia as an enemy) with another (about the notorious “attempts by Putin to restore the USSR”). And there is a third lie – a hint at the now dishonored theory of a conspiracy between Trump and Russia. For someone burdened with the responsibilities of the head of European diplomacy, there seem to be too many prejudices and stereotypes. In all likelihood, these new representatives of the EU will not be easy to deal with.
Nevertheless, the near victory of von der Leyen and the removal from the race of the Dutch socialist Frans Timmermans, and representative of the European People’s Party (i.e.”Democratic Christian”) Manfred Weber of Bavaria, speaks of serious differences, bordering on hatred, within the EU. After all, it’s these two nominees (plus Danish liberal Margrethe Vestager, who served as European Commissioner for Competition) that were considered favorites for the post of European Commission chief right up to the G20 summit in Osaka. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who openly supported Weber’s candidacy and wanted the job of European Central Bank chief for the current head of the German Central Bank, Jens Weidmann, appears to be on the losing side, given the current layout of forces. Even such a well-informed player in European affairs as George Soros, predicted on the platform of the globalist Project Syndicate that in the event of Weber’s “failure” to head the European Commission, Merkel’s ambitions would be offset by the appointment of Jens Weidman. But this just didn’t happen: the EU’s top finance position went to Christine Lagarde.
Why did the options planned for so many weeks for the above mentioned candidates, which cannot be seen as 100% losers (Timmermans will remain vice-chairman of the European Commission, and Weber is set to become chairman of the European Parliament) were dropped?
The European Union makes it no secret that countries of the “Visegrad group”, first of all, Poland and Hungary, came out against Timmermans. And this is no wonder: it was Timmermans, as vice-president of the European Commission, who “oversaw” Poland’s punishment for its “sins against democracy” and has called for sanctions against Warsaw if it does not abandon so unwelcome for the EU judicial reform. As for Hungary, Timmermans was as harsh with its Prime Minister Viktor Orban. As a result, even Andrei Babis, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, which did not have time, unlike Poland and Hungary, to experience the negative rhetoric of Timmermans, said bluntly: “Timmermans is not the person who can unite Europe.”
As it happens, by voting against Timmermans, the current Polish leadership took revenge for their own failure last year, when they made an attempt to remove Donald Tusk, former Polish prime minister considered to be EU-loyal political opponent of the current ruling party in Poland, “Law and Justice”.
Thus, the current choice of candidates has become a sign of ever increasing instability and unpredictability of the European Union, including in its relations with Russia. In my opinion, two trends are gaining strength at the same time. Firstly, the selection of candidates for top jobs in the European “mainstream” is based, among other things, on the principle “who speaks harshiest of Russia will win” ( this guaranteed success of von der Leyen and Borrell). Secondly, as Eastern European countries are slowly gaining weight, their attitude towards Russia ranges from hostile ( Poland and the Baltic States) to neutral and conciliatory ( Hungarian Prime Minister Orban).
The Orban factor, according to a variety of reports, became a key one for “not supporting” Manfred Weber’s candidacy on the part of France, which eventually led Weber to defeat. President Macron did not conceal his discontent with the fact that Weber, as head of the European People’s Party faction in the European Parliament, did not exclude Viktor Orban and his party Fides from this faction.
The French newspaper Le Monde carries detailed reports on the issue. For the French president, who deems Orban, along with Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, his personal enemies over disagreements on migration issues, any means will do to fight against the Hungarian politician. Le Monde carries reports about Macron’s attempts to cut down EU payments to the Hungarian budget due to Hungary’s unwillingness to bear its share of the migration burden on the EU. And although Macron has not succeeded in these attempts, the battle between the “progressists” (Macron) and the “traditionalists” (Orban and the Visegrad Group, which is behind him) is driving the main wedge into the European Union, including its position towards Russia. Both the elections to the European Parliament and the differences over the candidacies for the “executive branch” of the European Union have clearly demonstrated this.
From our partner International Affairs
Sino-European Relations Souring as Russia-Ukrainian War Intensifies
Since the establishment of Sino–European relations in 1975, there have been significant changes toward building a China-driven agenda in the past 15 months. These changes are intrinsically related to China’s rise, which diverted the EU-American international protagonism.
While there is no common ground among EU members on how to counterbalance the dependence on trading with the second-largest economy in the world, the G7 Summit imparted to the collective endeavors of the largest economies to ‘de-risk’ from China. The EUA, Canada, the UK, and Japan have joined the club.
The Russo-Ukrainian War Context
In March 2019, the European Union adopted a two-folded stance on its relationship with China, defining it as competition cooperation. This dualism underlines the need to understand how to play politics the Chinese way. Since then, the EU has sought to adopt a more assertive tactic, and the ‘systemic rival’ approach has thus prevailed. Besides, the recent Russia-Ukrainian war has contributed much to this decision. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recently stated, “How China continues to interact with Putin’s war will be a determining factor for EU-China relations going forward.”
China’s close ties with Russia have been around for a while. Their connections in the global arena intensified to counterbalance the American world leadership. Sino-Russian relations were built through symmetric ideological concepts, where the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is still rooted in the Marxism-Lenist ideology.
China’s foreign affairs are based on non-interventionism principles, but its alignment with Putin has been questioned instead as support to the current war that possibly includes military intelligence and economic aid to Russia. China’s abstention from voting on the resolution that condemned Russia’s latest actions in Ukraine in October 2002 and the recent visit of Xi Jinping to Moscow days after the international criminal court issued an arrest warrant for President Putin contributed to the EU to build the narrative that China does support Russia’s point of view and justifications to the war.
The EU strongly condemned Xi’s trip, voicing worries about China’s role in the war and power balance in its relations with Russia, which now favors China. In late March, Von der Leyen delivered a speech on EU-China relations to the Mercator Institute for China Studies and the European Policy Centre, stating, “President Xi is maintaining his ‘no-limits friendship’ with Putin.”
As Xi voiced “peace talks” and “responsible dialogue” over the war, a joint statement with his Russian counterpart raised the flag of a possible siding with Russia. The joint statement contained criticisms of sanctions and the contributions of NATO in expanding the conflict.
China’s possible role in a peaceful negotiation is unlike the one adopted to break a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which ended decades of elusive diplomatic relations. The reason is simple: its close ties with Russia.
The Economic Context
In the G7 summit in Hiroshima last week, the largest global economies voiced ‘de-risking’ China against possible economic coercion in various areas involving trade, technologies and intellectual property, and supply chain.
Apart from the Sino-American trade war and the reliance on trading in China – the EU recorded a trade deficit of more than 365 billion euros with China in 2022 – at least two other concerns have debuted on the discussion agenda: the country’s rare earth metals control and responsibility in cyberspace.
To counterbalance China’s new status quo on the global stage, the G7 announced the launch of the Partnership for Global Infrastructure Investment. The total of $600 billion in financing for quality infrastructure is a clear threat to the Belt and Road initiative, but it is unlike that it will pose any danger to China-led investment activities.
The Taiwan Context
The expansion of Chinese influence in the South China Sea has also become a prominent topic at the G7 summit. The G7 Foreign Ministers released a joint statement against China’s latest military activities near Taiwan, condemning economic coercion and urging peaceful talks.
Taiwan is perhaps China’s most irrevocable negotiation topic in foreign relations as the “One China” policy emphasizes the recognition of the island as an integral part of its territory instead of a separate sovereign state. This policy is the central pillar of bilateral diplomatic relations with China.
The complex dynamics shaping countries’ perceptions and interactions with China have shifted Europe’s future standpoint, leaning towards a more assertive approach. As Europe redefines its relationship with China, the balance between reciprocity and market access, and strategic cooperation in climate change will shape the continent’s strategy moving forward. In any event, Europe’s future relations on China promises to be more stick, less carrot.
Expulsion of Diplomats further Cripples Russian-German bilateral ties
Russia and Germany have cross-haired relations as both disagreed on many policy issues, the latest on Russia-Ukraine crisis. The bilateral relations has dived down to its lowest level, especially with imposition of sanctions and expulsion of diplomats.
Reports said hundreds working for Germany in Russia had to quit employment and leave the country. Hundreds of civil servants and local employees working for German institutions in Russia would need to leave the country or lose their jobs in the coming days following an order by Moscow, Germany’s foreign ministry said May 27.
Those affected include teachers, as well as other employees of schools and the Goethe Institute, and is necessary to maintain the right balance for Germany’s diplomatic presence, said the person, who described the number affected as at least 100.
Starting from June, Russia will slash the number of people that Germany can employ in its embassies or institutions in Russia in the education and cultural sectors, the ministry said.
Several hundred people are affected, including officials from the embassy and consulate, but mostly employees of the Goethe cultural institute in the country, German schools, nurseries and teachers working in Russian schools, it added.
Both German and local Russian employees are affected, the ministry said, without giving precise figures on each category of staff. German employees will have to quit the country by June 1.
Russian employees should not be required to leave the country, but will lose their jobs since German institutions will no longer be able to employ them, the ministry said – clarifying initial indications the locals would have to leave too.
The news was first revealed in the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which spoke of a “diplomatic declaration of war by Moscow” against Berlin. “This is a unilateral, unjustified and incomprehensible decision,” the German foreign ministry said in a statement.
A close economic partner with Russia before Moscow invaded Ukraine, Germany has since moved away from Moscow, financially and militarily supporting Kyiv in the conflict. Since the onset of the conflict in Ukraine, Russian espionage in Germany has grown at a rate rarely equalled in recent years, according to German security services.
In mid-April, Germany expelled a number of Russian diplomats “to reduce the presence of intelligence services” which prompted a tit-for-tat response from Moscow which booted out some 20 German embassy staff.
The Russian foreign ministry in April set a ceiling for the number of German diplomats and representatives of public organisations allowed to stay in Russia or be employed by German institutions, the German foreign ministry said.
“This limit set by Russia from the beginning of June implies major cuts in all areas of (Germany’s) presence in Russia,” the ministry said. German authorities have tried in recent weeks to get the Russian ministry to reverse its decision, but without success, Sueddeutsche Zeitung said.
Berlin will aim to ensure “a real balance” in its response, the foreign ministry said. In spring 2022, Germany already expelled some 40 Russian diplomats which Berlin believed to represent a threat to its security.
Before Moscow invaded Ukraine, Russia was Germany’s main supplier of gas and a major supplier of oil. However Germany stopped supplies and has since become one of the biggest providers of arms and financial support to Ukraine in its war against Russia, souring relations which had been warming over decades.
Last October, the head of Germany’s cybersecurity agency, Arne Schoenbohm, was fired after news reports revealed his proximity to a cybersecurity consultancy believed to have contacts with Russian intelligence services. A month later, a German reserve officer was handed a suspended prison sentence of a year and nine months for spying for Russia.
Relations between Russia and Germany, which used to be the biggest buyer of Russian oil and gas, have broken down since Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and the West responded with sanctions and weapons supplies.
Earlier on May 26, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it had summoned the ambassadors of Germany, Sweden and Denmark to protest over what it said was the “complete lack of results” in an investigation to identify who blew up the Nord Stream gas pipelines last year.
Several unexplained underwater explosions ruptured the Nord Stream 1 and newly built Nord Stream 2 pipelines that link Russia and Germany across the Baltic Sea in September 2022. The blasts occurred in the economic zones of Sweden and Denmark. Both countries say the explosions were deliberate, but have yet to determine who was responsible. The two countries as well as Germany are investigating the incident.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry in a statement accused all three of deliberately dragging their feet and trying to conceal who was behind the blasts. It said it was unhappy about what it called the opaque nature of the investigation and its refusal to engage with Russia.
“It has been noted that these countries are not interested in establishing the true circumstances of this sabotage. On the contrary, they are delaying their efforts and trying to conceal the tracks and the true perpetrators of the crime behind which we believe are well-known countries,” it said.
“It is no coincidence that ‘leaked’ improbable versions (of what happened) are dumped in the media to try to muddy the waters,” it said. The Danish foreign ministry confirmed that its ambassador had been summoned, and said authorities in Denmark, Germany, and Sweden were continuing their investigations.
“Denmark has been providing ongoing updates to Russia regarding the investigation’s progress and responding to their inquiries. We will continue to do so,” the ministry said. The United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have called the incident “an act of sabotage.” Moscow has blamed the West. Neither side has provided evidence.
Several reports show that Kremlin’s leadership is taking hysterical actions to secure it sovereignty and territorial integrity. Its actions aim at protecting the statehood. Germany, Denmark and Sweden are not the only countries with locked-horns with Russia. It has policy differences with entire European Union and and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Genocide, Serbia and the Ukraine War: Geopolitics Matters
The Serbia genocide, commonly known as the Bosnian genocide or Srebrenica massacre, is considered one of the heinous vestiges of ethnic cleansing and genocidal acts led by the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) and Scorpions paramilitary group. Srebrenica, a small town in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, has become notorious as the site of one of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II, which took place in July 1995 during the Bosnian war between 1992 and 1995. By the way, in the Bosnian case of genocide, it is discerned that geopolitics played a crucial role in which NATO and the West were wholly against the Bosnian Serbs since they broke international law and repudiated the decisions of NATO for maintaining a no-fly zone in Bosnia, while Russia has been in a shrewd stance due to their identical similarities and geopolitical interests of thwarting the influence of the West.
Over the years, Serbia has been maintaining a strong alliance with Russia. However, Aleksandar Vucic, the president of Serbia is strategically hedging between both the West–NATO and EU– and Russia, retaining a close rapport with Moscow, at the same time, gradually improving its ties with the West. On one side, Vučić claims to have a genuine interest in joining the EU and encouraging regional integration via schemes like ‘Open Balkan’, on the other hand, the country continues to reject calls from the West for imposing sanctions against Russia and cutting ties with the country. Despite its pro-Russian leanings, this Balkan nation claims neutrality in the Ukraine war and promises to join the EU.
With regard to the notable developments in the Balkan region, the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Brussels comes up with a very critical inquiry. The country, which has been carrying the blemish of one of the most notorious genocidal and violent acts in human history, is nowadays considered to be an ally of the West. Why are NATO and the EU becoming closer to the Balkan country while it maintains intimacy with Russia and is accused of conducting the infamous Bosnian genocide? The Western nations which had played a robust role in ensuring the penalty of Serbian leaders like Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and Slobodan Milosevic, forgetting and wiping out history, why is the West now keen on developing ties with Serbia? The clear-cut and outspoken answer is–the Ukraine war and the geopolitical interests of the West in the Balkan region.
A Synopsis of the Bosnian Genocide
After 40 years of coexistence under Yugoslavia’s communist rule, things started to shift as the nation began to implode in the early 1990s, coinciding with the fall of communism. After Serbia’s provinces of Croatia and Slovenia gained independence, a conflict broke out between the two countries and Serbia. Previously peaceful neighbours turned on one other and took up guns as racial tensions came to light. Slobodan Miloevic’s Serbia attacked a secessionist Bosnia under the pretence of “freeing” Serbian Orthodox Christians residing in Bosnia. Serbia began its ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Bosnian land in April 1992, with the deliberate expulsion of all Bosnian Muslims, often known as Bosniaks. Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was encircled by Serbian and ethnic Bosnian Serb forces armed with weapons from the former Yugoslavia. Thousands of Bosniaks were forced into torture cells, and concentration camps, in which they were subjected to torture, starvation, and murder at the hands of the camp guards and other inmates.
Sarajevo, Goradze, and Srebrenica, along with other Muslim enclaves, were designated as safe zones in 1993 by the United Nations Security Council and assigned to be guarded by UN forces. However, in one of these regions—Srebrenica—Serbs perpetrated the worst murder in Europe since WWII in July 1995. About 8,000 Muslims were jailed and executed, while 23,000 women, children, and the elderly were horridly tortured and oppressed. In 1994, NATO launched air strikes on Bosnian Serbs in an effort to put an end to the violence. However, more than 160 people have been prosecuted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague since the conclusion of the war. There have been convictions of Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks, with the preponderance of accusations being levelled against Serbians and Bosnian Serbs. The Serbian top leaders like Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and Slobodan Milosevic were charged with conducting ‘genocide, mass killing and crimes against humanity.’
Bosnian Genocide and Serbia’s Rift with the West
The genocide marked the height of the brutal Bosnian War, significantly squeezing the relationship between Serbia and the Western world, particularly with NATO and the EU. During the Bosnian War, which stemmed from the disintegration of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, NATO assumed a pivotal role in attempting to mitigate the crisis. Initially, NATO imposed a ‘no-fly zone’ in Bosnia to prevent the Serbian air force from conducting airstrikes on civilian targets. However, as the situation escalated, NATO’s involvement expanded to include air campaigns against Bosnian Serb military installations and infrastructure. Operation Deliberate Force, a concentrated NATO bombing campaign, was instrumental in pressuring the Bosnian Serbs into accepting a peace agreement. Therefore, the Bosnian Genocide caused a sea change in how the West saw Serbia and hence, resulted in the deterioration in ties between Serbia and the West.
The extent and cruelty of the genocide startled the world, prompting worldwide criticism of Serbia’s conduct. Reports of torture, rape, and forced relocation, together with the systematic death of thousands of innocent people, sparked widespread anger and cries for justice. Recognizing the genocide as a breach of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide severely damaged Serbia’s reputation abroad. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) came into being as a direct result of the genocide and several high-ranking Serbian politicians and military officers faced charges of war crimes and genocide. As a result, Serbia’s ties to the West and NATO were severely strained after the 1995 Bosnian Genocide.
The Bosnian Genocide and Serbia’s Rapport with Russia: A Geopolitical Viewpoint
During the time of Soviet involvement in the Balkans, connections between Serbia and Russia were strengthened further, but it is important to remember that both countries are significant Slavic states with a long history of cooperation. However, Slobodan Milosevic, the former nationalist leader of the Republic of Serbia, aimed to centralize authority among ethnic Serbs throughout the newly independent republics. Serbian forces pursued acts of ethnic cleansing against non-Serbian populations, resulting in the tragic loss of thousands of lives. In this respect, Russia has pursued subtle policy toward Serbia due to the two countries’ common Slavic culture, religious faith and more importantly, geopolitical interests of the country in the Balkan region.
Regarding this development, geopolitical factors have significantly played a critical role in moulding this relationship as Russia wanted to maintain its global clout in the Balkans and counteract the growing EU and NATO involvement there. Russia had been in the position of favouring political and diplomatic assistance to Serbia throughout the genocide and used its veto power multiple times to prevent stronger international penalties on Serbia at the United Nations Security Council. It is also worth noting that Russia’s backing for Serbia was not constant; there were times when they encouraged Miloevi to call off military operations and negotiate peace. However, Officials in Russia, on the other hand, have said that their backing was motivated by a desire to head off a Western intervention that they think would have only made things worse. Some academics argue that Russia’s backing unintentionally aided in the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia and Herzegovina, adding to the complexity of this relationship.
The Ukraine War and the Shift in the Serbia-West Relationship: Geopolitics Matters
Serbia has not been a grim enemy of the West, nor an eternal friend of Russia, rather different regimes in the country tried to balance both powers. Things remarkably started shifting after Serbia applied for EU membership in 2009 while continuing its moral support for Russia in every aspect of world politics. In this regard, the recent developments given rise by the Ukraine war are gradually heading Serbia to be a closer ally of the EU, although the country did not impose any embargo on Russia and is still maintaining a sound rapport with Putin. Since Vucic’s ascension to power a decade ago, Serbia has pretended to be on neither Russia’s nor the EU’s side. He has effectively used the rivalry between the two groups to bolster Serbia’s position in negotiations over energy, security, and EU membership, and to keep five EU nations to prolong their recognition of Kosovo. Serbia, the largest receiver of EU assistance in the Balkans and a leading candidate to join the EU by 2025, has benefited greatly from this strategy.
But the intriguing matter is the West is now craving for becoming a stronger and time-tested ally of the Balkan country. Is not it very thought-provoking to experience the moral shift of the West? The EU and NATO, which have always been vocal against Serbia regarding the Bosnian genocide, are now gradually pursuing closer ties due to the rise of geopolitical dynamics posed by the Ukraine war. Although the Balkan country has long been awaiting EU membership for its geopolitical interests, the West also nowadays seems to be more inquisitive in seizing the geopolitical interests in the region. As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the European Union is now more aware of the importance of the Western Balkans and the potential that Moscow could leverage against the West. The EU, however, has exhibited fewer concerns and pursued a policy of distancing itself from the Balkans for years. In this respect, the Ukraine war is working out as a catalyst factor to make the parties feel the need of strengthening the ties with a view to securing geopolitical interests in the Balkan region keeping aside all the previous stains imposed on the country. In a nutshell, geopolitical matters have become the core drivers to bring about the shift, in which the moral stance of the West regarding the genocide, is likely to be lost to the geopolitical gains of them in the region.
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