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
Ethnic tensions in Montenegro
On Sunday, July 7, the citizens of Montenegro had the opportunity to witness another incident, that is, the open provocation of radical Albanian elements in Montenegro. Traditionally, on the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, in Svac, near Ulcinj (a town on the southern coast of Montenegro) liturgy is served at the ruins of a 1, 000 year-old medieval church.
The Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral held this year the liturgy in Svac, but at the entrance to the locality, where the ancient church is located. As the Montenegrin police, at the request of Albanian politicians, did not allow the liturgy service in the church. At the gathering, strong police forces were present, especially on the entry to the site.
Priest Slobodan Zekovic, who served the liturgy, stated:
“We are no strangers here, we come here for decades. We come here on the foundations of our statehood and spirituality. With a single goal, not to forget our holy ancestors, aware of the graves that are here. I am sending the blessing of Metropolitan Amfilohije, who was supposed to bring the hand of St. John the Baptist. But, due to tensions, that will be done next yеаr. The President of the municipality said that the access to the site has been banned until December, because archaeological research is being done“.
However, last year also there were tensions in Svac. Then, about ten local Albanians blocked the road, so that Metropolitan of Montenegro and Littoral Amfilohije and the believers of the Serbian Orthodox Church could not come to Svac. The leader of this group was Hadzija Sulejmani, a member of the Ulcinj Assembly and a member of the Democratic Party of Albanians. Sulejmani tried to explain his shameful act by saying that the church has never been an Orthodox holy place, and that he, as a Muslim and a representative of the Ulcinj municipality, does not allow access to the church.
Everything becomes much clearer after seeing a monument that the local Albanian politicians set up in 2005 in the form of a memorial plaque, which says: “In the name of our ancestors Illyrians who founded this ancient town of Svac as the legacy of our Albanian culture …” In other words, then the Albanians marked their territory and now slowly begin with violent means to “defend” it.
History is clear about the Svac. The city of Svac has never been the city of Illyrians, and especially not the city of Albanians. In 2012, the Ministry of Culture of Montenegro started exploring Svac. The research team, led by archaeologist Mladen Zagarcanin, discovered Serbian and Roman pottery in the same layer, which clearly shows the centuries-long presence of Serbs in that area. Stefan Nemanja, the Serbian Grand Prince (Veliki Župan), merged Svac to Serbian Grand Principality (also known as Raška, lat. Rascia) in 1183. When the Mongol hordes in 1242 conquered and demolished the city of Svac, it was restored by the Serbian queen Jelena, the wife of King Uros, who lived in Ulcinj at the time. For architectural decoration, the painters and masters are brought from Serbian Grand Principality Raška (lat. Rascia) . The remains of the Church of St. John are still visible in the city today, where still writes that it was built in 1300. In 1571, the town of Svač was completely destroyed by the Turks. However, what is important to mention is that the Albanians took part in the destruction of the Svac, together with the Turks. So today we have come to a crazy situation that the people who ruined Svac, and that’s the Albanians, want to acquire the historical heritage of that medieval city. In a doctoral dissertation “The influence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the creation of the Albanian nation”, Bulgarian historian Teodora Toleva, who studied the Vienna imperial archive, writes:
”After thorough studying of the archives we may claim that at the beginning of the 20th century the Albanian population did not still represent a formed nation. The ethnical groups in Albania live isolated; they do not have connections between themselves, except when fighting. The possibilities for their convergence were practically nonexistent; murders are common, even for the people from the clan. There were two basic dialects in the country that were so different that people could hardly understand each other. There was no unique literary language, but more than twenty different manners of writing in local dialects. The coefficient of literacy did not even exceed 2%. The population belonged to three religious confessions – Muslims, Orthodox and Catholics. The Albanians did not have national awareness, they did not have general interests, they did not express solidarity and they did not develop in the direction of waking the national feeling. Hence, at the beginning of the 20th century there was no Albanian nation.” Toleva also noted that:
“At a time when Vienna decides to implement a new plan for Albania, there are about twenty different transcripts of Albanian dialects. Three are basic: one uses the Arabic letters, the other is Cyrillic, the third is Latin. ” Official Vienna also had a decisive influence on the unification of the Albanian language. A letter that the Albanians still use today was accepted at a congress in Bitola in 1908. The decisive role was played by the Austro-Hungarian consul Karl. Grammar, literary books, history books, all printed in Vienna. The promotion of the Albanian language was carried out at every step. The reason why Austro-Hungary did all this was Serbia, which was then the main enemy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Through the creation of the Albanian nation, the Austro-Hungarian Empire wanted to weaken Serbia. And, they did it.
Today, the Austro-Hungarian Empire policy has been taken over, dominantly by the United States and United Kingdom, but also from some other Western states. The main goal is to create Greater Albania. Recently, the self-proclaimed Kosovo and Albania decided to implement a common foreign policy. Unlike the West, which supports that unlawful act, which raises tensions in the Balkans, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned that act.
“The provocative steps of Tirana and Pristina, which are in line with the realization of the concept of ‘Greater Albania’, cause serious concern. In this context we see the signature on July 2, the Albanian-Kosovo agreement on unification of diplomatic missions in third countries. We note that the US and EU prefer not to respond to such destructive measures and to effectively cover the ‘Greater Albanian events’ that are destructive for the region “, stated Russian Foreign Ministry.
In accordance with the support from the West, political representatives of Albanians in Montenegro every day behave more and more insolently. The current Montenegrin authorities do nothing to make Albanian politicians know that they have to respect the laws of Montenegro. While Serbs in Montenegro are strictly forbidden to display Serbian flags, Albanians in the places where they are majority display Albania’s national flag. Albanians every day show more clearly that Greater Albania is the only thing that would satisfy their national interests. The recent event that happened in Svac is something that previously could be seen in Kosovo and Macedonia. Therefore, now, while the fire is still weak, it is necessary to extinguish it. Otherwise, the Greater Albania’s fire can swallow both Ulcinj and other parts of Montenegro.
From our partner International Affairs
North Macedonia and Albania not allowed even in EU “waiting room”
The recent decision by an EU summit to postpone until October the solution on welcoming in Albania and Northern Macedonia as new members marks yet another setback for the European Union, which testifies to lack of unity among its members. Both Albania and Northern Macedonia have done all they could in the past few years to prove their loyalty to NATO and the West with a view to secure early admission to the European Union. Albania has joined NATO and supports Kosovo separatists, while the former Yugoslav regional capital Skopje chose to change the name of its country from Macedonia to Northern Macedonia, despite the unconvincing results of the de facto failed referendum on this issue in February this year. All these efforts were not rewarded, not even by a formal announcement on the start of the membership talks.
The matter is that European capitals make no secret of the reasons for such a postponement: the parliaments of Germany and the Netherlands opposed the entry of Macedonia, and Albania in particular. These parliaments have thereby refused to implement the recommendations of the European Commission of May 29 which advised member states to speed up the process of welcoming new members into the Union from countries of Western Balkans.
Instead of information on the beginning of the negotiations, Macedonia and Albania received a humiliating communiqué of the European Council, calling on these “hopefuls” of the EU membership to do more to secure the rule of law, strengthen democratic institutions, etc.
Macedonians and Albanians feel deceived also because the EU’s Commissioner for Enlargement, Johannes Khan, promised last year that membership negotiations would begin in June 2019 if both countries carried out reforms of their judiciaries and security services.
Albanian Prime Minister Edie Rama said that his country has fulfilled the reforms required by Brussels and that Tirana has thus earned the right to enter admission negotiations.
“I want to say that the European Union should proceed from geostrategic and geopolitical considerations, and it also should take into account the achievements of candidate countries,” – Prime Minister Rama was quoted as saying on June 11, 2019. “If candidate countries deserve to be admitted, the European Union should not deny them this right.”
The Prime Minister of Northern Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, went as far as stating that postponement of negotiations on his country’s accession to the EU could lead to the fall of his government and the victory of nationalist forces “hostile to the European Union”.
Behind all these statements lies demonization of Russia and the attempts to present it as a “destabilizer” of the situation in the Balkans, just as it was done by Montenegrin leader Milo Djukanovic, who accused Moscow and so-called “Serbian nationalists” of an attempt to stage a coup in his small country for the purpose of preventing Montenegro from entering NATO.
The version of what happened was provided by a Montenegrin court, which blamed leaders of the opposition Democratic Front for an attempt to seize power in Podgorica with the help of two dozen Serbian militants. The court described the incident as a typical conspiracy and a “high-profile process” in the style of Andrei Vyshinsky. Nevertheless, the Western press has accepted this version, telling its to readers about plans by wicked Russians and Serbs to kill Mr. Djukanovic, who positioned himself as a Serbian-Montenegrin nationalist during the “Yugoslav Wars” of the early 1990s.
Will North Macedonian Prime Minister Zaev succeed in performing the same trick, will the EU accept his version that “forces hostile to the European Union” will take over if his country does not join the European Union in the near future? It seems that the European Union is skeptical about Zaev’s “warnings”. It knows only too well that Zaev himself came to power as a result of a Macedonian “color revolution” that removed the former leader Nikolu Gruevsky, who led the left-wing party VMRO-DPNE. This party is still the largest opposition party in the parliament of Northern Macedonia.
Shortly after coming to power Zaev reoriented the country to NATO, hoisting a NATO flag in front of the Macedonian government building. Taking advantage of people’s hopes for joining the European Union, Zaev ensured the victory in the presidential election of his henchman Stevo Pendarovsky. But now that the prospect of starting negotiations looks remote and indefinite, Zaev and his entourage may indeed face a destabilization. The position of Albanian government of Edi Rama, who is facing powerful protests across the country, is hardly better.
From our partner International Affairs
EU – Turkey: Friends at a distance
The recent conflict over Turkish drilling vessels exploring for oil in the exclusive economic zone of the Republic of Cyprus has triggered another wave of debates between Turkey and the European Union. For Turkey, membership or non-membership in the EU has long passed the political and economic format, having developed into a nationwide dilemma.
In brief, the story began in 1963, when Turkey, following the commandment of the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, wished that Turkey would become part of the “circle of advanced countries”, became a state associated with the forerunner of the EU – the European Economic Community. In 1987, the country officially applied for membership in the EU, in 1999 it was awarded the status of candidate. Six years later, Turkey entered into negotiations on joining the “united Europe”, which means a discussion got under way on the implementation of standard Copenhagen criteria that determine the readiness of a candidate country to become a full member of the European Union. However, in 2009, after the Republic of Cyprus blocked the discussion of a number of criteria, the negotiation process was stalled. Officially, due to Turkey’s failure to comply with the requirements for EU candidates.
In 2013, the brutal quelling of protests against the ruling regime which broke out in Instanbul and Ankara under environmental slogans provoked harsh criticism from European countries. In response, the then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey was no longer concerned about joining the EU. The mass repressions that followed the suppression of the rebellion of the military in 2016 caused a new wave of discontent with the Turkish authorities from the West. According to Erdogan, Turkey no longer needed membership of “united Europe”. In recent years, however, the Turkish leader has been giving it to understand that enetering the EU is a strategic goal of the country.
The year 2019 marked an expected sensation in relations with the EU: in February, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament called for suspending negotiations on Turkey’s membership in the European Union.
A month later, EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy Johannes Hahn, while making it clear that for the EU Turkey remained “a highly important strategic partner”, did not fail to remark that “the most honest decision” would be to agree with Ankara to stop the EU membership process. Simultaneously, the European official pledged to act on the Union’s commitments to reimburse Turkey the expenses of accommodating 3.5 million Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees, who stayed on the territory of the country. Incidentally, Brussels has so far transferred to Ankara less than half of the six billion dollars it had pledged.
Manfred Weber, who at the time ran for President of the European Commission, called for honesty as well: “What comes first in relations with Turkey is honesty. We favor partnership, friendship, but it is time to stop the membership process.” The suspension of negotiations with Turkey is not enough, the process should be stopped completely. Turkey is not Europe for us and will never be.” These words belong to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior of Italy Matteo Salvini.
Despite the conciliatory statements by a number of European politicians, such as the head of the EU delegation in Turkey Christian Berger and the press secretary of the European Commission, Margaritis Shinas, the position that Turkey can not become a member of the EU is attracting more and more supporters.
The line (at least, the temporary one) was drawn by the Expansion Package 2019 prepared by the European Commission and presented on May 29 by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy Johannes Hahn. In the part devoted to Turkey, the European Commission, while praising “productive dialogue and cooperation” in the settlement of the refugee problem and yet again describing Turkey as an “important partner”, said: “At the same time, Turkey continues to move away from the European Union in matters of rule of law, respect for fundamental rights, power-sharing.” It was concluded that in the present situation it made no sense to continue negotiations on the country’s membership in the EU. Soon afterwards the European Commissioner for Budget, Günther Oettinger, summed up: “Even though we treat Russia, Turkey and the United States differently, they have one thing in common – none of them like the EU, and all of them prefer to deal with individual countries of the community. “
Turkey’s top leadership and the Turkish Foreign Ministry have reacted emotionally, accusing the EU leaders of insincerity and double standards, describing the EU decisions as meaningless, unfounded, unfair and even disgraceful. Erdogan claims that only after Turkey joins the EU will the continent see “peace and stability,” and the EU will become a “global player.” He assures European partners that “Turkey will continue to exert efforts to enter the EU in defiance of those that are trying to drive Ankara out of the European family,” because, he says, the EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the EU.
Despite the occasionally sharp rhetoric, Brussels and Ankara continue to pursue a dialogue. As stated by Turkish political analyst Zeynep Alemdar, neither Turkey, nor the EU, nor some individual countries of the Union can afford to break off relations in the economic, energy, security and migration spheres.
While in the years of the Cold War, Turkey was assigned the role of a country that led in the struggle against the “evil empire”, now, as said by Turkish expert on European affairs Beryl Dedeoglu, it is invited to become a buffer between Europe and countries of the East, which are producing more and more refugees. To this end, writes Dedeoglu, the EU yet again pushes Turkey away in order to accuse it of breaking off from “European values.”
Generally speaking, it can be stated that for Brussels the best option would be for Turkey to stay a EU-friendly state outside the EU. This is what European politicians speak about quite openly.
As for Turkey, despite repeated statements on the need to join the “European family”, EU membership is hardly in the interests of the country’s current political leaders. The European Union hinges on the prevalence of common European interests over national ones, whereas the entire history of Turkey determined the unique place of nationalism in public consciousness. In Turkish society, “decisive opposition” with Europe and more broadly, with the West, adds to the popularity of the Turkish authorities. The country’s leaders themselves understand the futility of the negotiation process: “The only reason why Turkey has been denied membeship in the EU is that we are a Muslim country,” – said Recep Tayyip Erdogan last February as he appeared on the TV channel A Haber. According to this logic, there is no way Turkey could become member of the European Union, since it will not become a Christian country in the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, given that the EU accounts for about half of Turkish exports and for about a third of imports, Ankara cannot afford to “break relations with Europe”, even if it wanted to. But it clearly does not want to: alliance with the West (take NATO membership!) strengthen Turkey’s positions in the dialogue with Russia and countries of the East. Just as partnership with Moscow enables it to assume a more independent approach in relations with Brussels and Washington.
So far, Ankara has succeeded in maneuvering between these two poles of power. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult for it to continue to do so.
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