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Macron trying to reconcile Serbs and Albanians

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A two-day visit to Serbia by French President Emmanuel Macron, which came to a close on July 16, was designed to repair the damaged reputation of Paris and the entire European Union in the Balkan settlement, particularly, in Kosovo. A meeting of Presidents of Serbia and Kosovo, Aleksandar Vučić and Hashim Thaci, with Macron and German  Chancellor Angela Merkel, which took place in Berlin at the end of April, ended without result, mainly due to differences between Paris and Berlin on the partition of Kosovo. A similar meeting scheduled for the beginning of July in Paris, did not go ahead at all due to a widening gap in the positions of the parties involved. The Balkan capitals are talking ever louder about Europe’s inability to propose to the Balkans at least some effective scenarios and  signal the need to attract the United States in securing the Balkan settlement, which would in fact mean the EU is facing a “vote of no confidence” in the Balkans.

From this point of view, the French leader and his Serbian counterpart managed to achieve some progress. The two parties agreed to gather for the next Kosovo summit in Paris in September.

Speaking of the European political scene, it is Emmanuel Macron who advocates a strong and united European Union, which adapts to the socio-economic specifics of various regions.

Contributing to such an adaptation is the concept of “Europe of two velocities” and of “zones of strong and weak euro”, which come from the transformation of a formally unified EU into a two-tier structure consisting of the financially and economically strong “core” and the weak “periphery”, which comprises, among others, the Balkans.

It is precisely this that causes current friction between France and Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel strongly opposes any division lines in the European Union, be it political and economic ones, and is against re-considering the existing borders. The latter circumstance directly concerns the Balkans in general and Kosovo in particular, since the division of Kosovo into Serb and Albanian parts underlies a scenario that has been under discussion over the past year in Belgrade and in Pristina. It is this plan, or rather, a fierce rejection of it by Angela Merkel (Emmanuel Macron seems to be in favor of it) that, according to reports, led to the failure of the April summit on Kosovo in Berlin and became the main reason for the negotiating parties’ unwillingness to gather in Paris at the beginning of July.

“Those who listened attentively to what President Macron said, understood that they have their own debates and have their own problems to resolve, while we should concentrate on the problems of the region, achieve the best relations possible – in this case we will become stronger and more powerful”, – the Serbian President said commenting on the results of the talks in Belgrade, differences within the European Union itself, and his own vision of how to normalize relations with Kosovo. Speaking in the run-up to negotiations, Aleksandar Vucic emphasized that “Macron is one of the top two European leaders and the person of the future.” He described his French counterpart as “a hardworking and energetic person who is not always easy to deal with.”

The French president did not make it a secret from his Serbian counterpart what kind of problems he faces in the EU proper. According to the Belgrade-based Politika, during a closed meeting of the two leaders with Serbian students, Emmanuel Macron complained about the difficulties of passing any decisions in the European Union and reiterated the need to “modernize” the EU. Aleksandar Vučić, for his part, reaffirmed his commitment to a “compromise solution” on Kosovo, which, in his opinion, would lead to the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina.

Simultaneously, the Serbian president made it clear that Belgrade is ready to reconsider its tough position regarding the decision of the Kosovo authorities adopted at the end of 2018 to impose 100% protective duties on products from Serbia (as well as from Bosnia and Herzegovina). Until now, Belgrade has cited this anti-Serb measure as the main reason for lack of progress in negotiations with Pristina. However, his rhetoric seems to be changing. “I think it’s time to talk anew about some things. I’d hate to slap the blame on the other party and talk about duties; let us give the great powers an opportunity to do their job, ” – said Aleksandar Vucic in the presence of Emmanuel Macron, hinting at the Serbian leaders’ readiness for new compromises. “We are witnessing an upsurge in tension and this tension at times feeds on assistance from external forces that are interested to see to it that a solution is not found,” – Emmanuel Macron remarked, implying that Serbia, Kosovo and France would be able to address the problem of Kosovo more successfully, if there were no obstacles from the outside. In the next few weeks, he said, he would make all the necessary efforts to organize a four-party meeting in Paris with the participation of leaders of France, Germany, Serbia and Kosovo in order to secure a “global and achievable solution” on Kosovo.

What could become such a solution is an agreement on the division of Kosovo with Belgrade retaining control over its northern, Serb-populated regions. Over the past year, Belgrade and Pristina have worked out two draft agreements on the normalization of bilateral relations regarding territorial claims. The corresponding maps were prepared on the basis of an agreement on the delineation of borders, which Hashim Thaci and Aleksandar Vucic reached in August 2018 at the European Forum in Austria. The document was supposed to be signed in Brussels in early September 2018 with the participation of the EU leadership. However, disagreements over the principles of demarcation, as well as protests by opposition forces in Belgrade and Pristina, disrupted the schedule.

The Pristina plan proceeds from the fact that the Serbian-Albanian delineation plan should be a “package”- based one, envisaging a comprehensive exchange of territories, including Kosovo’s Serb-populated areas, which constitute a fifth of the region’s territory, the mainly Albanian-populated Bujanovac and Presevo communities adjacent to Kosovo, and, if possible, the community of Medveda, where the population ratio is gradually changing in favor of the Albanians. That the Pristina authorities should transfer part of the territory of Kosovo to Serbian control was indicated by Hashim Thaci at the beginning of 2019, as he spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. In his words, the signing of the relevant agreement with Belgrade in Brussels under the patronage of the EU will allow Kosovo to receive recognition from Serbia and join the UN: “If a minor border adjustment is the price to pay for a final settlement, this should be acceptable.” The resulting document, Hashim Tachi said, must be signed “with the support of the United States.”  Russia, he said, “seems ready to accept an agreement which will be reached” between the parties concerned.

What is meant by the above mentioned is “commitment to achieve a comprehensive peace agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, which will guarantee Kosovo a place in the UN and will enable it at the appropriate time to join NATO allies and the EU,” – the Kosovo leader explained on Twitter.

According to the latest census of Serbia’s population, Presevo is home to 89% of Albanians and 9% of Serbs, Bujanovac is populated by 55% of Albanians and 34% of Serbs, and Medveda – by 26% of Albanians and 67% of Serbs.

The proposed agreement, including in terms of relevant territorial exchanges between Belgrade and Pristina, is supported by the United States. For US President Donald Trump, international conflicts should be settled within the format of bilateral business deals, while his National Security Adviser, John Bolton, has already made it clear that Washington does not “rule out the possibility of re-drawing borders” in the Balkans if “both sides are ready for a compromise between themselves and come to agreement.”

“If Serbia and Kosovo manage to come to agreement on the re-drawing of the border, Austria will definitely not be against this,” – the former (and, most likely, the next) Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said in support of this approach.

However, the agreement in question has many opponents. Among them are not only nationalist and radical forces in Serbia and Kosovo, but also influential players on the European scene. In particular, the former UN special envoy in the Balkans, Carl Bildt, is categorically against changes of borders in the Balkans: “When you do that, you know where to stop but you don’t know how it will end. Borders are borders, they are not to be touched. Many borders in Europe are drawn with blood, and if you change them, you cannot be sure what will happen next. ”

The differences between Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, which do make it difficult for the EU to act as an active and independent player, including in the Balkans, are likely to persist in the coming months. According to the Croatian edition Advance, “ French President, Emmanuel Macron, has been skeptical of late about further enlargement of the European Union. However, some do not share his views, ”including the Federal Chancellor of Germany. “I agree with President Macron that the mechanisms of the European Union need to be improved, but I do not associate this process with a refusal to negotiate membership in the European Union,” – Advance quotes her as saying at the recent EU summit on Western Balkans in Poland.  Advance then continues to analyze the layout of forces in the France-Germany-USA triangle: “Trump will be the last to support the expansion of the European Union. Moreover, he will seek to cut down the existing EU (Brexit and possible future “exits”) during the potential second mandate even more actively than now. Besides, Macron has already made it clear that he is ready to support Trump’s position if he finds it more beneficial (attitude towards Syria, criticism of the Iranian ballistic program, and so on). And Macron will most likely go for it, because he expects Washington to approve him in the role of the “top figure” of what is and will be known as the European Union. ”

Russia has repeatedly pointed out that it will support the agreements between Belgrade and Pristina, if they meet the interests of the Serbian side. In addition to reducing tensions in the Balkan region, normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo would ensure their greater participation in Russian infrastructure and energy projects, including in terms of connection to Russian gas transportation routes. In particular, this could mean stretching an export line of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline through the territory of Southern Serbia and a possible branch from it through Kosovo and further to the Adriatic Sea, with a view to plug in Italy.

 From our partner International Affairs

Peter Iskenderov, senior research assistant at RAS Slavic Studies Institute, candidate of historical sciences

Europe

Could the EU Make its ASEAN Breakthrough with the Emerging Indo-Pacific Strategy?

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The Indo-Pacific policy guidelines that was announced by the German Federal Foreign Office last week, is a clear signal from Berlin in becoming a shaper for the international order in the volatile region. Entitled “Germany-Europe-Asia: Shaping the 21st Century Together”, the policy guidelines is the second of such document in the European Union (EU) after the Macron administration released its own Indo-Pacific strategy back in August 2019. But considering that Germany is the current president of the EU Council, this policy guidelines has been ever more significant. For one, Berlin has made clear its intention to lead Europe into this new Indo-Pacific charge as the ‘third power’ after the US-led coalition and China ⸺ an aim that is highlighted not just by this German government’s policy guidelines but also, incisively described by the French as the ‘mediating power’.

The release of such document, of course, reverberates different responses from political observers outside of Europe. For instance, Sebastian Strangio sees the German latest move as part of Europe’s reassessment of its approach to China and boldly predicts that other EU nations are to follow suit with their new stand on China. Prominent Filipino expert, Richard Javad Heydarian, meanwhile, is of the view that Germany’s pursuit as the shaper of international order is deliberately focused on the key regions which bear strategic importance to Europe overall. On the other hand, Xin Hua, adopts a pessimistic view on the ability of Europe to influence the Indo-Pacific region. With Berlin’s policy guidelines, the Chinese scholar sees Europe’s reliance on soft power (such as norms diffusion)to influence the Indo-Pacific region, in contrast to the US that projects its hard power in the region through military prowess in the region, will make it less than what it aimed as the shaper of international order.

Be it applause or skepticism, the observers are in the same view that Berlin’s latest move is a drastic shift from its previous ambiguous position on the Indo-Pacific region which has become the hotbed for the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) vision pushed by the US and its military allies such as Japan and Australia. With this policy guidelines in place, it signals the seriousness of the German government in joining the Indo-Pacific region with the rest of the EU, as a third power that is independent from the US camp and China. What is left is the forming of a full European-level Indo-Pacific strategy and its implementation in the years ahead.

The ASEAN Context

In the ASEAN context, Germany’s move has created two questions that are worthy to ponder. First, how will this emerging Indo-Pacific strategy be different to Europe’s current cooperation policy toward ASEAN as a whole? This is the foremost question to ask among ASEAN member states as the German government’s Indo-Pacific policy  guidelines singled out the Southeast Asian bloc as the country’s focused cooperation partner in different areas of cooperation: climate change, marine pollution, rule of law and human rights, culture, education, science, trade and technology. That said, this is not the first time ASEAN appeared as the important partner for the EU.As a matter of fact, two-way cooperation has been ongoing since the establishment of dialogue relations in 1977.

As of 2020, two EU-ASEAN Action Plans have been agreed upon, implemented and in the middle of enforcement. Within the Action Plan (2018-2022) that runs through the year 2022, a myriad of cooperation areas has been outlined, spanning across political-security, economic and socio-cultural pillars. In particular, those areas of cooperation identified in Germany’s Indo-Pacific policy guidelines are within the trans-regional plan as well. What is new is that Berlin has set security policy as a special focus area for Indo-Pacific cooperation ⸺ a point that is emphasized by the German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas in his press release following the announcement of the country’s Indo-Pacific policy guidelines. In line with such niche orientation, Germany can readily lead the European initiative to assist ASEAN in the two sub-areas of non-traditional security that do not have substantial cooperation but chiefly important in the coming months and years: cybersecurity and public health security. These two sub-areas will be the best start for the EU’s Indo-Pacific push in the ASEAN region.

Second, how will the EU’s Indo-Pacific approach be different from its current dogmatic approach in its cooperation with ASEAN? By all means, it is no secret that dogmatic adherence to rules and norms remained to be the greatest obstacle for the EU’s full amelioration of ties with ASEAN in the past years. As of today, the EU’s ban of Indonesian and Malaysian imports as well as its unease on Filipino President Duterte and Burmese junta’s human rights records, are the contentious issues that prevented the European bloc to go past its finishing line in negotiating a full free trade pact with ASEAN. From such case alone, it is clear that the European bloc’s normative stance predicated upon Brussels’ strictly defined rules, norms and values on climate change and human rights issues, is in play when comes to international cooperation with ASEAN.

Having said that, Germany’s latest Indo-Pacific policy guidelines do not precisely highlight of its normative stance apart from maintaining the international rules-based order in the volatile region. But on the other hand, Germany’s aim for the EU to become the shaper of such order also sparks an open-ended question of whether its strict adherence to rules, norms and values (as in the present) will continue to be the defining feature of its cooperation with ASEAN. From the Indo-Pacific policy guidelines, this question is yet to be answered by the German government and perhaps, this dilemma is to betackled in the EU’s emerging Indo-Pacific strategy. Should a pragmatic approach is adopted by the EU ⸺ as has been recently demonstrated by the conclusion and enforcement of the EU-Vietnam Partnership and Cooperation Agreement despite human rights concern in the ASEAN member state ⸺ it will definitely clear the normative obstacle for the eventual conclusion of a free trade pact with the Southeast Asian bloc. More than that, it stands to facilitate greater cooperation in all areas of partnership between the two regions.

All in all, the EU’s emerging Indo-Pacific strategy should need to address these two questions that have surfaced fromthe former’s past and current experiences with ASEAN. While the German government’s Indo-Pacific policy guidelines have set new tone to Europe’s engagement with the volatile region, such document has yet to tackle these two difficult questions. Only by tacklingthese two questions will the EU be able to make its much-needed ASEAN breakthroughwith the emerging Indo-Pacific strategy.

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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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