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Four Pieces of Advice to Emmanuel Macron about the INF Treaty

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Emmanuel Macron’s recent response to Russia’s proposed moratorium on deploying short- and intermediary-range missiles in Europe has caused an uproar. European media was quick to conclude that the French leader effectively supported his Russian counterpart’s idea. The Kremlin voiced a similar interpretation of his statement. Capitals of Central Europe responded with a barrage of accusations against the Élysée Palace, suggesting its current occupant was undermining the unity of the West and was, once again, all too willing to make unjustified concessions to Moscow. Many in the United States were surprised that France was trying to influence the fate of the INF Treaty, which was (or rather had been, before its demise) a bilateral treaty between Moscow and Washington.

Macron had some explaining to do to his American and European partners, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, journalists and experts, and he assured them that France was not really supporting any kind of moratorium. At the same time, his government is not discarding the idea of shaping a “new security architecture” together with Russia and is, in fact, advocating a “transparent, substantive and critical dialogue” with Moscow. “You can’t dismiss what could be the basis for further discussions”, Macron said, explaining his reasoning.

Constructive Uncertainty?

Some ambiguity in French rhetoric regarding the INF Treaty is understandable. On the one hand, the French government has no desire to open a new front of opposition with NATO, whose relations with France are complicated as it is and which has already fully aligned with the US on the INF Treaty. Neither did G7, during its summit in Biarritz, dare attempt to adjust the patently flawed and unconvincing US narrative regarding the preservation of the INF Treaty.

On the other hand, Macron does not want to lose his shot at the now-vacant position of foreign policy leader of Europe, including regarding Russian, which is very important for the European Union. Even less would he wish to surrender the issue of the INF Treaty (with its direct and fundamental bearing on the foundations of European security) to Donald Trump, who has not shown himself to be particularly reliable or benevolent towards Europe.

The French initiative seems to be left hanging. Emmanuel Macron held a meeting with Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Normandy Four summit in Paris, but the INF Treaty does not appear to have been discussed in any detail. As any other “deep state,” the French bureaucratic machine is more inclined to sabotage any bold new ideas than nurture them. Time is passing, and the initial shock caused by the dissolution of the Treaty is fading, overshadowed by new problems and new challenges. The United States’ withdrawal from the INF Treaty did not cause an immediate apocalypse and life without the Treaty is becoming part of the “new normal” that both Eastern and Western Europe have been talking about for almost six years.

It would be very disappointing if the interest shown by France in the INF Treaty remained just vague political declarations and rhetoric without any substantial practical output. If I were to advise Macron on foreign policy, I would give the French leader four pieces of advice on how to drive the issue of the INF Treaty, as well as European security in general, out of the deadlock.

Avoid Issuing Ultimata

First of all, it would be unwise to follow the United States in demanding that Moscow completely destroy its controversial SSC-X-8 missiles as a prerequisite for any dialogue about a moratorium on deploying short- and intermediary-range missiles in Europe. It could be insisted that the Russian side provide additional information about this system, and new verification mechanisms could be offered in addition to those that had been provided for by the INF Treaty. The matter of increasing transparency and predictability of Russian missile construction could also be brought up.

Yet the ultimatum that SSC-X-8 be destroyed essentially means that Russia is offered a choice between two clearly unacceptable courses of action. Either Moscow should repent of violating the INF Treaty deliberately and maliciously over the course of many years, willfully trying to conceal these violations from its western partners, or it should declare that it did not violate the treaty – but is willing to destroy a perfectly compliant system just because the Pentagon and NATO do not like it.

We recall that, back in their time, Mikhail Gorbachev and Eduard Shevardnadze took the second path: they did not acknowledge that the Soviet “Oka” short-range missile (NATO designation SS-23 Spider) fell into the category of arms to be destroyed under the INF Treaty, but still agreed to dismantle Oka as a gesture of goodwill. This was a step for which Gorbachev and Shevardnadze are criticised by many Russian experts, politicians and military officials to this day. Everyone who has the slightest idea of the brand of foreign policy pursued by Vladimir Putin will likely agree that the negotiation style that worked with Mikhail Gorbachev thirty years ago will not work with today’s Russian president, especially since the level of trust between Russia and the West is critically low at the moment.

Be an Honest Broker

No one can deprive France of its right to voice concerns about Russia’s compliance or noncompliance with the INF Treaty. For one thing, Russia can be accused of not paying enough attention to the doubts and concerns raised in Washington and many European capitals. Yet it would only be fair if Paris also paid more attention to the concerns and suspicions of the Russian side, even if Quai d’Orsay considers them to be ungrounded and unworthy of serious discussion.

The Russian leadership has repeatedly noted that the Mk 41 missile defence launch systems deployed in Romania and Poland could be used to launch Tomahawk sea-based cruise missiles; therefore they are in breach of the INF Treaty. The US side has bluntly rejected these suspicions, primarily arguing that launch of sea- and land-based missiles requires different software. After withdrawing from the INF Treaty, however, the United States essentially confirmed Russia’s suspicions, conducting Tomahawk tests without much preparation of land-based launch sites.

Sadly, these tests did not elicit any visible response in Europe. Moscow had to draw the logical conclusion that Europeans were not prepared to make an objective and impartial assessment of Washington’s actions and could not claim the role of mediators on the INF Treaty issue. It is obvious that Macron would have a much stronger position in his dialogue with the Kremlin if he could pose as an “honest broker” willing to consider the arguments of both parties to the Russia–US dispute.

Look for New Formats

Speaking about a “transparent, substantive and critical dialogue” with Moscow regarding the INF Treaty, it would be helpful to decide what possible format this dialogue could take. That is, of course, if Macron is earnestly aiming to bring this dialogue out of the narrow confines of bilateral Russia–America relations. Using the NATO–Russia Council to launch a discussion on nuclear issues that concern Europe does not appear the best solution at this time. The Council will hardly begin working to the full extent of its capacity in the foreseeable future. For now, it is struggling to make progress even on the much less complicated and sensitive issues of military confidence-building measures on the European continent. It is unfortunately hard to count on the OSCE as a platform for “structured dialogue” either since this platform has not even yet brought about the modernisation of the Vienna document.

This means we need to think about creating a separate ad hoc group in NATO to conduct talks with Russia on the INF Treaty. This group could probably include members of the Alliance that are also members of the “Nuclear Club”, namely the United States, the United Kingdom and France. Perhaps countries that accommodate elements of the US European missile defence system (Romania and Poland) might also be included. When the NATO–Russia Council gains its full institutional capacity, the ad hoc group could be seamlessly integrated into its work.

Another interim solution might be to create such an INF Treaty group outside NATO confines, similar to the European tripartite group of France, the United Kingdom and Germany that was established for the Iran nuclear talks. This option would allow the numerous delays and complications associated with NATO’s cumbersome and complex coordination procedures to be avoided.

In any event, the French leader should be prepared for the new format to not only draw criticism but also meet desperate opposition from those powerful political forces in Europe that will inevitably see it as an obvious attempt to undermine the foundations of Transatlantic unity.

Propose a New Strategic Project

The problem of short- and intermediate-range missiles in Europe, which is once again coming to the fore in European politics, appears impossible to resolve outside the broader context of a new European security architecture. The INF Treaty itself did not appear thirty years ago out of the blue but arose out of Mikhail Gorbachev’s ambitious political project to build a “Common European Home”. Had there been no such project, leaders of the continent’s eastern and western states would have scarcely overcome the resistance put up by the high-ranking military officials and conservative politicians that had risen to their posts over the long decades of the Cold War.

The French leader appears to understand the need to link the INF Treaty issue with the new political project. Yet the only thing Emmanuel Macron has ready for this project so far is the pretty slogan about creating “a common Europe stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok”. The problem is: slogans have little credibility in today’s Russia. In fact, this precise slogan has already been pushed for the last thirty years, while the reaction of Moscow’s western partners has been sceptical and wary at best, and at worst there was no reaction. So it is only logical that the French President’s statement has not generated much enthusiasm in Russia.

Similarly, Macron’s statements about the need to achieve “strategic autonomy” for Europe are taken with more than a grain of salt. Other European leaders, from Angela Merkel to Federica Mogherini, have convincingly invoked this autonomy many times before Macron, but tangible progress in this direction is yet to be seen. Macron’s idea to tear Russia from “China’s embrace” and return it to the “European family” is also unlikely to find many supporters among the current Russian political leaders.

To win over sceptics, engage the indifferent and inspire hope in enthusiasts, the lofty call to build a new “Greater Europe” must be accompanied by detailed and elaborate blueprints. The name of the project may be changed as work on the blueprints gets underway: instead of the vague contours of a “Greater Europe”, we will see, emerging from a thick fog, the imposing stature of a “Greater Eurasia.”

From our partner RIAC

Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council.

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EU: The stalemate in negotiations brings Serbia ever closer to Russia and China

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Serbia has been waiting since 2012 for the European Union to respond to its application to become a full member of the EU.

In spite of exhausting negotiations, this response is slow in coming and the main cause of the stalemate has a clear name: Kosovo. Before accepting Serbia’s application for membership, the EU requires a definitive solution to the relations between Serbia and that region that broke away from it after the 1999 conflict – when NATO came to the aid of the Kosovo Albanians – and proclaimed its independence in February 2008.

Serbia has never recognised the birth of the Kosovo Republic, just as many other important countries have not: out of 193 UN members, only 110 have formally accepted the birth of the new republic, while the rest, including Russia, China, Spain, Greece and Romania – to name just the most important ones – refuse to recognise the independence of the Albanians of what was once a region of Serbia.

The European Union cannot accept that one of its members is in fact unable to guarantee control over its borders, as would be the case for Serbia if its membership were accepted.

In fact, since the end of the war between Kosovo and Serbia, there is no clear and controlled border between the two countries. In order to avoid continuous clashes, Kosovo and Serbia have actually left the border open, turning a blind eye to the ‘smuggling economy’ that thrives on both sides of the border.

In this situation, if Serbia were to become a full member of the European Union, it would create a gap in the borders of the entire Schengen area, as anyone passing through Kosovo could then move into all EU countries.This is not the only obstacle to Serbia’s accession to the European

Union: many European chancelleries are wary of Serbian foreign policy which, since the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation, has maintained a privileged relationship with Russia, refusing to adhere to the sanctions decided by Europe against Russia after the annexation of Crimea to the detriment of Ukraine.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Serbia even agreed to produce the Russian vaccine ‘Sputnik V’ directly in its own laboratories, blatantly snubbing EU’s vaccine offer.

For the United States and some important European countries, Serbia’s formal accession to the European Union could shift the centre of gravity of Europe’s geopolitics towards the East, opening a preferential channel for dialogue between Russia and the European Union through Serbia.

This possibility, however, is not viewed unfavourably by Germany which, in the intentions of the CDU President, Armin Laschet, the next candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as Chancellor, has recently declared he is in favour of a foreign policy that “develops in multiple directions”, warning his Western partners of the danger resulting from “the interruption of the dialogue with Russia and China”. In this regard, Laschet has publicly stated that ‘foreign policy must always focus on finding ways to interact, including cooperation with countries that have different social models from ours, such as Russia, China and the nations of the Arab world’.

Today we do not know whether in autumn Laschet will take over the leadership of the most powerful country in the European Union, but what is certain is that Serbia’s possible formal membership of the European Union could force Europe to revise some of its foreign policy stances, under the pressure of a new Serbian-German axis.

Currently, however, Serbia’s membership of the European Union still seems a long way off, precisely because of the stalemate in the Serbia-Kosovo negotiations.

In 2013 Kosovo and Serbia signed the so-called ‘Brussels Pact’, an agreement optimistically considered by European diplomats to be capable of rapidly normalising relations between Serbia and Kosovo, in view of mutual political and diplomatic recognition.

An integral part of the agreement was, on the one hand, the commitment of Kosovo’s authorities to recognise a high degree of administrative autonomy to the Kosovo municipalities inhabited by a Serb majority and, on the other hand, the collaboration of the Serbs in the search for the remains of the thousands of Kosovar Albanians presumably eliminated by Milosevic’s troops during the repression that preceded the 1999 war.

Neither of the two commitments has so far been fulfilled and, during the meeting held in Brussels on July 21 between Serbian President Alexander Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti, harsh words and reciprocal accusations were reportedly exchanged concerning the failure to implement the ‘Pact’, to the extent that the Head of European foreign policy, Josep Borrel, publicly asked the two parties to ‘close the chapter of a painful past through a legally binding agreement on the normalisation of mutual relations, with a view to building a European future for its citizens’. This future seems nebulous, to say the least, if we consider that Serbia, in fact, refuses to recognise the legal value of degrees and diplomas awarded by the Kosovo academic authorities also to members of the Kosovo Serb minority.

Currently, however, both contenders are securing support and alliances in Europe and overseas.

Serbia is viewed favourably by the current President of the European Union, Slovenian Janez Jansa, who is a supporter of its membership because “this would definitively mark the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation”. The vast majority of European right-wing parties, ranging from the French ‘Rassemblement National’ to the Hungarian ‘Fydesz’, also approve of Serbia’s membership application and openly court the Serbian minorities living in their respective countries while, after the years of US disengagement from the Balkans under Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump, the Biden administration has decided to put the region back on the list of priority foreign policy commitments, entrusting the ‘Serbia dossier’ to the undersecretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Matthew Palmer, an authoritative and experienced diplomat.

With a view to supporting its application for European membership, Serbia has also deployed official lobbyists.

Last June, Natasha Dragojilovic Ciric’s lobbying firm ND Consulting officially registered in the so-called EU ‘transparency register’ to promote support for Serbia’s membership. ND is financed by a group of international donors and is advised by Igor Bandovic, former researcher at the American Gallup and Head of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, by lawyer Katarina Golubovic of the ‘Committee of Human Rights Lawyers’ and Jovana Spremo, former OSCE consultant.

These are the legal experts deployed by Serbia in Brussels to support its application for formal European integration, but in the meantime Serbia is not neglecting its “eastern” alliances.

Earlier this month, the Head of the SVR, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergey Naryshkin, paid an official visit to Belgrade, a few weeks after the conclusion of a joint military exercise between Russian special forces (the “Spetznaz”) and Serbian special forces.

In the Serbian capital, Naryshkin not only met his Serbian counterpart Bratislav Gasic, Head of the ‘Bezbednosno Informativna Agencija’, the small but powerful Serbian secret service, but was also received by the President of the Republic Alexander Vucic with the aim of publicising the closeness between Serbia and Russia.

The timing of the visit coincides with the resumption of talks in Brussels on Serbia’s accession to the European Union and can clearly be considered as instrumental in exerting subtle diplomatic pressure aimed at convincing the European Union of the possibility that, in the event of a refusal, Serbia may decide to definitely turn its back on the West and ally with an East that is evidently more willing to treat the Serbs with the dignity and attention that a proud and tenacious people believes it deserves.

A piece of news confirming that Serbia is ready to turn its back on the West, should Europe continue to postpone the decision on its accession to the European Union is the fact that China has recently signed a partnership agreement with Serbia in the field of pharmaceutical research, an agreement that makes Serbia one of China’s current largest commercial partners on the European continent.

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NATO’s Cypriot Trick

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UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Warsaw Pact died, there was much speculation that NATO would consider itself redundant and either disappear or at least transmogrify into a less aggressive body.

Failing that, Moscow at least felt assured that NATO would not include Germany, let alone expand eastwards. Even the NATO Review, NATO’s PR organ, wrote self-apologetically twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin wall: “Thus, the debate about the enlargement of NATO evolved solely in the context of German reunification. In these negotiations Bonn and Washington managed to allay Soviet reservations about a reunited Germany remaining in NATO. This was achieved by generous financial aid, and by the ‘2+4 Treaty’ ruling out the stationing of foreign NATO forces on the territory of the former East Germany. However, it was also achieved through countless personal conversations in which Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders were assured that the West would not take advantage of the Soviet Union’s weakness and willingness to withdraw militarily from Central and Eastern Europe.”

Whatever the polemics about Russia’s claim that NATO broke its promises, the facts of what happened following the fall of the Berlin wall and the negotiations about German re-unification strongly demonstrate that Moscow felt cheated and that the NATO business and military machine, driven by a jingoistic Cold War Britain, a selfish U.S. military-industrial-congressional complex and an atavistic Russia-hating Poland, saw an opportunity to become a world policeman.

This helps to explain why, in contrast to Berlin, NATO decided to keep Nicosia as the world’s last divided city. For Cyprus is in fact NATO’s southernmost point, de facto. And to have resolved Cyprus’ problem by heeding UN resolutions and getting rid of all foreign forces and re-unifying the country would have meant that NATO would have ‘lost’ Cyprus: hardly helpful to the idea of making NATO the world policeman. Let us look a little more closely at the history behind this.

Following the Suez debacle in 1956, Britain had already moved its Middle East Headquarters from Aden to Cyprus, while the U.S. was taking over from the UK and France in the Middle East. Although, to some extent under U.S. pressure, Britain was forced to bring Makarios out of exile and begin negotiating with Greece and Turkey to give up its colony, the U.S. opted for a NATO solution. It would not do to have a truly sovereign Cyprus, but only one which accepted the existence of the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) as part and parcel of any settlement; and so it has remained, whatever the sophistic semantics about a bizonal settlement and a double-headed government. The set of twisted and oft-contradictory treaties that have bedevilled the island since 1960 are still afflicting the part-occupied island which has been a de facto NATO base since 1949. Let us look at some more history.

When Cyprus obtained its qualified independence in 1960, Greece and Turkey had already signed, on 11 February 1959, a so called ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’, agreeing that they would support Cyprus’ entry into NATO.1 This was, however, mere posture diplomacy, since Britain—and the U.S. for that matter—did not trust Cyprus, given the strength of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) and the latter’s links to Moscow. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) wrote: ‘Membership of NATO might make it easier for the Republic of Cyprus and possibly for the Greeks and Turks to cause political embarrassment should the United Kingdom wish to use the bases […] for national ends outside Cyprus […] The access of the Cypriot Government to NATO plans and documents would present a serious security risk, particularly in view of the strength of the Cypriot Communist Party. […] The Chiefs of Staff, therefore, feel most strongly that, from the military point of view, it would be a grave disadvantage to admit Cyprus to NATO.’2 In short, Cyprus was considered unreliable.

As is well known, the unworkable constitution (described as such by the Foreign Office and even by David Hannay, the Annan reunification plan’s PR man), resulted in chaos and civil strife: in January 1964, during the chaos caused by the Foreign Office’s help and encouragement to President Makarios to introduce a ‘thirteen point plan’ to solve Cyprus’ problems, British Prime Minister Douglas-Home told the Cabinet: ‘If the Turks invade or if we are seriously prevented from fulfilling our political role, we have made it quite clear that we will retire into base.’3 Put more simply, Britain had never had any intention of upholding the Treaty of Guarantee.

In July of the same year, the Foreign Office wrote: ‘The Americans have made it quite clear that there would be no question of using the 6th Fleet to prevent any possible Turkish invasion […] We have all along made it clear to the United Nations that we could not agree to UNFICYP’s being used for the purpose of repelling external intervention, and the standing orders to our troops outside UNFYCYP are to withdraw to the sovereign base areas immediately any such intervention takes place.’4

It was mainly thanks to Moscow and President Makarios that in 1964 a Turkish invasion and/or the island being divided between Greece and Turkey was prevented. Such a solution would have strengthened NATO, since Cyprus would no longer exist other than as a part of NATO members Greece and Turkey. Moscow had issued the following statement: ‘The Soviet Government hereby states that if there is an armed foreign invasion of Cypriot territory, the Soviet Union will help the Republic of Cyprus to defend its freedom and independence against foreign intervention.’5

Privately, Britain, realising the unworkability of the 1960 treaties, was embarrassed, and wished to relieve itself of the whole problem. The following gives us the backstage truth: ‘The bases and retained sites, and their usefulness to us, depend in large measure on Greek Cypriot co-operation and at least acquiescence. A ‘Guantanamo’6 position is out of the question. Their future therefore must depend on the extent to which we can retain Greek and/or Cypriot goodwill and counter USSR and UAR pressures. There seems little doubt, however, that in the long term, our sovereign rights in the SBA’s will be considered increasingly irksome by the Greek Cypriots and will be regarded as increasingly anachronistic by world public opinion.7

Following the Turkish invasion ten years later, Britain tried to give up its bases: ‘British strategic interests in Cyprus are now minimal. Cyprus has never figured in NATO strategy and our bases there have no direct NATO role. The strategic value of Cyprus to us has declined sharply since our virtual withdrawal from east of Suez. This will remain the case when the Suez Canal has reopened.8

A Cabinet paper concluded: ‘Our policy should continue to be one of complete withdrawal of our military presence on Cyprus as soon as feasible. […] In the circumstances I think that we should make the Americans aware of our growing difficulty in continuing to provide a military presence in Cyprus while sustaining our main contribution to NATO. […]9

Britain kept trying to give up the bases, but the enabler of the Turkish invasion, Henry Kissinger, did not allow Britain to give up its bases and listening posts, since that would have weakened NATO, and since Kissinger needed the bases because of the Arab-Israel dispute.10

Thus, by the end of 1980, in a private about-turn, Britain had completely succumbed to American pressure: ‘The benefits which we derive from the SBAs are of major significance and virtually irreplaceable. They are an essential contribution to the Anglo-American relationship. The Department have regularly considered with those concerned which circumstances in Cyprus are most conducive to our retaining unfettered use of our SBA facilities. On balance, the conclusion is that an early ‘solution’ might not help (since pressures against the SBAs might then build up), just as breakdown and return to strife would not, and that our interests are best served by continuing movement towards a solution – without the early prospect of arrival [author’s italics]11.

And so it is today: Cyprus is a de facto NATO territory. A truly independent, sovereign and united Cyprus is an anathema to the U.S. and Britain, since such a scenario would afford Russia the hypothetical opportunity to increase its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean.

From our partner RIAC

[1] Ministry of Defence paper JP (59) 163, I January 1960, BNA DEFE 13/99/MO/5/1/5, in Mallinson, William, Cyprus, a Modern History, I.B. Tauris (now Bloomsbury), London and New York, 2005, 2009, 2012, p.49.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Memorandum by Prime Minister, 2 January 1964, BNA CAB/129/116, in ibid, Mallinson, William, p.37.

[4] British Embassy, Washington, to Foreign Office, 7 July 1964, telegram 8541, BNA FO 371/174766, file C1205/2/G, in ibid.’, Mallinson, William, p. 37.

[5] Joseph, Joseph S., Cyprus, Ethnic Conflict and International Politics, St Martin’s Press, London and New York, 1997, p. 66.

[6] In 1964, Cuba cut off supplies to the American base at Guantanamo Bay, since the US refused to return it to Cuba, as a result of which the US took measures to make it self-sufficient.

[7] Briefing paper, 18 June 1964, BNA-DO/220/170, file MED 193/105/2, part A. Mallinson,William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p. 127.

[8] ‘British Interests in the Eastern Mediterranean’, draft paper, 11 April 1975, BNA-FCO 46/1248, file DPI/515/1.

[9] Cabinet paper, 29 September 1976, in op. cit. Mallinson, William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p.134.

[10] Mallinson, William, Britain and Cyprus: Key Themes and Documents, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2011, and Bloomsbury, London and New York, 2020, pp. 87-121.

[11] Fergusson to Foreign Minister’s Private Secretary, minute, 8 December 1980, BNA-FCO 9/2949, file WSC/023/1, part C.

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Belarus divorces from the Eastern Partnership: A new challenge for the EU Neighborhood Policy

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The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is the Eastern dimension of the EU Neighborhood Policy adopted back in 2009 aimed at deepening relations between Brussels and six Eastern European partners – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The EaP has been regarded as a strategic initiative based on mutual interests and common values with a goal of strengthening political and economic relations with those countries, helping them enhance their institutional capacity through sustainable reforms. While increasing stability and paving the way for the sustainable development of those societies, the EU’s overall goal has been to secure its Eastern borders.

Since the very beginning the EaP has been suspiciously viewed by Russia as an attempt of expansion of the sphere of influence and as a first step of EU membership of these countries. Russians point to the EU and NATO ambitious expansion eastward as the main reason for complicated relations and in this context the EaP has been regarded with traditional fears and paranoic perceptions. The Russian hard power approach causes serious problems for the EaP which fails to mitigate security concerns of partner countries and to come up with serious initiatives for conflict settlement. Being a laggard in terms of soft power, the Russian ruling elite has continuously used all hard power foreign policy instruments at its disposal trying to undermine the coherence of the initiative. And the very recent démarche of Belarus to withdraw from the EaP should be seen in this context of confrontation.

On 28th of June, the ministry of foreign affairs of Belarus announced a decision to halt its membership in the EaP as a response to the EU sanctions imposed on Minsk accompanied by the recalling ambassadors from both sides. Actually, this isn’t the first case of the EaP walkout blackmailed by Lukashenko. The first escape was attempted in September-October 2011, but the difficulties were soon resolved and Lukashenko revised his decision. This time situation seems very complicated and these far-reaching tensions may have tough consequences for Lukashenko’s regime. This new group of sectoral sanctions which target banking, oil, telecommunication spheres and also ban the export of potash, is a harsh response from the EU against Lukashneko’s scandalous hijacking activity in May to detain a Belarusian opposition journalist and blogger Roman Protasevich.

Lukashenko’s administration not only challenges the EU Neighborhood Policy and shows no retreat, but also goes forward escalating the situation. Minsk takes high risks freezing the Readmission Agreement signed by the EU. This document is a legal basis for bilateral cooperation aimed at struggling against irregular migration flows. It’s not a secret that the territory of Belarus has been used for illegal migration for the groups from the Middle East to penetrate into neighboring EU member states such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Moreover, Belarus territory has served as a transit route for smuggling circles going from East to West and vice versa.  And now closing eyes on all these channels, Minsk hopes to increase the bargaining power vis-à-vis Brussels. However, given the Western reactions, it seems that this time the EU is resolute.

Despite the fact that Charles Michel, the President of the EU Council, described this withdrawal as “another step backwards” and even threatened that “this will escalate tensions having clear negative impacts”, the EU wants to continue working with the Belarusian society  as Josep Borrel stated. The EU’s determination to keep the bridges alive with the Belarusian people, in spite of Lukashneko’s radical stance, is aimed at preventing further isolationism of Minsk which would benefit only Russia.

In contrast to the increasing level of tensions with the EU, the Russian authorities continue to support Lukasheno’s administration, thus trying to deepen the gap and to bring Belarus under their total influence. Russia uses Belarus in its chessboard with the EU and the USA in Eastern Europe. Last year’s fraud elections and brutal crackdown by Lukashenko left him alone with the only source of power stemming from the Kremlin. Thus the withdrawal from the EaP should be understood not only as a convulsion of the Belarusian authorities in response to the sanctions, but also Russia’s employment of the Belarus card to respond to the recent joint statement of the EU-US summit in Brussels, when both parties declared their intention to stand with the people of Belarus, supporting their demands for human rights and democracy simultaneously criticising Lukashenko’s regime and his reckless political behavior and also criticising Russian’s unacceptable behavior.

So, Lukashenko’s step to quit the EaP can be seen as a well-calculated adulatory sign towards Moscow sacrificing the last remnants of sovereignty in order to receive financial and political lifebuoy amid the increasing crisis in the result of sanctions.  And the recent visit of N. Patrushev, the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, to Minsk right after the withdrawal decision shows Russian inclination to strike while the iron is hot and to abuse the vulnerable situation of Belarus. Patrushev stated that the ultimate goal of foreign powers is to change the power in Belarus and he suggested instead of focusing on internal issues, to bring their forces together against external threats as their influence affects internal developments. For this reason, deeper integration of security and military services of both countries are on the table.

The reaction of opposition leader S. Tikhanovskaya was very rough, stating that this suspension will cut the opportunities of ordinary citizens who benefit from the political and economic outcomes of the EaP. Moreover, she claims that Lukashenko doesn’t have a right to represent Belarus since August 2020 and his decisions don’t have legal consequences for Belarus. This kind of approach is shared by the leadership of Lithuania too, whose president and minister of foreign affairs not only refuse to recognize Lukashenko as a legitimate president, but also highlight the role of the Kremlin in supporting the dictatorial power of Lukashenko in exchange for decreasing sovereignty.

The blackmail of Lukashenko to challenge the EU Eastern Neighborhood Policy  in order to have the sanctions lifted may bring about such kind of precedents with other partnering countries as well. First of all, this concerns Azerbaijan which continues to face serious problems related with human rights, freedom of expression, the problem of Prisoners of War and other traits of authoritarian power. It’s well-known that  human rights issues have been the underwater stones in the EU and Azerbaijan relations and they continue to pose new challenges for Aliyev’s non-democratice regime. Another weak ring of the EaP chain is Armenia. Even though reelected N. Pashinyan is eager to pursue a balanced foreign policy, post-war Armenia still faces serious limitations given its vulnerable dependence on Russia. Besides, Pashinyan’s main rival and the former President R. Kocharyan, whose alliance will be the second largest faction in the newly elected Parliament has recently stated that this new parliament can last up to one and half years and nobody can exclude the possibility of new snap elections. His pro-Russian attitude and anti-Western stance are well-known and in case he becomes a prime-minister, there is no guarantee that he will follow the path of Lukashenko. 

Therefore  the statement of the Austrian MFA, that ”we cannot leave South Caucasus to others” during the  recent official visit of the Austrian, Romanian and Latvian MFA under the mandate of the EU High Representative to the South Caucasus, reminds  about the EU presence in the region and also the fact that the ‘normative power’ can be a source of balance and a status quo changer.

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The oceans have long been recognized as one of the world’s valuable natural resources, and our well-being is tied to...

Uncategorized11 hours ago

The day France fustigated Big Tech: How Google ended up in the crosshair and what will follow

At the beginning of April 2019, the European Parliament approved the EU’s unified regulation on copyright and related rights. Since...

Middle East13 hours ago

Politics by Other Means: A Case Study of the 1991 Gulf War

War has been around since the dawn of man and is spawned by innate human characteristics. Often, when efforts at...

Economy15 hours ago

The Monetary Policy of Pakistan: SBP Maintains the Policy Rate

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) announced its bi-monthly monetary policy yesterday, 27th July 2021. Pakistan’s Central bank retained the...

Intelligence17 hours ago

China and Russia’s infiltration of the American Jewish and Israeli lobbies

 – First: The reasons for the registration of (Communist Lobbyists in the Middle East in the United States of America)...

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