On 14 February, Modern Diplomacy published “What Russia Wants In The Balkans” by Prof. Zlatko Hadzidedic. Whilst the esteemed professor stops short of providing a definitive answer to this question, his piece seeks to surreptitiously score a few points. First, it makes a masquerade of Balkan history by describing Russia’s regional influence as entirely simulated. Secondly, it tries to associate Moscow and Ankara to then exploits the inveterate ‘fear of the Turks’ to cast this “castrated” Russia as an existential menace to the geopolitical status quo in Europe. To be fair, prof. Hadzidedic does not conclude its piece claiming to have a definitive answer to this question. Yet, his entire argumentation hints in a rather specific direction, suggestion a rather maladroit reading of the facts. The purpose of this response is to start a respectful dialogue around this issue, as the writer finds some short-comings in his argumentation that might seek to progress the debate on geo-politics and geo-economics in the Balkans.
Introduction, or what’s the fuss about?
Needless to say, “What Russia Wants In The Balkans” seems to bite off more than anyone can chew. In a sense, the text’s inconclusiveness suggests that the author himself is well aware of it. After all, no analyst – and, probably, not even policymakers themselves – can pretend to know what Russia’s endgame in the region is. To be fair, prof. Hadzidedic does not conclude its piece claiming to have a definitive answer to this question. Yet, his entire argumentation hints in a rather specific direction, suggesting a rather maladroit reading of the facts.
Figure 1 Retired Serbian army men showing their support for Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Serbia in January 2019 © Radio Sarajevo
The two parts of this essay address some of the least consensual points of that column. First, §1 takes a historical look at alleged ‘Western’ attempts to throw sand in Russia’s eyes in the Balkans. The, §2 addresses the issue of Russia’s alleged “simulation of influence” over Serbia. Based on (arguably wrong) historical assumptions, the Author leads the reader to worry about the risk of Russia’s quest for real control over the region leading to a disastrous new war. Finally, §3 debunks the possibility that, with Russia’s condescendence, Turkey may destabilise the regional order and affirm itself as a major power in the Western Balkans by using Bosnia and Albania as proxies.
The century-old anti-Russian plot
Hadzidedic argues that ever since the 19th century, Russia has put vain efforts in steering Balkan politics towards a certain direction. In reality, London – with Paris’s and, later, Washington’s support – deceived Moscow by acting as the “true patron” of local elites in the pivotal moments of independence struggles and the wars of the 1990s.
Independence struggles in the 19th century
On independence movements, Hadzidedic’s stance can be summarised with a few quotations. First, Russia has never had any real influence in the region. It was the strategic interest of “West European powers” that determined the course of history.
True, France and England wanted to expand their colonial empires on Ottoman lands. But they had little reason to seek Austria-Hungary’s ruin. On the contrary, Britain had somewhat of a preference for Vienna in its confrontation with Moscow over the Balkans.
Meanwhile, Russia was set to gain from the fall of both Istanbul’s and Vienna’s empires. The Russians fought countless small wars against the Ottomans to gaining control over the Caucasus, free access to the Mediterranean Sea as well as acquired territories on the Caspian and Black-Sea basins— which Austria also aspired to. Moreover, Moscow craved at least a harbour on the Mediterranean, a scenario London never accepted. Hence, it was pitted against Austria in the Balkans and against Britain in the Mediterranean.
The dissolution of Yugoslavia
Hadzidedic’s bases his account of the Yugoslav Wars on this assumed lack of any reality behind Russia’s standing in the region. Consequently, his analysis of Serbia’s war crimes and their impact on regional stability are dubious at least. Assuming that France and the UK are the only key actors, the Author underlines the “continuous support” they had secretly offered Serbia. True, England and France had opposed Germany’s attempt to recognise Croatia’s independence as long as they could. Izetbegovic, Milosevic, Tudjman bear responsibility. And, so do the thousands of fighters recruited from all parties in conflicts. From the war criminals of Vukovar and Musala to the authors of massacres during OperacijaOluja, in Srebrenica and Križančevo. Yet, those “gigantic campaigns of ethnic cleansing” are blamed on no in particular, making it seem likely that external interference alone made war atrocities possible — with a surely-unintended exculpation of local political and military leaders.
Meanwhile, Hadzidedic gives a much distortive account of the “narratives” around the Yugoslav Wars in which Russia’s support for Serbia and the Islamist presence in Bosnia become focal points. Thence came the image of “clashing ‘civilizations’,” as Huntington would have put it. True, western media played a key role in consolidating these frames by characterising “all Bosnians, whatever their religion, as ‘Muslims’,” and prof. Hadzidedic is right to remind it once again. But such a practice was far from an instrument of psycho-warfare. On the contrary, accounts of chaos, disruption and confusion overwhelmed Western imaginariesfrom the White House to the suburbs of Western Europe. Most media clearly presented reports of war crimes being committed by Bosnian Serbs against Bosnian Muslims. One can argue whether this distinction casted the former apart from the rest of the Bosnian polity, thus reproducing divisions. Still, that is a different issue. If there was a ‘clash of civilisations’-sort of narrative, it was fraught with incomplete and imperfect reports. Clear-cut distinctions failed to materialise in a collective subconscious dominated by the idea of unjustifiable Rwanda-like, mass violence.
Finally, it is untrue that Yeltsin’s foreign policy generated “a public image of Russia as a promoter of pan-Orthodox ideology.” As eminent scholars have argued, Moscow’s foreign policy in this period was rather trendless. Yeltsin was trying to bring Russia back to ‘Europe’ while failing to understand that ‘its’ idea of Europe had died. Hadzidedic also supposes an “Anglo-American strategy of drawing Russia into inter-religious conflicts in Central Asia, in line with Huntington’s theory”. Yet, the facts argue against such a theory. If anything, “the refusal of the West to help Chechnya during the war” reveals the opposite intention. Some may have auspicated for Russia to remain ‘weak’ for years to come. But no one wanted the former-Soviet nuclear arsenal to fall in the hands of unknown local feudatories and extremists.
The Balkans are not a playground
In Hadzidedic’s narrative, “it is highly questionable how influential Russia really is in Serbia, despite its public support for it.”Actually, one can agree with the premise of this statement (and only partly so), but not with its corollary. True, Moscow’s backing for Belgrade’s rather adversarial stances vis-à-vis its neighbours has not bought much loyalty. Hence, acute observers agree that Russia has little actual effect on Serbia’s international policies Yet, what Hadzidedic misses on is both Balkan States’ own initiatives and China’s looming shadow. In fact, the region faces a metaphorical geostrategic crossroad summarisable in the trilemma: (1) Russia, (2) NATO and the EU or a (3) risingChina ?
Here the determining variable is perceived national interest and/or local leaderships’ self-interest. These two principles inform the oftentimes incoherent, indecisive and volatile outcomes of Western-Balkan countries’ foreign policy. In this sense, analysis striving to be up-to-date in the 2020s must acknowledge that, in the Balkans, the ‘great game’ is turning multipolar. Thus, medium-sized States in the region enjoy an in viable degree of freedom. As shown below, multipolarity makes each external actor more vulnerable to local contingencies and leaders’ changeable orientations.
Regarding Russia, one thing is clear:
The symbolic gestures and pro-Russian exhortations many Serbian politicians overindulge in mean very little when the reality is that the [Serbian government elites] have signed a number of agreements with NATO over the past few years […].
Therefore, there surely is a simulation of influence on Russia’s part. However, contrarily to what Hadzidedic argues, the hyperbolic accentuation of the Russo-Serb friendship is not a show set up to deceive the US. More than a mere Russian tactic, this narrative is a double*edged sword that regional actors can use to play all sides of the trilemma against each other.
For instance, the scarecrow of Russia’s incursions in the region exacerbates concern that the EU may be losing ground. In Montenegro and Macedonia, this mechanism has led to a flood of EU funds which local elites appreciated.
The EU and NATO
Hadzidedic downplays EU integration as a slow, but steady and inevitable mechanism working in the background. In his view, former-Yugoslav countries’ accession to the EU looks a bit like an ineluctable leap of faith “driven by national interest.” After all, in non-EU countries citizens’ welfare should benefit from joining the Union. Yet, the EU is becoming unpopular amongst large popular strata. Thus, it is not surprising at all that the enlargement process has become more unpredictable and its outcomes unreliable.
To oil the gears of the enlargement machinery, the EU resorts to ‘buy’ local consensus bestowing billions in grants. Furthermore, Brussels has also exploited the pandemic to pull non-EU States closer by granting more money and free vaccines. Thus, Sofia has promised vaccines to Skopje; Athens to Skopje and Tirana; Bucharest to Chisinau; and the Commission to Bosnia, Kosovo and even Ukraine.
Finally, China’s rise in the region is what Hadzidedic’s analysis completely omits. In effect, Central- and South-Eastern European countries exploited the pandemic to widen their room for manoeuvring between the poles of the trilemma. Hence, non-EU and EU member States in Eastern Europe are reaping this opportunity to enlarge the wedge between external powers. For instance, Hungary has just received 500,000 doses of Chinese Sinovac’s vaccines against the EU’s advice. It is not random that the same country recently signed a new contract with RosAtom — Russia’s State-owned nuclear-energy conglomerate.
Meanwhile, the EU has failed on multiple levels with its non-member neighbours. First, it did not manage to impose its political conditionality on Serbia in exchange for the transfer of vaccines. On the contrary, Serbia outperformed the EU in vaccination per capita “thanks to the Chinese and Russian vaccines.” Brussels’ ineptitude has led to an increase in Russia’s and China’s political and economic clout due to their ability to make good on vaccine delivery. These are the cases, besides Serbia, of Bosnia, Moldova and Montenegro. Meanwhile, Serbia more than fulfilled Bulgaria’s failed promise of delivering vaccine doses to North Macedonia. In doing so, it is shifting away from Russia’s preferred stance of principled hostility towards neighbours. At the same time, Belgrade is rowing against Brussels’ desiderata and becoming a reliable regional partner that does not bow to the EU’s normative power.
The limits of Russia-Turkey cooperation
In the last paragraph, Hadzidedic poses a question that finally reveals his preoccupation with the region’s future. Overall, the Author seems worried about the possible consequences of Russia’s imagined change of heart in the Balkans. He fears that Moscow might trick Serbia into igniting pre-extant tensions, plunging the region into another calamity.
The intervening variable that should explain the causation of these catastrophes is the alleged “tacit strategic alliance between Russia and Turkey.” Thus, it is necessary to debunk this quasi-conspiratorial theory by tackling its implicit assumptions: (i) Russo-Turkish military cooperation; (ii) peer-to-peer relations; and (iii) Turkey’s ability to pursue a proactive foreign policy.
The military history of a non-alliance
True, Moscow was not overly supportive of Armenia during the last war with Azerbaijan. Yet, in building a comparison between Nagorno-Karabakh and Kosovo, Armenia should be placed in the EU’s shoes — not Serbia’s, and by far. Moreover, searching for similarities between the two cases is a misguided quest.
In addition, a fairly strong argument could be made that Libya and Syria disprove the existence of such an “alliance.” After all, neither Russia nor Turkey have a real long-term plan to enact after the civil war subsides in these two countries.
Ankara is not as ‘great’ of a power as Moscow is
For these reasons, instances of bilateral dialogue have not “elevated Turkey to the status of a great power.” Nor could they do it, since Moscow does not boast the international stature to raise Ankara to that status. Actually, Russia is already punching above its weight on the international stage, and its dwarf economy shackles the country to the rank of co-primary actor beside the US and China, the two real superpowers.
Turkey’s looming economic crisis
Finally, standing on the verge of bankruptcy, Turkey is facing a difficult phase of its trajectory under Erdogan. It is highly unlikely that in such dire budgetary conditions Ankara would stage a large-scale subversion of the international order. Furthermore, Turkey cannot stand on the international stage with the resolve Russia can rightfully claim thanks to its nuclear arsenal.
Thus, any worry of Kosovo being absorbed into Albania with Turkey’s placet and Russia’s condescendence is vain: Pristina is not another Sevastopol.
Forecast: great-power competition in South Eastern Europe beyond former Yugoslavia
Against this background, whatever Russia does or does not do, peace in the region will not depend on it. There are many countries in the Balkans. A few of them have limited chances of pursuing a truly autonomous foreign policy, even despite international recognition. EU membership poses strong constraints on others’ ability to do so, while the dependency on EU funds fetters many. Serbia may look to be an exception since it has managed to float somewhere in the middle without fully relying on the West, Russia or China. Yet, its foreign policy cannot but adapt to its partners’ and neighbours’ policies.
Concerns for the future of the region are rarely unwarranted and it is hard to overstate them. But this is where Hadzidedic’s piece exceeds most measures of caution. First, it fails to understand the Balkans as a region that goes beyond former Yugoslavia. Then, it adopts a monolithic view of politics in which great powers play pool while everyone else is a ball. This rigid framework bulldozes nuances and details, degrades the region to a playground and revives the ghosts of a (recent) bloody past.
Many challenges lie ahead. Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece and Romania are struggling to navigate the pandemic. Bosnia and Kosovo have to deal with uncertain statehood while sharing with North Macedonia, Montenegro, Moldova and Serbia an oligarchic and backward economy. Albania and North Macedonia are waiting on the EU’s doorstep with no real assurance of effective membership. Yet, each of these risks hide a correlative opportunity. Publications like Modern diplomacy should contribute to laymen’s and investors’ knowledge of the region to emphasise those key, realistic focal points. This is the effort to which this piece wants to offer a contribution.
The Author thanks Dr. Fabio Bettanin, Professor of Contemporary Russian and Eastern-European History at the University of Naples “l’Orientale” for his valuable contributions to this article.
NATO’s Cypriot Trick
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
 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.
 Memorandum by Prime Minister, 2 January 1964, BNA CAB/129/116, in ibid, Mallinson, William, p.37.
 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.
 Joseph, Joseph S., Cyprus, Ethnic Conflict and International Politics, St Martin’s Press, London and New York, 1997, p. 66.
 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.
 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.
 ‘British Interests in the Eastern Mediterranean’, draft paper, 11 April 1975, BNA-FCO 46/1248, file DPI/515/1.
 Cabinet paper, 29 September 1976, in op. cit. Mallinson, William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p.134.
 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.
 Fergusson to Foreign Minister’s Private Secretary, minute, 8 December 1980, BNA-FCO 9/2949, file WSC/023/1, part C.
Belarus divorces from the Eastern Partnership: A new challenge for the EU Neighborhood Policy
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.
Anti-Macron protests underline classism, as corona protesters and gilets jaune join forces
I get it. People in France are fed up with the Covid lockdowns and that’s why they are protesting against the new tightening of the Covid rules. But there is much more to the story.
The new anti-Covid rules by French President Macron came in the middle of the Cannes Film Festival where the rich and famous come out to play for 10 days at the French Reviera. I was there, too, in fact when the new set of rules angered so many ordinary French people. But guess what — the rules didn’t apply to us, those gathered for the Cannes red carpets and parties. Celebrities did not have to wear masks on the red carpet. I did not have to put on a mask at the red carpets. I was not checked even once on the mandatory Covid tests which we took every 2 days anyways. No one at the Cannes red carpets, parties or fashion shows was looking at Covid tests at the entrance, and I attended not one or two things. That’s at the time when the rest of France was boiling. Yes, we were treated differently as the Cannes crowd. That was obvious.
Don’t get me wrong — spending tens of thousands of euros to drink champaigne, walk red carpets and hang out with actors, models, designers and influencers is great. But I couldn’t help but notice that the Cannes elite was being held to a very different standard in comparisson to the ordinary French public. Macron exempted the Cannes crowd from the new rules and that smells of classism and elitism. I can see why the gillets gaune, which I wrote about in my book Trump, European security and Turkey (2020), are angry and want to resume their protests which were put an end to with the Covid lockdowns.
In fact, as soon as you move one or two streets away from the craze and snobbery of the Cannes Festival, you see a very different French picture. Actually, the most pleasant conversations I had in Cannes were with the guy that made my pizza at 2am, a couple of gillets jaune on the street, and the taxi driver who lives in Cannes. These were the pleasant, hard-working French people that represent France so much better than the snotty Cannes Film Festival organizers, the French police or the so-overrated snobbery at the Chopard events.
From the pizza guy in Mozarella Street I learned that he works two jobs and sleeps 3 hours per night. That’s the reality for many normal French people. Yet, he was the nicest and coolest person I met in Cannes. Somehow I wished that he could trade places with some of the rest I met in Cannes who probably don’t deserve to have an easy life and should be taught a lesson. So I get it. I get the struggle of the gillets gaune and all those that are opposed to Macron’s policies. He is increasingly playing with the far right and that might as well mean that he is looking at his sunset.
I also get the classism that persists in French society — it’s important to be aware of it even if you’re on the receiving end of a lot of glamor, bemefits and good things. All I can tell you is that next time I am in France, I am joining the gillet jaune protests. Now I really get it.
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