Janusz Bugajski, December 2015
2016 will witness the multiplication of conflicts in most major global trouble spots. Their scope and impact will test American and European capabilities in diplomacy, conflict resolution, military deterrence, and combat readiness.
President Barack Obama’s White House calculated that a withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq would end both wars. Instead, Obama’s policy has not pacified Afghanistan or prevented a resurgence of jihadism in Iraq, Syria, and other Salafist fronts. Indeed, the success of the Islamic State (IS) insurgents is drawing the US and other NATO countries back militarily into the region despite Obama’s strong reluctance to intervene.
Washington proved unable to capitalize on the Arab Spring uprisings. Instead of leading to democratic breakthroughs and the formation of Western-friendly governments, the revolts unleashed militant Islamist sentiments, exposed the territorial fragility of several states, such as Libya. Iraq, and Syria, and embroiled outside powers, including Russia, in a struggle for influence.
The Middle East is the most predictable and constant breeding ground for terrorism, separatism, violent revolutions, inter-state wars, and outside intervention. The multi-regional conflict between Sunnis and Shias and the struggle for regional dominance between Iran and Saudi Arabia are two of the core elements fuelling these conflicts. They are certain to heat up during 2016, especially as oil prices continue to fall and batter both economies.
Tehran is convinced that Washington and the Saudi government have conspired to drastically decrease global energy prices in order to bring down the clerical regime. OPEC’s decision to maintain oil extraction at current levels creates major financial problems for Tehran in particular, as well as for Moscow.
As a consequence, Iran could strike against Saudi interests by mobilizing Shia radicals against governments in Iraq, Jordan, Bahrain, and other nearby Arab states. A direct Iranian-Saudi military confrontation also cannot be excluded. Moreover, the dispute between Russia and Turkey could escalate into proxy wars, with Moscow fueling the Kurdish insurgency and Turkey supporting Circassian and other North Caucasian independence movements.
The IS insurgency will continue to unsettle the region. Even while in temporary retreat in parts of Syria and Iraq, its leaders will endeavor to spread the rebellion to other states, especially into Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Following the Paris attack, new terrorist outrages can be expected in other European capitals as IS redeploys the volunteer fighters it has recruited throughout Europe.
China will increasingly test its growing power and its maritime territorial disputes with Japan could lead to violent confrontation. Beijing is flexing its military muscles as a rising regional hegemon seeking to reduce the influence of the US and its local allies. Open conflict with Tokyo would have a major economic impact, as the two countries possess the second and third largest global economies. It can also embroil the US in direct defense of Japan and other vulnerable states such as South Korea. North Korea may also hit out against its southern neighbor if China becomes more aggressive.
Several destabilizing scenarios are also feasible in Central Asia. The two largest states, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, are facing leadership problems as neither the aging Presidents, Nursultan Nazarbayev and Islam Karimov, have designated successors. Both have controlled their countries since attaining independence 25 years ago and their departure is likely to unleash power struggles and potential domestic rebellions.
Central Asia will also be subject to spillovers from an unstable Afghanistan, whether the threats are from ethnic separatism or religious terrorism. Kazakhstan additionally confronts Putin’s Greater Russia program. Moscow can seek to capitalize on domestic instability in Kazakhstan to carve out northern regions of the country containing large Russian population. Astana may also declare the Eurasian Economic Union as an unprofitable venture and a more nationalist Kazakh administration may decide to resist Russia’s economic pressures, thus triggering a military confrontation.
The cohesiveness of the European Union will also be challenged in 2016 by growing resistance to any out-of-area military operations, by internal opposition to further enlargement and deeper integration, and by the rejection by several states of any more refugees from the Middle East.
The external Schengen border is supposed to be better defended in order for migration to take place in an orderly way by allowing in genuine refugees and excluding simple economic migrants. However, there are doubts whether Greece can defend its island borders and whether it should be ejected from Schengen. The reaction of several governments and the public to a new flood of uncontrolled refugees will seriously undermine continental unity and revive nationalist sentiments.
And last but not least, Russia is poised between expansion and implosion. The trans-Atlantic alliance will be severely tested as Russia sinks into an economic black hole largely because of the collapse of oil prices. President Putin is likely to hit out against assorted neighbors and rally the population against invented enemies. This can rapidly expand the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, and impact on regional stability in the Baltic and Black Sea regions. In the midst of an American presidential election campaign the only certainty is further conflict.
Janusz Bugajski, December 2015
The surge in support for populist Donald Trump has sent nervous shivers throughout America’s political establishment and Washington’s international allies. Despite a string of controversial statements, the New York real estate billionaire continues to lead the Republican presidential field with a committed core of supporters.
Every country has a significant minority who fall for bigotry and simple solutions. Charismatic individuals can sway gullible citizens with promises to root out enemies and create a new paradise on earth. The relative isolation of ordinary Americans from global affairs contributes to their ignorance and the ravings of Christian evangelists on TV against Muslims mirrors the fanaticism of Islamist jihadists.
From the outset of his election campaign, Trump has been deliberately controversial to gain media and public attention. In his announcement speech as a Republican candidate, he claimed that people entering the US from Mexico included “rapists, criminals, and drug dealers.” At a time when Republicans are trying to make inroads among the growing and influential Hispanic community in “swing states” such as Florida, Colorado, and Nevada, Trump’s comments were not only controversial but also counter-productive.
In response to official criticisms, Trump lashed out at his Republican rivals as “failed politicians,” claiming that he did not need to be lectured because he was independently wealthy and not beholden to any donors or special interests. Of course, he fails to mention that he is himself a “special interest” who naturally favors his own businesses.
Trump is feeding on the fear that the government cannot keep its citizens safe after the recent terrorist attack in California. To demonstrate his determination to defend Americans he proposed closing mosques and registering all of America’s Muslims. He also advocated the closure of the US border to all Muslims, an outrageous idea that appeared to cross a moral line and the principles on which the US was built.
Jihadist terrorism extends the appeal of America’s populism, which is largely based on resentment against economic competition with foreign workers. After every terrorist attack the fear of immigrants and foreigners grows and the government is blamed for its inability to prevent it.
Populists like Trump deliberately conflate immigration with terrorism and fail to point out that practically anybody can acquire an automatic weapon and go on a rampage in unguarded public places. The frequent school shootings by angry or deranged young pupils does not mean that the US should ban all young Christians from entering the country.
As the Economist recently opined, the best way to overcome xenophobic populism is economic growth and free markets not protectionism and siege mentalities. The way to defeat Islamist terrorism is to enlist the help of moderate Muslims, not to treat all of them as potentially hostile. Unfortunately, Trump’s popularity has actually increased following his irresponsible proposals. His conservative supporters are very vocal and highly mobilized. The remaining 70% of Republican voters are dispersed among other candidates but with little commitment to any of them.
Trump’s supporters claim that he is a proven winner and believe that success in business can translate into an ability to run the country. They fail to understand that the business model is not comparable to dealing with complex domestic and international issues.
Less than two months are left before the presidential nomination process begins in Iowa, New Hampshire, and then in numerous states across the country. Trump supporters are largely older, less wealthy, and less educated, and more than half are female. About a third are over the age of 65. Only 2% are younger than 30. Half of his voters have a high-school diploma, but only 19% have a college degree.
Ideologically, among Trump’s backers 20% identify as moderate, 65% as conservative, and 13% as very conservative. In sum, Trump has the backing of about a third of Republican voters, but this core is most likely to vote.
Trump’s supporters are pessimistic about the future of the country and passionately hate President Barack Obama as well as the mainstream media, which they accuse of liberal bias. They are wary of Muslims and would follow Trump in an independent presidential bid if he leaves the Republican Party before the elections.
If his disputes with Republican leaders continue, Trump may abandon the party and stand as an independent candidate or even form his own third party. This can seriously damage Republican chances in the elections, as Trump could capture the party’s most conservative voters. A Democrat victory would then seem inevitable.
In the longer term, it would be more beneficial for the Republicans to actually expel Trump from the party on the grounds of “hate speech” and fomenting religious conflicts. Such a stand would sacrifice the forthcoming elections but the party could then gain significant middle ground for standing up for principles over office. The party could then rebuild its relations with Hispanics, Muslims, and other sizeable minorities.
If Trump is nominated, as the Republican candidate the party will in any case lose the presidential elections, as the majority of Americans are unlikely to be fooled by bombastic populism. It is much better to lose with dignity than be tarred with the xenophobic brush.
Janusz Bugajski, December 2015
NATO’s invitation to Montenegro to become its 29th member is an important step forward for the North Atlantic Alliance. The Brussels ministerial on December 2 overcame any latent opposition to further NATO enlargement, demonstrated that the Alliance does not retreat in the face of Moscow’s threats, and indicated its commitment to bringing the entire Balkan peninsula under one effective security umbrella.
NATO enlargement throughout Europe’s East has enhanced security, promoted stability, encouraged investment, fostered inter-state cooperation, and helped protect against future challenges to national integrity. However, since the accession of Croatia and Albania in April 2009, NATO leaders have been reticent in bringing in qualified candidates such as Montenegro or Macedonia or even offering Membership Action Plans (MAPs) to aspirants such as Georgia and Ukraine, partly as a result of “out of area” missions and partly in attempts to pacify Russia.
After the terrorist attacks on the U.S. in 2001, NATO’s attention was riveted on Afghanistan, Iraq, and the broader Middle East. Throughout the 2000s, the European homeland was largely neglected as NATO capitals assumed that the continent was permanently safe from armed conflict. In the aftermath of Russia’s attack on Ukraine in early 2014, NATO is returning to its core mission in Europe as the primary mechanism for mutual defense against outside aggression.
In announcing Montenegro’s invitation at the foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg aimed his comments at Moscow. He underscored that every nation has the right to decide its own security arrangements and no one can interfere in that decision. Montenegro’s accession talks, or “technical negotiations,” will be completed early in 2016, but ratification by all NATO member state parliaments could take longer.
In Montenegro itself, the benefits of NATO accession must be explained more broadly, as there is still significant opposition mostly among the sizeable Serbian population. Resistance to NATO accession is predominant among Serbs for two main reasons. First, they view NATO as an organization that bombed Serbia during the war over Kosovo in 1999, and second they exhibit some latent nostalgia for Tito’s Yugoslavia and membership in the now defunct “Non-aligned Movement.” However, the era of neutrality is no longer credible, as NATO develops into a security structure for the whole of democratic Europe.
Montenegro has no constitutional obligation to hold a referendum on membership in international organizations, and indeed few NATO members have organized such a vote. Parliament is likely to decide on accepting membership and the general elections scheduled by October 2016 will become a de facto plebiscite on NATO entry.
Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin has been adamantly opposed to further NATO enlargement. Following NATO’s invitation for Montenegro, Russian officials immediately asserted that they would be forced to react. But it is unclear what steps Moscow could take, as no European state seeks membership in organizations that Russia dominates, such as the Eurasian Economic Union or the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and many former Soviet republics are seeking closer ties with the West as protection against Russia.
Quite possibly, the Kremlin may endeavor to destabilize the Western Balkans by supporting Serbian separatism in Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina or by stirring inter-ethnic conflicts in Macedonia and Kosova. But Russia possesses no committed allies in the region and even Serbia uses Russia for diplomatic and economic purposes rather than having any ideological, political, or strategic commitments to the Kremlin.
Paradoxically, the Alliance response to Russia’s aggressive words and deeds can revitalize the core mission for which NATO was created. One essential component of this mission is to bring qualified European democracies into the organization both to enhance their security and contribute to the security of the Alliance. In this strategic context, much of the Western Balkans still remain a missing piece in the NATO mosaic.
NATO interests throughout the Balkans have come into sharper relief since the onset of the war in Ukraine and the stark reality that forcible partition, territorial acquisition, and military aggression are concepts that persist into the 21st century. To counter such temptations, the entire West Balkan zone needs to join the rest of the peninsula under the NATO umbrella.
As Central Europe has demonstrated, NATO accession enhances regional security, solidifies existing borders, promotes democratic consolidation, attracts foreign investment, and improves each country’s economic prospects. It will also help neutralize Moscow’s attempts to sow discord and conflict in the region designed to preoccupy Western capitals and shift attention from its ambitions in the post-Soviet neighborhood.
Just as it led regional opposition to Slobodan Milosevic and helped to terminate the Yugoslav experiment, Montenegro can now take the lead in bringing the rest of the Balkans into the Alliance. Conversely, one of the most effective ways for NATO to demonstrate its own vitality and determination is to include Montenegro and underscore that all remaining West Balkan states will become members.Montenegro’s inclusion in NATO represents both a congruence of interests and values.
NATO is not only a military alliance, but also a community of democracies that carries several practical domestic and regional benefits. It will eliminate any doubts about Montenegro’s future and encourage Western investment, rather than the corrupt and politically linked Russian business witnessed in recent years. It will include the entire Adriatic coastline within the NATO zone and thereby assist in joint operations and interoperability in such endeavors as emergency response, humanitarian assistance, anti-smuggling, and anti-terrorist coastal patrols. In addition, it will boost confidence in Montenegro during its already advanced accession talks into the European Union.
Montenegro’s membership will also encourage Serbia to look toward a NATO future. While this will necessitate a political decision by Belgrade, Serbia’s military appears to support NATO entry, as membership would help modernize the armed forces. It can also encourage Bosnia-Herzegovina to push toward accession and move Kosovo in the same direction as it develops its security structure. Additionally, a new initiative is needed to bring Macedonia into NATO and overcome the veto that Greece continues to wield in opposition to the country’s name.
If this ambitious agenda is accomplished, there will be no black holes or grey zones left in the Western Balkans and common security will enhance inter-state cooperation in other spheres, from culture and education to economic investment, energy linkages, and infrastructural development. From being misperceived as the land of ancient hatreds, the Balkans can finally assume a modern identity as a zone of ethnic, religious, and inter-state coexistence.
Janusz Bugajski, December 2015
After shooting down a Russian bomber aircraft over Turkish territory, Ankara has thrust itself into the eye of the storm between Russia and the West. Although the Turkish government developed a close relationship with Moscow after the Cold War, but now finds its interests in the Middle East directly challenged by an assertive Kremlin.
The famous comment by Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu that the country’s foreign policy is based on “zero problems with neighbors” has turned out to be a mirage. Ankara confronts conflicts along most of its borders and many Turks feel increasingly isolated and squeezed internationally.
In particular, the Syrian civil war and the growth of the Islamic State (IS) insurgency has contributed to a further deterioration of Ankara’s relations with both Damascus and Tehran. Although Ankara vehemently denies that it is aiding the IS, rumors persist about covert assistance and allowing jihadist fighters to cross Turkey into Syria to combat the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
The Turkish government seeks the ouster of Assad who is viewed as a proxy of Tehran. Ankara also remains anxious about growing Iranian influence in Iraq and a spreading Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey and may therefore be tolerating IS to counter both threats. However, Ankara primarily supports the Turkmen and other groups in Syria opposing Assad that Russia has been bombing in recent weeks.
Moscow is not only opposing Turkish objectives in the Middle East, but it is also destabilizing the south Caucasus by building up its military presence and arming both Armenia and Azerbaijan. A renewed war between the two states over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh occupied by Armenia could draw Ankara into a direct confrontation with Russia, Armenia’s patron and protector. Turkey maintains close relations with Azerbaijan and would come to Baku’s assistance in case of an escalating war.
Paradoxically, the new configurations in the Middle East and South Caucasus could push Ankara into a closer relationship with NATO and the EU. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan once warned that if Turkey is not admitted to the EU by 2023, the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic, it could terminate its membership talks and join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) instead.
The SCO, led by China and Russia, offers an alternative to the Western model of democracy but its benefits are limited. While the EU demands political pluralism together with civil and minority rights, the SCO remains suspicious of liberalism as an alleged cover for U.S. dominance.
Ankara gained “Dialogue Partner” status with the SCO in June 2012 and Erdoğan reportedly asked President Vladimir Putin to accept Ankara as a full member. However, joining the SCO could also entail acquiescing to policies that conflict with Ankara’s traditional priorities, such as curtailing or abandoning links with NATO, a step that would be vehemently opposed by the Turkish military. Any further Turkish moves toward the SCO would also escalate charges in the West that Ankara is no longer a trustworthy ally.
In joining the organization Turkey would also be in conflict with policies followed by other SCO members. Government efforts to oust Syria’s Assad regime are staunchly opposed by Russia and China in particular. Moreover, although the SCO, is largely anti-Western, it is not Islamist and all six SCO members would strongly oppose the political Islamism that Erdoğan’s party has favored.
The core questions for Turkey is its international destination: whether it will develop as a secular European nation-state that Turkey’s founder Mustafa Ataturk originally envisaged or a politically religious country that shifts its alliances toward more authoritarian blocs.
If the EU continues to resist Turkey’s entry and the country fails to improve its democratic standards, then it may forge new international partnerships. A closed door to Turkey could also slam in Europe’s face and seriously damage NATO interests along its vulnerable southeastern flank.
However, by violating Turkey’s airspace Moscow may have played into NATO and EU hands and reversed Ankara’s estrangement from the West. In response to the destruction of its fighter jet, Russia has declared an economic war on Turkey that will encourage Ankara to seek alternative partners.
Moscow’s sanctions against Turkey will also damage the Russian economy and further isolate the country. These include a ban on certain trade products, no extension of labor contracts for Turks working in Russia, the ending of visa-free travel and chartered flights from Russia to Turkey, and a ban on Russian tourist companies on selling vacation packages to Turkey. All these measures are likely to draw Turkey closer to the EU.
Turkey also possesses potentially more powerful sanctions that it could impose against Russia if the diplomatic dispute intensifies. These would undermine Moscow’s power projection and bolster NATO predominance in the Eastern Mediterranean. Above all, Ankara could close the Bosporus Straits to passage for the Russian navy and ask other NATO states to help monitor its borders against Russia’s military incursions.
And if the conflict with Russia escalates, Turkey could suspend the Montreaux treaty that restricts the presence of NATO vessels in the Black Sea. This would seriously challenge Russia’s aggressive policies toward all of its Black Sea neighbors, including Georgia and Ukraine, and place Turkey at the center of the growing West-East conflict.
Janusz Bugajski, November 2015
Russia is not a reliable a partner for the West against international terrorism. On the contrary, Moscow encourages violent jihadism as a means for undermining the West and expanding its influences.
Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane demonstrated that Moscow’s air strikes are not directed against the Islamic State (IS) but are intended to annihilate the moderate opposition forces supported by the West. Putin’s primary objective has been to prop up the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to guarantee Russia’s ongoing military and intelligence presence in the region.
Following the Paris terrorist attacks, proposals have been voiced in some Western capitals for a “grand bargain” with Russia. In return for allowing Moscow to assert its ambitions throughout the former Soviet Union, the Kremlin would provide support in combating the IS. In practice, such a plan would surrender Ukraine, Georgia, and other states to Kremlin control without any tangible benefits for the West.
In reality, Russia itself acts as a terrorist state for two reasons: the regime has engaged in terrorist attacks against its own population and it has played a key role in developing terrorist networks outside its borders.
The Putinists have engaged in domestic terrorism to manipulate the public. According to Western specialists, the most notorious outrage occurred in 1999 shortly after Putin was appointed President. The FSB, formerly the KGB, reportedly bombed several housing complexes inside Russia, killing over 300 citizens, while blaming it on “Chechen terrorists” in order to justify a new war against Chechnya’s independence.
Moscow has also engaged in assassinations of critics and defectors. In the most publicized case, Aleksander Litvinenko, a fugitive officer of the FSB, was murdered by radionuclide polonium-210 in London in 2006. In July 2006, Russia introduced legislation enabling “Russian special units to kill extremists outside Russia.” Moscow’s definition of extremism includes all critics of the Putin regime.
According to former KGB officer Konstantin Preobrazhensky, Russia persistently employs terrorism both internally and abroad. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the deputy leader of al-Qaeda, was an FSB agent trained in Russia in the 1990s before joining Osama bin Laden. Mohamed Atta, the terrorist who piloted a hijacked plane into New York’s World Trade Center on 9/11, had links with Iraq’s intelligence officers who were clients of Russia’s intelligence services.
In fact, connections between the Kremlin and international terrorism extend back for decades. The KGB helped to develop modern terrorism against Israeli and Western targets. It provided weapons to several terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, first devised aircraft hijackings during the 1960s, and promoted the concept of suicide bombings against both military and civilian targets.
The FSB continues the tradition of sponsoring terrorism. During its proxy attack on Ukraine, Moscow supplied the missile system to separatists who shot down a Malaysian Airline plane and killed nearly 300 civilians. The Western world is reluctant to officially declare the self-styled People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk inside Ukraine as terrorist organizations despite their persistent attacks on civilians. This is a political decision in order to protect Russia from automatic recognition as a terrorism sponsor.
In Syria, the largest number of IS militants are being recruited inside Russia, especially as the FSB has encouraged local Islamists to travel to Syria and Iraq on the assumption that this would reduce insurgencies in the North Caucasus and increase pressure on the West. Nonetheless, this policy is likely to haunt Moscow when the militants return to Russia with more experience, weaponry, and networks.
It is unclear how much influence the Kremlin has with ISIS itself, but it appears to have infiltrated its agents into the upper reaches of the organization. There is even speculation that the destruction of the Russian passenger aircraft over the Sinai may have been arranged by FSB operatives to gain public support for military action in Syria. After all, Russia’s security services have never been averse to murdering Russian citizens for political gain.
Putin may not stand behind the Paris bombings but it is clearly to his advantage to witness large-scale terrorist attacks on Western targets so that Russia appears to be a reliable partner in the international anti-terrorist coalition and gains benefits in its neighborhood to construct a new anti-Western bloc.
Western countries may form a tactical alliance with Russia against IS, but such agreements have limited value because Putin’s main objective in the Middle East is to keep Assad in power as Moscow’s most reliable ally. An alternative goal if Assad faced capitulation would be to spread chaos and conflict and boost the price of oil, whose dramatic decline is dragging down the Russian economy.
It is time not only to conduct a thorough investigation of Moscow’s terrorist connections and activities, but also to take steps to define the Putinist regime both as a sponsor and perpetrator of domestic and international terrorism. This will deepen the ostracism and isolation of a regime that relies on deception and mass murder to achieve its goals regardless of its current ideology.
Janusz Bugajski, November 2015
Warsaw’s perennial rivalry with Moscow periodically provokes a more assertive Polish foreign policy. The victory of the rightist Law and Justice (PiS) party in parliamentary elections on October 25, 2015 may inject a stronger nationalist element in dealing with a regime in the Kremlin that is intent on reasserting Russia’s regional power by undermining the security of its many neighbors.
The strategic rivalry between Poland and Russia revolves around two core questions: Poland’s international alliances and the position of intermediate countries that have been a part of either Russia or Poland in various historic periods.
Poland has no imperial ambitions. Instead, it views NATO and EU membership and a strategic partnership with the US as cornerstones for the defense of its independence. In order to deepen this protective cover, each Polish government has endeavored to build a strategic buffer along its eastern borders by helping its immediate neighbors move closer toward the EU and NATO, or at the very least to curtail Moscow’s dominant position on these territories.
The Putin Kremlin has tried to restrict the impact of Poland’s NATO membership by periodically threatening the country with military attack and challenging NATO’s defense guarantees. It has also sought to undermine Poland’s influence among countries that were once part of the Soviet Union and which Moscow seeks to assimilate in a new Russo-centered dominion, especially Ukraine and Belarus.
In the wake of a popular revolution in February 2014, Russian forces invaded Ukraine, annexed the Crimean peninsula, and manufactured a separatist conflict in the Donbas region. Moscow was intent on destabilizing Ukraine to prevent its Western integration. In reaction, Poland intensified its role as the primary campaigner within the EU and NATO for Ukraine’s national interests and territorial integrity. Poland faced the destabilizing prospect of the collapse of the Ukrainian state. Even though Berlin and Paris subsequently sidelined Warsaw in negotiations with Russia over the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, Warsaw continued to play a supportive role for Kyiv in international institutions.
The PiS victory has potential positives and negatives for Warsaw’s foreign policy and international stature in dealing with Moscow. On the positive side, the new administration can pursue a more activist role in support of Ukraine and other states threatened by Russia’s subversion. In the case of Kyiv, this can include more visible diplomatic activity, increased funding and involvement in strengthening Ukraine’s institutions, and closer military and security cooperation.
In the case of Minsk, Poland needs to focus on supporting Belarusian sovereignty and in pulling its neighbor closer to the EU. In the case of Vilnius, Warsaw should condemn and help replace the pro-Kremlin leadership of the major Polish minority organization in Lithuania and deny Moscow a tool for subverting Lithuania’s independence.
On the negative side, however, a more forceful Polish policy toward Russia that is not coordinated with the larger EU states could prove beneficial for the Kremlin in its attempts to preclude a common Union strategy toward its “eastern partners.” Moreover, a more ultra-conservative Euroskeptic stance by the PiS government could contribute to isolating Poland and undermining its international credibility.
An upsurge of nationalist passions in Warsaw would likely create rifts with Germany, as the latter painstakingly avoids being drawn into open conflicts with Russia. PIS could also contribute to Kremlin attempts to expand fissures in Central Europe if it more vehemently campaigns for the collective rights of Polish minorities in Lithuania, Ukraine, or Belarus. Warsaw would then be imitating the Viktor Orban government in Budapest, which assisted Russia’s imperial intervention in Ukraine by focusing on the aspirations of the small Magyar minority instead of defending its neighbor’s integrity.
The PiS government faces an important strategic choice, whether to promote regional solidarity and common defense against an expansionist Russia or allow Moscow to divide and dominate the neighborhood.
Janusz Bugajski, October 2015
The October EU-Balkan agreement on refugees may look good in theory but its implementation will prove problematic. In particular, trust and confidence between neighbors throughout Central and South East Europe has been seriously damaged this summer and will take time and effort to restore.
More than a quarter of a million refugees have passed through the Balkans since August, most fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. This flow has sparked acrimonious debates about open borders and the EU’s asylum policy. The response of many capitals toward the refugees has been largely negative because of public fears of insecurity, Islamist radicalism, and economic burdens.
The German government has been criticized for provoking the refugee crisis by offering safe haven without consultations with the transit states who have to accommodate the migrants on their journey northward. Even Merkel’s Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union, called Berlin’s approach to migration “an unparalleled political error.” Germany’s stance could precipitate an even bigger wave of refugees in future. The EU also remains deeply divided over how to share the burden of relocating the refugees.
In South East Europe, the refugee emergency exposed the brittle nature of regional cooperation. Greece proved unable to control its Schengen border and simply pushed the migrants toward Central Europe. Governments throughout the region projected blame on to their neighbors, in a chain stretching through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, and Croatia to Slovenia. Budapest constructed fences to divert refugees into Croatia and Zagreb miscalculated that Ljubljana would simply allow everyone to pass.
Mismanagement, miscommunication, lax border controls, an absence of refugee registration, and non-existent inter-state coordination created a regional crisis that destroyed trust between several governments. Serbia has even threatened Croatia and Hungary with international legal action over the blocking of truck traffic that effected trade with the EU.
At the EU level, the relocation of migrants has exacerbated disagreements between member states. Central European governments firmly oppose Union plans for compulsory quotas to distribute refugees. They were outraged by EU approval of a resettlement plan passed by majority vote rather than unanimous approval. They consider it a direct attack on national sovereignty: Slovakia is even launching a legal challenge to mandatory EU quotas.
The refugee crisis demonstrates how brittle inter-state relations remain and how easily it is to spark disputes and conflicts. An even more dangerous wave on the horizon is that of growing xenophobia, nationalism, and anti-Unionism in response to the refugee crisis and other inter-state disputes that could renationalize Europe and unearth unsettled grievances in the western Balkans.
EU and non-EU leaders have agreed a 17-point plan to cooperate on managing flows of refugees through Turkey, Greece, and the western Balkans on route to Germany before winter sets in. Among the measures are a planned 100,000 places in reception centers along the refugee route. The EU is supposed to secure funding from the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to accommodate the refugees.
The EU border agency Frontex is to step up activities along the Greek-Macedonian border by registering all migrants. The policy of simply waving people through will supposedly be stopped. The EU plan is intended to slow down the passage of migrants by increasing border surveillance, registering transients, stopping bus and train transfers to the next border without the neighbor’s consent, and repatriating migrants not needing protection. The agreements are meant to preclude unilateral national measures that have contributed to regional chaos. But time is short.
Slovenia’s prime minister, Miro Cerar has warned that the EU will begin to disintegrate if it fails to resolve the refugee crisis within the next few weeks, as several countries will seal their borders. Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has asserted that the Balkan states will not allow themselves to become a “buffer zone” for the EU. Most are likely to close their borders to refugees when Germany, Austria, and other countries in western Europe close theirs. The stage is being set for the next act of the crisis.
It remains unclear how quickly the EU plan can be implemented and it has already come under criticism in proposing that transit states must first gain agreements from neighbors before allowing refugees to pass northward. Croatia’s premier Zoran Milanović declared that such consultations were impossible.
Croatia has been caught in the middle of the crisis after Hungary imposed severe border controls, diverting refugees through another unprepared country. Zagreb in turn tightened its frontier with Serbia and Slovenia blocked Croatia. Given the deterioration of relations between these neighbors, it is highly doubtful whether the sharing of information, as called for by the EU agreement, will be successful in regulating refugee flows.
The EU plan also calls for increased police action against migrant smugglers and human traffickers with support from Europol, Frontex, and Interpol. This would need to entail close cooperation between law enforcement bodies in states that have become increasingly suspicious of each other’s intentions. The incoming Croatian government can repair some of the damage by undertaking a regional initiative on the EU plan and forestalling another refugee crisis. As an EU member, it can certainly assume a more prominent and responsible role.
Janusz Bugajski, October 2015
In addition to a domestic plan for economic recovery, the new Croatian government should have a broader international vision. Unfortunately, the current administration has allowed the country to drift into strategic obscurity as a peripheral state. International security is key to economic development and Zagreb needs to focus on three rings of security: regional, continental, and trans-Atlantic.
All countries bordering Croatia form the first circle of security. Conflict and division in any of these states threatens its stability, whether economically, demographically, or militarily. Slovenia and Hungary do not present such problems, aside from the current mismanaged refugee wave, but Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia are more threatening.
Bosnia cannot be allowed to descend into another war that would draw Croatia and Serbia into a new confrontation. Such a danger will persist if the RS continues to push for referenda that lead to secession. Division is fostered by polarized politics, economic stagnation, and the ambitions of nationalist politicians at a time when military deterrents have evaporated, the international presence has been scaled down, and the prospects of EU entry are receding.
Both Croatia and Serbia have vital roles to play in reigning in ethnic compatriots in Bosnia who dream of state division and permanent fiefdoms. As an EU member, Croatia carries a primary responsibility to secure its neighborhood in preparation for EU enlargemen. And Belgrade’s chances for Union entry will be substantially enhanced if it presses its former proxies in Banja Luka to finally discard the split-state project.
Zagreb must fully support Sarajevo in conducting administrative reforms that streamline decision-making and enhance government functionality at the central level. This can propel Bosnia toward candidate status with the EU, begin to attract private investment, and promote economic development.
The second ring of security involves the continent itself, and one of its primary elements is the reliable supply of energy. Croatia is located at a major crossroads in Europe’s energy network, especially in transmitting crude oil and natural gas that constitutes the largest portion of Europe’s energy mix,
Zagreb must turn its strategic location on the Adriatic to its advantage. The integration of Europe’s energy infrastructure is incomplete, as evident in missing energy pipelines, roads, railroads, and communications that can connect Central Europe in its entirety from the Baltic to the Adriatic.
Europe’s eonomic growth depends on the reliable supply of fuel to maintain industry, trade, transportation, and homes. The proposed construction of a North-South Corridor between Poland and Croatia needs to include energy pipelines, electricity grids, and transportation links. This would boost economic development throughout the region, improve connections with Western Europe, and transform Croatia and its neighbors into a more attractive business partner for the US.
The incumbent government missed its chance to develop Europe’s energy security by placing Croatia on the map as a strategic energy supplier to Central Europe. The new administration must not repeat this mistake.
A Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal on Krk Island can be linked with the Croatia-Hungary interconnector and continue to the Hungary-Slovakia border. The gas pipeline can also connect Croatia with Poland and Romania. Such a project backed by Brussels would complete a Baltic–Adriatic–Black Sea network and reduce dependence on unreliable and politically loaded Russian sources.
The third ring of security encompasses the wider NATO alliance and several vulnerable bordering states. Croatia can become a more vigorous player inside NATO by pursuing an important niche in Alliance policy – territorial self-defense and confrontimg proxy separatist insurgencies.
After Moscow’s covert attack on Ukraine, NATO’s front line states, including Poland and the three Baltic republics, have underscored the importance of a sound national defense against Russsia’s subversion. Zagreb itself has recent experience of insurgencies and quasi-states sponsored by neighboring capitals and has learned important lessons that can be imparted to the wider alliance.
Zagreb should consider building a NATO Center of Excellence that would specialize in territorial self-defense. NATO has several such Centers in Europe, which are nationally or multi-nationally funded institutions that train and educate personnel from NATO members and partner countries. They help improve the development of doctrine, specify lessons learned from previous conflicts, and improve interoperability and capabilities.
Croatia’s allies are making important practical contributions to NATO’s common defense through their Centers of Excellence. Estonia focuses on cyber defense, Latvia on strategic communications and counter-propaganda, Lithuania on energy security, Poland on military police, Slovakia on explosive ordinance, Slovenia on mountain warfare, Romania on human intelligence, and Bulgaria on crisis management.
It is time for Croatia to make a more visible contribution to common defense. A government with vision needs to capitalize on Croatia’s location and experience and concretize its commitments to trans-Atlantic security. As a “Poland on the Adriatic” Croatia can become a significant player both inside NATO and the EU, and this would certainly boost its economic potential.
Janusz Bugajski, October 2015
Elections are an occasion to assess the past and calculate for a better future. Voters in democratic states judge the performance of the incumbent government, listen to the policy prescriptions of major parties, and vote accordingly. In the case of Croatia, the economic slide under the center-left government would indicate that the political pendulum is swinging back toward the center-right.
Recovering from the scandals linked with the previous administration, the HDZ has made important strides in cleaning up the party. The media and the public should of course remain watchful that past abuses are not repeated by high officials from any party. They should also study the economic programs of both major election contenders and decide which one is more likely to stimulate business and create employment.
Croatia can certainly perform better than it has under recent administrations and citizens should have higher expectations from state leaders. The country was delayed in its progress into the EU because of the long aftermath of war and occupation. But there is no reason that it cannot reach the same economic level as Slovakia or the Czech Republic, countries that have rebounded since the global financial crisis of 2008-2009.
The Social Democrat coalition has been trailing in public opinion polls, but as the gap with the HDZ has narrowed in recent weeks, the danger is that the race will be decided on personalities rather than policies. Voters should beware of such distractions. The core problem remains Croatia’s dismal economic performance, during which six years of recession have wiped 13 per cent off national economic output.
Croatia is one of the weakest economies inside the EU and has barely recovered since the 2008 financial crisis. A World Bank global survey has listed Croatia among ten countries with the slowest projected annual growth rate between 2014 and 2017. It remains plagued by high unemployment, uneven regional development, and insufficient foreign investment.
The current Prime Minister is pledging economic recovery but has not fully explained to voters why the future will be different from the recent past. If a government cannot attract significant new business and stimulate the economy over an entire term in office then fresh ideas and initiatives are needed.
However, in presenting an economic stimulus package, populist promises that generate unrealistic expectations must be avoided by all sides. Among the majority of recent EU members, center-right parties with concrete programs have been instrumental in driving economic development. Rightists who discard exclusivist nationalism and cheap populism have proved to be the most successful economic transformers.
Grabar-Kitarovic’s victory in the presidential race boosted the HDZ, but the party cannot assume that a parliamentary election victory is guaranteed. Without a competent explanation of its economic priorities to voters and how this can attract foreign direct investment, create new jobs, and restructure the inefficient public sector, many citizens may be swayed more by populism than by sound policies.
The clearest example of rational economic management after a period of drift and decline was the center-right government in Slovakia. It took office in 1998, broke the bureaucratic post-communist stranglehold over the economy, and created the conditions for attracting substantial foreign investment. Slovakia became the entrepreneurial leader in Central Europe.
A similar process was visible in Hungary and the Czech Republic, while most of the social democrat formations in the Visegrad group eventually matured into pro-business liberals emulating the reformed British Labor Party. Croatia can also join this evolution.
In the security arena, the migrant question has been used in Croatia’s election campaign. No European government has benefited politically from its handling of refugees, and Zagreb is no exception. But there is a danger of growing xenophobia and Islamophobia stimulated by the alleged threat of more refugees. In all the confusion and fear, it is important to remember that Croatia is a transit country for refugees not a destination point. Its economic conditions are not attractive to any ambitious immigrants.
In the geopolitical domain, the winning party should provide both a vision and a realistic roadmap for Croatia. In the wake of growing threats to European security, whether from Russia or the Middle East, Croatia’s neighborhood may also become more unpredictable.
By fulfilling its NATO contributions and maintaining a strong trans-Atlantic link, Zagreb will gain in stature and capability in dealing with its unstable neighborhood. For istance, it can offer practical solutions to the Bosnian imbroglio in order to avoid state division and renewed armed conflict, something that the incumbent government has been unable to accomplish.
Croatia must also become a more vigorous player inside NATO by pursuing an important niche in Alliance policy – territorial self-defense. Since Russia’s attack on Ukraine and its sponsorship of proxy wars, NATO’s front line states are increasingly stressing the importance of national defense against various forms of subversion. Given its own experiences with proxy wars and occupations, maybe Zagreb should offer to host a NATO Center of Excellence focusing on territorial self-defense and thereby directly assist its most vulnerable allies.
JJanusz Bugajski, October 2015
The outflow of refugees from the Western Balkans contributes to preserving the peace in states that are not EU members. It helps release social pressure and prevents a surge of unrest that could destabilize incumbent governments.
Among the wave of refugees entering the EU are tens of thousands of Europe’s citizens from the West Balkans. People from four countries in particular are escaping poverty and unemployment. Out of the 200,000 asylum requests in Germany in the first half of 2015, 40 percent were filed by people from Kosova, Albania, Macedonia, and Serbia. Kosova itself is the third biggest source of asylum requests after Syria and Afghanistan.
In the most recent estimates, Berlin now expects over a million asylum applications by the end of 2015. The number of Kosovars seeking asylum in Germany soared from 3,000 in the first half of 2014 to 32,000 in the same period this year, while asylum requests from Albania jumped from 4,500 to 29,000. Other countries, including Switzerland, Austria, and the Scandinavian states have also seen an increased influx from the Balkans.
Over the past year, Kosova has witnessed an unprecedented exodus of more than 50,000 people. Most left because of desperate economic conditions in which four out of ten people live below the official poverty line and unemployment exceeds 40 percent. Many decided to migrate as rumors spread that Germany had open doors and available jobs. As the rumors were eventually quashed the outflow of job seekers has begun to dip in recent weeks.
Kosova’s exodus constituted the largest number of departures since the end of the 1999 war during the expulsions orchestrated by Belgrade. The euphoria of Kosova’s independence wore out several years ago and harsh economic realities have led to widespread disillusionment with national institutions and politicians among large sectors of the population.
Despite heavy investment in infrastructure, Prishtina has failed to develop a productive economy and remains heavily dependent on international assistance. Official corruption, nepotism, and mismanagement compounds the institutional failures. The aspirations of a large young generation, with an estimated 40% of the population aged between 15 and 30, have not been fulfilled.
Moreover, Kosova is the only country in the region without an EU visa liberalization agreement that acts as an economic release valve. The absence of fast legal mechanisms to travel and emigrate has spurred human trafficking as people seek a way out of their isolation. In the wake of this summer’s massive refugee inflow into the EU, visa liberalization is likely to be delayed for Kosova and renewed restrictions placed on other countries benefiting from the program, especially Serbia, Macedonia, and Albania. Even countries that have obtained liberal visa regimes with the EU have experienced a refugee exodus, indicating the poor economic prospects for many citizens.
To discourage further waves of refugees, the EU is also taking steps to separate those escaping war from those fleeing economic hardship. Several countries have established reception centers to determine who is a genuine refugee trying to avoid repression or violence. People from the Balkans no longer fall in this category.
EU capitals are planning to declare a list of “safe countries of origin” to which migrants can be returned because there is little risk of persecution. The proposed list would include Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosova, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey.
Several countries have welcomed their inclusion on a safe list, with Prishtina claiming that it would send “a powerful message” that political asylum will not be granted for economic or social reasons. During 2015, 14,600 Kosovars have already been repatriated from EU states, up from 4,600 in 2014. Germany in particular is speeding up the procedure for examining applications from the Balkans, and in the first seven months of 2015 it deported almost 10,000 people.
Even though less than one percent of asylum requests from the Balkans are accepted, EU policy has failed to diminish the number of people willing to try. One major incentive has been a monthly allowance in euros while waiting for the asylum process to be completed. The sum is larger than what refugees can earn at home. Berlin intends to provide food vouchers instead of cash to curtail this abuse of welfare.
Closing the door on economic migrants from Kosova, Albania, Macedonia, Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina could ultimately create more problems than allowing them to enter and find work. Pressures are building in several states in which economic stagnation is increasingly resented by unemployed young people. Although in the long term, each country suffers by losing workers and professionals, in the short-term out-migration releases social pressure.
In Kosova, grievances against corrupt officialdom, economic stagnation, and international isolation can be manifest in growing support for radical groups or even spontaneous protests and random violence. In Macedonia and Bosnia economic distress is more likely to take on ethnic colorations. Tensions between Macedonian Slavs and Albanians can be exploited for political advantage by ambitious parties. Similarly, economic stagnation can feed into demands for separation in the RS on the grounds that Sarajevo is holding the entity back.
In the ideal solution, public frustration will lead to greater pressures on officials, increase governmental accountability, and spur economic development. Unfortunately, the frustrated public lacks effective organizations and mechanisms to impact on government policy. Paradoxically, a tougher EU policy on accepting Balkan refugees may trigger domestic revolts that some political systems will be unable to contain.
Janusz Bugajski, September 2015
The outflow of refugees into Europe has sparked passionate debates about EU quotas and asylum policy. In the Balkans and Central Europe it has also revived animosities between neighboring states. If such crises continue then any nascent regional solidarity will be rapidly buried.
The response of many countries toward the new refugees has been largely negative. The anxieties are based on public fears of economic decline and spreading insecurity, combined with racism, religious nationalism, and a sense that many of the refugees are simply economic migrants who do not want to fight or work for their countries. Many people believe the migrants are the initial trickle of an even bigger wave, as societies in the Middle East and North Africa view Europe as the Promised Land.
In South East Europe, where few migrants wish to stay, the refugee emergency has been a test for regional solidarity and the region has failed. The primary offender is Greece, which proved unable to control its outer Schengen border or to properly register refugees, and simply pushed them northward toward Central Europe.
In trying to deal with tens of thousands of asylum seekers, governments in South East Europe have projected blame on to their neighbors. Any semblance of trust has evaporated and the EU itself remains deeply divided over how to share the burden of relocating the refugees.
In a chain reaction of neighborhood blame, Macedonia charged Greece with incompetence, Hungary castigated Serbia for failing to stop the migrants from attacking border posts and throwing stones at Hungarian police, and Budapest accused Croatia of jeopardizing its sovereignty by sending thousands of migrants toward Hungary.
Hungary went a step further than its neighbors, not only by closing its borders but also by building a barbed wire fence across its frontier with Serbia. This diverted refugees to Croatia and provoked anger at Budapest in Zagreb. Croatia calculated that the refugees would simply transit through to Slovenia and onward to Austria and Germany. Instead, Ljubljana shut its border and Croatia was rapidly overwhelmed with over 30,000 refugees. Slovenia voiced anger that Croatia was moving people to its frontier while Germany and Austria were re-imposing border checks, as an emergency measure allowed under Schengen rules.
Serbia denounced Hungary for using tear gas against migrants, claiming that some of the canisters landed on Serbian territory. It also protested against Croatia for subsequently closing most of its border crossings and threatened legal action over the blocking of truck traffic that will effect its trade with the EU. Serbia’s Social Affairs Minister Aleksandar Vulin warned that Serbia will take the issue of border closures to international courts. Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic responded by comparing Belgrade’s international clout to that of a fly as compared to the Croatian eagle. Both countries thereby attained a new level of diplomacy.
Hungary’s government charged Zagreb with a “pack of lies” for claiming they had jointly agreed to establish a corridor for the migrants. Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto condemned the Croatian Prime Minister’s handing of the crisis as “pathetic.” Meanwhile, officials in Serbia, Croatia, and Romania compared Hungary’s tough policies, including its razor-coil border fence, to the policies of Budapest’s pro-Nazi regime during World War Two, stirring up even more animosities. Romania’s Prime Minister Victor Ponta called the Hungarian fence a “disgrace for Europe.”
To add insult to injury, Serbia and Macedonia were excluded from the EU summit on the migrant crisis, even though they are on the main Balkan route used by asylum seekers. Instead of finding common solutions within an EU context, the bitter regional arguments have poisoned the atmosphere and will damage trade and transport especially if the waves of refugees continue to roll across the peninsula.
At the EU level, the relocation of 160,000 migrants has exacerbated disagreements between member states. Central European governments firmly oppose Union plans for compulsory quotas to distribute refugees. They were outraged by the approval of EU interior ministers of a resettlement plan passed by majority vote rather than unanimous approval. They consider it a direct attack on national sovereignty.
Slovakia is launching a legal challenge to mandatory EU quotas. Prime Minister Robert Fico asserted that a charge would be filed at the European Court of Justice and Bratislava would not implement the ruling.
Meanwhile, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban rejected what he described as German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “moral imperialism.” Orban accused Berlin of encouraging the refugee influx by allowing so many to arrive and claimed that Europe’s Christian heritage was under threat because most of the migrants were Middle Eastern Muslims. In addition to revitalizing organized crime throughout the region, the EU may also be importing terrorism, as jihadists will be allowed into Europe under the cover of refugee status.
Berlin asserts that it seeks to ensure an orderly entry of migrants that includes registering every new arrival and rejecting economic migrants from outside the EU. Despite such assurances, Merkel’s Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union, called Berlin’s approach to migration “an unparalleled political error” as Munich became overwhelmed with asylum seekers.
The refugee crisis demonstrates how brittle are inter-state relations and how easily it is to spark conflicts that could escalate from words to deeds. An even more dangerous wave on the horizon is that of growing nationalism, populism, and anti-Unionism in response to the refugee crisis and other inter-state disputes that could renationalize Europe and unearth unsettled grievances in the Balkans.
Janusz Bugajski, September 2015
Catalonia is gearing up for a major regional vote that will move the aspiring country closer to independence. But instead of bemoaning separatism and predicting the imminent collapse of Europe should we be welcoming the flowering of democratic choices?
The independent state of Catalonia was absorbed by Castile and Aragon in 1162 and officially abolished in 1714. Many Catalans believe that their culture and language have been repressed ever since, reaching a low point under General Franco’s dictatorship.
Since the onset of democracy in the late 1970s, Catalonia has been one of Spain’s seventeen autonomous regions. Until recently, few Catalans supported full independence, but Spain’s deep economic crisis and the financial crash in 2007-2008 propelled a surge in support for separation.
Catalonia is Spain’s richest region with 7.5 million people who will vote in a regional election on September 27 billed as a referendum on independence. Opinion polls indicate that pro-secession candidates will win an absolute majority in the Catalan parliament. If they succeed, Catalan President Artur Mas has pledged to implement a roadmap toward secession over the following eighteen months, including the passage of a separate constitution. Mas has declared that a win for the coalition led by his conservative Convergència (CiU) party will be considered a mandate for independence.
Catalonia organized an initial vote on separation from Spain in November 2014. 2.2 million voters out of an eligible 5.4 million participated, and over 80% declared themselves in favor of outright independence. However, Spain’s constitutional court ruled that the regional vote was illegitimate. This dismissal by Madrid outraged Catalans and served to encourage the popular drive for statehood.
In addition to the regional ballot, local elections scheduled for May 2016 are expected to result in a 70% plus vote for pro-independence parties, with Spain’s two largest national parties calculated to obtain their lowest ever score in the region. And the Catalan capital Barcelona will once again have a pro-independence mayor.
Madrid is warning that independence would mean economic decline and exit from the EU. Spain’s foreign ministry has warned that Catalonia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) could drop by 10% to 20% if the region seceded. The Catalan government counters that the region would have a GDP per capita that is higher than the European average.
The regional authorities also estimate that they will gain significantly from controlling public finances. The fiscal deficit with Spain amounts to 15 billion euros – the difference between what Catalonia pays in taxes to Madrid and what it receives in public spending. For instance, in 2010, Catalans contributed €61.87 billion in taxes and fees to the Spanish government, but only received €45.33 billion for public spending. One of the Catalans’ chief complaints is that their tax revenues subsidize the poorer provinces of Spain, an argument that is very familiar in the former Yugoslavia.
The European Commission has asserted that an independent Catalonia would need to apply to join the EU and go through the rigorous process of qualifying for accession. However, some local analysts do not believe Catalonia would be allowed to exit the Union, as this would damage the Spanish economy even more severely. In contrast, an independent Catalonia would boost spending on transport links to the rest of Europe and would help business and exports in the wider region.
In reality, there are several alternatives for the region upon independence. Catalonia could become a new EU member in a negotiated settlement with Spain. It could become part of the European Free Trade Association of non-EU countries, similar to Switzerland or Norway, or it could form some type of bilateral agreement with the EU. In the worst case scenario, Catalonia would be expelled from the EU, if Spain seeks to isolate the new country internationally.
In Catalonia and other aspiring states, we are not witnessing ethnocentric nationalism, as opponents of separation have argued, but an awakening of participatory democracy in multi-ethnic societies. Such a process is not necessarily conflictive but can be creative in forging political units better adapted to the 21st century rather than large and cumbersome states. The most effective antidote to EU-skepticism could actually be greater sub-national autonomy where regions will be able to find flexible solutions to local aspirations.
In the wake of the Catalan vote, other European regions could be encouraged to push for plebiscites, whether in Belgium, Italy, or France. Scotland’s failed referendum in September 2014 was watched closely in Catalonia, where President Mas claimed that it had “shown the way” for Catalonian independence. And the ongoing campaign for Scottish statehood may receive an additional boost when the United Kingdom itself holds a referendum before the end of 2017 on whether to remain in the EU.
Even parts of Central and Eastern Europe may be emboldened to push for regional autonomy or even separation within the EU context. However, resistance to local autonomy is often stronger there than in Western Europe because of fears of territorial fracture, nationalist exclusivism, ethnic conflict, and the interference of neighboring states.
The challenge for the EU over the next decade is to forge a workable compromise between local autonomy and the process of Europe-wide integration. Both dysfunctional fragmentation and forced federalization must be avoided, but not by denying the right of citizens to choose the most effective political units to promote their political and economic liberties. The debate over the shape and structure of the European project has clearly entered a dynamic phase and all eyes should be on Catalonia.
Janusz Bugajski, September 2015
Croatia stands at one of the crossroads of Europe’s energy networks, especially in natural gas and crude oil that still account for the largest share of international consumption. However, Zagreb must implement several key decisions to convert its potential into reality.
As Ian Brzezinski and David Koranyi point out in an insightful recent paper for Washington’s Atlantic Council, the integration of Europe’s economic infrastructure has not been completed. This is especially evident in energy pipelines, roads, railroads, and communications links across Central Europe.
Moreover, economic growth is dependent on energy security, or the reliable supply of fuel to maintain industry, trade, and consumers. Unfortunately, Europe has too many missing energy links to guarantee security and stability for all countries. Brzezinski is due to address these questions at an international security conference in Zagreb on 18 September with the participation of Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic.
The Atlantic Council study focuses on constructing a North-South Corridor between the Baltic and Adriatic Seas to include energy pipelines, electricity grids, transportation, and telecommunications. This would help stiffen Central Europe’s economic backbone, boost economic development, and improve links with Western Europe.
Croatia stands at the southern gateway into Central Europe. But to achieve its significant potential several steps will need to be taken. Above all, following the imminent general elections the new government must declare its commitment to energy development and the North-South Corridor as national priorities. In addition to earmarking funds for construction, Zagreb must focus on gaining substantial investment from the EU for a project that will stimulate economic growth across the region.
The EU needs to promote and co-fund infrastructure projects most critical to the corridor’s completion, with additional funding generated by a spectrum of businesses and a number governments along the route of the Corridor. Central European governments should plan to establish a €1 billion regional investment fund that pools resources to complement EU funding.
The North-South Corridor can also become a significant element in the US-EU agenda. A more integrated Europe with greater energy security and economic prospects will be a more attractive partner for Washington. In particular, the US can assist Europe in diversifying its energy supplies. The Corridor will also provide a major test for Croatian officials as to whether they can effectively combat the temptations of corruption in pursuing huge and expensive projects.
Croatia has the potential of developing into a strategically important energy transit corridor to Central Europe, especially if the proposed Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal on Krk Island is built. This terminal would be linked with the existing Croatia-Hungary interconnector and continue to the Hungary-Slovakia border. The pipeline could also link with the planned Poland-Slovakia interconnector and with the existing Hungary-Romania interconnector. Such a project would complete an EU–backed Baltic–Adriatic–Black Sea network that would significantly reduce dependence on Russian sources by providing avenues of entry for diverse gas imports.
During Soviet time, Moscow constructed an energy network that was deliberately intended to stifle regional integration and maintain dependence on the Kremlin. It has attempted to repeat this pattern under Putin’s rule. However, a major European energy-linked project such as the North-South Corridor would prevent Moscow from using Croatia for its economic and political penetration into the region.
One third of all Croatia’s energy imports, including oil and gas, originate in Russia, and nearly all of its gas imports are purchased from Gazprom. To increase dependence, Moscow has tried to engage Zagreb in several energy deals. Gazprom attempted to acquire the controlling share of Croatia’s energy champion Industrija Nafte (INA) in 2014, demonstrating the symbiosis between energy, foreign policy, and corruption. The Russian firm tried to buy the stake of Hungary’s MOL company in INA but the deal was dissuaded by Washington. Such a transaction would have given Moscow decisive energy leverage over both Hungary and Croatia.
The INA consortium represents an attractive target for Russian energy companies, considering its experience in offshore and onshore operations and production in the Adriatic Sea and the Pannonian basin. But given the Western sanctions on Russia, a deal with Gazprom would create problems for Croatia as an EU member forging long-term strategic cooperation with an ostracized Russian company.
Moscow seeks to attract Croatia into its energy sphere in order to obstruct EU plans to construct an energy corridor across the Balkans or a North-South corridor to Poland’s Baltic shore. Croatia also possesses promising offshore energy reserves that Russia would like to exploit. Several Russian energy companies have offered investments to develop domestic pipelines and explore oil fields in the Adriatic.
For instance, Gazprom has offered lucrative deals to Zagreb to enable it to use the Adria oil pipeline (connecting Croatia, Serbia, and Hungary) in reverse for Russian oil exports, instead of oil from the Middle East and other sources flowing into Central Europe through Croatia. Such a transit reversal would cut Central Europe’s access to international oil markets, leaving the region even more dependent on Russian oil.
Above all, Gazprom wants to block the LNG terminal on Krk to prevent it undercutting Russia’s monopolistic ambitions throughout Europe. But despite Moscow’s efforts, in July 2015 the Croatian government announced that it would construct the Krk terminal as a strategic investment that will contribute to EU energy security. The next government must fulfill this commitment and become instrumental in forging a wider vision of energy security for Europe. This will not only enhance Croatia’s international status but also provide a significant boost to the country’s faltering economy.
Janusz Bugajski, September 2015
Obama is the first US President to cross the Arctic Circle. His recent three-day trip to Alaska was intended to highlight the strategic importance of the vast Arctic region, or High North, and the danger of future wars over its resources and shipping routes.
Three issues revolve around the Arctic and will preoccupy all northern hemisphere governments over the coming decade: climate change, resource extraction, and shipping passages. Each could precipitate competition and conflict between the four Western Arctic states (US, Canada, Denmark, and Norway) and Russia.
Urgent action is needed to stymie potentially destructive climate change. Scientific reports indicate that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe and the melting of polar ice is accelerating. Obama’s trip was not only designed to alert the US public to the dangers but also to raise his credibility before the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris at the end of November.
The goal of the conference is to obtain a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, whereby world leaders will commit themselves to limiting global warming by two degrees Celsius, measured as a change in temperature since the industrial revolution. This is considered to be the threshold for dangerous and potentially unmanageable climate change that would precipitate a host of calamities from rising sea levels to floods and droughts in different parts of the globe.
Scientists contend that the two degree target will not be met if Arctic oil reserves are exploited, although both the US and Russia seem determined to drill. While Moscow may have the most to gain economically from the Arctic, it will also suffer the greatest damage from climate change, including rising sea levels, permafrost thaw, coastal erosion, and ocean acidification.
The climate debate involves a clash between economics and ecology, and ultimately between short-term benefits and long-term perils. While supporting limitations on greenhouse emissions, Obama is simultaneously favoring new oil and gas extraction in the Arctic to benefit American consumers. Environmental groups are outraged by the administration for expanding drilling off Alaska’s northwest coast. Officials counter that the transition to cleaner, renewable fuels is a long-term process and economic factors cannot be ignored.
The U.S. Geological Survey asserts that the Arctic contains an estimated 13 percent of the Earth’s oil and 30 percent of its natural gas. The search for these resources and for new trade routes is intensifying disputes over the division of Arctic territory.
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea allows each country to submit a claim that their continental shelf extends north and have rights well beyond their borders. In 2007, Moscow planted a titanium flag on the floor of the Arctic Ocean and has submitted a formal petition to the UN claiming 463,000 square miles of the Ocean shelf extending more than 350 nautical miles from Russia’s shore. The other Arctic states oppose this claim and have submitted their own territorial applications.
As the High North has grown in importance for resource extraction and shipping, Russia has declared the region as its largest sphere of economic investment. It is vying for control of the Arctic’s fossil fuels and rare metals with other polar nations, thus making the region a potential flashpoint.
Moscow is constructing new military bases in the Arctic and intends to restore the region’s Soviet defense infrastructure. Russia’s Federal Agency for Special Construction is installing air defense bases and combat aviation guidance posts along the Arctic Ocean coastline. The stage is set for confrontation, as the West does not recognize a large portion of the Arctic shelf as Russian, while Moscow asserts that NATO seeks to advance its interests with military force.
The Kremlin is developing a unified command structure to coordinate military operations in the Arctic and established a new government entity to execute Russia’s policy in the region. However, during 2014 and 2015, further exploration in the Arctic became problematic for Moscow because US and EU sanctions curbed the sale of equipment for oil and gas drilling. As a result, Moscow has threatened to scale down its cooperation with the eight-member Arctic Council, claiming that the Nordic countries were acting provocatively toward Russia.
The US is a latecomer in the struggle for the Arctic. While Russia has 27 ocean-going icebreakers some of which are nuclear-powered, Washington has no equivalent vessels capable of operating in the region. During his trip to Alaska, Obama declared that the US needs new icebreakers. Although US Navy fast-attack and ballistic missile submarines can operate under the ice, commercial ships can only maneuver in one to two feet of ice; for anything more than three feet they need an icebreaker. Currently, the Coast Guard has two icebreakers, but only one is in service.
Resource access and transportation routes will be the two major arenas of conflict with Russia, especially if Moscow claims certain shipping lanes as its exclusive domain. New routes between Europe and Asia are being opened up. For instance, the Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects estimates that a single trip from Norway to Japan across the Arctic would save ten days and $1 million in comparison to using the Suez Canal.
Russia may seek to dominate the new trade routes and even impose tariffs to profit from the shipping lanes. It views itself as the sole Arctic superpower and given the cold climate between Putin and the West, it may seek to demonstrate its strength by denying access and resources to other Arctic nations. This could indeed precipitate an Arctic war.
ALBANIA AS REGIONAL
Janusz Bugajski, June 2015
Once viewed as Europe’s poorest and most isolated distant cousin, Albania is assuming a more prominent regional role and is increasingly considered a Balkan linchpin by Western capitals. The current Socialist Party government has registered a number of successes since its election in June 2013, which recently culminated in a meeting of regional Prime Ministers in Tirana.
The granting of EU candidate status to Albania a year ago is only the first step toward the long process of Union accession. However, it also indicates that senior officials in Brussels and Berlin see Tirana as an increasingly serious player.
The days of dictatorship, international isolation, collapsing pyramid schemes, and social chaos have long passed. Albania is no longer threatened by a political civil war, has a largely homogenous population, and faces no ethnic divisions or separatist claims.
Of course, much progress still needs to be accomplished in reforming key institutions, particularly the judiciary, and rooting out official corruption. But a significant measure of political and institutional continuity has been achieved and Albania’s inadequacies mirror those of its immediate neighbors.
Paradoxically, in a still volatile and unpredictable region, the EU and NATO view Albania as a vital generator of stability that should be more actively supported. Conversely, there are understandable fears that a more aggressive foreign policy by Tirana could contribute to severe regional dislocations.
Albania’s foreign policy priorities are both bilateral and regional. The most important recent achievement has been the breakthrough in relations with Serbia. In November 2014, Prime Minister Edi Rama was the first Albanian leader to visit Belgrade for nearly seventy years, and likewise for the visit of Prime Minister Aleksander Vucic to Tirana in late May.
This breakthrough was of course stimulated by the prospects of EU integration, in which both leaders have staked their countries future. Despite openly disagreeing on the status of Kosova, one could not imagine just a few years ago that Serbian officials would acknowledge that Albania is an important regional player and state partner.
Tirana has not pushed for any pan-Albanian project even while defending its kindred in Kosova, Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro. On occasion, Rama like his Democratic Party predecessor Sali Berisha, has issued strong statements in support of ethnic Albanian rights throughout the region, but this has not damaged Tirana’s bilateral relations with its neighbors.
Washington plays an important role in counseling the government in Tirana against statements and actions that could be viewed as provocative. In particular, the incendiary idea of territorial separatism in bordering states has been studiously avoided.
At the multilateral level, Albania is becoming a focal point and stimulator of practical regional projects. This was evident in the presence of all regional Prime Ministers in Tirana at the end of May for the Vienna Forum meeting despite the absence of any top Western leader. Regional leaders usually flock for photo opportunities with Chancellor Merkel or President Hollande but not with Rama.
The Vienna Economic Forum was founded in 2004 as a platform to promote economic cooperation among countries between the Adriatic and Black Seas. It aims to assemble all regional Prime Ministers, including Kosova’s, in order to discuss practical multi-national projects. The Tirana session focused on regional infrastructure and set the stage for the summit in Vienna at end of August. Instead of simply listing numerous proposals, a few key priorities were highlighted to better interlink the region.
These included the construction of two major motorways – a north-south track linking Albania with Austria and Germany through Montenegro and Croatia, and an east-west track linking Albania’s Adriatic coast and Tirana with Nis and Belgrade in Serbia. Proposals for a modern railway linking Albania and Montenegro were also voiced.
On the energy front, Albania can become an important transit country for natural gas supplies through the planned Southern Corridor between the Caspian Basin and Southern Europe. The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), to be constructed by 2019, can in future include branches along the Adriatic coast to Croatia and inland to Bosnia-Herzegovina. This assumes of course that the project is not sabotaged by a desperate Greek government, which is seeking funds from Russia as a counterbalance to the EU and could conceivably block the Southern Corridor at Moscow’s behest.
Despite these vital regional plans, all Balkan countries are too starved of cash to begin major infrastructure programs. EU involvement and funding is essential if any road building initiatives are to come to fruition. And without EU resources, there will be limited economic stimulus in the region.
As Albania matures into a major regional player, its symbolism for the EU project is also growing. Once it joins the EU after completing the arduous road of conditions, it will become the first Muslim majority state in the Union, even though religion plays no discernible role in politics or in national identity for Albanians. But the example will be important for the wider region, particularly for Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In an indication of Albania’s wider influence, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recently visited the country. Tirana made it clear that it is open to investments and closer connections with Ankara, but it rejects being embroiled in some neo-Ottoman sphere of influence that could pull it away from its pro-Western destination. And of course, Albania is one of the few countries in Europe’s east where Moscow has practically no influence. For Albanians, the U.S. remains their closest ally, a bond that is considered stronger than any of their European connections.
Janusz Bugajski, June 2015
Europe is bracing itself for the summer “boat season” when the inflow of migrants and asylum seekers increases by tens of thousands. The majority of migrants enter the EU to escape violent conflicts in the Middle East and grinding poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, but their impact is to escalate anti-foreigner sentiments throughout the EU.
Most refugees and asylum seekers end up in northern and western Europe. According to Eurostat, applications for asylum were up by 44 percent during the last year. The number of cases from Syria alone grew from 50,000 in 2013 to 123,000 in 2014. In sum, 660,000 asylum applicants were made in the EU during 2014 and the number will be surpassed this year, with about one third coming across the Mediterranean.
The main focus of xenophobia throughout the EU is the Islamic population, whether recent migrants or more established minorities. Many people see refugee inflows as the invasion of non-Christians who threaten Europe’s survival. Muslims are fast becoming Europe’s new Jews. Anti-Semitism, a major form of European racism in previous decades, is being replaced or supplemented by Islamophobia.
European exclusionism always thrives when economic conditions deteriorate and where immigrants are seen as taking jobs away from locals and overburdening the housing and health care systems. In addition, the growth of the Islamic State (ISIS) insurgency and periodic terrorist incidents in the EU serve to conflate Islam with violence and chaos that threatens the lives of all Europeans.
Some analysts fear that anti-Islamic extremism may in the longer term become a graver danger to European security than jihadist terrorism. Reports by the London based International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence conclude that the growing anti-Islamic movement is focused on the alleged threat to European culture posed by Islamic religion and Muslim immigration.
In a mirror image of the anti-Semitic diatribe that Jews are conspiring to rule the world, Islamophobes believe in a global conspiracy to “Islamize” Europe. Jihadist terrorism is apparently the most recent example of a centuries-long effort by Muslims to dominate the West through the imposition of Sharia law and the outlawing of Christianity and secularism.
The new pan-European nationalism may outwardly defend liberal values but it contains a core racist component. By portraying all Muslims as a collective threat, it prepares the ground for social discrimination, exclusion, expulsion, and even physical violence. Such conspiracy theories can also inspire a new breed of terrorism, such as the atrocity against unarmed civilians perpetrated by the anti-Islamic militant Anders Breivik in Norway in July 2011. The murder of several Turkish immigrants by neo-Nazis have also taken place in Germany in recent years.
Xenophobes claim that Islam is a monolithic system that lacks any common democratic values. Instead, it is fundamentally prone to terrorism. As a result, Muslims cannot be assimilated in European societies and need to be combated, segregated, denationalized, and expelled. If appropriate measures are not urgently taken to stop the “Islamization” process, Europe will supposedly face a civil war.
Several anti-Islamic “defense leagues” are active in EU states and some have established umbrella organizations, such as “Stop the Islamization of Nations” (SION). These international alliances are seeking a broad structure to mobilize frustrated citizens. They have staged gatherings in various European cities that often attract sizeable crowds.
The growing success of radical nationalist and populist parties in elections to the European Parliament indicates the breadth of public alienation from the political process and a turn toward nationalism and racism that undermines the liberal and multi-cultural EU project.
The new xenophobes are plugging into Europe’s economic and political stagnation. Extensive youth unemployment and public alienation from the political establishment and against mainstream parties heighten the popularity of racism by focusing attention on a common pan-continental enemy. In a vicious self-perpetuating cycle, prejudice, discrimination, and hostility against Muslim populations is exploited by a minority of Islamic radicals claiming that the only defense against Islamophobia is violent jihadism.
The entire EU program is based on the premise of growing prosperity for the majority of citizens. Economic uncertainty calls into question the viability of the EU’s generous welfare state models. It has also deepened disillusionment with the main center-left and center-right parties, which are viewed by many voters as two sides of the same coin and too tolerant toward immigrants.
In recent years, a host of new parties have emerged that challenge the established formations and the fundamental policy assumptions of national governments. Some populist parties are even calling for the dissolution of the EU and a return to national exclusivity. The recent Conservative Party victory in the UK was largely the result of pledges to hold a referendum on curtailing EU membership especially as many voters are opposed to the EU’s liberal immigration laws.
Most of the new protest parties reject the loss of national sovereignty, oppose multiculturalism, and resent the role of Brussels in enforcing unpopular policies. For instance, because of widespread economic insecurity, the free movement of workers even from other EU countries has exacerbated anti-immigrant sentiments. France’s National Front, the UK Independence Party, and the Dutch Party of Freedom have been at the forefront of the anti-EU wave. And several governments are under pressure from growing anti-immigrant sentiments among a majority of voters.
Europe’s reviving nationalism will also further divide and weaken the EU’s enlargement and neighborhood policies in the Balkans and Europe’s east. Nationalists, populists, and xenophobes will oppose further EU expansion in an attempt to turn Europe inward as a besieged fortress against the invading foreigner.
Janusz Bugajski, June 2015
Turkey will face a stark choice after its general elections, whether to move toward autocracy and increasing isolation from the West or to consolidate a secular Islamic democracy and play a more prominent international role.
The famous assertion by Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu that its foreign policy is based on “zero problems with neighbors” has come back to haunt Ankara. It now faces disputes and conflicts along most of its borders and many Turks feel increasingly isolated internationally.
The Syrian civil war and the explosion of the Islamic State (ISIS) insurgency has dramatically deteriorated Ankara’s relations with both Damascus and Tehran. The Turkish government flatly denies aiding ISIS, but rumors persist about covert assistance and allowing jihadist fighters to cross into Syria. Ankara is anxious about growing Iranian influence in Iraq and a spreading Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey and may be using ISIS to counter both trends.
Turkey’s dispute with Cyprus continues unabated and its proxy republic of Northern Cyprus remains internationally unrecognized. Tensions with Greece, especially their maritime border disputes, periodically reignite. Turkey also faces a highly unstable Caucasus region where a renewed war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh could draw Ankara into a direct confrontation with Russia, Armenia’s patron and protector.
Ankara has tried to expand its influence in the Balkans, but its capabilities are limited. Appeals to neo-Ottoman solidarity create more enemies than friends. No government in the region views Turkey as a political model that they should emulate and all aspire to EU membership.
Ankara’s claims that the Ottoman Empire helped to develop the region ring hollow in countries that consider their four hundred year occupation as retarding their European credentials. Neo-Ottomanism risks alienating even the Islamic communities in the Balkans who want to be part of the European project.
Despite Ankara’s ambition to expand its influence, it offers limited advantages. Its economic investments, educational programs, cultural exchanges, and other projects are useful but cannot match what the EU has to offer to prospective members. Turkey’s exclusion from the EU and its creeping Islamization under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) also diminishes its appeal throughout the region.
In the wake of the national elections, the debate on Turkey’s future geostrategic allegiance will heat up. Ankara has been waiting for EU membership since it first applied in 1959. The European Commission has consistently delayed Turkey’s accession, citing incomplete political and economic reforms and Ankara’s poor relations with member states Greece and Cyprus.
Although the Turkish administration affirms that it aims to comply with all EU laws, Brussels has refused to consider any set deadline for entry. Some analysts believe that Turkey’s Muslim identity and demographic size are simply not acceptable to several EU capitals. Indeed, French officials have openly asserted that Turkey will never become a fully-fledged member.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has warned that if Turkey is not admitted to the Union by 2023, the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic, it could terminate its membership talks and join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) instead. The SCO, led by China and Russia, offers an alternative to the Western model of democracy but its benefits are uncertain. While the EU demands political pluralism, human and minority rights, and gender equality, the SCO remains suspicious of liberalism as an alleged cover for U.S. dominance.
Ankara gained “Dialogue Partner” status with the SCO in June 2012 and Erdoğan has reportedly asked Putin to accept Ankara as a full member. However, joining the SCO could also entail acquiescing to policies that conflict with Ankara’s traditional priorities, such as curtailing or abandoning links with NATO, a step that would be vehemently opposed by the Turkish military. Any further Turkish moves toward the SCO would escalate charges in the West that Ankara is no longer a trustworthy ally.
Turkey would also be in conflict with policies followed by other SCO members. Government efforts to overthrow Syria’s Assad regime are staunchly opposed by Russia and China in particular. Moreover, although the SCO, is largely anti-Western, it is not Islamist and all six SCO members would strongly oppose the political Islamism that Erdoğan’s party favors.
The current administration has taken several steps toward transforming Turkey into an Islamic state in which politics and religion are intermeshed. The ruling AKP has expanded its control over key public institutions, undercut the influence of the army, and undermined the critical media and political opposition. Erdogan has become increasingly authoritarian and is imposing conservative religious values in a country governed by secular laws.
The next Turkish government will also need to weather the storms of economic stagnation and public frustration. If it is domestically unsuccessful, Ankara could turn more fervently to religion and nationalism to distract and mobilize the public. Indeed, Erdogan’s rhetoric has become harshly anti-Western and he is tapping into both sectarian Sunni sentiments and Turkish nationalism. His opponents are routinely dismissed as traitors working for Western interests, with Israel, the U.S., and the EU implicated in various plots to bring down the government.
The core questions for Turkey are its future national identity and its international destination: whether it will develop as a secular European nation-state that Turkey’s founder Mustafa Ataturk originally envisaged or a politically religious country that shifts its alliances toward more authoritarian blocs. If the EU continues to resist Turkey’s entry and the country fails to improve its democratic standards, then it will forge new international partnerships. A closed door to Turkey could also slam in Europe’s face and seriously damage NATO interests along its vulnerable southeastern flank.
Janusz Bugajski, May 2015
South East Europe is caught in the middle of an intensifying competition between Russia and the EU over the supply of natural gas to Europe. For President Vladimir Putin, energy is a strategic weapon designed to gain allies and punish adversaries. As a dominant supplier to Europe, accounting for about a quarter of Europe’s gas supplies, Moscow seeks to deepen international dependence.
Energy dependence ensures economic vulnerability and is a mechanism for both financial profit and political leverage. Energy and other strategic resources can be severed at important junctures to exert pressure on particular capitals. Moreover, Russian company buyouts and ownership of key energy infrastructure, including pipelines, refineries, and storage sites, enables Moscow to exert additional leverage.
The countries with fewer alternative sources are more vulnerable to energy blackmail and high prices. Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, have been the most ardent supporters of Russian energy projects but pay the highest gas prices. These countries also have a high proportion of energy assets acquired by Russian companies. Moscow’s economic penetration is more restricted in countries that possess their own oil and gas reserves such as Romania and Croatia.
Putin cancelled the planned South Stream natural gas pipeline at the close of 2014 because of high costs, projected at $30 billion, and the EU’s legal stipulations for ownership unbundling. Gazprom, Russia’s energy giant, is being taken to court by the EU for failing to separate its control of supplies from the ownership of transmission networks. Bulgaria became Gazprom’s major stumbling block, as the center-right government decided to honor its EU commitments rather than succumb to Moscow’s enticements.
Reworking its energy weapon, the Kremlin is now trying to mobilize a small circle of allies to lay the groundwork for an alternative “Turkish Stream” gas pipeline. According to Putin’s plan, Turkish Stream would traverse Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia toward Hungary and other EU countries. As a result, Russia’s regional policy is now focused on these targeted states.
Turkey stands to benefit financially whatever pipelines cross its territory. Ankara’s calculations are material rather than strategic and its disdain for EU regulations is partly a response to being permanently excluded from Union membership.
Greece is in desperate financial straits and is seeking any revenues regardless of political costs or its EU alliances. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has reportedly agreed that Turkish Stream will cross into the EU at the Greek border. In return, Athens is seeking several billion dollars in advance payments from Moscow, which looks like a pipe dream given Russia’s own financial hardships.
In Macedonia, the Kremlin is courting the beleaguered Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski as a potential new ally. The calculation is that Gruevski’s ostracism by the West for alleged government abuses of power will push Skopje into Moscow’s hands and make Macedonia a gateway for Russia’s pipeline schemes.
Serbia has played along with Russia for years and despite being swindled repeatedly in the purchase of the NIS oil and gas company and in failed promises concerning the benefits of South Stream, Belgrade persists with seeing Russia as some sort of golden Eldorado.
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban is widely ostracized in the EU for his political maneuvers that are viewed as creating an illiberal state in the middle of Europe. His closeness to Putin is also viewed negatively, as it makes him susceptible to various shady energy deals and the Kremlin’s customary bribes.
Despite the fanfare and promises from the Kremlin, doubts persist about the feasibility of Turkish Stream. Russia is sanctioned from obtaining Western capital, the transit countries are cash-strapped, Brussels will not finance a scheme that breaches legally binding contracts, and few if any Western corporations will be willing to participate as Russia remains under financial sanctions.
Nevertheless, as long as there is some prospect that it will be built, Turkish Stream hampers rival projects by creating uncertainty and making it more difficult to attract investors for alternative projects. Turkish Stream also entices governments desperate for revenues who are all promised by Moscow that they will be the next regional “energy hub.” This undermines their commitments to EU regulations.
The alternative natural gas plan that would increase European independence from a single source is the Southern Corridor. Its objective is to provide gas supplies from the Caspian Basin countries that can bypass Russia.
Azerbaijan is a key pivot in this project and is already committed to building the Trans-Anatolian (TANAP) and the Trans-Adriatic (TAP) pipelines by 2019 that will pump gas through Turkey, Greece, and Albania to Italy. Although the initially projected gas volumes are relatively modest, they will increase over the coming decade and could result in the addition of interconnectors along the Adriatic coast.
Moscow sees Azerbaijan and other energy source countries such as Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as competitors that need to be contained. Given Putin’s aggressive response when his neighbors turn westward, it cannot be excluded that he may seek to rupture the planned pipelines, especially as Azeri supplies need to traverse through Georgia, which is already partially partitioned by Moscow. A new war over pipelines could be the next flashpoint along Russia’s borders.
In the bigger picture, energy supplies are part of the strategic Shadow War between Russia and the West. Turkish Stream and the Southern Corridor now lie at the center of this struggle for power, resources, revenues, and influence. With its energy revenues falling and its cash reserves rapidly depleting, Moscow cannot afford to lose to the West. However, with Europe’s energy security at stake, the West also cannot afford to lose to Russia. The stage is set for a major energy war.
Janusz Bugajski, May 2015
The Middle East has proved to be a graveyard for bold foreign policy initiatives by U.S. Presidents. Barack Obama’s eight years in office are unlikely to prove an exception. A new wave of Islamist militancy has compounded the region’s traditionally intractable conflicts and made peace and security all the more improbable.
There are three overlapping challenges in the Middle East that the White House must always keep at the top of its agenda: the conflicts over statehood between Israel and Palestine; the competition for regional predominance between Iran and Saudi Arabia; and the stability and territorial integrity of Iraq and Syria. Any prolonged inability to handle one problem has a negative impact on the others.
To add to Washington’s headaches, the upsurge of ultra-radical Sunni and Shia insurgencies, especially the Sunni Islamic State (IS) movement, threatens the entire region with instability, regime collapse, and the emergence of new anti-Western states.
The Middle East is a strategically important region for the West for several reasons. First, for decades its oil supplies have been crucial for Western economies. Even though alternative oil sources and novel energy supplies are now available, the region’s contribution remains significant for several Western and Far Eastern economies.
Second, Israel, America’s closest regional ally, has relied on Washington to deter any concerted Arab attacks on its independence. Third, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have been valuable partners for the West in pushing back on Iranian hegemony. Fourth, limiting the proliferation of nuclear weapons has been a critical objective of all U.S. administrations. And fifth, the threat of international terrorism spawned and incubated in the Middle East presents a never-ending challenge to U.S. policy makers.
The most obvious and predictable U.S. failure in the Middle East has been a lack of progress in resolving the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although some American presidents have been able to forge tentative agreements or even facilitated Israel’s relations with neighbors such as Egypt, the core of the conflict has not been resolved and a potential two-state solution remains a far distant prospect.
The lack of progress in this dispute fuels Muslim grievances around the globe, with Obama widely perceived as favoring Israeli interests over that of the Palestinians. He has been unable to significantly reduce anti-Americanism in the Muslim world and may actually have aggravated such sentiments by his perceived weakness in comparison to his predecessor George W. Bush. Big power softness invariably breeds derision and disrespect.
Paradoxically, the Israeli government views Obama as too critical of Israel and too accommodating of the Palestinians. These views have been reflected in strong criticisms from the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress, which recently invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the legislature despite strong opposition from the White House.
The simmering conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the two major regional powers, has not abated despite Obama’s attempts to woo the Arab states in support of his nuclear deal with Tehran. The intense struggle between Sunnis and Shias, embodied in the search for dominance between Riyadh and Tehran, cannot be defused by one document. And if the U.S. scales down its military and political presence in the region, the conflict could turn from cold to hot.
A recent meeting at Camp David between Obama and representatives from several Persian Gulf nations failed to convince them that the U.S. accord with Iran on containing its nuclear program would be successful. They remain suspicious about Tehran’s commitments and U.S. oversight of the entire deal.
The proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran continue, as recently witnessed in Yemen. When Iran’s proxies, the Houthis, opened a new front on the Saudi border, Ryiadh immediately attacked not waiting for Washington’s response. In Syria, after waiting years for U.S. action, the Saudis are cooperating with Turkey in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents. Tehran could in turn strike against Saudi interests by mobilizing Shia radicals against governments in Iraq, Jordan, Bahrain, and other nearby states.
The Iran-Saudi conflict spills over into the other two major Middle East challenges – how to handle Iraq and Syria and how to combat militant Islamist insurgents. After the troop withdrawal from Iraq, Obama’s low-key approach has failed to prevent a jihadist resurgence in both countries, as demonstrated by the successes of the IS rebellion and its ability to recruit thousands of fighters from dozens of countries.
Washington has also failed to unseat the Assad regime that has been condemned for its brutality against unarmed civilians. Obama’s withdrawal from his “red lines” for military action against Damascus over Assad’s use of chemical weapons is widely viewed in the Middle East as an American retreat and a concession to Iran. Meanwhile, Russian cooperation has brought limited results, as Moscow follows its own agenda with its two key allies in Damascus and Tehran.
The “Arab Spring” revolutions, initially heralded as democratic breakthroughs, proved a mixed blessing for the Middle East. Washington failed to comprehend that the region differed enormously from Eastern Europe, where the fall of communism did signal the dawn of democracy and the emergence of new pro-Western states. In the Middle East it may have dislodged several autocrats from power, but it also unleashed anti-democratic religious fanatics and heightened the territorial fragility of several countries such as Libya. Iraq, and Syria.
In the coming year, Saudi Arabia and the moderate Arab states will seek firmer U.S. security guarantees, similar to the NATO allies as well as Israel and Japan, to deter a potential war with Iran. But Washington is unlikely to oblige, especially with a Congress that views Obama as insufficiently defending Israel. The alternative is for Saudi Arabia itself to develop nuclear weapons and precipitate a regional arms race. With time running out before the November 2016 elections, Obama is in danger of leaving an even more dangerous legacy.
Janusz Bugajski, May 2015
A recent attack by a gunman on a police station in Zvornik, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and a clash between police and gunmen in Kumanovo, Macedonia has raised fears about escalating religious radicalism and terrorism in the Balkans. The bloody incidents have also revived theories that Bosnian jihadism, the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, and “Greater Albania” form part of a grand conspiracy.
Since the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., Islamophobes and political manipulators promote the idea of extensive and coordinated networks of radical Islamists in the Balkans. In addition to whipping up public frenzy, this can justify moves toward dividing Bosnia, reversing the independence of Kosova, and cracking down on Muslim believers.
Rumors abound that maps of the IS caliphate include Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sandjak, Kosova, Albania, and Macedonia, while the number of Islamist recruits for the IS from the region has dramatically increased. The reality is less sensational. Caliphate maps also include the Iberian peninsula and other European territories once controlled by empires in which the government was Muslim. And intelligence sources estimate that the IS has attracted many more volunteers from Western Europe than from the Balkans, with France, Germany, Belgium, and the UK being the largest contributors.
According to some calculations, about 20 terrorist cells are active in the Balkans. But a “cell” may simply consist of one or more individuals with a grievance. Open societies unlike police states are always vulnerable to terrorist attacks. It only takes one individual with a cause and a weapon to murder innocent civilians, as Western Europe has periodically witnessed.
To put recent events in perspective, there have been three small terrorist attacks in Bosnia in the past five years, with two police officers and one terrorist killed, and a dozen policemen injured. There may be a few thousand dogmatic Wahhabis and Salafists in the country but not all are terrorists. And although some radicals may have ambitions to manufacture religious and ethnic conflicts and turn Bosnia into a religious state, their capabilities are limited.
The attack in Zvornik may have been a delayed revenge attack on security forces in Bosnia’s Serb entity, Republika Srpska (RS), by an individual whose father was murdered in 1992. Vendettas are a long Balkan tradition. The real surprise is that despite the brutal anti-civilian war inflicted primarily by Milosevic’s proxies, misguided revenge attacks are extremely rare. Nonetheless, leaders in the RS will use the incident to push for a separate intelligence and security sector, claiming insufficient protection by Sarajevo.
Statements claiming that the Zvornik attack is a blow to the stability of the entire region are counter-productive. They play into the hands of terrorists who can claim success and encourage others to emulate them. They reinforce those in the EU who assert that the Balkans are unprepared for EU membership. And they encourage separatist forces to use religious militancy for political goals.
The Bosnian and Albanian terrorist bogeyman periodically resurfaces in the Western press. For some commentators with scant knowledge of the Balkans it is difficult to accept that a moderate Islamic majority population can have their own European state. Sensationalist commentaries conflate Muslim identity with political radicalism and Islamic conservatism with indiscriminate terrorism, ignoring the fact that Muslim-majority states, like their Christian counterparts, are secular and pro-Western.
The most far-fetched arguments contend that an Islamist “Greater Albania” project is being implemented in Albania, Kosova, and Macedonia. Some policymakers seem genuinely concerned that jihadism among Albanians is on the rise and presents a long-term danger to Balkan security. The recent violence in Kumanovo supposedly vindicates their warnings.
It is worth remembering, however, that Albanians have a strong tradition of religious tolerance. Islam, Orthodoxy, and Catholicism have co-existed in Albanian societies for generations and are not the anchors of identity or nationhood. Simultaneously, pro-Americanism is openly promulgated, as the U.S. is credited for helping to create two Albanian states in the last one hundred years.
Given their recent history, Albanians would be the last people in Europe turning to anti-Western jihadism. Nonetheless, some 300 Albanian fighters, from Kosova, Macedonia, and Albania, have joined groups linked to IS and several recruiters and known militants have been arrested. But a few misled and indoctrinated individuals do not speak for the vast majority of the nation.
Dogmatic Islamic pockets are more visible among Albanians in Macedonia where “missionaries” from Saudi Arabia have been active, preaching a conservative brand of Islam. Militants make inroads through charitable, humanitarian, and educational work among the poorest sectors of society. This must be carefully monitored, as it could constitute a creeping danger to moderate Islamic traditions and inter-confessional tolerance.
However, the armed unrest in Macedonia is only tangentially related to Islam, as Albanian guerrilla groups have traditionally been secular. Speculations about the motives, organizers, and beneficiaries of the bloodshed in Kumanovo are spreading in the country, with some fingers pointing at the Prime Minister who may be trying to distract attention from public protests against allegedly widespread government wire tapping and other abuses. Alternatively, this may the work of criminal organizations or genuine nationalist militants.
Ethnic tensions tensions lurk beneath the surface in Macedonia and they can be fueled by an assortment of radicals hoping to provoke a police crackdown. In the midst of a political crisis with blocked NATO and EU integration because of the Greek veto over the country’s name, Macedonia may demonstrate how simmering grievances can be exploited to deepen ethnic and religious divisions and raise recruits for militant causes.
Nonetheless, claims that there is a master plan involving a vast network of terrorists coordinated with jihadists in Bosnia and Syria simply adds to a long list of Balkan conspiracy theories. Interested parties can of course exploit such theories to raise their regional influence. Assertions by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on a visit to Belgrade on 15 May that the region faces instability from Islamic extremism indicate which party is particularly interested in increasing fear and profiting from conflict.
Janusz Bugajski, May 2015
The Baltic Sea occupies a pivotal position in Moscow’s plans to consolidate the western flank of its expansionist Eurasian project. It provides a vital trade route to Russia’s second largest city, St. Petersburg, hosts the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline to Germany, and is the location of the Baltic fleet headquartered in Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave. But above all, in the event that Moscow decides to attack Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania it will seek full military maneuverability in the Baltic and to restrict NATO’s presence.
Despite Kremlin opposition, over the past two decades the Baltic Sea has become a largely NATO lake, with six member states now having coastlines: the traditional members, Denmark and Germany, and new members Poland and the three Baltic countries. And since Russia’s assault on Ukraine, the remaining two neutral states, Sweden and Finland, are moving closer to NATO to better protect their security in an increasingly unpredictable region.
In flexing its military muscles through large-scale maneuvers, the construction of new bases, and frequent violations of the air space and coastal waters of littoral states, Moscow seeks several objectives. First, the military buildup is supposed to demonstrate that Russia is again a great power and can create an environment of uncertainty. Second, Moscow is testing NATO’s political and military responses and adjusting its own tactics and operations in the event of outright conflict.
And third, in the case of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the Kremlin’s military pressures are part of a broader multi-pronged offensive to weaken their governments, stir social and ethnic conflicts, and demonstrate that NATO will not be able to defend them in the event of war. No German or French soldier, or even an American will purportedly be willing to die for Tallinn, Riga, or Vilnius.
At the same time, Russia’s propaganda offensive claims that Western forces are acting aggressively. Throughout the Baltic region, NATO’s rapid reaction units are allegedly expanding, military infrastructure is developing, and the U.S. military presence is growing. In reality, the Alliance has been criticized for not providing sufficient military assistance to countries that fear Moscow’s subversion or outright attack.
The Kremlin wants to keep both Sweden and Finland as neutrals and preclude them from assisting any NATO operations to defend the Baltic states. A variety of pressure points are exploited: military threats, territorial violations, diplomatic pressures, propaganda attacks, and disinformation campaigns to cower Finnish and Swedish societies. Further measures are threatened if Helsinki or Stockholm move toward NATO accession, including the confiscation of investments, banning flights across Russia, and enabling illegal immigrants to cross the long Russian-Finnish border.
However, Kremlin actions may have the reverse effect to the ones intended and could push the two neutrals into the Alliance. Public opinion is beginning to change. Disarmed neutrality is no longer seen as feasible even in Sweden, which has no experience of war in the modern era. The numbers supporting NATO accession is growing and includes over a third of the population, while opposition to NATO entry is not as extensive as before. Regardless of attitudes toward NATO entry, all major parties support raising defense spending. Sweden’s Social Democratic-Green Party government has been shocked out of its post-modernist stupor by Russia’s attack on Ukraine and its violation of international legal norms that Swedes hold so dear.
Over the past twenty years, Stockholm has dramatically scaled back its defensive capabilities. It has finally decided to raise its military expenditures, although its program of rearmament will not happen overnight and the country remains vulnerable to further Russian provocations. These include the potential capture of Sweden’s island of Gotland in the middle of the Baltic to deny NATO a valuable platform for anti-aircraft defense and to disrupt supply routes.
Although many in Sweden believe that NATO would defend their territory, no one can be certain whether it would risk a war with Russia over a non-NATO member. Even the NATO Host Nation Status obtained by Sweden and Finland at the Wales Summit in September 2014, which allows for the deployment of NATO rapid reaction forces on their territory, does not guarantee their defense if attacked by a third party.
In the case of Finland, there is more immediate Russian concern that Finns would come to the aid of nearby Estonia. For instance, it could offer NATO its land, air, and sea facilities to defend an Alliance member, and supply weapons and other equipment to assist Tallinn. Unlike Sweden, Finland has maintained a respectable defense sector with a sizable conscript base army. Helsinki also has direct experience of Russia’s aggression, having stymied two attempts by Moscow to occupy the country during and after World War Two. An attack on Estonia would be too close to home for Finns to simply sit on the sidelines.
To protect themselves against possible attack or becoming sucked into a wider war, both Finland and Sweden are expanding their military cooperation. They are also strengthening security ties with NATO members Norway and Denmark through consultations and exercises. In April, the five Nordic capitals signed a joint defense pact designed to boost defense sector cooperation, intelligence sharing, and joint military exercises. The initiative was attacked by Moscow as a “confrontational approach” to regional security.
Nonetheless, all such measures will not be enough to shield either Finland or Sweden from Russian pressure or to prevent their embroilment in a future Baltic-wide war if Putin decides to strike. Washington itself should not push for NATO enlargement in two countries that still treasure their non-alignment. Instead, it should allow Moscow’s provocations to convince Helsinki and Stockholm that their security is best assured inside the North Atlantic Alliance.
Janusz Bugajski, May 2015
President Vladimir Putin’s expansionist “Russian World” not only involves the revision of post-Cold War borders but is undergirded by the revision of European history. The key event in Putin’s restorationist mythology is the “Great Patriotic War” that ended in victory over Nazi Germany 70 years ago and will be commemorated in a huge military parade in Moscow on 9 May.
However, just as Putin has raised the stature of Victory Day to reinforce his own power, Kremlin objectives are being challenged not only by the West but also by Russia’s neighbors that were once part of the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc.
Putin’s historical myths have become state scripture and entail the rewriting of history through the omission of key events and the whitewashing of Moscow’s mass crimes. Official history remains silent about Stalin’s collaboration with Hitler. The two dictators jointly launched World War Two through the invasion of Poland in September 1939 after signing a pact to carve up and incorporate central-eastern Europe in their growing empires. Moscow supplied Germany with fuel, food, and other materials for nearly two years during the war to help Hitler defeat Moscow’s main enemy, the capitalist West.
The Soviet Union did not fight against the Germans until it was attacked by Hitler in July 1941. The subsequent Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany on the eastern front was far from glorious, contrary to Moscow’s depictions. It simultaneously eliminated all national liberation and democratic movements across Central and Eastern Europe and implanted repressive communist regimes. To suppress the facts, Moscow has introduced legislation to prosecute anyone who criticizes the heroic role of the Red army during World War Two by pointing to its mass murders and rapes of civilians along the route to Berlin.
Russia’s “cult of victory” possesses a rigid dogma which both state and Orthodox church staunchly defend. Putin uses this creed to legitimize his own rule, to justify his repression, to pursue his neo-imperial project toward vulnerable neighbors, and to rationalize his anti-Westernism. Putinism is now officially depicted as essential for raising Russia as a great power and defeating the West, just as Stalinism was allegedly necessary to modernize the state and defeat Nazi Germany.
Similarly to his Soviet predecessors, Putin is thereby entitled to violate human rights and capsize living standards, while restoring the glory of the “Russian world.” The official depiction of World War Two creates two stark stereotypes: people who support the Kremlin are automatically antifascists and those who oppose Putin’s policies are fascists regardless of actual political persuasions. Hence, the war against Ukraine is a continuation of the Great Patriotic War against the “fascist hordes.”
The majority of Western leaders have refused to participate in Moscow’s Victory Day ceremonies, viewing them as an attempted legitimation of Russia’s current attack on Ukraine. A handful decided to attend either because of their personal links with Putin, their ignorance of history, or in hope that their country will benefit economically. They include Serbia’s President Tomislav Nikolic and Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Belgrade is even sending an elite guard unit to participate in Putin’s military parade.
Even Russia’s immediate neighbors, which are growing increasingly alarmed about the Kremlin’s revisionist intentions, are avoiding the ceremonies. Most notably, one of Moscow’s closest partners, Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, decided to stay home to participate in commemorative events in Minsk. Only a few post-Soviet leaders will be attending so they do not fall out of favor with Moscow.
One of the remaining links between the former Soviet republics, the historical memory of a joint wartime struggle, are now being severed. Paradoxically, instead of reuniting the former Soviet territories, through his aggressive approach Putin is permanently dividing them.
Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski is also organizing a ceremony for the 70th anniversary of the victory in World War Two. It will be held on 8 May at Westerplatte near Gdansk, where World War Two actually began with the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939. Most Western leaders are expected to attend the event.
In staging the ceremonies, Warsaw is challenging Moscow perverted version of history and, by association, the legitimacy of the Putinist regime. Komorowski will stress that the Allied victory in May 1945 did not bring freedom to all the European nations but enslaved half of Europe under Stalin’s rule. This is a direct blow to Moscow’s assertions about its liberating role during and after the war.
In a related controversy Warsaw banned the transit of a biker gang linked with the Kremlin across Polish territory that is intended to commemorate the Red Army advance to Berlin. In an angry response characteristic of the Kremlin’s bellicose attitude toward its neighbors, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu tweeted that the “Biker’s road trip through Poland should be done using tanks.”
Legitimate celebrations for the end of World War Two cannot take place in one of the two capitals that started the war, Moscow or Berlin. And certainly not in a capital which is engaged in new offensives to undermine the independence of its neighbors and the integrity of their territories.
In his battle with history, Putin is trying to recreate what Stalin first assembled through the murder of millions of civilians and the enslavement of entire nations. Until Russia’s leaders, like those of post-war Germany, apologize and atone for the crimes of their predecessors and refuse to follow in their footsteps, the Victory Day celebrations in Moscow should be boycotted.
Janusz Bugajski, April 2015
April marks the 100th anniversary of the first major genocide of the 20th century. The massacre of over one million Armenians by the Ottoman government during 1915 continues to spark a fierce debate about what constitutes genocide and which groups were victims and who were the criminals.
Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-Jewish legal scholar, first used the term “genocide” to describe the Nazi extermination of Europe’s Jews. Since then it has become a verbal weapon wielded both by both victims and perpetrators. While the victims and their descendants demand acknowledgement and compensation, the perpetrators and their descendants seek to avoid historical stigma and payment for government crimes.
The problem with the term is that it has a flexible definition: the systematic killing of “substantial numbers of people on the basis of their ethnicity, religion, political beliefs, social status, or other particularities.” There is no clarity as to how many people or what proportion of the population would need to be murdered to qualify as genocide.
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1948, defines genocide as acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group. It includes killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm; and inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction.Such definitions can be readily applied to numerous massacres during the 20th century in which a substantial portion of an ethnic or religious group was massacred by the government on its territory or on the territory of a neighboring state.
In the case of the Armenians, what began as the arrest of political leaders and intellectuals by the Ottoman authorities in April 1915 culminated in the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population and the deportation of women, children, the elderly, and infirm on death marches, which involved deliberate starvation.
Turkey has denied that its predecessor committed genocide; for the large Armenian diaspora the genocide is their core national mobilizer. In the U.S. the Armenian lobby has been pressing successive administrations to acknowledge the genocide. But the White House does not want to endanger its relations with Turkey, a key NATO ally. In addition, Armenia remains a Russian protectorate that occupies a fifth of the territory of Azerbaijan, a growing energy exporter that can undercut Moscow’s monopolization and manipulation of energy supplies to Europe.
The largest number of genocides in the 20th century were committed in the Soviet Union and yet none of these have been acknowledged by Moscow or recognized by the United Nations. In the most blatant example, the Stalinist regime deliberately starved to death between four and seven million Ukrainian peasants in the early 1930s after forcing them into collective farms and stealing all their food supplies. The goal was to break the backbone of Ukrainian resistance to communist rule.
Soviet security forces also committed genocide against dozens of ethnic groups, either through mass deportation, large-scale massacres, or forced labor with starvation rations. This included Chechens, Crimean Tatars, Balkars, Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, and numerous smaller nations. During World War Two numerous genocides were pursued in different parts of Europe, including rival nationalists in German and Soviet occupied Europe..
In the post-Yugoslav area, there is a danger that some mass murders may again be swept under the carpet for the sake of political expediency. The mandate of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is expiring, with all trials and appeals to be completed by the close of 2015. The Tribunal is to transfer its responsibilities to the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, established in July 2013. This body is supposed to complete all outstanding first instance trials, including those of several indicted war criminal, but the results are uncertain.
The genocide definition has a mixed record in ex-Yugoslavia. Some legal experts assert that “ethnic cleansing” perpetrated primarily by the Bosnian Serb army in the early 1990s constituted genocide. This was confirmed by a resolution of the UN General Assembly and the U.S. Congress.
However, other legal scholars convinced the ICTY and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) only to declare the Srebrenica massacre in July 1995 as genocide. In other words, the rapid murder of 8,000 people was considered a more severe crime than the accumulated extermination of over 100,000 civilians, mostly Bosnian Muslims.
Any rapprochement between Croatia and Serbia and Belgrade’s principal objective of EU integration may push the war crimes issue further into the background. Reportedly, both Serbian and Croatian suspects continue to evade justice, with Belgrade and Zagreb less willing to take legal action for crimes committed twenty or so years ago.
It appears that the EU and the U.S. want to bury the war crimes question and to finally close the chapter on Yugoslavia’s violent disintegration. Such intentions may have their merits, but unrecognized crimes, an absence of justice, and lack of reconciliation have a way of resurfacing with a vengeance and sparking new wars. After all, the cover-ups by Tito’s communists, in which state officials who ordered mass executions evaded justice, provided propaganda ammunition to nationalist forces during the 1990s.
Similarly, the lack of Moscow’s recognition and accountability for Soviet genocides remains an outrage for Russia’s neighbors, including in Ukraine, which is witnessing new war crimes instigated by the Kremlin.
It is time to acknowledge all the genocides that were committed during the 20th century, whatever the identity of the ethnic, national, or religious groups. This is not only an issue of political far-sightedness but also a question of basic morality and our often- trumpeted “Western values.” Surely, this is the very least that all innocent victims should have expected when they were slaughtered simply because of their identity or convictions.
Janusz Bugajski, April 2015
A key weapon in Moscow’s arsenal to weaken its neighbors is the promotion of ethnic conflicts. By encouraging numerous forms of territorial autonomy and ethnic separatism in Europe’s east, Russia’s zone of influence can be extended. If vulnerable governments are to counter such campaigns, they must closely monitor the extensive array of potential disputes and the methods Moscow employs to exploit them.
The first and most obvious secessionist targets are Russian ethnics in neighboring states, together with Sovietized and russified populations that use Russian as their first language and can be linked with President Vladimir Putin’s “Russian World.”
Over 25 million Russian ethnics and Russian-speakers reside in nearby states, with Ukraine, Moldova, Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, and Kazakhtstan as the primary hosts. The Kremlin whips up an atmosphere of threat against these communities to provide justifications for its own involvement. It applies pressure on nearby governments to grant Russians enhanced political status, language rights, and dual citizenship. It thereby calculates that a loyal political corpus will be crafted to support its policies.
Kremlin-funded agencies reportedly conduct surveys of Russian-speaking populations to ascertain the extent of support for autonomy and separatism. Secessionist sentiments can then be fanned and fabricated in various border regions, such as Ukraine’s Donbas.
The threat of separatism is in turn designed to confederalize the targeted state, whereby rebel regions gain legitimacy and are empowered to block the decisions of central governments, especially in their foreign and security policies. In some cases, Moscow also presses for territorial revisions by claiming regions such as Crimea considered traditionally Russian and whose inclusion in a neighboring republic during Soviet times is denounced as unlawful.
Moscow thrusts itself forward as the arbiter in separatist conflicts that it promotes. In reality, Kremlin involvement radicalizes minority leaders and makes conflict resolution more problematic. Even if clear majorities in targeted states do not support secession, local discontented individuals can always be found and funded by Moscow as new ethno-national leaders.
The Kremlin relies on the passivity and fear of the silent majority, while rebels are provided with weapons, recruits, and media exposure. Russian operatives are infiltrated to provide leadership, weaponry, and organization, while crippling the capacity of national governments to protect the population.
A second pliable grouping consists of disaffected non-Russian minorities and regions in neighboring countries that can be coaxed to openly oppose governments viewed as unfriendly toward Moscow. Among numerous examples are the regions of Gagauzia (Moldova), Transcarpathia and Bukovyna (Ukraine), Ossetia and Abkhazia (Georgia), as well as Armenians in Georgia, Lezgins and Avars in Azerbaijan, and Poles in Lithuania. The objective is to squeeze designated governments through threats of partition. Media outlets and Kremlin spokesmen publicize a host of disputes in order to depict Russia as a defender of minority rights and self-determination. Their calculation is that discontented groups will welcome Moscow’s engagement, while the targeted capital will seek compromises to avoid an escalation of conflict.
A third focus for secessionism are the ethnic kindred of states friendly toward Russia and whose governments can be enticed to support collective rights across borders to undermine the integrity of particular countries.
Russia has aided Armenia-backed separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh both to partition Azerbaijan, whose government is perceived as excessively pro-Western, and to reward Armenia for its close alliance with Moscow. In another conspicuous example, the Kremlin encourages Budapest to campaign for Hungarian minorities in nearby states. This can pressurize Ukraine in its western region of Transcarpathia and will potentially affect Romania in parts of Transylvania. Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Republika Srpska), Montenegro, and Kosova are also supported by various Russian agencies to create constituencies for resistance against integration into NATO and the EU.
Moscow benefits from Europe’s inter-state disputes. By promoting national frictions, Russia’s officials can claim that many of the post-World War Two borders are illegitimate, including Moscow’s demands toward selected neighbors. Nationalists and separatists on both sides of an ethnic divide can be covertly supported in order to intensify cross-border conflicts and give Moscow a greater role in mediation.
Russia’s state propaganda conjures up convoluted schemes to foster inter-state disputes. For instance, it claims that Kyiv is preparing to forcibly merge Moldova and the separatist enclave of Transnistria and will assist Romania in absorbing Moldova. Simultaneously, it charges that Bucharest seeks to annex pockets of territory in Ukraine, particularly northern Bukovina and southern Bessarabia. Hence, Moldova, Romania, and Ukraine are all portrayed as threatening each other’s integrity and statehood.
By asserting that Kyiv and Bucharest menace Transnistria’s autonomy, Putin can also justify a land link between Transnistria and a future Novorossiya forcibly carved out of southern Ukraine. Moscow may also threaten both Romania and Ukraine with territorial partition by claiming a broad swath of territory for an enlarged Moldova. Alternatively, it may back splitting both Ukraine and Moldova through the creation of a separate Budjak Republic to include Gagauzia, Taraclia (with a sizeable Bulgarian community), and parts of the Odessa region in Ukraine. Romania can then be offered the rest of Moldova and slithers of Ukraine in exchange for Bucharest’s recognition of Novorossiya.
The Kremlin has numerous ethnic and regional permutations at its disposal to entrap both its friends and opponents. Targeted capitals become especially vulnerable if they are unprepared for subversion, if they fail to cooperate against Moscow’s intrigues, or if they are seduced into supporting secessionism in neighboring countries on the grounds of defending their ethnic kindred.
Janusz Bugajski, April 2015
The upcoming general elections in the United Kingdom are not only important for determining the country’s international direction and administrative integrity, but they may prove decisive for the future of the EU project.
The ballot is forecast to be the tightest in decades, with neither of the two major parties, Conservative and Labor, projected to win a clear majority. Support for both parties stands at under 35 percent, despite the strenuous efforts of new Labor leader Ed Miliband to defeat the incumbent Conservatives.
The influence of smaller parties beyond the Liberal Democrats, the current junior partner in government, is likely to grow. Despite the majoritarian election rules without proportional representation, the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) look set to gain more parliamentary seats and could prove instrumental in the formation of the next government coalition.
Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged that in the event of a Conservative victory a nationwide plebiscite will be held by the end of 2017 to decide on Britain’s continuing EU membership. All other parties except the UKIP oppose such a move. In fact, the UKIP has offered to support another Conservative government if the EU referendum is brought forward to this year.
The UK only entered the EU in 1974, it has not adopted the single currency, and did not join the Schengen open border agreement. Brussels is widely seen as an intrusive super-government threatening Britain’s independence. Cameron is now offering to renegotiate the terms of UK membership before he holds a public referendum.
Britain’s Europhobes argue that Britain should develop stronger economic links with rapidly developing parts of the world, such as south and east Asia, and reduce its links with the EU. Anti-EU activists have also spread fear about plans for closer European integration, spearheaded by Germany and France, which would further undermine British sovereignty.
Conservatives claim Brussels is preparing a new treaty to centralize the Union and Britain should therefore withdraw altogether. Many parliamentarians want the UK to emulate Norway and Switzerland with regard to their limited obligations to the EU.
London is seeking to regain control of three main arenas where the influence of Brussels is resented: immigration, employment laws, and legal affairs. Many citizens blame the EU for what they view as excessive immigration combined with over tolerant legal norms that insufficiently punish criminals. According to recent polls, nearly half of the electorate favor leaving the EU, compared with 36 percent who want the UK to stay.
However, London will find it difficult to convince other EU states to negotiate any deal that would loosen Union bonds at a time when the currency union is already under threat. EU partners criticize the planned referendum and claim it would weaken both the Union and marginalize Britain. Some are worried that it would set a precedent for other countries and hasten the EU’s demise. Prominent business leaders and the Labor Party have warned that Cameron’s position can diminish foreign investment and reduce London’s position as a major financial center.
Britain’s departure could also damage the trans-Atlantic alliance by fracturing an already shaky Europe. The Obama administration is urging London to stay inside the EU arguing that Britain’s departure would undermine its global standing, erode the “special relationship” with Washington, and weaken NATO.
Paradoxically, a vote against Britain’s EU membership could also reinvigorate calls for Scottish independence. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has asserted that any attempt to pull Scotland out of the EU would trigger another independence referendum, this time with a majority supporting separation from the UK.
The SNP is forecast to make large gains in the upcoming elections, especially from the Labor Party, and may overtake the Liberal Democrats for third place in parliament with over 40 seats. It could well become the king maker in any future governing coalition.
Although Scottish nationalists failed to win the September 2014 independence referendum, they have proved to be successful advocates for Scottish rights and social justice. SNP membership has grown from 25,000 to more than 104,000 in recent months and the party has become the third largest in Britain even though Scotland accounts for just 8.3 percent of the total population.
Both Britain’s potential departure from the EU and Scotland’s potential independence from the UK can establish precedents for the entire European project, as other EU members or aspiring states may seek to emulate their examples. Britain and Scotland have reawakened the democratic yearnings of Europeans who consider both Brussels and their national capitals as detached from ordinary citizens. Other regions around Europe will be encouraged to pursue a more extensive devolution of powers.
Scotland’s next move will be watched closely in separatist regions in Spain, Belgium, Italy, and France. Even parts of Central and Eastern Europe could be emboldened, although resistance to local autonomy is often stronger here because of fears of territorial fracture, nationalist exclusivism, ethnic conflict, and the interference of neighboring states.
The challenge for the EU over the next decade is to forge a workable compromise between local autonomy and Europe-wide integration. Over-centralization, paralyzing federalization, or dysfunctional fragmentation need to be avoided, while citizens must be enabled to select the most effective political units to ensure their political and economic liberties. Clearly, the debate over the shape and structure of the European project will enter a dynamic phase after the UK elections.
Janusz Bugajski, April 2015
Russia just completed an unprecedented five-day military exercise simulating the deployment of nuclear weapons. The multi-regional maneuvers in mid-March looked ominously like preparations for full-scale war with the West. And although World War Three is not imminent, the extensive drills were part of a broader offensive to spread fear and uncertainty and to reinvigorate President Vladimir Putin’s alpha dog image after his reappearance from a mysterious ten-day absence.
Previous Russian exercises have focused on particular military districts and involved more restricted targets. Conducting a single exercise that cut across Europe from Norway to the Black Sea was clearly aimed at rattling NATO and its Central-East European members. There was also a Pacific component to the maneuvers in a simulated conflict with Japan and its U.S. ally.
The exercises reportedly involved over 80,000 soldiers, 3,000 vehicles, 40 surface vessels, 15 submarines, and 220 aircraft, and covered the Arctic, Baltic, and Black Sea regions. They simulated an extensive confrontation with NATO through the forward deployment of nuclear-armed submarines, theater ballistic missiles, and strategic bomber aircraft. Strategic weapon systems were positioned in locations near NATO’s borders. By also threatening to permanently station Tupolev nuclear-capable bomber jets in Crimea, Russia ratcheted up the threat of nuclear confrontation.
Moscow has four paramount goals in its current war maneuvers. First, they serve as a warning to targeted states that they are not only vulnerable to subversion but also to direct attack if they challenge Russia’s national ambitions. According to its military doctrine, Russia reserves the right to conduct a preemptive strike if it perceives a distinct and inevitable military threat or feels threatened by reduced access to regions where it possesses crucial economic or financial interests. Moscow can also use its military if there is an avowed threat to Russian citizens or ethnic Russians
A second Kremlin objective through its war exercises is to demonstrate that NATO will not provide sufficient protection against either conventional or nuclear strikes. Unlike the West, Russia does not shy away from displaying the nuclear option. Under Putin’s watch, Kremlin officials regularly engage in nuclear blackmail by warning that they will suspend various nuclear arms control agreements while maintaining tactical nuclear missiles along Russia’s western borders. Direct threats have also included preparations for the nuclear annihilation of neighboring capitals.
In its annual Zapad drills Moscow has practiced dropping a nuclear bomb on Warsaw and invading a Baltic country. Russia’s military doctrine also provides for the first use of nuclear weapons under threatening circumstances. Such a posture contributes to dividing the Alliance, as Europe unlike the U.S. would be directly affected by the use of tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons and is likely to make political concessions to avoid such scenarios. Moreover, no one can be certain about Russia’s current nuclear threshold, and that ambiguity is itself a potent weapon.
In anticipation of intensified pressures from Moscow, General Stanislaw Koziej, Head of Poland’s National Security Bureau, warned that Warsaw must be ready for a “hybrid war,” similar to the one in eastern Ukraine. Tomasz Siemoniak, Poland’s defense minister has announced plans to establish a Territorial Defense Force that would include recruits from the country’s numerous paramilitary associations.
Lithuania has also activated a new rapid reaction force designed to confront new unconventional security threats. Several thousand troops will be placed on high alert to counteract attacks by unmarked combatants, like those in eastern Ukraine. Vilnius has also reinstated limited conscription as anxieties escalate over Russia’s military activities. Lithuania abolished conscription in favor of a professional army in 2008, four years after it joined NATO. Conscription would help fill gaps in units and train extra reservists for the professional armed forces.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite has stated that the Baltic states must be prepared to independently resist a military conflict with Russia for at least three days until NATO allies arrive. Conscription sends a clear message that, if attacked, Lithuania would not surrender but would defend itself.
A third Kremlin objective is to engineer close encounters with numerous Western states, thereby raising levels of threat and tension to test the military and political responses of adversaries. The European Leadership Network, a London-based institute, recently produced a detailed study of assertive Russian activities during 2014. It chronicles 40 specific incidents including violations of national airspace, emergency scrambles, narrowly avoided mid-air collisions, close encounters at sea, harassment of reconnaissance planes, close over-flights over warships, mock bombing raid missions, and “other dangerous actions happening on a regular basis over a very wide geographical area.” The targets have included several NATO members as well as neutrals such as Sweden and Finland.
And a fourth goal in staging mass drills and incorporating the nuclear option is to display Moscow’s determination in regaining its former territories. The message is directly linked with possible military support from the West to Ukraine as well as with NATO’s plan to bolster its presence in the Baltic states and Central Europe. Moscow seeks superiority over NATO in the Arctic, Baltic, and Black Sea regions. It conducts unscheduled combat alerts to test the reaction speed of nearby states and has built up its military capabilities so it can stage rapid assaults by regular forces, block air traffic, especially the arrival of support units from NATO, and hit land targets to deter the Alliance from intervening.
The Kremlin is pursuing its “propaganda of the deed” through military brinkmanship with the West, designed to generate public anxiety, create rifts in the Alliance, demoralize adversaries, and disarm effective resistance to its expansionist policies. A graver danger is that the Putin clique, which faces severe economic problems and potential domestic instability, may calculate that it can resort to the war option to prolong its hold on power in Moscow.
Janusz Bugajski, March 2015
The double crisis over Greece and Ukraine provides Germany with an opportunity to boost its leadership role in Europe. However, serious doubts remain whether Berlin has the capacity to achieve the dual objectives of continental security and institutional development.
All governments in Berlin have been weighed down by a fear of reviving German nationalism. But with European integrity and stability now under threat in the midst of the intensified financial crisis in Greece and Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, Germany has reached a defining moment in its post-World War Two history.
Germany has been afforded Europe’s leadership role partly by default, as the U.S. under President Barack Obama is largely disengaged and preoccupied elsewhere, France is too weak, and the United Kingdom is focused on its own uncertain future inside the EU.
With Europe’s strongest economy, Germany largely determines the EU’s economic policy. But as the continent now faces the most serious questions since the end of the Cold War, expectations have grown that Berlin needs to be the vanguard in both internal and external EU policy. The fact that Croatia’s new President visited Berlin before she traveled to Brussels underscores that Germany is viewed as Europe’s leader and that each EU member seeks good bilateral relations with Berlin for its own national interests.
Chancellor Angela Merkel played the pivotal role five years ago in bailing out Greece, preventing the country from exiting the Eurozone, and precluding a potential implosion of the monetary union. But the resistance of the ultra-leftist government in Athens to repaying its debts will provide another austere test for Merkel, particularly as calls for excluding Greece from the Eurozone will intensify in several EU capitals.
The questions for Berlin are stark: can Greece survive in the Eurozone or can the Eurozone survive a Greek exit? A Greek departure will set a precedent for the Union and other countries will face even greater scrutiny over their public finances. This is sure to raise anti-German sentiments throughout the poorer southern part of Europe. If Merkel can ride that storm and the Eurozone survives, then Germany’s role in the EU will strengthen.
However, an even more menacing challenge faces Berlin — the rise of Russia as a threat to European security. The intra-German debate on Russia has been focused on crisis management and economic costs rather than the deeper security implications for Europe. A true leader places the economy in perspective when dealing with a more fundamental challenge and Germany has yet to pass that test.
When Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, stated that Putin’s occupation of Crimea resembled Hitler’s 1938 annexation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, he was rebuked by Merkel. If the EU is to have a decisive voice in the struggle over Europe’s East, then Berlin must speak with a unified voice. But working against a more realistic approach toward Putin is Merkel’s Social Democrat coalition partner.
The SDP joined the Christian Democrat government with a mission to improve relations with Russia. Officials convinced themselves that President Putin was a pragmatist and the West simply needed to find compromises for Moscow to become a valued partner. In reality, the supposed partnership with Moscow went up in flames with the attack and dismemberment of Ukraine and the recreation of a police dictatorship inside Russia.
But despite the obvious evidence that Putin does not respect treaties, borders, or the national interests of any European state, some members of the German government continue to operate with illusions about making lasting deals with the Kremlin.
For their part, Russian officials cunningly cultivate the German guilt complex over Nazi atrocities during World War Two to undermine Berlin’s self-confidence. Any signs of German assertiveness are condemned as a revival of expansionist nationalism. Indeed, the main enemy in Russia’s state propaganda disseminated in Crimea before its annexation was the imminent return of German fascists.
To undermine Berlin’s political assertiveness, Moscow has entrapped large German companies in lucrative business deals and increased German dependence on natural gas supplies through the Nord Stream pipeline. As a result, Germany’s business lobby has opposed tougher EU economic sanctions against Moscow.
Germany’s pacifist aversion to any kind of force, even including arming the Ukrainians to defend themselves against Russia’s military, sends a chilling signal of weakness throughout the region. It reinforces Putin’s confidence that he can carve up Ukraine as long as this is gradual and disguised as a civil war.
The Kremlin calculates that given German political and business interests, sanctions will eventually be lifted and Moscow can focus attention on another targeted state. And it remains unclear how far Germany is willing to support the Western aspirations of Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia for fear of antagonizing the Kremlin.
Even more worrisome, despite Putin’s persistent threats against Poland and the Baltic states, Merkel has opposed the full protection of Germany’s neighbors by moving NATO bases eastwards. Persistent anti-American streams in German politics and Berlin’s appeasement of Moscow’s imperialism remain grave areas of concern for the newest NATO members. Germany may be respected as an economic power among NATO countries bordering Russia, but it is not trusted as a reliable security provider, especially if these states were to be directly attacked by Moscow.
The Russia-Ukraine war should have provided ample opportunity for Berlin to take the lead in promoting its often-professed values of democracy, sovereignty, and security throughout Europe. Instead, it still panders to an authoritarian Moscow, which threatens the national interests of numerous nearby states.
Berlin’s political and military muscles certainly do not match its economic strength. A failure to keep the Eurozone together will undermine the principles of European integration on which the new Germany has been built. And a failure to maintain Ukraine’s integrity or to stymie Russia’s continuing offensives throughout the region will not only expose Germany as a political lightweight but it will jeopardize the European project itself.
Janusz Bugajski, March 2015
With the final phase of his presidency fast approaching, Barack Obama is in danger of leaving no memorable foreign policy legacy. The loudly trumpeted new era of America’s peaceful global outreach, when Obama was inaugurated in January 2009, has misfired and the White House Policy of “strategic patience” is beginning to look more like “strategic indifference.”
Obama came into office as a peacemaker who successfully terminated the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and brought home American troops. He also reached out to the Muslim world as a multi-ethnic leader without religious or cultural prejudices. He promised to give new impetus to the Arab-Israeli peace process and attempted to engage Russia in extensive global cooperation.
But despite his best intentions, there is little of substance in the international landscape that Obama can claim as his enduring legacy. Throughout his six plus years in office, the President has been confronted by unpredictable revolutions in the Islamic world, Iranian and North Korean persistence in developing nuclear weapons, and the reassertion of Russia’s imperialism, as evident in the attack on Ukraine.
The “Arab Spring” revolts demonstrated Obama’s confusion in whether to support authoritarian allies confronted by a mix of democratic, populist, and radical Islamist forces. The White House proved unable to fully comprehend the causes and consequences of the uprisings. Instead of leading to democratic breakthroughs and the formation of Western-friendly governments, the revolts unleashed militant Islamist sentiments and exposed the territorial fragility of states such as Libya and Syria.
Despite initial high hopes evident in several stirring speeches, Obama has been unable to pacify widespread anti-Americanism in a majority of Muslim states. He calculated that a withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and Iraq would dispel much of the public anger against U.S. military actions and Muslim casualties. Instead, White House policy has not pacified Afghanistan or prevented a resurgence of jihadism in Iraq, Syria, and other radical Salafist fronts. Indeed, the success of the ISIL insurgents could draw the U.S. back militarily into the region despite Obama’s reluctance to intervene.
A major U.S. shortcoming in the Middle East has been a lack of progress in moderating or let alone resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This perennial clash fuels Muslim grievances around the globe, and Obama is widely perceived as friendlier toward Jewish rather than Arab interests and unwilling to push for a two-state solution.
One core objective of the Obama administration was the pursuit of nuclear non-proliferation even if it meant reaching out to anti-American dictators. Instead, the government has floundered in preventing either Iran or North Korea from moving ahead in their nuclear weapons programs. The White House is also in a bitter dispute with Congress on how to disarm Tehran. Moreover, Obama’s unwillingness to supply defensive weapons to Ukraine, because it could allegedly provoke a more aggressive response by a nuclear Russia, sends an unmistakable message to both Tehran and Pyongyang: once you possess nuclear weapons you are are less likely to be challenged by America.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker has criticized Obama’s indecision on providing defensive weapons to Kyiv as undermining U.S. credibility abroad. President Vladimir Putin has deftly exploited Obama’s hesitation, uncertainty, and perceived weakness. He clearly considers Obama a soft leader and views Washington as withdrawing from the world because of economic pressures and American public opposition to foreign engagements.
Obama’s “reset” with Moscow was supposed to herald a new dawn of collaboration that would help settle vexing security issues throughout Asia and the Middle East and lay the basis for a lasting U.S.-Russian alliance. Such hopes went up in smoke in Ukraine when Putin decided that he would forcefully expand the “Russian World” while disregarding the muted appeals of the White House.
Washington failed to detect or deter Russia from invading Ukraine and placing other neighbors under intense pressure. Instead, the White House has played a largely reactive role in reassuring NATO allies that they would be defended in case of attack by Moscow. The most vulnerable states, particularly the three Baltic countries, are still not convinced that NATO will come forcefully to their defense by confronting a potential Russian invasion.
No President wants to leave behind a historical legacy that will look like a defeat The destabilization of Ukraine that threatens the security of NATO allies in Central-Eastern Europe and a globally assertive Russia that undermines American interests will look like abject failure for the White House. This may also rebound negatively on the fortunes of the Democratic presidential candidate in the November 2016 U.S. elections.
Obama advisors seem unable to grasp the strategic significance of the Kremlin’s empire building and its destabilizing impact on several other targeted states. Energy rich Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in particular are in danger of becoming isolated from the West and their oil and gas supplies to Europe subject to Moscow’s interference or ultimate control.
At the trans-Atlantic level, the Obama administration has failed to lead NATO into resolutely embracing new democracies in the Western Balkans and the South Caucasus and has largely surrendered its leadership to a divided EU, which exhibits little coherence or thrust in its foreign policy. Giving Germany the vanguard role in dealing with Russia’s offensive in Ukraine is the equivalent of encouraging an unarmed pacifist to convince a serial killer not to murder again.
Unless Obama initiates and implements a bold foreign policy objective during his remaining time in office, historians will struggle to record any lasting positive achievements beyond being the first African-American President in U.S. history.
Janusz Bugajski, March 2015
Policy makers and analysts have naively assumed that the era of European wars has been consigned to history. In a future of continental integration, international treaties and institutions will supposedly contain or resolve all potential conflicts. But the bloody battles in Ukraine should have awoken everyone to the prospect that this is merely an inter-war period and the Balkans are not immune to future wars.
Policy makers and analysts also assumed that twenty years after the signing of the Dayton accords, reconciliation between Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia would have achieved significant successes and that all three states would become functional democracies. Some even believed that they would all be EU members by the middle of this decade. Instead, without greater international commitment peace could again unravel and precipitate new crises.
It is not difficult to outline scenarios of instability that can escalate into armed conflicts in various corners of ex-Yugoslavia. In such scenarios, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Kosova are the most vulnerable to systemic breakdown where political, ethnic, and social confrontations can spiral out of control.
Prolonged economic decline, polarized politics, ethnic scapegoating, and nationalist ambitions can drive these societies toward uncontainable conflicts at a time when the international presence and military deterrents have been scaled down. The breakdown can also be generated from outside the region, including a spreading East European war between Russia and several of its neighbors that can suck in nearby states.
No country can shield itself completely from conflict and potential fracture, but measures can be taken to improve the chances of state integrity and national survival. In particular, more intensive regional cooperation is essential to preclude countries being embroiled in the internal conflicts of their neighbors.
In the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the political ambitions of nationalist politicians can provoke an institutional meltdown in the midst of growing economic distress, escalating public frustration, and stalled progress toward EU entry. As the Bosnian people learned over twenty years ago, an inter-ethnic or anti-civilian war can be rapidly manufactured where grievances are exposed and democratic institutions remain hollow.
Preventative action must therefore be taken not only by ethno-national leaders in Bosnia itself, but also by state leaders in Serbia and Croatia. The Croatia-Bosnia-Serbia triangle is key to regional security but has been neglected by too many previous governments as well as by international players who have relied primarily on the pulling power of EU accession. As an EU member, Croatia carries a primary responsibility to make its neighborhood as secure as possible in preparation for further EU enlargement. And in seeking to qualify for EU accession, Serbia has a direct interest in stabilizing Bosnia.
It is evidently too late for Croatia’s current government to engage in any major regional initiatives. It has not only lost public support at home but its regional reputation has also suffered. Zagreb’s recently organized business forum in Moscow has demonstrated that the Social Democrat leadership is not only economically desperate but also strategically ignorant at a time when EU sanctions on Russia may be intensified for its ongoing attack on Ukraine and the Russian economy is rapidly sinking.
The next Croatian government, most probably formed by the HDZ after parliamentary elections later this year, will have a much better opportunity to work with both Serbia and Bosnia. Despite the initial missteps of the new Croatian President, HDZ leaders are developing productive relations with both states in preparation for potential breakthroughs.
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic has been criticized for her post-election statement that the establishment of a third entity in Bosnia was acceptable if Croat residents so desired. Serb Republic President Milorad Dodik may view her as a valuable opportunity to further weaken the state through the creation of a third entity. But initial appearances often prove deceptive.
Grabar-Kitarovic’s comments were poorly timed. In reality, she is a political moderate and was evidently expressing gratitude for the votes of Bosnian Croats and support from the nationalist wing of the HDZ. It seems highly unlikely that she or her HDZ colleagues in Zagreb would purposively destabilize Bosnia or the broader region. Any support from Zagreb for the creation of an autonomous Croat unit would make the Bosnian state even more unmanageable and divorced from Europe.
Grabar-Kitarovic will certainly come under intense EU and U.S. pressure to support an integral Bosnia and exert her influence over the Croat community to transform the country into a credible contender for EU entry. But even more importantly, Croatia’s next Prime Minister will be making the key decisions because the President’s powers are restricted by both government and parliament.
Simultaneously, the Aleksander Vucic government in Belgrade has already made positive steps in regional cooperation with Albania and is reaching out to Zagreb to help stabilize the rest of the region and prepare it more effectively for EU membership over the next decade. He has already met with the HDZ President Tomislav Karamarko in an effort to establish a productive working relationship.
All three states must forge a regional forum to accomplish three key tasks. First, the separatist ambitions of some Bosnian Serb and Croat leaders must be finally sidelined, and both Belgrade and Zagreb have the influence to accomplish this objective. Second, constitutional and administrative changes must be initiated to streamline decision-making and enhance government functionality at the central level in Sarajevo. And third, a program for economic development needs to be pursued that will attract private investment and EU funding and involve triangular collaboration with Zagreb and Belgrade.
Both Croatia and Serbia will suffer substantial damage from the impact of an increasingly conflictive Bosnia. The prospect of renewed war should sober up national leaders in all three national groups. What once seemed unimaginable is now in the realm of the possible. And the best form of prevention is not to expect the status quo to continue indefinitely but to start building a constructive alternative to conflict.
Janusz Bugajski, March 2015
The assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov propels Russia into a dangerous new phase of state terrorism. In effect, President Vladimir Putin’s regime has declared war on political dissidents, on Russia’s civil society, and on any foreign influences that seek to democratize the country.
The killing of critical journalists such as Anna Politovskaya could be depicted by Moscow as the actions of uncontrolled mobsters. The imprisonment of freewheeling oligarchs such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky could be wrapped in legal trappings. But the brazen public murder of a charismatic political opponent points the finger directly at the Kremlin. It demonstrates that President Putin is consolidating his dictatorship to enhance Russia’s imperial reconstruction and confrontation with the West.
There seems little doubt Nemtsov’s murder was a planned “wet” operation organized by Russia’s internal security services, as several opposition leaders have concluded. Nemtsov was under intensive round the clock police surveillance. Meanwhile, the state media have incited hatred against the democratic opposition and urged their elimination as a “fifth column” of “national traitors.” And major figures do not get assassinated within smelling distance of the Kremlin without orders from above.
Nemtsov was shot dead in the back, a traditional KGB method of execution. The area next to the Kremlin is one of the most secure spots in the country but the police have failed to find the suspect, the murder weapon, or even the getaway car. Just as with the shooting down of the Malaysian passenger plane by Russian forces in eastern Ukraine in July 2014, Moscow will cover up the facts, manufacture various conspiracy theories, and prevent a proper investigation.
In declarations of classic naivety, some Western leaders have called on Moscow to conduct a full and transparent investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice. This is tantamount to asking the killers to investigate and imprison themselves. Putin quickly announced that he would personally take charge of the investigations: in other words the main suspect would supervise the criminal investigation.
Russia’s security services and criminal organizations are closely intertwined, and whether the actual shooting was conducted by an FSB (the current KGB) operative or a contracted killer is less significant than the source of decision-making in the Kremlin.
Several motives and objectives can lurk behind such a brazen political assassination and they reveal much about Russia’s political direction. First, the murder was an act of revenge for Nemtsov’s revelations about massive state corruption in organizing the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Nemtsov described the Olympics as the biggest swindle in Russian history. Moreover, he was not afraid to publicly and persistently denounce Putin as a corrupt dictator and condemn his domestic and foreign policies. Evidently, he could only be silenced through death.
Second, the killing serves as a warning to the opposition and spreads fear regarding the possible next target. State propaganda claimed that Nemtsov was preparing a Ukrainian-type Majdan revolution in Moscow, hence the killing was justifiable to purportedly prevent a coup d’état in Russia. The murder can thereby be used as a springboard to intensify the crackdown against any independent organized actions in Russian society, including mass political protests.
Third, Nemtsov’s eradication is also intended to silence the truth about Moscow’s attack on Ukraine. The murdered democrat was working on a report about direct Russian military involvement in Ukraine entitled “Putin and the War.” It details the Kremlin’s war crimes and cover up operations. Moscow’s police swarmed through Nemtsov’s apartment shortly after his murder to remove all documents and computer hard drives.
Nemtsov was also killed just two days before a planned anti-war demonstration in Moscow and the shooting may discourage less courageous activists to speak out against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The government has not only disguised its involvement in Ukraine but hidden the number of Russian casualties, many of them conscripts. It fears a groundswell of opposition to the war and the evasion of service by frightened young men. It is certainly worth remembering that the Soviet loss and withdrawal from Afghanistan in the early 1990s was followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Fourth, political murders typically shock and confuse Western policy makers. They can be used to demonstrate that the regime is tough and determined and will eliminate alleged Western lackeys, including Russia’s liberal opposition. Paradoxically, the Kremlin has also sought to implicate Western intelligence services in Nemtsov’s murder in line with its accusations that Washington is intent on destabilizing Russia to bring down the Putin administration.
And fifth, Moscow may be preparing the public for even tougher times ahead, as the economy rapidly sinks and living standards begin to deteriorate following the collapse of global oil prices. Nemtsov’s eradication could be the harbinger of a broader purge to prevent public protests and growing unrest among Russia’s numerous restive and impoverished cities and regions.
But despite Putin’s intentions, the assassination of Nemtsov ultimately projects regime weakness rather than strength. The Kremlin leader has spent the last fifteen years constructing a quasi-fascist system characterized by a strong leadership cult, a hierarchical political structure, a loyal party machine, a compliant parliament, a propagandized mass media, and state-supervised capitalism.
However, the Putinist system is built on brittle foundations and is highly dependent on providing substantial financial benefits to loyal oligarchs, state security officers, and government bureaucrats. As the economic pie continues to shrink the political structure and state edifice become more fragile. Indeed, the violent radicalization of authoritarian regimes invariably reveals a fear of power struggles, public unrest, and potential revolution.
Janusz Bugajski, February 2015
The inauguration of Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic as Croatia’s new President looks like the first stage in returning the HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union) to power after the scandals linked with previous party leaders. It can also signify a new turn in regional politics, either through an escalation of tensions or progress in resolving grievances with Belgrade and Sarajevo.
Grabar-Kitarovic won the presidential elections after two rounds to become the first female head of state in Croatia. She narrowly defeated incumbent Ivo Josipovic, a symbol of the increasingly unpopular center-left government. The ruling Social Democrats are blamed for the economic recession, high unemployment, and numerous corruption scandals, including Zagreb mayor Milan Bandic. The stage is now set for the HDZ to win the parliamentary elections later this year.
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic attended President Grabar-Kitarovic’s inauguration with a message of “peace and cooperation.” This was the first time that a Serbian premier attended the inauguration of a Croatian President. Vucic seems committed to improving bilateral relations and demonstrating that Serbia has become a factor for regional stability. Moreover, Serbia needs Croatia’s support to make progress toward EU membership.
Grabar-Kitarovic made an ill-advised statement about Croatian citizens after her election, which was exploited as evidence that she was turning the country toward ethnic exclusivism. In her words: “Citizens of Orthodox faith and Serbian nationality are also Croats in terms of Croatian citizenship.” Her likely intention was to underscore that all citizens of Croatia were equal including the Serbian minority. But given the historical sensitivities sometimes it is preferable to remain silent.
Her statement was vigorously attacked by Serbian government officials; some even claimed that the new President was promoting ethnic assimilation or expulsion. Such hyperbole is so commonplace in the Balkans that no one really notices it anymore. Grabar-Kitarovic seemed determined to ruffle even more political feathers in Belgrade, by speaking out for greater minority rights for Croats “in Serbia and Vojvodina.” Critics interpreted the comment as deliberately promoting the separation of Vojvodina from Serbia.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serb Republic President Milorad Dodik may view Grabar- Kitarovic as an ally and a valuable opportunity to further fracture the state through the creation of a third entity for Bosnian Croats. Several Bosnian leaders criticized the new President’s statement that the establishment of a third entity in Bosnia was acceptable if the Croats there desired it.
The comments were poorly timed and potentially inflammable. The new President, who is a political moderate, was evidently expressing gratitude for the votes of Bosnian Croats and support from the nationalist wing of the HDZ. It seems highly unlikely that she or the potential next HDZ government would purposively destabilize the region. Any support from Zagreb for the creation of an autonomous Croat unit would make the Bosnian state even more unmanageable and divorced from Europe. Grabar-Kitarovic will certainly come under intense EU and U.S. pressure to support an integral Bosnia and her influence over the Croat community to transform the country into a credible contender for EU entry would benefit both Zagreb and Sarajevo.
Janusz Bugajski, February 2015
The change of government in Greece has reopened the Macedonian question. A radical left administration in Athens may open new opportunities to settle the name dispute and allow Macedonia to join NATO and the EU. Regardless of the outcome, Skopje needs to use the post-election phase to push ahead with a resolution.
The name dispute between Macedonia and Greece has dragged once since the collapse of Yugoslavia and became more polarized when Skopje was on the verge of an invitation to join NATO in 2008. Since that time nationalist passions on both sides have stalled the negotiation process conducted under UN auspices.
But whereas previous Greek governments have been adamant against compromises, Syriza has a split position over Macedonia. It contains a fraction that wants a quick resolution of the dispute and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras himself has not previously exploited the Macedonian question to his political advantage.
Syriza prides itself on its anti-nationalism and is not influenced by the Greek Orthodox Church. Some Syriza deputies have blamed Greek capitalists for the impasse in the name dispute. However, there are countervailing trends in the party. Nadia Valavani, head of Syriza’s foreign policy committee, conceded that its position on changing Macedonia’s name to one with a geographic qualifier remains the same as that of previous administrations.
Syriza is also staunchly anti-American and anti-NATO and has displayed an avidly pro-Moscow line throughout the Ukrainian war. It may therefore oppose NATO enlargement on principle and block Macedonia’s progress with a leftist rather than a nationalist explanation. It may also exploit nationalist sentiments if its economic policies fail and will not want to be seen as betraying Greek national interests.
Additionally, Panos Kammenos, leader of the government’s coalition partner, the Independent Greeks, and the new Defense Minister has a hard position on Macedonia. In return for Kammenos supporting Syriza’s economic policies, Tsipras may need to freeze any negotiations over Macedonia’s name.
While Greece, Macedonia, the EU, NATO, and the U.S. all lose in the Greek-Macedonian dispute, there is one power that gains from this “frozen conflict” – Putin’s Russia. Moscow is playing both sides of the Greek-Macedonian dispute. By blocking further NATO enlargement in the Balkans, Athens has played Moscow’s tune. Putin is elated by the Syriza victory because of its anti-NATO and anti-American positions and has invited Tsipras to Moscow.
At the same time, Moscow is cozying up to Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, following government charges against Social Democrat opposition leader Zoran Zaev for allegedly planning a coup d’état. Suspicions abound that Greek secret services sought to destabilize Macedonia by providing Zaev with evidence of the government’s alleged mismanagement which led to the official clampdown.
Putin is hoping that Gruevski can become another Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister ostracized by the EU and U.S. for avowedly backtracking on democracy. This will also strengthen those who argue against Macedonia’s membership in either NATO or the EU. Moscow will act as Macedonia’s supporter and protector as it pursues its expansionist interests in the Balkans.
Janusz Bugajski, February 2015
The election triumph of the radical left in Greece has sent shivers throughout Europe in anticipation of further populist victories. Southern Europe in particular is vulnerable to radical appeals given the failures of the political establishment and the poor state of national economies.
The EU’s ultra-left avoids the traditional communist labels in appealing to a wider audience. The old battles between Stalinists and Trotskyists have been shelved and references to previous failed communist experiments in Europe’s East are avoided.
Nonetheless, there is little new in their ideological dogmas: capitalism and neo-liberalism are the main enemies, owners continue to exploit workers, America is still an imperialist power, and Russia must be supported because it opposes U.S. global dominance. Much of this could be dismissed as the immature repetition of outdated slogans, if it wasn’t actually believed by party leaders.
There is also little innovation in the radical left’s policy prescriptions. At its core is the conviction that the state should own all strategic industries and manage all major national services. Despite all historic evidence to the contrary, leftists still believe that governments are more productive than markets and that collective ownership controlled by state managers is more efficient than private property.
The sole reason the ultra-left has gained significant public support is the prolonged economic recession that has hit Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Italy the hardest. Voters believe that all major parties have contributed to economic failure and are riddled with corruption. The radicals offer simple solutions, but their programs are based on one fundamental fallacy – that the government has unlimited sources of money.
Austerity measures were implemented by several south European states in order to obtain desperately needed loans from the IMF, the European Council, and the European Central Bank. As part of debt deals, governments were required to cut public costs by billions of euros. Syriza’s victory in Greece will now encourage the populist left in other states to believe they can terminate austerity and increase spending.
Spain and Italy will hold elections over the next two years. In Spain, the Podemos movement is gaining in strength. It won five seats to the European parliament in May and general elections are scheduled for December. With unemployment standing at 24% and poverty growing, Podemos leads opinion polls with about a quarter of the vote. Its populist support will increase following Syriza’s victory in Greece and Podemos has asserted that it will write off part of Spain’s debt if it wins the elections.
Italy is another far-left target where financial problems are combined with a sagging economy, massive unemployment, and widespread poverty. Italian leftist parties such as Rifondazione Comunista and the Left Ecology Freedom will try to ride on Syriza’s coattails and apply their own Greek myths.
It is not only the EU’s ultra-left that will benefit from the Greek elections. Other radical formations with simple populist messages will seek to be one of the falling dominos, including the ultra-right French Front National and Italy’s super-populist Five Star Movement. Paradoxically, Syriza’s expected economic failures will encourage alternatives from the other extreme of the political spectrum.
Janusz Bugajski, February 2015
Ukraine needs effective weapons to defend itself against a separatist war engineered by Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The resistance of the Obama administration against arming a country determined to protect its independence and territorial integrity will prove ultimately counterproductive, as the tragic case of Bosnia-Herzegovina demonstrated over twenty years ago.
When Serbia’s dictator Slobodan Milosevic embarked on carving out a Greater Serbia from a collapsing Yugoslavia in 1991 by supporting proxy separatists, the West imposed an arms embargo on all the Yugoslav republics, arguing that fewer weapons would mean less fighting. But the impact proved the exact opposite. While Belgrade and Serbian separatists already possessed every variety of heavy weaponry inherited from the Yugoslav army, the newly emerging states of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina were denied an effective means to defend themselves.
The consequences were dire, as Milosevic’s proxies murdered and expelled tens of thousands of civilians in a policy camouflaged as “ethnic cleansing.” The Bosniak Muslims suffered the full force of this brutal assault on their territories and people. In effect, the arms embargo on Yugoslavia escalated and prolonged the armed conflict, precipitated attempted genocide, and eventually pulled NATO into the crisis through air strikes and a subsequent peacekeeping operation.
The anti-civilian war and Alliance intervention culminated in the November 1995 Dayton accords, which established a divided Bosnian state that remains dysfunctional and unreformable to this day. All these negative developments were a direct consequence of state vulnerability, military weakness, and Western miscalculation at the outset of the Yugoslav conflicts.
The failure of the West to aid Bosnia militarily also served to radicalize some elements of the Muslim population and introduced foreign mujaheddin units into the war because the government in Sarajevo was desperate for any assistance it could muster. Some of these fighters stayed on to proselytize among Bosnia’s moderate Muslims and were suspected of generating anti-Western jihadism. In Ukraine, a lack of weaponry to resist Russia’s violent assault and the escalating slaughter of thousands of civilians will also embitter sectors of society and raise opportunities for nationalist radicalization.
Contrary to conventional official wisdom in the U.S. administration, arming Ukraine will not automatically lead to an escalation of the war. On the contrary, it is the inability of the Ukrainian government to fully resist the Kremlin-sponsored rebellion that will embolden further land grabs by Moscow and its local proxies. This will increase civilian casualties, already estimated in the thousands, force tens of thousands more to flee their homes, destroy more of the country’s infrastructure, further damage an already precarious economy, and undermine the reformist pro-Western government that Washington and Brussels have fully endorsed.
The basis of statehood, reform, and economic development is national security and social stability. Without effective self-defense against foreign-generated secessionism and outright invasion a country cannot build and consolidate its democratic institutions, pursue deep structural reforms, modernize its economy, or attract desperately needed foreign investment. The case of Yugoslavia needs to be carefully studied by our policy makers so that the same mistakes are not repeated in contemporary Ukraine.
There is also a larger strategic consequence of disabling Kyiv from fully defending its national independence. It sends two troublesome messages to the wider region. First, other vulnerable states along Russia’s borders will wonder whether they will also be left alone to face an aggressive Moscow if their sovereignty and territory is violated. And second, it signals to Putin that the West lacks unity and willpower and the Kremlin can reach for other potential prizes such as the Baltic states without fear of punishing military consequences.
For the past year, Ukrainian forces have demonstrated their determination to defend their country against superior Russian firepower. What they lack is the means to pursue a concerted defense of Ukrainian territory that would become a deterrent to further military aggression. With rebels pursuing new offensives in eastern Ukraine and Russia pouring in more troops and weapons across the porous eastern border, the time is ripe for arming Kyiv with more effective and lethal defensive weapons.
The list is readily available and includes anti-tank rocketry, sophisticated radars, secure communications equipment, and other items that would help deter and deny further territorial gains for Moscow. A program of Western training for Ukraine’s military will also enable better coordination and tactical expertize in confronting Moscow’s invasion.
There is another important element in this military equation that the White House seems to be neglecting. While Ukrainian casualties can be borne by a determined nation that is resisting Moscow’s offensives, climbing losses among rebels, many of whom are Russian citizens, and among Russia’s military forces will challenge Kremlin denials of direct involvement in the Donbas.
The war in Ukraine will become increasingly unpopular among Russia’s population, which is already facing a collapse in living standards because of Moscow’s economic incompetence. A bloody nose for Russia’s Milosevic in Ukraine may actually embolden the Russian people to call for an end to Putin’s imperial restoration project. Surely, our administration would welcome that?
Janusz Bugajski, February 2015
The future of the EU project is again under question, as the unresolved Greek tragedy has resurfaced. The victory of the ultra-leftist Syriza movement has unearthed fears that Athens will renege on the country’s massive debts, undermine Europe’s currency union, and stimulate populist radicalism around Europe.
Syriza won Greece’s snap general elections and formed an “anti-austerity” government with the right-wing Greek Independents. It is riding on a wave of public resentment against six years of enforced austerity that was necessary for Greece to receive over 240 billion Euros of aid to rescue its failed economy.
In the past five years, Greece’s economy has shrunk by 25%, thousands of businesses have closed, wages and pensions have been slashed and unemployment among youth stands at over 50%. But despite the massive cuts in government spending, the public debt has climbed from 146% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in 2010 to 175.5% in 2014. At 320 billion Euro, this is the second highest national debt in the world.
During the election campaign, Syriza declared that it would reverse commitments to the terms of the international bailout and raised the prospect of defaulting on repayments. It pledged to unwind many of the reforms imposed by Greece’s creditors — the “troika” of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the EU, and the European Central Bank (ECB).
Syriza also announced that it would cut taxes, increase state aid and public services, raise the minimum wage, and reverse public sector pay cuts. It would simultaneously freeze major privatization projects, including the port of Piraeus and the main power company, the Public Power Corporation of Greece. If implemented, such policies will rapidly bankrupt the country. Although Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras pledged to keep Greece in the eurozone he appointed radical leftist ministers to manage the economy.
Athens is due to receive seven billion euros in new loans, but this will be tied to government commitments to loan repayments and financial discipline. Greece only has enough cash to meet its funding needs for the next couple of months and faces 10 billion euros of debt repayments by the summer. Without fresh loans, it will be unable to meet these payments, leading to financial default and no additional bailout funds.
EU funds do not grow on trees but are paid by taxpayers in other Eurozone countries. If Athens refuses to pay back its debts then the pressure to push Greece out of the Euro area will escalate. And unlike a few years ago, the EU may be prepared to act. Europeans who were once determined to keep the eurozone intact at any cost now feel they can manage without Greece. It has a population of only 11 million in a Union of 500 million and constitutes less than 1.5% of its GDP.
Syriza will most probably try to blackmail the EU to forgive much of its debt by warning that it it defaults on its loans this will encourage other countries in southern Europe to backtrack on their financial debts and budgetary commitments. This could seriously undermine the wider EU economy. However, the ECB has removed much of the threat of contagion and the fear that a Greek default could spread to Spain and Italy. It has announced a program of bond-buying worth €60bn per month which may shield other eurozone economies. Many investors are convinced that the eurozone would actually be stronger without Greece, so long as no other big country follows it out of the Eurozone.
If Syriza is serious in its campaign pledges, ejection from the Eurozone and a return to the drachma is the only sensible solution and will send a strong message to other governments not to live beyond their means. Without a Thacherite capitalist reformation Greece will continue to sink while Europe will no longer want to pay its bills.
In order for Greece to register real economic recovery, it needs an overhaul of its ossified clientelistic and quasi-socialist economic structure. The government must be streamlined, the closed shop powers of labor unions need to be ended, bureaucratic red tape needs to be expunged, and business competition must be allowed to flourish to attract desperately needed foreign investment. In addition, there needs to be a strong enforcement of domestic tax collection policies.
In addition to a potential financial meltdown in Greece, the ultra-leftist government will generate two further negative consequences for European security. First, it will encourage radical leftist parties across Europe to believe their moment has arrived. This would pose a direct political challenge to the principles of liberalism and pluralism by increasing the role of the state and undermining market economies in parts of the EU.
Many of Europe’s struggling countries have launched their own versions of Syriza, while Tsipras visited Italy, Spain, and Portugal in recent months. Syriza’s victory could boost other existing populist parties, such as Beppe Grillo’s anti-euro Five Star Movement in Italy and the Podemos Movement in Spain.
And second, Syriza will contribute to undermining any coherence in EU foreign policy. It is unlikely to resolve the name dispute with Macedonia that would allow that country to enter NATO and the EU. It is also staunchly anti-American and anti-NATO and has displayed an avidly pro-Moscow line by supporting Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
Greece is fast becoming Putin’s Trojan Horse inside the EU and NATO and will enable him to make further inroads into European politics. Syriza could block any unified EU position toward Russia and thereby contribute to further destabilizing Europe’s east.
Greece itself could experience a spiral of conflict. If Syriza succeeds in implementing its policies living standards will plummet and the government will need to curtail democratic institutions to ensure its control. But if it fails to satisfy voters and is ousted, this will open the space to the ultra-nationalists of Golden Dawn, which emerged as the country’s third largest political force. A second Greek civil war could then loom on the horizon, with the country veering between two political extremes.
Janusz Bugajski, January 2015
Russia is not a reliable a partner for the West against violent jihadism. On the contrary, Moscow remains closely linked with international terrorism as a means of undermining the West and expanding Russia’s influence.
Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite has described Russia as a terrorist state for two reasons: the regime has engaged in terrorist attacks against its own civilian population and it has played a key role in developing terrorist groups outside its borders.
Connections between the Kremlin and international terrorism extend back for decades and have been chronicled in a new report by the Lithuania-based Eastern Europe Studies Centre. The FSB’s predecessor, the KGB, helped to develop modern terrorism against Israeli and Western targets. It provided weapons to a number of terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, and first devised aircraft hijackings during the 1960s.
The KGB deployed terrorism to spread communist regimes around the world before Islamist terrorism became a global threat. The FSB continues the tradition of sponsoring terrorism. During its proxy attack on Ukraine, Moscow supplied the missile system to separatists who shot down a Malaysian Airline plane and killed nearly 300 civilians. Amnesty International confirms that all evidence indicates that Russia is fueling the war both by direct intervention and by supporting the separatists.
The Western world is reluctant to officially declare the self-styled People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk inside Ukraine as terrorist organizations despite their persistent attacks on civilians. This is a political decision in order to protect Russia from automatic recognition as a terrorism sponsor.
Among its arsenal of recent terrorist acts, Russia has engaged in assassinations of critics and defectors. In the most publicized case, Aleksander Litvinenko, a fugitive officer of the FSB security service, was murdered by radionuclide polonium-210 in London in 2006. In July 2006, Russia introduced a statutory right enabling “Russian special units to kill extremists outside Russia.” Moscow’s definition of extremism includes all critics of the Putin regime.
According to former KGB officer Konstantin Preobrazhensky, Russia persistently employs terrorism both internally and abroad. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the deputy leader of al-Qaeda, was an FSB agent trained in Russia in the 1990s before joining Osama bin Laden. Mohamed Atta, the terrorist who piloted a hijacked plane into New York’s World Trade Center on 9/11, had links with Iraq’s intelligence officers who were clients of Russia’s intelligence services.
The Putinists have also engaged in domestic terrorism to manipulate the public. In the most notorious example described by Western specialists, in 1999 shortly after Putin was appointed President the FSB bombed several housing complexes inside Russia, killing over 300 citizens, to justify a new war against Chechen independence.
It is time not only to conduct a thorough investigation of Moscow’s terrorist activities but also to finally declare the Russian regime both as a sponsor and perpetrator of domestic and international terrorism. This will deepen the ostracism and isolation of a system that relies on deception and mass murder to achieve its goals regardless of its current ideology.
Janusz Bugajski, January 2015
The terrorist attacks in France demonstrate that jihadism inspired by the Islamic State (IS) is coming to Europe with a vengeance, and other countries are at risk of further atrocities. Indeed, the IS reversals in Iraq and Syria will encourage its leaders to hit back at European states that support the counter-insurgency campaign.
Over 18,000 Islamist recruits have flocked to the IS rebellion during the past year, with approximately 3,000 from Europe. This global movement increasingly resembles its Leninist-Maoist counterpart during the 1960s and 1970s, as jihadism and Bolshevism have a great deal in common, in terms of ideology, structure, and objectives.
Young people joining the jihad are not necessarily poor and uneducated but often middle class and idealistic much like the Marxist radicals in earlier decades. Jihadism is similar to millenarian communism in which young middle class rebels jumped on the revolutionary Leninist bandwagon in the West believing the false prophecies of Marx and Engels. And some were recruited to fight in foreign “anti-imperialist” wars.
Marxism-Leninism was not as secular as its advocates claimed, but was based on unproven dogmas that demanded revolutionary actions. It had its sacred scriptures, its own cosmology with the supreme deity of Karl Marx and his prophet on earth, Lenin, its apostles Stalin and Mao, its vanguard priesthood in the communist party, and its elaborate rituals and feast days.
Jihadism and Bolshevism possess simplistic ideologies. “Unbelievers and apostates” now take the place of “capitalists and imperialists.” Both espouse an egalitarian and universalistic ethos that crosses ethnic boundaries: whether the dictatorship of the proletariat or Sharia law imposed by a self-appointed vanguard.
The anti-Western puritan Islamist ideologist Sayyid Qutub similarly to his Leninist predecessors has emphasized the vitally important role of the Islamist vanguard in organizing, mobilizing, and educating Muslims on the correct path to paradise.
Jihadist ideology has wide appeal because of its disregard for social hierarchies. It criticizes the poorly informed Muslim leadership and fills an ideological, social, and political vacuum. It convinces converts that they are following the original tenets of Islam and the teachings of the Koran and not to recognize any of the Islamic schools that interpret Prophet Mohammad’s words.
Religious righteousness, much like class struggle, provides a unifying bond across ethnic boundaries and enables insurgents to recruit outside their communities and campaign for the creation of a broad regional structure styled as a future Muslim Caliphate. It also offers a sense of solidarity and community, a means for achieving sacred goals, and a recipe for creating an allegedly just social order to replace failed state institutions.
However, just like communism, militant jihadism has a darker side that focuses on eliminating infidels or “enemies of the people.” Everyone is under suspicion of betraying the religious revolution and abandoning the sacred ideology. Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, much like IS and the Taliban, murdered tens of thousands of real or potential opponents and imposed a reign of terror. Both ideologies involve radical social engineering in captured countries to create alleged utopias that in reality are totalitarian police states.
Janusz Bugajski, January 2015
The future of the EU project will again come under question, as the Greek tragedy is resurfacing. Greece’s early general elections on January 25 are stoking fears that Syriza, the neo-Marxist opposition, will triumph in the ballot, renege on the country’s international bailout deal, and undermine Europe’s currency union.
Following the failure to elect a new President by the Greek parliament, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras dissolved parliament and declared early elections. The Syriza ultra-leftists are riding on a wave of public resentment against six years of enforced austerity that was necessary for Greece to receive over 240 billion Euros of aid to rescue its failed economy.
Syriza may decide to reverse Athens’ commitments to the terms of the international bailout or even default on its repayments. It has pledged to unwind many of the reforms imposed by Greece’s creditors — the “troika” of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the EU, and the European Central Bank — by cutting taxes and increasing state aid and public services.
Any plans to freeze debt repayments would lead to a financial default and state bankruptcy. Such moves would precipitate financial chaos in Greece itself, freeze any additional bailout funds, curtail international business investment, damage the finances of other Eurozone members, and threaten Greece’s membership of the Eurozone currency union.
Within hours of the elections being called, the IMF suspended further bailout payments to Greece until a new government was formed. International markets and creditors will be closely watching the balloting and the composition of the next government. Greece recently secured an extension from its EU-IMF creditors to conclude a fiscal audit that will determine the release of seven billion euros in new loans. A new extension will be required if Syriza comes to power.
A Syriza default and formal bankruptcy could encourage other countries in southern Europe to backtrack on their financial loans and budgetary commitments. This could further undermine the wider EU economy whose performance remains sluggish.
In order to sober up voters, Samaras warned that the elections will determine whether Greece stays in Europe. Samaras’ best hope would be to cobble together a new coalition around the New Democracy party that would exclude radical leftists and rightists. But although EU leaders called on Greeks to stick by the painful reforms tied to the international bailout, such appeals may have the reverse effect because EU representatives are deeply unpopular among Greek voters.
An ultra-leftist government in Greece would have two further negative consequences for European security. First, it would pose a direct political challenge to the principles of liberalism by increasing the role of the state and undermining the market economy, while promoting statist leftism throughout the EU.
And second, Syriza will contribute to undermining any coherence in EU foreign policy. It is staunchly anti-American and anti-NATO and has displayed an avidly pro-Moscow line during the past year by supporting Russia’s attack on Ukraine. An ultra-leftist victory in Greece will enable Putin to make further inroads into European politics with the aim of dismantling the West.
Janusz Bugajski, January 2015
The coming year will witness the multiplication of conflicts in all major global hot spots. Their scope and impact will test American and European capabilities in diplomacy, conflict resolution, and military deterrence. Moreover, Europe itself will be one of the sources of instability that can undercut the foundations of the two major trans-national institutions – the European Union and NATO.
Erupting Hot Spots
Some regional conflicts are perpetual and flare up every few years, while unexpected crises explode without warning and preoccupy international attention. The Middle East is the most predictable and constant breeding ground for terrorism, separatism, violent revolutions, and inter-state wars. The multi-regional conflict between Sunnis and Shias and the struggle for regional dominance between Iran and Saudi Arabia are two of the core elements fuelling these conflicts. They are certain to heat up in 2015, especially as oil prices continue to fall and batter the Iranian economy.
Tehran is convinced that Washington and the Saudi government have conspired to drastically decrease global energy prices in order to bring down the clerical regime. OPEC’s decision to maintain oil extraction at current levels creates major financial problems for Tehran, as well as for Moscow. As a consequence, Tehran could strike against Saudi interests by mobilizing Shia radicals against governments in Iraq, Jordan, Bahrain, and other nearby states. A direct Iranian-Saudi military confrontation also cannot be excluded, particularly if U.S. involvement in the region is further downsized or dissipated.
The ISIL insurgency will continue to unsettle the region. Even while in temporary retreat in parts of Syria and Iraq, its leaders will endeavor to spread the rebellion to other states, especially into Saudi Arabia and Jordan. New terrorist outrages in Europe can also be expected as ISIL transforms some of its units into anti-Western hit squads and deploys the volunteer fighters it has recruited throughout Europe.
In the Far East, maritime territorial disputes between China and Japan are teetering on the edge of violent confrontation. Beijing is flexing its military muscles as a rising regional hegemon seeking to reduce the influence of America and its local allies. Open conflict with Tokyo would have a major economic impact, as the two countries possess the second and third largest global economies. It can also embroil the U.S. in direct defense of Japan and other vulnerable states such as South Korea.
In South Asia, a new round of India-Pakistan conflict is brewing and not merely over ownership of the disputed Kashmir province. Both countries are seeking a more prominent regional role commensurate with their size and ambitions. And both have outside sponsors who could be drawn into the fray: China traditionally sponsors Pakistan, while Russia supports India. A new round of conflict will bring to the surface rifts between Moscow and Beijing that both capitals have tried hard to push aside in their common front against American influence in Asia.
Several destabilizing scenarios are also feasible in Central Asia. The two largest states, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, are facing leadership problems as neither the aging President Nursultan Nazarbayev nor President Islam Karimov have designated successors. Both have controlled their countries since attaining independence 25 years ago and their departure will unleash power struggles and potential domestic rebellions. Central Asia will also be subject to spillovers from an unstable Afghanistan, whether of the ethnic-separatist or religious-terrorist variety.
Kazakhstan additionally confronts Putin’s Greater Russia program. Moscow can seek to capitalize on domestic instability in Kazakhstan to carve out northern regions of the country containing large Russian population. Astana may declare the Eurasian Economic Union, officially launched this January, as an unprofitable venture and a more nationalist Kazakh administration may decide to resist Russia’s economic pressures.
International institutions will likely weaken during 2015; their capabilities in resolving old and new disputes will be blocked by numerous vested interests and a dispersal of attention. The cohesiveness of the European Union will also be challenged by growing resistance to any out-of-area military actions and by internal opposition to further enlargement and deeper integration.
Even more worrisome is the future of the EU project itself, with the Greek tragedy suddenly resurfacing. Greece’s early general elections are stoking fears that the main neo-Marxist opposition, the Syriza party, will win the ballot and renege on the country’s international bailout deal. The ultra-leftists are riding on a wave of public resentment against six years of enforced austerity that was necessary for Greece to receive over 240 billion Euros of aid to rescue its failed economy.
Syriza may decide to reverse Athens’ commitments to the strict terms of the bailout or even default on repayments. Such a move would precipitate financial chaos in Greece, freeze any additional bailout funds from the IMF and the EU, damage the finances of other Eurozone members, and threaten Greece’s membership of the Eurozone currency union. It could also encourage other countries in southern Europe to backtrack on their financial loans and budgetary commitments. This could further undermine the wider EU economy whose performance remains sluggish.
An ultra-leftist government in Greece would also pose a direct political challenge to the principles of liberalism and the market economy, promote statist leftism elsewhere in the EU, and undermine any coherent EU foreign policy. Syriza is avidly pro-Moscow and will enable Putin to make further inroads into European politics with the aim of dismantling the West.
With Russia itself poised between expansion and implosion, the trans-Atlantic alliance will continue to be sorely tested in the coming year. Russia is fast sinking into an economic black hole and President Vladimir Putin is likely to hit out against assorted neighbors and rally the population against invented enemies. This can rapidly expand the war in Ukraine and impact on regional stability in the Baltic and Black Sea regions and the South Caucasus. He may calculate that Washington is too preoccupied with other battles to resist his new adventures.
With less than two years remaining in his presidency, Barack Barack Obama is in danger of leaving no notable foreign policy success. The much-trumpeted new era of America’s peaceful global outreach, multi-nationalism, and problem solving, when Obama was inaugurated in January 2009, has proved disappointing and may have done more harm to U.S. interests than George W. Bush’s international interventions.
The list of shortcomings and failures is growing, especially in the Muslim world. Despite high hopes, numerous foreign visits, and several stirring speeches, Obama has been unable to pacify widespread anti-Americanism in a majority of Muslim states.
The White House calculated that a withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and Iraq would dispel much of the public anger against U.S. military actions and growing Muslim casualties. Instead, Obama’s policy has not pacified Afghanistan or prevented a resurgence of jihadism in Iraq, Syria, and other radical Salafist fronts. Indeed, the success of the ISIL insurgents is drawing the U.S. back militarily into the region despite Obama’s strong reluctance to intervene.
The Obama administration also proved unable to capitalize on the causes and consequences of the Arab Spring uprisings. Instead of leading to democratic breakthroughs and the formation of Western-friendly governments, the revolts unleashed militant Islamist sentiments and exposed the territorial fragility of several states such as Libya. Iraq, and Syria.
A major U.S. failure in the Middle East has been a lack of progress in resolving the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian confrontation, which fuels Muslim grievances around the globe. Obama is widely perceived as friendlier toward Israeli rather than Arab interests and unwilling to push for a two-state solution.
One fundamental objective of the Obama administration was the pursuit of nuclear non-proliferation even if it meant reaching out to assorted anti-American dictators. Instead, the government has floundered in preventing either Iran or North Korea from moving ahead in their nuclear weapons programs, while Russia’s alleged assistance has proved inadequate.
During 2014, Putin exploited Obama’s hesitation, uncertainty, and perceived weakness in his plans for national aggrandizement. Washington failed to detect or deter Russia from invading Ukraine and from placing other neighbors under intense imperial pressure. Instead, the White House has played a largely reactive role in trying to reassure the most vulnerable NATO allies that they would be defended in case of attack by Moscow. Obama advisors seemed unable to understand the strategic significance of the Kremlin’s empire building and its negative impact on targeted states. Azerbaijan in particular is in danger of becoming isolated from the West and its planned energy supplies to Europe subject to Moscow’s interference.
At the trans-Atlantic level, the Obama administration has failed to lead NATO into resolutely embracing new democracies in the Western Balkans and the South Caucasus and has largely surrendered the leadership role to a divided EU, which exhibits little coherence or muscle in its foreign policy. The list of shortcomings demonstrate that unless Obama initiates and completes a bold foreign policy objective during his remaining time in office, historians will struggle to record any enduring positive legacy other than being the first black president in U.S. history.