SUPERPOWER STRUGGLE REVISITED
Janusz Bugajski, December 2014
The Cold War between the U.S. and Russia cannot be repeated, but the struggle for influence around the globe has been revived by the Putin administration. Although Moscow does not possess the capabilities to openly challenge Washington, it acts as a spoiler and inciter of hostility toward America.
During the past decade, the Kremlin has been promoting an international anti-American alliance, while encouraging numerous states to oppose U.S. policies. It operates on the premise that America is a declining power and Russia can inject itself in various regions from where the Soviets withdrew after the Cold War.
The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) format is supposed to challenge America’s economic predominance. The SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) is intended to counter U.S. political influences throughout Asia. And the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) is designed as a military counterpart to NATO.
Despite its expansive appetite, Moscow’s international efforts are a parody of Soviet-era capabilities and it only registers some success where America withdraws or weakens. Latin America is a useful example where the two former superpowers are facing increasing competition.
Under Putin’s tenure, Russia has been constructing alliances with left-leaning governments in Latin America and encouraging anti-Americanism. Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador are also the leading targets for business contracts and weapons sales. However, Cuba remains the key hub for undermining Washington in the hemisphere.
Cuba has major symbolic value and was at the core of Soviet global projections. When Moscow threatened to position nuclear weapons on the island in 1962 it nearly provoked a nuclear war with the U.S. Russia withdrew its military and intelligence assets from Cuba at the end of the Cold War, but in recent months Putin has built up a menacing presence at America’s doorstep.
In July, Moscow reopened the Lourdes military base, a Soviet-era signals intelligence and military facility that was the USSR’s largest foreign base. Russia used the base for 40 years to intercept American radio and telephone communications.
Putin visited Cuba in August, forgave 90% of Cuba’s Soviet-era debts, and signed industrial, energy, and trade deals with Havana. He also initialed several military agreements to place Russian global positioning stations in Cuba, Argentina, and Brazil.
Russia’s Chief of Staff General Valery Gerasimov visited Cuba’s military and intelligence sites, the Russian guided-missile warship Moskva toured Cuban and other Latin American ports, and other Russian warships have docked on the island. Such moves have raised concerns in the Pentagon, as they could bring thousands of Russian soldiers to Cuba in the event of escalating disputes with Washington.
The Obama administration claims there is no zero-sum competition with Russia anywhere in the world and still believes it can cooperate with Moscow in such areas as nuclear proliferation. But the Kremlin’s view is radically different, as it is fixated on undermining America’s global power. Moscow’s aggressive moves may help to explain why Obama is finally seeking a rapprochement with Havana despite intensive domestic criticism.
Janusz Bugajski, December 2014
Policy makers often miss the full significance of the fall of the Berlin Wall a quarter of a century ago. This monumental event not only symbolized the collapse of communism but also heralded the national liberation of the Central and East European (CEE) states from Moscow’s control and the disintegration of Yugoslavia. But while communism is a fading nightmare, the struggle to maintain state independence continues, especially among countries that remain vulnerable to the Kremlin’s meddling influences.
The foreign imposition of communist systems stifled economic progress and spawned negative political, institutional, economic, and social legacies with which many countries are still struggling. But unlike Germany’s response to its destructive war-time occupation, Russia has never apologized or paid compensation to the victim nations who were forcibly separated from the process of European development. Instead, officials in Moscow are purposively rewriting the period of Soviet occupation as a progressive era.
Russia’s spokesmen also claim that the Cold War ended in a stalemate, rather than admitting that the failed Soviet system disintegrated from within. They contend that NATO and the EU captured the CEE states when Russia was weakest, instead of conceding that these countries were determined to join both institutions as protection against future empire building by the Kremlin.
Moscow’s distorted historical notions are now offered to justify the Kremlin’s political and territorial revisionism. Europeans and Americans must therefore remain vigilant in defending the real historical meaning of 1989-1990, especially the independence and integrity of states that now find themselves under sustained assault from Moscow.
Russia’s revisionism targets specific neighbors for direct territorial acquisition or enforced federalization in the attempted construction of a “Russian World.” Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia are subject to violence, partition, economic warfare, and disinformation campaigns because they have decided to follow the European path of development and not the inferior “Eurasian” version.
Belarus and Armenia are Moscow’s only close European allies, primarily because of their economic and military dependence. However, both governments remain suspicious about Putin’s objectives and the consequences of his international adventures. Energy rich but geopolitically isolated Azerbaijan is especially concerned about its future given that Armenia occupies a fifth of its territory with Moscow’s backing and the Kremlin may decide to sever Baku’s energy links with Europe to further undermine Azerbaijan’s independence.
In order to preclude broad regional opposition, Russia is also attempting to construct a contiguous belt of neutral or supportive states across Central and Eastern Europe that were once Soviet satellites or part of ex-Yugoslavia. These endeavors have borne some fruit by encouraging nationalist politicians while provoking and expanding rifts among the “Visegrad Four” and among several Balkan countries.
The Visegrad initiative, in pursuit of a cohesive CEE foreign policy, is now moribund given the reluctance of three members (Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic) to apply more rigorous sanctions against Russia in response to its attack on Ukraine. Russian business investment and energy dependence corrodes state institutions and corrupts national politicians. Meanwhile, the progress of several Balkan states into the EU and NATO is sabotaged by Moscow to prevent further Western institutional enlargement. The Kremlin has focused on Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in particular by playing on ethnonationalist and revisionist sentiments.
Moscow’s Ukrainian escapade has hastened the emergence of two categories of states in Europe’s East, in terms of their relations with Russia – the resistors and the supplicants. The most stalwart opponents of Putin’s expansionism have been Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Understandably, the three Baltic states are guarding their territory and sovereignty from persistent irredentist pressures from Moscow. Poland is also building up its defenses against regular threats from Russia and the consequences of the Ukrainian war. And Romania is preparing for a potential spillover of conflict from Moldova if that country is further destabilized by Moscow’s subversion.
In the western Balkans, Albania and Kosova are bastions of pro-Americanism and resistance to Russia’s inroads. Montenegro has suffered the economic consequences of predatory Russian state investment and has become a staunch NATO contender despite warnings from the Kremlin. Croatia and Macedonia are now contested states: in the former Moscow seeks inroads through energy and business deals and in the latter through nationalism and ethnic division.
In contrast to the resistors, several supplicant states have become increasingly dependent on Russia, including Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. However, the political scene is not uniform, as divisions between governments and presidents on their approach to Moscow have been evident in Slovakia, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic, while the new center-right Bulgarian government views Putin’s regime with much greater suspicion than its Socialist predecessor.
By suddenly abandoning the South Stream natural gas pipeline project, the Kremlin may damage political ties with several partners. Hungary and Serbia expanded substantial political capital by supporting the pipeline’s construction despite its violations of EU anti-monopoly regulations. Nonetheless, the Kremlin will maintain other levers of political and financial influence while capitalizing on ethnic disputes in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia to thwart EU and NATO enlargement.
Moscow’s backing for nationalism, ultra-conservatism, and Euroskepticism throughout the continent is a profitable method to undermine the EU from within. A fifth of EU parliamentarians oppose further EU expansion and vote against resolutions critical of Moscow. Among these are assorted nationalists from CEE who view Putin as a defender of traditional values. Paradoxically, these deputies are ultimately undermining the independence of their own countries by supporting a regime that views the sovereignty of neighbors as an exploitable and transient phenomenon.
Janusz Bugajski, December 2014
With only two years remaining in his presidency, Barack Obama is in danger of leaving no notable foreign policy success. The much-trumpeted new era of America’s peaceful global outreach 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 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 comprehend 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 states such as Libya and Syria.
A major U.S. failure in the Middle East has been a lack of progress in moderating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which fuels Muslim grievances around the globe. Obama is widely perceived as friendlier toward Jewish rather than Arab interests and unwilling to push for a two-state solution.
On core objective of the incoming 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.
In recent months, Obama’s hesitation, uncertainty, and perceived weakness have been exploited by President Putin. 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.
Obama advisors seem unable to understand the strategic significance of the Kremlin’s empire building and its negative impact on the key states that have been targeted. Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in particular are in danger of becoming isolated from the West and their 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 no coherent foreign policy.
The list of shortcomings demonstrate that unless Obama initiates and completes a bold foreign policy objective during his remaining two years in office, historians will struggle to record any lasting positive achievements other than being the first black president in U.S. history.
Janusz Bugajski, December 2014
The release of indicted war criminal Vojislav Seselj for cancer treatment in Serbia has revealed two radically different Western Balkan realities. While EU officials believe that the region is no longer vulnerable to nationalist conflicts, the impact of Seselj’s rhetoric has demonstrated that suspicion, resentment, and instability lurk just below the surface.
For the past decade, EU and U.S. officials have operated on the assumption that ethno-nationalist projects have been confined to history. Instead, each country that emerged from Yugoslavia is now allegedly following the mainstream European path of reform and integration. Naturally, there are numerous obstacles to EU membership, but these can be overcome by smart governments committed to meeting EU norms.
In addition, Brussels and Washington continue to highlight the progress that has been achieved in recent years. For instance, both Croatia and Slovenia are members of the EU and NATO; Montenegro, Serbia, and Albania are candidates for the EU; and Kosova has been recognized by over a hundred states.
But in the middle of this positive narrative, a ghost from the past has suddenly exposed many of the region’s unexorcised demons. The Seselj effect cannot be dismissed as a temporary aberration that will disappear once he is back behind bars. Ethnic identity and nationalism always rise to the surface during difficult economic conditions or where there is profound uncertainty about the future. With Europe facing more economic downturns and with populism, nationalism, and EU-skepticism on the rise even in Western Europe, the Western Balkans are not immune from renewed conflicts.
Seselj’s unapologetic support for ethnic division and expansive Serbian nationalism has an impact both inside and outside Serbia and it can exacerbate existing disputes and divisions. In Belgrade, Seselj is deliberately undermining the ruling Progressive Party. President Tomislav Nikolic, once Seselj’s deputy in the Radical Party, has avowedly put aside his pan-Serbian sentiments for the promise of EU membership. Nikolic is now condemned by Seselj as a traitor who has been corrupted by power and money.
Seselj is mounting a public campaign to impeach Nikolic for violating the constitution and betraying Serbia. Although he has little chance of succeeding, his sensationalist statements make him a media star and can raise ultra-nationalist voices against the government. Nikolic and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, another ex-Radical, cannot afford to lose the nationalist constituency and in response may raise their own rhetoric in “defense of Serbian national interests.”
Seselj’s impact on Serbia’s relations with neighbors has been disturbing largely because the Belgrade government has failed to strongly condemn Seselj’s statements for fear of alienating nationalist voters. It has also failed to extradite him back to The Hague despite Seselj breaking the terms of his parole by spouting hate speech against Croats and Bosniaks. Government avoidance indicates fear and weakness and can also be interpreted as latent support for radicalism. Cognizant of official confusion, Seselj vowed that he would not return to the Hague Tribunal and challenged the Vucic administration to return him by force.
The Seselj effect is most evident with Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, but it will have ripple effects elsewhere the longer he is out of jail. Statements about Vukovar’s “liberation” and the “heroism” and “patriotism” of convicted war criminals Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic are provoking outrage and anger not only against Seselj but against a government in Belgrade that has failed to comprehensively condemn and atone for the crimes of Slobodan Milosevic and his nationalist accomplices.
Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic criticized Belgrade’s unwillingness to extradite Seselj back to the International Criminal Tribunal and warned that this could gravely affect bilateral relations. Bosniak war victims groups have denounced Seselj’s statements and Belgrade’s lukewarm response. In both countries, a host of unresolved issues including missing persons and war compensations will now come to the forefront, and in Bosnia it can provoke further radicalism, polarization, and potential separatism.
Undoubtedly, Seselj will also want to restoke the conflict with Kosova. After being accused of treason, the Vucic government may need to respond with even stronger statements against Kosova’s statehood. This could retard the progress that has been registered in recent months between Belgrade and Prishtina. Indeed, Seselj now resembles the remote controlled drone that carried a pan-Albanian emblem and terminated the football game between Serbia and Albania, thus exposing the deep-rooted tensions between the two nations. Seselj often expresses what remains unsaid in polite society, much like soccer fanatics are incubators of political radicalism.
EU bodies are belatedly realizing the Seselj effect and his mistaken release. The European Parliament passed a resolution condemning Seselj for “warmongering, incitement to hatred, encouragement of territorial claims, and attempting to derail Serbia from its European path,” and demanded that the Hague tribunal revoke his provisional release. Prosecutors at The Hague Tribunal filed a motion demanding that his release be reversed. However, the effect of such statements is to make the EU and other institutions appear confused and reactive rather than smart and proactive, which suits ultra-nationalists everywhere.
A final troubling impact of the Seselj factor is its exploitation by Vladimir Putin’s imperial Russia. The Balkan Peninsula is viewed by Moscow as Europe’s “soft underbelly“ where the Kremlin can capitalize on local conflicts to undermine Western objectives and promote its geopolitical ambitions. Russian officials exploit ethno-national divisions to gain political leverage and fund politicians, parties, media, and NGOs that can serve their interests.
Seselj must appear as a godsend for Putin because he can whip up tensions and raise questions about Western credibility, thus increasing Russia’s leverage in the region. Seselj is clearly welcomed by the Kremlin as part of Putin’s “Russia World“ where the cancer of ethnic extermination has not been eradicated.
Janusz Bugajski, December 2014
Russia’s cancellation of the South Stream natural gas pipeline can reduce Moscow’s influence in the Balkans. It will also make Ukraine less vulnerable to energy blackmail because a key objective of South Stream was to deliver gas directly to the EU and bypass Ukraine. However, the Kremlin will continue to disrupt Europe’s energy security and undermine the capabilities of alternative suppliers.
Russia abandoned the 63 billion cubic meter (bcm) pipeline project designed to traverse Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Austria. Although Moscow cited EU opposition to South Stream as the reason for cancellation, it was primarily a result of escalating costs and Russia’s declining revenues because of falling oil prices. Gazprom already spent $4.66 billion on South Stream, with projected costs far exceeding $29 billion.
By assigning blame on the EU Commission, Moscow wants to put the EU under pressure from member states seeking to soften its anti-monopoly rulings. South Stream would have violated EU legislation contained in the “Third Energy Package,” stipulating that a single company cannot both produce and transport oil and gas across the Union.
By abandoning South Stream, Moscow will damage political ties with some of its partners in the project. Hungary and Serbia in particular expanded substantial political capital in defying the EU by supporting the pipeline’s construction. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has also accused Moscow of blackmailing Bulgaria, which is entirely dependent on Russia for gas.
However, Russia is not simply surrendering the Balkans. Putin announced an alternative strategy to build a major gas pipeline to Turkey with potential branches into the region. It would cross the Black Sea and deliver 14 bcm to Turkey and 50 bcm to a hub on the Turkish-Greek border. In 2013, Russia supplied Turkey with nearly 60 percent of its total natural gas needs and the figure is rising, although Ankara is growing concerned about its over-dependence on Moscow.
Moscow already possesses pipelines that deliver gas to Europe, such as Nord Stream and Yamal. An additional route through Turkey would give Russia greater flexibility to move gas supplies from one route to another, targeting specific European countries for politically motivated cutoffs or price hikes.
The proposed Russian pipeline could also complicate other energy projects involving Ankara. The Trans-Anatolian Pipeline and the trans-Adriatic pipeline are due to move Turkmen and Azerbaijani gas across Turkey to Europe. Putin’s proposal will compete with these plans and can undermine the prospect of a Trans-Caspian Pipeline from Central Asia. The Kremlin has calculated that if it cannot indefinitely dominate the EU market then it can undercut Europe’s energy diversification by challenging non-Russian supplies from the Caspian Basin to Europe.
The Balkans must learn from the experience of losing South Stream by diversifying its sources and focusing on alternative energy, thus further reducing Russia’s 30% share of Europe’s total gas supplies. The EU must also boost interconnectors between EU members and aspirants to reach energy-poor areas throughout Southeastern Europe so that Russia’s energy games no longer impact negatively on European customers.
Janusz Bugajski, December 2014
China is fast becoming a major economic power in Europe just as Russia is being excluded from the continent. The Belgrade summit on 16 December assembling Prime Ministers from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) with the Chinese premier Li Keqiang demonstrates Beijing’s dynamism and ambition.
While Moscow is preoccupied with thwarting Ukraine’s independence and threatening other neighbors, Chinese business has been sweeping through CEE and Central Asia, buying up assets in Russia’s former dominions in several billion-dollar deals.
China’s overseas investment exceeded $100 billion in 2013, and that figure has already been surpassed this year. The business deals usually focus on infrastructure, energy, minerals, and manufacturing. Beijing’s Emerging Europe initiative is coordinated by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), and has already opened offices in Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria. In addition, Beijing has launched a $10 billion fund to finance projects in revamping railroads, bridges, tunnels, and highways.
China views Romania and Belarus as its two main manufacturing bridgeheads in Europe, where labor is relatively cheap and access to the European market is growing. Beijing and Bucharest have agreed to cooperate in building high-speed railways in Romania and expand projects in trade and energy. China’s telecommunications equipment producer Huawei will invest in research and education programs in Romania and open a regional center in Bucharest. Romania and China have also signed two agreements enabling Chinese companies to build new reactors at the nuclear plant in Cernavoda.
Belarus is also set to be a major manufacturing base for China. A new Chinese-Belarusian industrial park is being constructed outside Minsk and Huawei company is interested in opening an R&D center. Other projects are in the planning stage.
In addition to these two emerging Chinese hubs, Beijing will participate in building a railway link between Serbia and Hungary. Two state-owned Chinese construction companies have offered to build Bulgaria’s Black Sea motorway, intended to connect the north and south of the country. Other Chinese firms are investing in Bulgarian agriculture and renewable energy.
China also has an eye on Ukraine, which will look with suspicion at any future Russian investments. Kyiv and Beijing are planning to cooperate in the energy sector, particularly in Ukrainian coal gasification as the country endeavors to ween itself away from Russian energy sources.
While Russia has little to offer Europe’s east, other than energy supplies with political strings attached, China promises growing investment, development, and trade without imperial pressures. Russia itself looks set to become one of China’s raw materials appendages.
Moscow and Beijing appear to be on a collision course in Eurasia. A new conflict in the South Caucasus may be increasingly appealing for Moscow to curtail China’s economic ambitions in Europe. A military move to divide pro-Western Georgia and establish a corridor to Russia’s close ally Armenia would effectively cut off Azerbaijan, Central Asia, and China from a direct land route to Europe. This would boost Kremlin attempts to control transportation and communications links between Europe and China.
Janusz Bugajski, November 2014
Under the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has pursued a regional neo-Ottoman agenda to expand its influences. But with limited success in attracting neighbors and with conflicts escalating along its southern and eastern borders, a pan-Turkic ideology is now starting to gain momentum.
There are an estimated 300 million Turkic peoples speaking over 35 Turkic languages across a vast area stretching from the Mediterranean to Central Asia. They include the majority populations in several states that emerged from the Soviet Union almost twenty five years ago. At that time, Ankara tried launching an international movement for cultural and economic reunification among Turkic peoples. But the project was resisted by elites who had just gained their independence and did not seek new rulers.
A quarter of a century later several Turkic countries may be more amenable to Turkish influence for a number of reasons: as a shield against Russia’s reimperialization, a buffer against growing Chinese influence, and as a link with the NATO alliance, of which Turkey is a member.
Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are encouraging Turkish investment and cultural influences to balance the two large predator states, Russia and China. Nonetheless, they remain on guard against Islamist influences in their political structures while Azeri Muslims are overwhelmingly Shia not Sunni like the Turks.
The post-Soviet societies are secular and their autocratic governments do not favor Turkey’s political model, even though they seek to benefit from its military and economic support. However, some opposition elements may increasingly view Turkey’s political Islam under the Justice and Developement Party as applicable in their own countries once the old elite leaves the political scene.
Pan-Turkism is growing among Turkic populations in several states, particularly in Russia, which is estimated to have 20 million Turkic Muslims, including Tatars, Chuvash, Bashkirs, Tuvins, Karachays, Balkars, Kumyks, and Nogays. China also contains 40 million Turkic Uyghurs with an embryonic independence movement.
Rafis Kashapov, leader of an All-Tatar group in Russia, recently moved to Ankara to organize a pan-Turkic movement and gain support from other Turkic peoples. Kashapov has highlighted the plight of Turkic peoples inside Russia, claiming that in recent years more than 2,000 Tatar schools have been closed, despite the fact that Tatars form the second largest nationality in the Russian Federation. The condition of Crimean Tatars annexed by Russia from Ukraine has compounded state discrimination.
Kashapov has cited Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s statement a half-century ago that Turkey and the Turkic peoples of the world must be prepared to unite. In response to such sentiments, Iranian and Russian officials accuse Turkey of spreading pan-Turkism in Central Asia and threatening the territorial integrity of nearby states. Both Russia and Iran view Turkey as a close U.S. ally that is purposively undermining Moscow’s and Tehran’s influence in the Caspian region.
In reality, Pan-Turkism could expand its influences in Eurasia regardless of U.S. policies. It is stimulated by Turkey’s economic dynamism and increasing regional outreach. While empire-building by Ankara is not feasible, the creation of a Turkish-led economic union or security umbrella should not be underestimated.
Janusz Bugajski, November 2014
A quarter century after the collapse of Communism, public memories of the system are fading and and breeding the illusions of nostalgia. For the inhabitants of Bosnia and Croatia the end of communism also signaled the beginning of a devastating war, while difficult post-war adjustments have made the Yugoslav period look comparatively attractive.
During key anniversaries it is worth remembering the core features of communism, to dispel any lingering delusions. Communism was a system of minority rule, where the mass of the public was disenfranchised. A self-appointed clique declared its vanguard role while stifling political competition. Communism trapped society in a straitjacket of conformity and the entire structure was based on deception and the constant threat of repression.
Communism created an illusion of economic and national development with a millenarian message about the coming Promised Land. But decades of social engineering failed to produce a modern society with an internationally competitive economy. State-sponsored social mobilization created a facade of economic progress. In reality, communism could not compete with dynamic international capitalism.
For most Central-East European states, Communism was a method for national subjugation, in which the governments were not only subservient to the Kremlin’s dictat, but also dependent on Moscow for their positions in power. In the Yugoslav case, the Russian threat was used to reinforce the legitimacy and patriotism of the ruling party in protecting the country from Soviet invasion and occupation.
As with all nostalgia there is a mix of fact and fiction in remembering the past. Some of the older generation may recall cradle to grave state protection even though living standards were low and often stagnant. Some members of the younger generations may also have a “nostalgia of ignorance” learned from parents and finding the current economy too competitive where they cannot rely on the state for subsistence. Others yearn for predictability and order and mythologize about the past.
There is also a segment of any population that could be described as “political masochists” in that they would back an authoritarian state to control their lives. One can add to this the incompleteness of decommunization, inadequate historical education, the confusion of the war and post-war periods, and widespread views of communism as part of the modern political spectrum unlike its blood brother, fascism.
In addition, democracy is often perceived as chaotic, especially where there is dissatisfaction with all current political parties. Some politicians in parts of Europe’s East exploit these sentiments to promote authoritarian tendencies, including paternalism and nationalism as ingredients of alleged social protection and economic stability.
At a national level, some nostalgics distort the communist era as a period of national achievement and glory, especially for Yugoslavia. They forget to mention that this was largely a domestic propaganda exercise and carried little international weight, except among aspiring Communist elites in Third World countries. Even more importantly, Yugoslav communism failed to tackle the country’s ethnic complexities. When the system collapsed there were no democratic structures to handle the ensuing deadly conflicts, and we continue to live with the consequences.
Janusz Bugajski, November 2014
The eastern part of Europe is celebrating a quarter century since the collapse of communism. Looking back on November 1989, many overlook that the fall of the Berlin Wall not only symbolized the collapse of communism, it also heralded the national liberation of Central and East Europe from Moscow’s domination.
But while communism is but a fading nightmare, the struggle to maintain independence from an increasingly assertive Kremlin continues, especially among countries bordering Russia. Indeed, officials in Moscow have sought to revise the significance of 1989 by denying that Soviet policy imposed repressive systems in half of Europe and stifled political and economic progress for almost half a century.
Moscow was directly responsible for the regression and demoralization of Europe’s eastern half, but no post-Cold War reparations have been paid to the victim nations. Even the regime in Yugoslavia that was not under Soviet occupation, maintained its power because genuine democratization and an alliance with the West would have raised the danger of direct Soviet intervention.
Russia’s spokesmen also claim that the Kremlin benevolently dismantled the Soviet bloc and that the Cold War ended in a draw, rather than admitting that the Soviet system failed and disintegrated from within.
The notion of benign or even progressive Sovietism is now used as one justification for the Kremlin’s historical and territorial revisionism. To uphold truth and freedom, both Europeans and Americans must remain vigilant in defending the real historical legacy of November 1989, particularly the regaining of national independence.
After recovering from its Cold War defeat, Russia is mounting a pervasive security challenge to the West. President Putin’s neo-imperial goal is to restore a Moscow-centered bloc and his subversive strategies undermine the stability of several regions from the Baltic to the Caspian, challenge NATO as a security provider, and undercut EU enlargement.
American and European officials claim there is no zero-sum competition with Russia over the allegiance of any European country. In reality, the contradiction between a country’s freedom to select its international alliances, which the West espouses, and state subordination to Russia, on which Moscow insists, lies at the core of the escalating geopolitical struggle.
Europe faces a combination of economic uncertainties, populist pressures, nationalist aspirations, unstable borders, and a shadow war with Moscow that can spark new inter-state conflicts. This can also challenge the survival of democracy and liberalism in parts of Europe’s east. The last 25 years may turn out to be a unique episode between two eras of strife.
In terms of Russia itself, we should discard any delusional approaches that bring only temporary pauses in the struggle for dominance. Several EU capitals are trying to pacify Moscow by involving it in discussions about the future of Ukraine and other post-Soviet states. But as one prominent U.S. analyst at Rutgers University, Alexander Motyl, has pointed out: West European leaders claim that war in Europe is “unthinkable,” but this only means that they do not want to think about it. Ukraine’s neighbors are not so foolish and some are preparing for the worst.
Janusz Bugajski, November 2014
Twenty five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Albanian and Serbian nationalists point at post-Cold War Germany to claim that national reunification creates functional states. However, their neighbors do not share their prognosis and consider state enlargement as an act of open aggression.
Despite the break-up of Yugoslavia since the early 1990s, only Slovenia can claim to be an ethnically homogenous state with no substantial kindred population outside its borders that could seek unification. All other post-Yugoslav states are ethnically mixed where one or more nation possess a “mother country” across the border that may stimulate irredentist sentiments.
Irredentism is strongest where a distinct administrative unit has a co-ethnic majority, such as Kosova vis-a-vis Albania or Bosnia’s Serb Republic vis-a-vis Serbia. It can also rise to the forefront where a substantial kindred population forms majorities in municipalities along the borders of the “mother state” – as with Albanians in western Macedonia and southern Serbia, Bosniaks in Sandjak, or Croats in western Herzegovina.
Irredentist nationalism is a latent force in most societies. It becomes more pronounced during national traumas or triumphs and it takes many forms. The Albanian case is particularly instructive given the nationalist passions stirred after the recent football clashes in Belgrade.
Until now expansive nationalism has not been harnessed by any significant political party in Albania, Kosova, or among Albanians in other states. This could change if cross-border grievances were to escalate and a significant number of Albanians felt frustrated with the existing status quo.
However, Albanian leaders can capitalize on nationalism in a positive manner, not by stressing grievances against neighbors or outside powers but by underscoring pride in Albanian identity, history, and statehood. As a valuable example, Polish political parties after the fall of communism harnessed national identity and pride to build a strong democracy with a growing economy and did not pursue the return of Polish territories taken by the Soviets.
In the Albanian case, nationalism should focus on building effective states with efficient economies where mismanagement and corruption are denounced as “un-Albanian.” This could set an example to other countries plagued by stagnation and corruption.
At some future date there is no reason why Albania and Kosova cannot form a confederation within the EU and NATO if both are economically productive and promote security in their neighborhood. But pushing such a program at a time of heated emotions and inadequate institutional and economic development will simply generate regional conflicts. It can encourage further instability in Bosnia, where Serb leaders may try to emulate the pan-Albanians.
For the foreseeable future, the prospect of a joint Albanian state will provoke substantial opposition in both Brussels and Washington. It is likely to set back the process of EU integration despite the fact that Albania recently achieved candidate status for accession. It could also provide a pretext for neighboring states to curtail the rights of minorities arguing that governments were simply protecting themselves against the dangers of separatism and partition. The Balkans are certainly not Germany.
Janusz Bugajski, November 2014
Some pundits have concluded that President Putin has already won in Ukraine following Russia’s military intervention. However, given the resistance demonstrated by Ukrainian forces and the commitments of the incoming government, Putin’s victory may be short-lived. In the words of the country’s national anthem: “Ukraine is not yet dead!”
Putin’s policy to ensure Ukraine’s submission consists of two elements: manufacturing a “frozen conflict” and creating a “frozen state.” The objective is either to incorporate Ukraine in its Eurasian Union or to permanently paralyze the country’s progress toward Western institutions through federalization and neutrality. Such objectives are unacceptable to all Ukrainian leaders.
Moscow has been partially successful in creating a “frozen conflict” in parts of eastern Ukraine, by carving out a slither of territory similar to the Transnistria enclave in Moldova. However, the ceasefire is not a peace treaty and the new government in Kyiv will not surrender these territories to Russia’s proxies.
Kyiv does not possess the capabilities to defeat the separatist forces, but it could prevail once it obtains adequate military equipment. Similarly to Bosnia during the early 1990s, Ukraine will obtain weapons with or without Western approval. Putin would then have to risk a full-scale military invasion and another Afghan-like quagmire.
Moscow also calculates that it can promote a “frozen state” by subverting Ukraine’s new government. This would entail corrupting officials, making deals with local oligarchs, promoting political divisions, and waiting for the economic downturn to incite social and regional unrest as Ukraine undertakes major institutional and fiscal reforms.
An energy crisis is also looming, with Russia threatening to cutting off gas supplies over unpaid bills. Ukraine’s economy is shrinking, with GDP forecast to fall up to 10% this year. Analysts calculate that the West must provide a cash injection of $20 billion to stave off further collapse, while committing additional billions to help Kyiv enact crucial reforms.
Despite these negative indicators, the recent elections had several positive elements. Contrary to Russia’s propaganda, the winners were President Poroshenko’s centrist bloc, while the more nationalist parties received under 10% of the vote. The new administration will have a substantial pro-Western parliamentary majority unlike in previous years, and even the opposition is committed to a Western path.
Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and the impossibility of voting in much of the Donbas region ensures that parliament contains few pro-Moscow representatives. Moreover, Poroshenko’s bloc will exert control over both the executive and the legislative branches, thus easing the passage of crucial reforms.
The Kremlin fears that Ukraine will slip out of its grasp by pursuing closer ties with the EU, NATO, and the U.S., resulting in eventual institutional integration. Such a prospect would severely damage Russia’s agenda for assembling a Eurasia bloc in opposition to the West.
Russian officials are even more anxious about democratic contagion from Ukraine that challenges Putin’s authoritarian regime or unseats allies in other post-Soviet states. But time is not on Russia’s side, as the economic recession begins to bite, oil prices continue to fall, and the Kremlin’s revenues and capabilities become seriously depleted.
Janusz Bugajski, October 2014
The drone incident that stopped the football game between Serbia and Albania exposed the deep-rooted tensions between the two nations. While Serb fans burned a NATO flag and berated the Albanian players, a remote controlled drone carrying a map of Greater Albania, flew over the stadium provoking a pitch invasion and the abandonment of the game. Clearly, the process of inter-state reconciliation promoted by the EU and the U.S. will be a bumpy ride.
Relations between Serbia and Albania have traditionally been poor. When Albania gained independence at the close of World War One, Serbia demanded direct access to the Adriatic Sea, a move opposed by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Nonetheless, Belgrade obtained the entire region of Kosova inhabited primarily by Albanians. And the main reason that Communist Albania maintained close relations with Russia and China was as protection against Titoist Yugoslavia.
Since the collapse of communism, the status of Kosova has remained the main bone of contention between Belgrade and Tirana In this context, football often expresses what remains unsaid in polite society and soccer fanatics are incubators of political radicalism, whether of the Greater Serbian or Greater Albanian variety.
However, with both Serbia and Albania seeking EU entry, neither can be seen as undermining regional stability and disqualifying itself from membership. Edi Rama refused to cancel his visit to Belgrade, the first such trip by an Albanian Prime Minister since Tito hosted Enver Hoxha in 1946. Despite the football drama and heated rhetoric Belgrade and Tirana simply postponed the meeting until mid-November.
Serbia’s Foreign Ministry initially dramatized the drone incident as a “premeditated political provocation” intended to cause riots in Belgrade and undermine Serbia. Prime Minister Aleksander Vucic claimed that the aim was to humiliate the Serbian people, while President Nikolic asserted that the goal was to destabilize the Balkans. Officials further raised the temperature by claiming that Prime Minister Rama’s brother was personally responsible for the drone stunt.
In response to these drastic charges, the Albanian government accused Belgrade of evading responsibility for attacks by Serbian hooligans on the Albanian football team. Even while engaging in reconciliation neither Tirana nor Belgrade can ignore the popular mood. But there is an equal danger that they can radicalize it. Indeed, a series of attacks on Albanian-owned shops in Serbia after the football match raised tensions around the country and Prime Minister Vucic had to condemn the escalating vandalism.
There is one paramount lesson to be learned from the drone incident: the threat to public security. Belgrade could act maturely by thanking the pranksters rather than giving them credence as political conspirators. The drone was a valuable security warning for Serbia and other states to implement stricter anti-drone measures. What if the device had been carrying explosives that were detonated over the ViP area and assassinated several high dignitaries? One should have little doubt that terrorist groups are considering the use of mini drones to cause mayhem in crowded public places in vulnerable European capitals. Albania and Serbia could use the incident to jointly position themselves at the forefront of public security and anti-terrorism.
Janusz Bugajski, October 2014
Almost as much ink as blood has been spilled over Bosnia-Herzegovina. Everyone has known for years what the problems are, but assume that the status quo is permanent. However, if the general elections simply prolong the political gridlock, economic failure, official corruption, and ethnic scapegoating then the country can slide toward outright conflict.
Social pressures should not be underestimated in a dwindling economy with a large bureaucratic elite and a mass of impoverished citizens. Although last year’s violent protests against government ineptitude and economic stagnation fizzled out and left little organizational imprint, escalating unrest cannot be ruled out in the months ahead.
The Dayton agreement froze the war without adequate instruments for single statehood and effective integration between the three major ethnic collectivities. Political complexity embodied in layers of bureaucracy was supposed to preoccupy political leaders and prevent renewed fighting. They also provided boundless opportunities for graft, corruption, nepotism, and irresponsibility.
International actors supervised the process, fooling themselves that Bosnia constituted a successful multi-ethnic democracy and that armed conflict would never be repeated under EU stewardship. And for almost twenty years this system of political rewards muddled through the frustration, gridlock, and economic vacuum.
In reality, Bosnia is a tri-ethnic fiefdom ruled by special interests and tolerated by international players. Ethno-national parties do not trust civic activists, non-ethnic or multi-ethnic voters, or young people with broader ambitions. They seek to maintain their privileges and have been able to absorb and suborn politicians who promise a post-ethnic solution.
Out-migration has cushioned Bosnia from social pressures for many years but in a country where an estimated 40% are unemployed, including two thirds of young people, with little prospect of significant investment and economic growth, the ingredients for implosion are mounting. Long drawn out post-election bargaining over ministerial portfolios while the country stagnates will add fuel to the smoldering embers.
A gross example of incompetence is the position of flood victims who have yet to see any cent of the $1 billion that international donors pledged to Bosnia. Government officials correctly complain that to disperse such money requires cooperation among a dozen unsynchronized levels of government with overlapping authorities. Meanwhile, Washington rightly complains that Bosnian officials have failed to present credible plans for the money to reach the needy.
The stark fact is that Bosnia can no longer afford the existing Dayton accords. It cannot function with a dozen layers of administration and over 22,000 officials and bureaucrats; it cannot stimulate an economy where corruption, over-regulation, and mismanagement stifle investment; it cannot reform judicial and other critical government organs where office holders have a stake in delaying reform; and it cannot qualify for membership in the EU or NATO as a barely functioning frozen state.
And ultimately, Bosnia cannot remain paralyzed indefinitely. If the state is not restructured and streamlined, the disillusionment and hopelessness that pervades the country will transform itself into anger and violence, whether directed at officialdom, the privileged, or members of other ethnic groupings. Such turmoil can quickly spiral out of control if Bosnia’s predicament is taken for granted.
SERBIA IS NOT YUGOSLAVIA
In the midst of an escalating West-East confrontation, the Serbian government will be unable to play the role of non-aligned Yugoslavia during the Cold War. Either it qualifies for Western international institutions or Serbia will remain at the mercy of an assertive Russia.
President Vladimir Putin is visiting Belgrade on October 16 to attend celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Belgrade from Nazi occupation. The event will include the largest military parade in Serbia in over 40 years. Paradoxically, the Soviet army played a minimal role in Yugoslavia’s liberation from Nazism although Moscow played a significant part in helping to impose communism.
Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic will also bestow Putin with the highest state award, the Medal of the Republic of Serbia, for “outstanding merits in strengthening peaceful cooperation and friendly relations between Serbia and Russia.” While most of Europe is condemning and ostracizing Putin for his attack on Ukraine and his crackdown on civil liberties in Russia, Serbia is hosting him as a hero.
Belgrade depicts its foreign policy as balanced, but in reality it is contradictory. Although not all EU countries have been eager on sanctioning Russia, Brussels seeks consensus on foreign policy principles especially from aspirants such as Serbia. Indeed, the new European Commission report urges Belgrade to align its foreign policy with Brussels.
Johannes Hahn, the new enlargement commissioner, has declared that if Belgrade wants to continue movingtoward EU membership, “the signal it sends concerning Russia will have to be the right one.” This indicates that Serbia faces a stark choice between the Union or Russia, and both sides are pressing for a clearer answer from Belgrade.
Declarations about intensifying economic and military cooperation with Moscow at a time when the EU is disentangling itself from Russia’s economic entrapment will not hasten Serbia’s EU accession process. Belgrade is expected to join the EU’s sanction regime that ostracizes Russia’s leaders, businesses, and banks that have benefited from the attack on Ukraine. Serb leaders argue that this would be disastrous especially as most of the country’s energy sector is controlled by Gazprom.
The Kremlin of course would prefer that Serbia join its own Customs Union, which is incompatible with EU entry. It also promises lucrative energy contracts through the planned South Stream gas pipeline, a scheme opposed by the EU as it violates the Union’s antimonopoly laws.
If Serbia favors Russia over the EU, its economy would be further damaged, as it exports nine times more of its agricultural products to the EU than to Russia despite a free-trade agreement with Moscow. Conversely, the Kremlin has threatened Belgrade with a loss of preferential trade status if it adopts the EU-U.S. sanctions. Moscow is also issuing warnings that it could drop its oppositionto the independence of Kosova in the UN Security Council.
Unlike during the Cold War, neutrality is no longer a durable option for states in Central and Eastern Europe whose security and prosperity remains fragile. Even EU-integrated Finland is considering NATO membership, as it confronts a serious Russian threat in the broader Baltic region. The Balkans are equally vulnerable to Moscow’s machinations.
Janusz Bugajski, October 2014
Whether or not the Allies participate in military operations against the Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq and Syria, Europe is threatened by a new wave of terrorism. IS is an anti-modern movement seeking to eliminate all Western influences in the Arab Middle East. Confronted with bombing campaigns by the U.S. and EU, IS leaders have an even bigger pretext for revenge against Western capitals.
After President Barack Obama declared a new coalition to roll back the IS threat more than 50 countries have been enlisted to dispatch fighter jets to Iraq to bomb terrorist positions. Most members of the anti-IS coalition have restricted their support to Iraq-focused efforts while a handful of Arab nations have joined Washington in bombing IS in Syria.
IS is a well-funded, highly motivated, and well-organized force known for its fanaticism and sadism. If it succeeds in capturing most of Iraq and Syria, NATO would face a terrorist caliphate on the Mediterranean directly threatening Turkey and other allies.
Despite the magnitude of the threat, air campaigns are unlikely to prove victorious. Without an effective ground force consisting of moderate Iraqis, Kurds, and Syrians, IS will continue to gain ground. No capital has pledged combat troops and while Iraq has an incompetent military, Syrian forces also annihilate civilians.
In addition to IS, the Western air campaign has targeted the training camps of the notorious Khorasan Group. It consists of senior al-Qaeda operatives that U.S. officials believe are actively plotting terrorist attacks in Europe and the U.S.
IS itself consists of some 50,000 fighters and continues to expand. Intelligence sources estimate that it has attracted hundreds of volunteers from Western Europe in particular. The International Center for the Study of Radicalization at Kings College in London calculates that there are 700 radicals from France fighting for IS, 500 from the UK, 320 from Germany, 250 from Belgium, 150 from Australia, 120 from Holland, over 100 from the U.S. and Denmark, as well as several dozen from other European states.
Western security officials have been concerned for months that IS recruits with Western passports could travel to Syria and Iraq and then return home with deadly skills and contacts and attack domestic targets. In an indication of growing alarm, the British government recently raised the threat level for international terrorism to “severe,” indicating that a terrorist attack is “highly likely.” UK Home Secretary Theresa May asserted that increased threats are directly related to events in Syria and Iraq.
According to Prime Minister David Cameron in an address to the nation, IS is “a greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before.” He vowed strict restrictions on would-be jihadists from traveling to Syria and Iraq by confiscating their passports and other documents.
However, London is unlikely to stem the flow of recruits as militants travel to third countries before entering the war zone. Britain and other states also find it difficult to prevent fighters from returning from the Middle East or to deal decisively with those who have already returned. Paradoxically, despite the recent focus on jihadists in the Balkans, it is Western Europe that faces the most immediate threat from its own home grown radicals.
Janusz Bugajski, September 2014
Some analysts consider the Scottish independence referendum as the beginning of the end for European integration. Others claim that the result of the plebiscite has reaffirmed popular commitments to the EU. In reality, Scotland has reawakened the democratic yearnings of Europeans who consider both Brussels and their national capitals as detached from ordinary citizens.
Despite Scotland’s no vote, the pro-independence movement has mushroomed to include almost half of the electorate. The massive yes vote will pressure London to allow for greater autonomy in such areas as taxation, fiscal control, education, and economic development. Other regions around Europe will now be encouraged to pursue more extensive devolution of powers in their own countries.
Instead of bemoaning the collapse of Europe we should be welcoming the flowering of democratic choices. Instead of charging that Europe confronts disintegration, we should praise greater popular involvement in politics that can strengthen local democracy and establish a more authentic “Europe of regions.”
We are not simply witnessing ethnocentric nationalism, as opponents of new states 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 will be greater national and sub-national autonomy where regions will be able to find flexible solutions to local problems.
Other parts of Britain may follow the Scottish example, including Wales, Northern Ireland, and distinct parts of England such as Yorkshire and Northumberland. Democratic yearnings are also visible at national level, given the deep British dissatisfaction with Brussels. The Cameron government is preparing a referendum for 2017 on whether the UK should remain part of a reformed EU.
Scotland’s referendum was watched closely in the Spanish province of Catalonia, where the regional government will hold a public “consultation” in November over its future relationship with Madrid. Catalan President Artur Mas claims that Scotland’s referendum had “shown the way” for Catalonian independence. Until recently, few Catalans supported full independence, but Spain’s deep economic crisis has propelled a surge in support for separation with widespread resentment over the proportion of Catalan taxes used to finance poorer Spanish provinces.
Other regions in several European states will also be encouraged to push for plebiscites, whether in Belgium, Italy, or France. Even parts of Eastern Europe will be emboldened, although resistance to local autonomy is often stronger 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 federalization must be avoided, but not by denying the right of citizens to choose the most effective political units to ensure their political and economic liberties. The debate over the shape and structure of the European project has clearly entered a new and dynamic phase following the Scottish referendum.
Janusz Bugajski, September 2014
Russia’s growing isolation from the West following its attack on Ukraine is forcing Moscow to forge closer links with China. But instead of a mutually beneficial alliance, Beijing will exploit Russia’s predicament to raise its own strategic position.
Russia’s economic ties with the EU are declining as Europe seeks diverse sources of energy to end its reliance on Russian supplies. Moscow is also creating an alternative trading block in an Eurasian Economic Union that will be incompatible with the EU free trade zone. As a result, the post Cold War notion of a “common space” between Lisbon and Vladivostok is moribund.
Resource-hungry China is seeking to diversify its sources of energy and other raw materials amidst booming domestic consumption. As the Asian giantassertsitselfas a majorpower, it will seek greater access to Russia’s natural resources and military technology – a policy that will overshadow Moscow’s ambitions.
Presidents Putin and Xi Jinping recently agreed to a $400 billion deal for the delivery of 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas to China starting in 2018. With its economy approaching recession, Russia desperately needs the Chinese market to make up for its accelerating loss of Europe’s energy market. The planned export of American shale gas also gives Russia incentive to rapidly complete deals with China and seek other markets in Asia.
The major obstacle that Moscow and Beijing encountered in the past was the price of Russian energy. However, with Russia facing a liquidity crisis due to Western sanctions, the deal with China was speeded up to gain much needed revenues. China achieved a price significantly lower to what Moscow charges Europe – under $350 per thousand cubic meters. The average price of Gazprom gas in Europe is $380 per thousand cubic meters. The contract runs for 30 years, in which Russia will supply 38 billion cubic meters of gas annually while China invests about $50 billion in constructing pipelines and other infrastructure.
Large-scale energy deals will tie Siberia and Russia’s Far Eastern provinces closer to China and tip the strategic balance in Beijing’s favor. Although China currently harbors no overt claims to Russian territory, economic necessity, demographic pressure, and strategic ambition will pull it into thinly populated and resource rich regions that are starved of labor and capital and increasingly resentful of Moscow’s financial neglect.
There is a major population imbalance between Russia’s east and China’s north east. Although only 8 percent of China’s population inhabit the north east, they total over 65 million in the border provinces of Heilongjiang and Jilin alone. In stark contrast, Russia’s entire Far East is inhabited by only six million people and the numbers are declining because of outmigration and low birth rates.
While Russia experiences demographic collapse, China’s expanding population will seek new opportunities. Given current trends, legal and illegal Chinese immigration over the coming years will turn Russians into a regional minority. Paradoxically, in turning away from Europe and reorienting the Russian economy eastward, by signing large-scale energy contracts with China, the Kremlin is signing away the future territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.
Janusz Bugajski, September 2014
At the recent NATO Summit President Barack Obama announced the creation of a Rapid Reaction Force of 4,000 troops to better defend new members exposed to Russian attack. Unfortunately, he left several questions unanswered regarding the effectiveness of such a force and whether NATO guarantees would be sufficient to deter new crises.
NATO’s planned “spearhead” units are to include naval, air, and special force capabilities. Equipment, ammunition, and fuel will be prepositioned in small bases in Poland, Romania, and the three Baltic states ready to receive the NATO force. However, only “small contingents” of NATO troops will be permanently present at these bases.
Given the poor record of European “rapid reaction” units and declining defense spending among Allies, suspicions persist about long-term commitments to the newly announced force. During an emergency NATO would need to make rapid decisions to assemble, arm, and transport troops. Slow decision-making would make the new force superfluous by the time it arrives in a conflict zone.
The key test for NATO would be Moscow’s armed subversion of Latvia or Estonia, both NATO members with large Russian minorities. Andrey Neronsky, director of the Moscow Center of Russian Culture, has claimed that a Ukrainian scenario is possible in both states, and that about 500 armed pro-Moscow militants could ensure partition.
The speed with which Russian forces infiltrated Ukraine’s Crimea and pursued the secession of the Donbas has focused attention on similar scenarios on NATO territory. Alliance force would confront difficulties in preventing the infiltration of separatists and saboteurs from Russia dressed as civilians, or in dealing with local protestors who seize local government buildings in smaller towns.
Moscow already saturates the Baltic states with media propaganda and encourages activists to agitate against the government, claiming that Russian-speakers face severe discrimination. By repeating the Kremlin’s Ukrainian destabilization program, it may appear that a legitimate ethnic uprising is taking place, making it difficult for NATO to respond.
Based on the lessons from Crimea and Donbas, the new NATO force must become integrated into a broader strategy to counter foreign-directed armed subversion. This should consist of several elements, beginning with a clear security concept dealing with the pervasive Russian threat. Alliance intelligence capabilities must also be significantly improved regarding the intentions and actions of Moscow and its proxies.
NATO states have to develop a range of expertise in combating Kremlin subversion, whether in dealing with ethnic, economic, energy, informational, or cyberspace assaults. They need to directly confront and combat the pervasive disinformation campaign waged by Russian officials and media. The whole range of minority and civil rights within the new EU states must be emphasized and alternative, truthful Russian-language media outlets should be encouraged.
And most importantly, well prepared and fully trained local security and police forces are essential to deal early with acts of subversion. Unlike in Ukraine, armed gangs must not be allowed to seize state buildings or terrorize the local population. Whether NATO helps to avert and combat such prospective assaults on its newest members will determine whether the Alliance has a credible future.
Janusz Bugajski, September 2014
In the midst of a major leadership transition, the EU has several escalating problems on its plate. Despite the open war between Russia and Ukraine raging along the EU’s eastern borders and pressures mounting to reform the Union, the new leadership will bring mixed results.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk will become the new President of the European Council. His appointment to steer policymaking meetings of EU leaders is a victory for the Central-East European countries that joined the EU a decade ago. It will also raise Poland’s stature as a major player in the bloc alongside France and Germany and could put more teeth into EU policy toward an aggressive Russia.
Britain was first to endorse Tusk publicly as a candidate, hoping to balance out former Luxembourg premier Jean-Claude Juncker, an advocate of deeper EU integration chosen to head the European Commission. Prime Minister David Cameron asserted that Tusk shared Britain’s desire to reform the EU and avoid centralization.
In stark contrast to Tusk’s appointment the naming of Italy’s Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini as EU foreign policy chief is highly controversial and her appointment demonstrates the Union’s divided policy toward Russia. After Italy took over the EU presidency in July, her first foreign trip was to Moscow where she backed Russia’s South Stream pipeline that contradicts the EU’s policy of energy diversification. Critics contend that Mogherini has slowed down EU sanctions against Moscow and will be a pawn in Kremlin hands.
To counter perceptions of weakness and reassert EU vitality, Germany hosted a West Balkan summit in Berlin at the end of August. German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised eight prime ministers for working together and placing their countries on the right track for EU membership. In contrast to its eastern policy, the EU’s Balkan policy is a relative success and Berlin wants to avoid another crisis on its doorstep.
Nonetheless, it is unclear what the Summit achieved in practice. Regional leaders arrived with high hopes that it would attract significant German investment in large transportation and energy projects. EU representatives asserted that Pre-Accession Assistance was available for infrastructure investments, but much more had to be raised through loans from financial institutions such as the European Investment Bank. The process will be prolonged and full of pitfalls.
To dampen any delusions of quick fixes, Merkel underscored that the pace of EU integration would depend on the countries themselves. Although she expected “further progress” in Bosnia-Herzegovina after the parliamentary elections in October, there would be no distinct German approach to speed up reforms and transform Bosnia into a functional state. Without constitutional and other reform conducted by both entities, Bosnia’s membership in the EU does not appear feasible.
It is doubtful whether symbolic summits will alter very much in problem states such as Bosnia, Kosova, and Macedonia, and help propel them into the EU. It appears that Berlin and Brussels are more concerned about avoiding outright instability and potential violence in the Western Balkans than in purposively speeding up the process of EU enlargement.
Janusz Bugajski, August 2014
Six months after Russia launched its offensive against Ukraine, Western leaders continue to debate on how to deal with a neo-imperial Kremlin. Unfortunately, neither limited sanctions nor appeasement will resolve the problem of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
The West confronts two stark choices: either help facilitate the collapse of Putinism or face years of insecurity that will undermine both NATO and the EU and subvert the stability of Europe’s east. Western powers have a direct security interest in constricting the Russian state and encouraging Russian society to replace the Putinist system.
The West needs to focus on two messages: the Russia-Ukraine war is part of a broader strategy of Kremlin subversion that must be thwarted, and the pursuit of such an aggressive policy will seriously backfire on Russia itself.
Russia’s citizens also confront a clear choice: either tolerate the Putinist system and face growing national isolation, external conflict, and domestic repression, or replace the Kremlin cabal and rebuild Russia into a positive international player.
The West can hasten Putinism’s creeping failures. The economy is deteriorating even without Western sanctions. GDP is contracting, industrial production is declining, capital outflow has reached alarming proportions, and the country is entering a prolonged recession.
The coming crisis of the hyper-centralized system should be welcomed rather than viewed as destabilizing. Even if Putin is replaced by a more rabid nationalist, as some policy-makers fear, then Russia will simply undergo further decline and international ostracism. Moscow will not start a frontal war with the West because its military is no match for a U.S.-led NATO.
The demise of Putinism can be expedited. Economic sanctions will be more effective if they impact on Russia’s citizens as well as on Putin’s cronies. Falling government revenues, a downturn in living standards, shortages of consumer goods, and rising unemployment can help fuel revolt.
Kremlin controls can also be weakened by supporting genuine federalism, decentralization, minority rights, regional self-determination, and embryonic national independence movements throughout the overstretched Russian Federation. Such initiatives are consistent with campaigns for democracy and human rights in which both the U.S. and EU excel.
The West can itself conduct a “shadow war” against Putinism, just as it did against Soviet Communism throughout Eastern Europe, by aiding democratic initiatives and supporting sovereignty movements among numerous nationalities. More than a fifth of Russia’s population are non-Russians and many of these nations, from the North Caucasus to eastern Siberia, have been deprived of their elementary right to indigenous identities, languages, and cultures.
Russian federalism is a camouflage for authoritarianism in which the Kremlin appoints local leaders in Russia’s 85 federal units. An international campaign for genuine federalism will be supported by many of Russia’s regions, where a growing number of citizens resent Moscow’s political controls and economic neglect.
Although the West cannot guide internal developments, it can promote opportunities for the emergence of a new Russia in which domestic dictatorship and imperial ambition are rejected by a disillusioned public. The birth of a democratic and non-expansionist Russia may be a painful process, but without that prospect Putinism will drag the West into further Ukrainian-type conflagrations.
Janusz Bugajski, August 2014
It is not only Islam that produces self-proclaimed “holy warriors.” Christian Orthodoxy has also been represented by militant groups with ultra-conservative and anti-Western ideologies whose members volunteer as mercenaries in Europe’s wars.
Russia’s attack on Ukraine has spawned a host of volunteers for both sides in the escalating conflict. In the case of the pro-Russia separatists, Moscow has encouraged foreign paramilitary units to assist its proxies in Crimea and Donbas. This allows Kremlin officials to claim that the war is not a Russian invasion but an international crusade against alleged Ukrainian fascism and American imperialism.
Among the mercenaries in Ukraine are assorted Russian Cossack and Serbian Cetnik units, responding to President Vladimir Putin’s call to defend “Holy Russia” as the bastion of Christian Orthodoxy. Cetnik volunteers are also reciprocating for Russia’s support for the Greater Serbia war against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia in the 1990s.
Cossack and other Russian nationalist paramilitaries contributed to the slaughter of Bosniak Muslim and Croatian Catholic civilians and are praised by Serbian ultra-nationalists for “defending Serbian lands.” The former military leader of the artificial “Donetsk People’s Republic,” Igor Girkin, who operated under the nom de guerre “Strelkov,” reportedly fought for the Serbs during the war in Bosnia where he met his current Cetnik comrades.
The number of Christian jihadists in Ukraine has been rising in recent months. Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic estimates that dozens of Serbs are fighting in eastern Ukraine, and most of them are mercenaries recruited for money because of their prior war experience. The main Cetnik unit in Ukraine reportedly includes 46 members commanded by the veteran Bratislav Zivkovic.
However, the intensity of ideological motivation among some Christian fundamentalists is questionable. Although Cetnik leaders claim that they never receive money for their operations in Ukraine, Belgrade-based security expert Zoran Dragisic asserts that the mercenaries are more interested in money than in ideals. Apparently, a few Cetniks have even joined Ukrainian militias against the Russian separatists, as they were offered more dollars for their services.
Official measures to stop the international mercenary traffic have failed. Serbian lawmakers have proposed legislation criminalizing mercenary activity and penalizing participation in foreign wars. But until the law takes effect, Serbian radicals can return home without having to fear penalties.
But even the new legislation may not be effective. Stefan Vukojevic, representing the Cetnik Movement in Belgrade, which recruits Serbian volunteers to fight with pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine, claims that many Serbian Cetniks live and work in Russia and are outside the reach of Serbia’s jurisdiction.
An additional problem looms on the horizon for the Western Balkans. Commander Zivkovic, in an interview for Deutsche Welle, believes that the fighting in Ukraine will end soon and is making plans to return to Serbia. The returning mercenaries can represent a concrete threat in the region, similarly to their Islamic jihadist counterparts. They can be recruited for nationalist or ultra-Christian causes, provoke ethnic and religious conflicts, and even engage in terrorist campaigns against pro-EU or pro-American governments.
Janusz Bugajski, August 2014
Barack Obama declared himself the President who ended America’s foreign wars. But paradoxically he now finds himself facing escalating conflicts in two critical regions that may necessitate new interventions. His avoidance of direct or deeper involvement will be widely interpreted as weakness that encourages further armed conflicts.
When major civil wars or inter-state confrontations are raging anywhere in the world, Washington is automatically involved. Avoidance of engagement also sends a clear message because all powers monitor American reactions and adjust their strategies accordingly. In Iraq, Gaza, and Ukraine, Obama now confronts tests that can determine his legacy.
After basing his foreign policy on the evacuation of U.S. troops from an unpopular war in Iraq, Obama is being sucked back into the conflict. The rapid success of the jihadist Islamic State threatens a humanitarian disaster and the destabilization of several neighbors. Some experts are even condemning his decision to withdraw all U.S. troops in 2011 as a strategic disaster.
In response to the threatened militant takeover of Iraq, Obama ordered air strikes. But air power alone does not achieve any lasting objectives. Ultimately, Obama will either need to return ground troops or walk away from the war. He will also need to focus on shoring up allies in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf and even reach out to Iran to balance the region’s Sunni extremists.
Obama has also failed to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite early hopes of a breakthrough. The war over Gaza underscores that a tentative peace can unravel at any moment. Although the two state solution is the most rational solution, Israel insists that any Palestinian entity must be demilitarized while Palestinians are determined to build their own security forces.
Obama appears powerless to prevent further slaughters by pushing through a balanced political solution. While no U.S. president can walk away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, displaying helplessness in the face of violence will simply encourage further confrontations.
In Europe’s east, Russia’s ongoing attack on Ukraine has tested the resolve and response of Western policy makers and questioned Obama’s leadership of the trans-Atlantic alliance. His avoidance of outright conflict with Moscow may seem logical, but it may have encouraged President Vladimir Putin to believe that Washington would do little to respond to his regional assertiveness and partition of Ukraine.
Obama’s biggest mistake was to take all military options off the table early in the Ukrainian conflict. In dealing with aggressive adversaries, maintaining an element of uncertainty is important for keeping them off balance. If the Kremlin has no fear of any military response then it will act more forcefully in pursuit of its goals.
If Russian forces invade Ukraine to create a “frozen conflict” and prevent it from joining the West then Obama’s weaknesses will be further exposed. The President will then have one of two options: either to accommodate Russia’s expansionism or launch a policy of “rollback” to confront Putinism throughout Europe’s east. This would necessitate political, economic, and military instruments that the current White House is hesitant to mobilize.
Janusz Bugajski, August 2014
Policymakers are concerned that jihadism among Albanians is on the rise and presents a long-term danger to Balkan security. Although it would be mistaken to claim that religious radicalism is becoming pervasive, deepening economic and political frustrations among the younger generation increases susceptibility to militant ideology.
Albanians have a strong tradition of religious tolerance and pro-Americanism. Islam, Orthodoxy, and Catholicism have co-existed in Albanian societies for centuries and were not the anchors of identity or nationhood. Simultaneously, the U.S. is credited for helping to create two Albanian states in the last one hundred years.
Logically, Albanians would be the last people in Europe turning to anti-Western jihadism. Nonetheless, the London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization calculates that some 300 Albanian fighters, from Kosova, Macedonia, and Albania, have joined groups linked to al-Qaeda in Syria and Iraq, including the “Islamic State” jihadists. In the most dramatic recent incident, gruesome photographs were posted on Facebook of Kosova Albanian militant Lavdrim Muhaxheri beheading a captive soldier in Syria.
Kosova’s President Atifete Jahjaga has tasked Kosova’s security bodies to treat Islamic militancy as a threat to the country and the Minister of Interior Bajram Rexhepi issued an international arrest warrant for Muhaxheri. Although religious fanaticism only involves a few hundred hard-core activists, the authorities are carefully monitoring the Islamic Movement for Unification, a hard-line Muslim organization led by Fuad Ramiqi, which recently emerged as a political party.
In Albania, authorities have arrested eight people suspected of recruiting Albanian jihadists to join militant groups in Syria. Two are radical imams, Genci Balla and Bujar Hysi, who preach in two mosques in a poor suburb of Tirana but are not part of the official Albanian Muslim Community.
Radical Islamist streams have a more visible presence among Albanians in Macedonia. Several faith-based organizations and Islamic “missionaries” from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf are active in Macedonia, preaching a conservative brand of Islam. This has contributed to a struggle within the Islamic population between the moderate mainstream of the Islamic Religious Community and pockets of pious Wahhabis who are not necessarily jihadists.
Militants utilize inroads through charitable, humanitarian, and educational work among the poorest sectors of society. This could constitute a creeping danger to moderate Islamic traditions and inter-confessional tolerance. According to local analysts, the surest way to prevent the growth of extremism is to improve living standard and instill a social safety net, which will restrict opportunities for militant proselytizers.
Ethnic tensions tensions also rise periodically in Macedonia and they can be fueled by religious radicals. Recent riots in Skopje are a timely reminder that conflict can quickly turn to violence. Thousands of Albanians protested the convictions of six people to life sentences on terror-related murder charges of five ethnic Macedonians in 2012. However, Albanian spokesmen claim the prisoners were not given proper trials and the government in Skopje was determined to find scapegoats. Macedonia demonstrates how simmering grievances can be exploited to deepen ethnic and religious divisions and raise recruitment for militant and terrorist causes.
Janusz Bugajski, August 2014
In addition to undermining regional security in Europe’s east, Russia’s actions in Ukraine are a test for NATO as a stabilizing force throughout Europe. Escalating civilian casualties in the Moscow-directed war and the potential destabilization of other nearby states will damage NATO’s legitimacy if it does not engage to help contain the conflict.
Putin’s Kremlin has a dual position toward NATO. First, it needs NATO as an arch- enemy and an alleged threat to Russia’s national interests. It charges that NATO has expanded toward Russia’s borders over the past twenty years despite the demise of the Cold War. Of course, Russian officials fail to point out that NATO has not expanded by force but because of the yearnings of former Russian satellites to be part of the West and to be protected from future Kremlin aggression.
Second, Moscow simultaneously seeks to demonstrate that the Alliance is a failed organization, that it cannot provide security to its new members along Russia’s borders, and it will sit on the sidelines in the event of a full-scale war between Russia and Ukraine. Hence, the attack on Ukraine is partly designed to discredit NATO as Europe’s primary security provider.
The conflict in Ukraine is also one element in a broader Kremlin strategy to restore its regional dominance and thwart the eastern enlargement of the democratic West. The major pervasive threat is not conventional war but the kind of covert conflict that Moscow has waged through the use of proxies and its potential application in other states. However, a conventional armed conflict cannot be discounted if Moscow decides that its proxies are in danger of losing.
Preventing a hegemonic power from threatening Europe has been a core U.S. objective for many decades and the same principle must apply today if further conflict is to be avoided. To face this looming challenge NATO must demonstrate its mutual defense obligations and supply the most effective means to counter Russia’s covert and overt aggression.
Such a strategy requires the positioning of NATO infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders to serve as a deterrent. General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s top commander in Europe, has proposed that a rapid response headquarters be established in Poland to help the military alliance respond faster to any threat posed by Russia.
NATO leaders have discounted military intervention in Ukraine because it is not part of the Alliance, unless the conflict spreads to nearby NATO members. Nonetheless, NATO can still undertake a number of initiatives to confront the crisis by working with the government in Kyiv to defend the country’s integrity.
Above all, it should supply the weapons, intelligence, and logistical assistance that Kyiv needs to confront the Moscow-directed rebellion. In the event of an overt Russian military intervention and the seizure of the Donbas, Kyiv will need assistance to prepare for both a conventional conflict and for guerrilla resistance against Russia’s occupation forces.
NATO leaders can also mobilize a multi-national operation to open a humanitarian corridor to the conflict zones in eastern Ukraine or it can pursue the creation of a peacekeeping presence that would monitor the porous border with Russia. If the conflict deepens, the credibility of the Alliance will be further tested and it will need to have flexible responses to the first major European war since the collapse of Yugoslavia.
Janusz Bugajski, July 2014
Following the downing of the Malaysian passenger plane by Kremlin-sponsored rebels in eastern Ukraine, Russia has become a direct sponsor of international terrorism and needs to be treated as a rogue state by the international community. The West must also prepare itself for a direct Russian military intervention in Ukraine.
The Kremlin is directly responsible for supplying separatists with surface-to-air missiles and intelligence reports indicate that a Russian officer actually shot down the plane. Moreover, Moscow is the instigator and paymaster for the rebellion in Ukraine’s Donbas and has engaged in a cynical cover up of the evidence that its proxies destroyed the Malaysian airline.
The mass murder of civilians should awaken Western policy makers to the causes and consequences of Russia’s war against Ukraine, unblock military aid for the besieged Ukrainian government, and lead to more severe international sanctions against Moscow.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko correctly stated that “the external aggression against Ukraine is not just our problem but a threat to European and global security,” as other countries could be targeted by Putin’s mercenaries. Whether Western leaders have the courage and determination to deal with Putin as they deal with North Korea or Iran is another matter.
Putin cannot withdraw support from the separatists he has sponsored because this would mean the abandonment of Russia’s project to weaken Ukraine and prevent it from moving westward. If Moscow can no longer rely on the rebels to divide the country, Putin and his cohorts may decide to increase the pressure by invading Ukraine directly with the Russian military claiming to be “peacemakers.”
Putin and his proxies want to freeze rebel gains in the Donbas by raising international support for a ceasefire and launch negotiations between the government in Kyiv and pro-Russia separatists. This would give the rebels some legitimacy as political partners and serve to divide Ukraine and reverse its Western momentum.
However, a direct Russian intervention would herald the start of an all-out war between Ukraine and Russia. Kyiv simply cannot negotiate with terrorists, a principle that Washington and several EU capitals have declared on numerous occasions. It will only offer a ceasefire on condition that the rebels disarm and return to Russia where most of them were recruited.
This is a defining moment for President Obama on how he deals with Putin and his neo-imperial regime. Full-scale sectoral and banking sanctions and Moscow’s increasing international isolation must be combined with arming Ukraine’s military and placing permanent NATO bases among member states that feel most vulnerable to Russia’s pressures – including the three Baltic states and Poland.
Unfortunately, until now Obama has failed to exert leadership and specify the dangers that Russia poses. A White House with a clear strategy would need to underscore that the Putin regime is one of the major threats to international security and if it is not replaced by a democratic and non-imperial alternative Russia faces long-term isolation, economic decline, internal turmoil, and eventual state disintegration. This would move Western policy beyond short-term “containment” toward long-term “regime rollback.”
Janusz Bugajski, July 2014
Relations between the U.S. and Germany have plummeted following the expulsion of the CIA station chief from the U.S. embassy in Berlin. Amidst accusations of spying on German officialdom, often overlooked are questions about the reliability of Berlin as a NATO ally and its vulnerability to Russia’s influence.
Allegations about a German double agent spying for the U.S. follow last year’s revelations of surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency that reportedly included Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone. But Berlin’s public outrage over American surveillance is disingenuous.
Germany is the pivotal state in Europe, as its economy drives the EU engine, but its commitment to NATO remains patchy. Persistent anti-American streams in German politics and Berlin’s appeasement of Moscow’s imperialism remain a grave concern to its eastern NATO neighbors and to Washington.
Russia’s war against Ukraine is a major test for Germany’s commitment to a united Europe. While Ukrainians died in Kyiv early this year for the EU cause, Germans appear to be more concerned with their economic well-being than the lives and security of their neighbors and have continued business as usual with Moscow. German companies have even trained Russia’s military and Special Forces.
Despite Putin’s direct threats against Poland and the Baltic states, Merkel opposes the full protection of its neighbors by moving NATO bases eastwards. Despite Putin’s war against Ukraine, Berlin hesitates in imposing punishing sanctions on Moscow. And it remains unclear how far Germany is willing to back the Western aspirations of Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia for fear of antagonizing the Kremlin.
President Barack Obama’s partial disengagement from Europe should have provided ample opportunity for Berlin to take the lead in promoting its often-professed values of democracy, sovereignty, and security in the Wider Europe. Instead, it continues to genuflect to an authoritarian Moscow and neglects the national interests of its allies.
German officials perversely believe that Putin is a pragmatist and the West needs to find compromises with Moscow. And of course the Kremlin manipulates German naiveté and angst to try and neutralize Ukraine and other East European states. While the country is acknowledged as an economic powerhouse, German politicians are simply not trusted in Poland, the Baltic States, or other countries bordering Russia.
Germany’s political right hails Putin for defending traditional family values, while the left praises him as an opponent of U.S. supremacy. And German public opinion mirrors Berlin’s multi-party appeasement of Russia. In a recent national poll, when respondents were asked “What should Germany’s position be in the conflict between Russia and NATO and the EU?” 49% claimed their nation was in the middle between the West and Russia, while only 45% said it lies clearly in the Western sphere.
For decades, the CIA has sent agents into Germany out of concern that the latter’s counter-intelligence services were deeply penetrated by Russian operatives. As the Kremlin increases its espionage activities throughout the EU in order to divide and weaken the West, Germany’s reliability needs careful monitoring because it impacts on the security of Europe and the future of the trans-Atlantic alliance.
Janusz Bugajski, July 2014
Just as the 1990s were marked by the emergence of 24 new countries from the ruins of European communism and Sovietism, this decade may give birth to several new states in the Middle East. Rather than simply resisting this process, international actors need to distinguish between state partition that promotes security and unilateral division that subverts regional stability.
Many of the Middle East states are artificial structures that were designed by British and French imperialists. Patching together ethnically and religiously diverse societies kept these countries divided and conflicted. The post-colonial royal and military juntas in places such as Iraq, Syria, and Libya preserved a semblance of unity through mass repression. But the domestic revolutions and Western interventions in the past decade have challenged their survival, preparing the way for the next phase of disintegration and state formation.
Iraq is torn three ways, by ethnicity and religion. Leaders of the Kurdish region in the north feel no loyalty toward Baghdad and have called for an independence referendum. Meanwhile, Sunni and Shia populations are battling it out in the rest of the country.Sunni rebels, led by the militant Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), have taken control of large parts of northern and western Iraq, while the Shia-led government controls the south.
The civil war in Syria has primarily religious underpinnings and pits the Alawite-led government against the Sunni opposition. Radical Sunnis led by the extremist Islamic State hold a large sector of territory along the Iraqi border, while the Alawites control the south and west. Some Sunni leaders have declared an Islamic caliphate in the lands they have seized both in Syria and Iraq and plan to create a single state.
Libya is a failed state without a functioning government or army and is rapidly sinking into civil war. A secular military administration is fighting against separatist and jihadist groups, especially in the east of the country. Real power does not reside in Tripoli but with numerous local militias, tribes, militant Islamist groups, and even in towns that function outside government structures.
Al-Qaeda has also formed its own militias with significant influence in Libya’s east. It has taken advantage of the chaos and the lack of capable security forces, so that large swaths of territory remain under its control.
If central governments do not effectively represent all major group interests, independence for territories with compact ethnic or religious populations may be the most viable solution. It would result in fewer internal ruptures that retard economic progress and provoke group conflicts. The colonial state legacy presided over by narrow political elites must be cast aside or this will continue to be exploited by Islamist militants to foment conflict.
Simultaneously, armed jihadists that terrorize the local populations into submission must be combated across the region by a coalition of governments, as they threaten the stability and survival of every state. Without credible nation-states or legitimate national governments, much of the Middle East will face two unsettling outcomes: the creation of Islamist dictatorships modeled on Taliban Afghanistan and state failure that will menace the entire region as well as the West.
Janusz Bugajski, July 2014
The EU’s most important foreign policy tool is the promise of membership. The signing of a trade and association agreement with several post-Soviet states on June 27 moves the EU closer to encompassing the Wider Europe and is the most effective sanction against Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko hailed the EU Association Agreement as the start of preparations for joining the EU. In reality, the entry process is indefinite, but even this prolonged prospect is anathema to Moscow which is intent on establishing an alternative Eurasia Union.
Russian officials threatened “grave consequences” for the EU agreements with Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. President Vladimir Putin claimed that it was forcing Ukraine to choose between Russia and the EU and would split the country in two. Such threats actually help to push these countries closer to the West to avoid Kremlin controls.
Moscow has both strategic and economic fears about the EU pact. Any expansion of the West is seen as a contraction of Russia’s imperium. It is also worried that the Russian market will be flooded by cheap EU goods that would damage domestic producers. In retaliation, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin threatened to punish the wayward neighbors with severe trade restrictions – a pressure lever frequently employed by Moscow.
Companies in the three countries whose goods and services meet EU standards will be able to trade freely in any EU country without tariffs or restrictions. Similarly, EU goods and services will be available more easily to businesses and customers in Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. European Commission experts estimate that the trade deal will boost Ukraine’s national income by at least 1.2 billion euros a year
Even more importantly, during the next decade each state will be expected to adopt EU regulations in such areas as government contracts, competition policy, and copyright regulations. This will serve to reduce pervasive domestic corruption and increase foreign investment.
In stark contrast with the benefits of EU association and enhanced trade, Moscow has little to offer its neighbors aside from cheap energy, which arrives with political conditions attached. Russia’s Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan is turning into an abject failure, and the planned Eurasia Economic Union will be little more than camouflage for Kremlin political dominance.
Moscow is trying to expand the Customs Union through both threats and incentives, including trade wars and financial sanctions combined with gas subsidies and investment promises. In recent years, it has embargoed several key profitable exports from its neighbors, including Georgian and Moldovan wines, Ukrainian chocolate, and Lithuanian dairy products.
The Customs Union that Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia have rejected is a protectionist club that retards economic diversification and development because it restricts trade outside the bloc. Instead, the three states are committed to becoming members of the European Customs Union. Under international trade agreements, a country can belong to only one customs union. The EU trade agreement is incompatible with membership in Moscow’s moribund version. Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia are now choosing the European path of governance and development and not the Russian model.
Janusz Bugajski, June 2014
Aside from Croatia’s success in gaining EU entry, paradoxically the brightest spot in the region is the developing relationship between Belgrade and Prishtina. Regardless of occasional setbacks, Serbia and Kosova are on their way to establishing bilateral relations that will boost EU prospects for both countries.
Bosnia-Herzegovina is mired in stagnation as election season approaches, with no visible progress toward international integration. The devastating floods further exposed the unwieldy state structure.Macedonia is reversing its progress on the democratic and ethnic fronts, as the Greek blockade of its name continues, the opposition does not recognize recent election results, and tensions between Macedonians and Albanians erupt in periodic violence.
Montenegro and Albania are partial success stories but problems remain. Although Albania just gained EU candidate status, it confronts deep political polarization, corruption, and criminality. Montenegro may escape the Balkan trap but has to more resolutely combat corruption and deal with its skeptical Serbian population.
Serbia-Kosova relations were the least expected success story especially after Tomislav Nikolic was elected Serbian President in May 2012. But in a policy shift reminiscent of Ivo Sanader in Croatia a decade earlier, Nikolic tamed the nationalists and reoriented Serbia in a Western direction. The EU carrot also proved juicier than expected, as Belgrade was promised accession talks if it ceased propping up parallel structures in Kosova’s four northern municipalities.
Given Serbia’s economic decline and the envious comparisons with Zagreb’s EU entry, Belgrade concluded that Kosova’s small Serbian minority should not stand in the way of its international progress. As a result, during the past year officials in Belgrade have opposed further political boycotts and encouraged Serb participation in Kosova’s elections at both local and national levels. Even local Serb leaders understood that opposing the Kosova state was driving the minority into obscurity.
The June 8 general elections registered a Serb turnout that was similar to that of the Albanians, in a total vote of some 43%. Because of the minority friendly Kosovar constitution Serbs will have ten seats in the 120-seat parliament, while all other minorities combined will have a further ten. Hence, non-Albanians hold almost 17% of mandates, although they form less than 10% of the population. The Serb List coalition will have a voice in forging legislation.
Despite this political breakthrough, recent clashes in Mitrovica over the blocked bridge across the Ibar River demonstrates that the rapprochement is far from complete. Youth frustration and dire economic conditions on both sides of the ethnic divide can be turned into violence by radical politicians. This should focus the attention of all interested parties on community reconciliation after years of alienation.
Kosova’s current opposition parties may form a coalition government led by Ramush Haradinaj as Prime Minister. But this is unlikely to alter the political trajectory. Although Haradinaj is perceived as a war criminal by some Serbian officials because of his time as a commander of the Kosova Liberation Army, this is no different from current premier Hashim Thaci. Serbia’s de jure recognition of Kosova’s statehood is certainly not imminent but a de facto acceptance is developing.
Janusz Bugajski, June 2014
The World Cup has ignited passions and national hopes for glory in all corners of the world. As the most popular international sport, football reflects and promotes both unity and division and reveals the extent and limits of globalization.
In the early days of international club competitions in Europe, racism was a common phenomenon and an underpinning of mass hooliganism. But when football clubs, in England in particular, acquired foreign players of different colors and ethnicities, racism started to lose its appeal and became self-defeating. Instructively, fans of teams without black players tend to be the most racist and xenophobic.
Numerous European national teams also include non-white players and thereby undermine traditional racism. For instance, the inclusion of a black Nigerian-born player in Poland’s national team a few years ago helped to reduce racism in that society. Similar examples can be found in Italy and Germany where xenophobia has also been pronounced.
Football matches promote national unity and a sense of pride that often becomes compensation during harsh social and economic conditions. It can also be a rare avenue for national expression that is normally condemned. Even the self-repressed Germans can demonstrate their national pride during football competitions without provoking charges of resurgent Nazism.
Football may be an international language but it also has many dialects. Clubs are surrogate tribes, while nations become heated collectivities during important competitions. Many cities around Europe and Latin America are deeply divided by football club loyalties where gang violence has thrived in inner city areas. Nonetheless, measures to transform football into a family spectator sport rather than a male machismo phenomenon have proved increasingly successful in several states.
Football ignites “us against them” passions and has on occasion resulted in collective violence. Football clubs have also been recruitment centers for ultra-nationalist fanatics, as witnessed during the wars in Yugoslavia in 1990s when various militias manipulated club loyalties and national identities against rival ethnicities. There was even a full-scale between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969 sparked by a World Cup playoff that exposed deep-rooted conflicts over borders, land ownership, and immigrants.
One of the principles of globalization is a growing international identity. Football clearly demonstrates that internationalism, unlike nationalism and state patriotism, does not stir passion or commitment. On the contrary, it often has the reverse effect when it sparks resentment and fear of losing national identity and blending into an incoherent uniformity. This was clearly on display during the recent EU parliamentary elections, where the sense of European identity proved weak.
The success registered by the Bosnian team in reaching Brazil should foster genuine pride in the country and put aside national divisions, at least temporarily. In a similar fashion, Belgium’s success helps overcome deep divisions between Flemish and Walloonian communities that threaten to tear the country apart. Bosnians have demonstrated that even though the state may be largely dysfunctional, the three major communities can work together for a common cause. Ethnic and religious diversity can be complementary, much like the varied roles and talents of football players.
Janusz Bugajski, June 2014
The countdown to NATO’s Wales Summit in September has begun. The alliance gathering is one of the most significant since the end of the Cold War. In the aftermath of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, it should bring NATO back to Europe as the primary means of mutual defense against outside aggression.
Since the terrorist attacks on the U.S. thirteen years ago, NATO’s attention has been riveted on Afghanistan, Iraq, and the broader Middle East. Throughout this period, the European homeland has been neglected as the NATO capitals assumed that the continent was permanently safe from armed conflict.
If the response to Russia’s aggression is handled constructively, it 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, the Western Balkans remain a missing piece in the NATO puzzle.
NATO interests throughout the Balkans have come into sharper relief since the onset of the Ukraine crisis 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 Milosevic and finally ended 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 issue a membership invitation to Montenegro at the Wales summit and to underscore that all the remaining West Balkan states will become members over the coming years.
NATO’s rationale in holding back Montenegro is misleading and self-defeating. Public support for NATO is rising and is approaching 50%, as the benefits of inclusion are explained to the public and opposition diminishes. Security sector reform is proceeding at the level of Albania and other Balkan states when they were admitted in 2009.
Montenegro’s membership will bring numerous domestic and regional benefits. It will eliminate any doubts about the country’s future and encourage Western direct investment, rather than the corrupt and politically linked Russian investment 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.
Montenegro’s membership will also encourage Serbia to look toward a NATO future. Serbia’s military is fully supportive, as eventual membership for Belgrade would help modernize its armed forces. It can also encourage Bosnia-Herzegovina to resolve the outstanding problems over military property and push toward membership so there are no black holes left in the region.
Janusz Bugajski, June 2014
Comparing Putin to Milosevic has become commonplace among analysts trying to understand the war in Ukraine. But while Milosevic proved a short-term disaster for the Balkans, Putin presents a longer-term threat to international stability.
Both Putin and Milosevic sought to build larger states from crumbled federations, to restore the authority of the former federal capital, and to manipulate conflict and nationalism to solidify their power. For Milosevic, this meant creating a Greater Serbia by carving out territories from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia while maintaining a grip over other republics such as Montenegro, Vojvodina, and Kosova.
For Putin, the pursuit of power means rebuilding a Moscow-centered empire under a new Eurasian label, in which former Soviet neighbors are enticed and cajoled to join. In some cases, as witnessed in Crimea, Russia is evidently entitled to seize territories from nearby states where the local Russian population purportedly seeks union with “the motherland.”
Second, both dictators pursued their objectives through proxy wars. Milosevic’s special forces mobilized, funded, and armed nationalist militias to murder and expel civilians in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosova. Putin has mobilized his special forces and assorted mercenaries to seize state buildings in two eastern provinces of Ukraine and declare independent republics that he can use as leverage against the government in Kyiv. By acting through proxies, both dictators can deny their involvement and pose as peacekeepers to gain political advantages.
But the contrasts between Putin and Milosevic are even starker and revolve around the question of ethnic states and international ambitions. Milosevic wanted permanent separation between Serbs, Bosniaks, Croats, and Albanians, in order to create a more easily controllable mono-ethnic Serbian state. The goal of ethnic division ensured that the anti-civilian wars engineered by Belgrade were especially bloody, so that no ethnicity would want to co-exist with others in any newly created national entities.
For Putin, manufacturing a war of ethnic division would mean that he had abandoned his goal to control the post-Soviet states in return for gaining smaller slithers of territory inhabited by Russian ethnics. In Ukraine such a policy will ensure that virtually all of mainland Ukraine would seek to move westward. In effect, the pursuit of outright ethnic war would terminate the Kremlin’s strategy of imperial reconstruction.
Nonetheless, if Putin’s plans to control Ukraine’s international alliances through political and economic pressure fail, then in desperation he may still pursue the Milosevic option to create a Greater Russia instead of a Russian empire. Such a strategy would lead to Moscow’s international isolation and even a likely implosion in Russia itself where a quarter of the population are non-Russians and will resent Putin’s combative ethno-nationalism.
Both Russian empire-building and state-building will destabilize large swaths of Eurasia and embroil the West. Whereas Milosevic’s appetite was regional and remained confined to the Serbian nexus, Putin has aspirations to be a world leader, as Russia develops its Eurasian “pole of power” to challenge alleged American hegemony. A focus on a narrow and xenophobic Russian nationalism would deflate Putin’s international posturing, while his pursuit of ethnic war would add him to the ranks of war criminals.
EUROPE TURNING INWARDS
Janusz Bugajski, June 2014
The EU’s parliamentary elections have raised the position of radical nationalist and populist parties in one of Europe’s key institutions. Their growing success indicates profound public alienation from the political process and a turn toward nationalism that will threaten the survival of the EU project.
The elections were hailed by officials as the most important since the birth of the EU. Parliament is playing a more prominent role in EU policy-making and is the only Europe-wide institution that directly represents voters.
Parliament regulates trade, borders, and some elements of foreign policy. It passes EU-wide laws, oversees the European Commission and manages the EU’s $200 billion budget. And it can obstruct major new initiatives, such as Berlin’s proposals for fiscal integration. The new populists want to stop further economic integration, oppose bailouts to states in financial crisis, and favor exits from the euro currency zone.
Since the last elections in 2009, Europe has experienced a major economic crisis and extensive social unrest expressed in nationalist terms. Banking failures and sovereign debt crises have resulted in prolonged austerity for several south European states and growing resentment against bailouts by the richer northern Europeans. This undermines the entire EU program, which is based on the premise of growing prosperity.
In terms of social costs, the European crisis has lowered living standards and called into question the viability of the EU’s generous welfare state models. Economic uncertainty and social disquiet have deepened disillusionment with the main center-left and center-right parties, which are viewed by many voters as two sides of the same coin.
In recent years, a host of new parties have emerged that challenge the established formations and the fundamental policy assumptions of national governments, including EU membership itself. Some populist parties are even calling for the dissolution of the Union and a return to national exclusivity.
The protest parties are often xenophobic and anti-liberal. They 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 across borders has propelled anti-immigrant sentiments.
France’s National Front, the UK Independence Party, and the Dutch Party of Freedom are at the forefront of the anti-EU wave and will be able to cooperate in parliament to obstruct policy making. In most cases, the radical right is also anti-market and could recruit some far left groupings to their ranks from countries such as Spain and Greece.
Europe’s reviving nationalism will also further divide and weaken its foreign and neighborhood policies, which are already in disarray following the tepid response of Brussels to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Nationalists and populists will oppose further EU enlargement and turn Europe inward. Although they will not destroy the EU through their EP mandates, they will send a strong message to voters in upcoming national elections to cast their ballots against EU membership. Unless the centrist parties can effectively reform policy making and ensure economic growth, the new nationalists will exploit the crisis to fracture the Union.
THE PURSUIT OF FAILED STATES
Janusz Bugajski, May 2014
The propaganda war over Ukraine is gathering pace and several other states whose unity is disputed can become embroiled in this struggle. Indeed, Bosnia-Herzegovina could be a prime target of dispute over precedents and pretexts for political partition.
Following the annexation of Crimea, Moscow decided to destabilize the rest of Ukraine and disable the creation of a functioning state that could move closer to the EU. An independent Ukraine that decides on its own international alliances is anathema to President Putin as it would significantly weaken his Eurasia Union project.
With imminent presidential elections legitimizing the new Ukrainian authorities, the Kremlin launched a proxy war against its neighbor. This is reminiscent of the last days of Yugoslavia when Milosevic realized that the country could not be held together and opted for Serbian nationalism to create a larger Serbian state while undermining the stability of other emerging countries, particularly Bosnia.
Russian public relations specialists and their Western supporters are pushing the idea that Ukraine is a failed state, claiming that the armed separatists in the eastern regions represent the will of the majority. In reality, less than 30% of the population in the two affected regions participated in the bogus referendum on self-determination and separation, while most citizens have simply been too fearful to confront the gunmen.
Moscow claims that it does not control the separatists. But in ex-Yugoslavia Milosevic did not need to closely control all the nationalist militias as long as the conflict and chaos prevented Croatia and Bosnia from becoming viable integrated states.
Evidence is mounting that Russian special forces have been the vanguard in capturing several towns in the Donbas region. They deliberately provoke civil conflict to undermine local institutions while enlisting local separatists with cash and promises of future government positions.
However, attempts to seize and hold territory have only been partially successful. Despite early failures at counter-insurgency and the unreliability of the local police, Ukraine’s military and outraged workers are fighting back to restore some semblance of law and order in the eastern regions.
By depicting Ukraine as a failed state, Moscow can push the idea of loose federalism or full-scale partition, as with South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Crimea. A similar scenario could also be engineered for Bosnia, if state failure is broadly defined to include institutional dysfunctionality and the inability of Sarajevo to control the entire country. To be more effective, those supporting outright separation can also mount a propaganda offensive based on the Russian model of disinformation. And unlike Ukraine’s Donbas, the RS already has the institutions in place to declare statehood.
Russia would of course welcome such developments in the heart of the Balkans. The rising threat of Bosnian fracture would open up a second front and distract American and European attention from the attempted dismemberment of Ukraine. And there are indications that the Kremlin is encouraging such a scenario through its increasingly close political and business contacts with Banja Luka. Willingly or unwittingly, the RS government may be increasingly trapped by Moscow to implement Russia’s agenda.
RETURN OF FASCISM
Janusz Bugajski, May 2014
Charges of fascism against political adversaries are becoming more commonplace in Europe. During the Cold War, Communist regimes accused their Western opponents and domestic dissident groups of fascism in order to publicly discredit them. Paradoxically, the fascist stereotype is now employed against its adversaries by a Russian government that most closely resembles a 21st century fascist dictatorship.
President Putin’s officials relentlessly accuse the Ukrainian government of being fascist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic. Indeed, Russia’s media campaign and “agents of influence” in the blogosphere and social media have created a distorted fascist picture of any country that seeks to break away from Moscow’s imperial embrace.
Putin used the Soviet Victory Day commemorations on 9 May to berate Russia’s foreign opponents as fascists. He claimed that fascists are on the rise in Ukraine and the West while praising the Soviet role in defeating Nazi Germany. He failed to mention that Moscow’s initial collaboration with Hitler made World War Two and the division of Europe possible in the first place.
Also on Victory Day, in Moldova’s breakaway republic of Transnistria, Russia’s deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin urged the separatist leaders to fight fascism and offered his support for their independence. At the same time, the three Baltic states are regularly accused of being fascist by Moscow since they broke free of the Soviet Union.
The Kremlin is seeking to divide Europe according to misleading ideological labels. To avoid falling into this trap, one needs to rigorously dissect which regime actually resembles the fascist model.Fascism has some concrete features that must be evaluated when defining any country’s political system.
First, and most obvious, is the cult of the leader. In Ukraine, the Baltic states, and Moldova there is no sycophantic worship of the national leader and elections rotate parties and politicians. By contrast, in Russia the state media and the Orthodox Church hail Putin as a national savior while forged elections maintain him in power. Putin’s image is ubiquitous and the symbol of a strong and expanding state.
Second, fascism operates through a one-party system funded and organized by state officials. Most of Russia’s European neighbors are emerging democracies with multi-party systems. Only Russia and Belarus have basic mono-party structures, in which smaller political formations are either tolerated because they pose no threat or are persecuted.
Third, fascism is synonymous with militarism and the dominance of the security services. This is precisely what we are witnessing in Russia, which is expanding its military prowess along its borders and drastically increasing state spending on its armed forces. Concurrently, the country is controlled by a cabal of KGB officers who treat state funds as personal property.
Fourth, fascism relies on tight media controls and the “propaganda of hate” against internal and external enemies. The Kremlin controls all major media outlets and promotes racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia to mobilize the public against Russia’s alleged enemies.
And fifth, fascist states are expansionist and harbor territorial claims on neighboring countries. This was the case with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy during World War Two, and Moscow is employing the same principle to restore “Russia’s glory.” If we look soberly at political labels then Russia comes closest to fascism than any other state in Europe or Eurasia.
INSUFFICIENT BALKAN AGENDA
Janusz Bugajski, May 2014
Officials in the U.S. State Department are looking at the consequences of the Ukrainian crisis and erroneously concluding that the key problem is combating official corruption. The deeply corrupted Yanukovych government is viewed as a dangerous precedent for other countries, including several states in the Western Balkans.
Obama officials supported the popular uprising in Kyiv and the staging of early elections. They are primarily concerned that a spiral of violence could be unleashed in other countries where government corruption is rampant. But while corruption destroys government legitimacy and dissipates public trust, it is the symptom of much deeper structural problems. As a result, any campaign against corruption needs to be combined with several simultaneous initiatives to restore political credibility.
The primary challenge for all countries that emerged from multi-national federations is structural: the necessity to consolidate statehood. Ukraine presents a valuable example of weak central institutions and strong regional identities that can threaten state survival. Bosnia-Herzegovina bears some similarities but the divisive ethnic principle is even more menacing.
If the state is fully consolidated and internationally integrated, federalism can work. There are several functional federations in the EU, and the U.S. itself operates with an effective federal structure. Without state consolidation, federalism simply undermine political cohesiveness and paralyzes legislation.
The second threat for recently emerged states is institutional. This requires political accountability that can only be ensured through the rule of law. Incompetent and politically connected judiciaries prevent good governance and destroy public faith in the political system. These problems are clearly evident in Ukraine and a number of Balkan countries.
The third critical challenge is economic. A state bereft of business investment, whether domestic or foreign, becomes mired in poverty and public disaffection. This becomes part of the negative loop reinforced by the first two problems: investors distrust state institutions and lack confidence in national stability. Officials do not encourage business competition and entrepreneurship, but use the state for their political and personal advantage. Bosnia is a pertinent example of business neglect, but it is not the only straggler in the region.
The fourth necessity for small countries is progress toward EU institutions. Without effective statehood, institutions, and economies, states become stuck in a limbo. And the negative loop becomes a vicious spiral, as exclusion from the EU reinforces the political stalemate. With a clear timetable for membership, conditionality becomes effective, investors gain confidence, and EU funds can develop economies and shield states from potential crises.
The prospect of closer association with the EU stimulated the social revolution in Ukraine and has committed the new government to extensive institutional and financial reforms. At the same time, it sparked Moscow’s opposition and incitement of regional separatism that can tear the country apart. Fortunately, Bosnia no longer has as a neighbor an aggressive larger power seeking to impose its domination.
When U.S. officials discuss the negative impact of official corruption they cannot ignore its context and consequences. If the root causes are not effectively tackled then the state becomes unpredictable, unworkable, and susceptible to either public revolt or secessionist temptations.
Janusz Bugajski, May 2014
Political opponents and analysts have criticized Barrack Obama as a weak and ineffective international leader. But the growing aggressiveness of Vladimir Putin may yet turn Obama into a more forceful global player who will seek to leave a memorable historical legacy.
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 prejudices. He sought to give new impetus to the Arab-Israeli peace process and tried to engage Russia in global cooperation.
But despite his best intentions, there is little of substance in international relations that Obama can claim as his legacy. Throughout his nearly six years in office, the President has been confronted by unpredictable revolutions in the Islamic world and the persistence of Iran and North Korea in developing nuclear weapons.
The “Arab Spring” demonstrated Obama’s confusion in whether to support authoritarian allies confronted by both democratic uprisings and radical Islamist movements. Meanwhile, Tehran and Pyongyang challenged Obama’s commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and his red lines over the use of chemical weapons in Syria disappeared in the sand.
Obama’s “reset” with Moscow was supposed to herald a dawn of collaboration that would help settle vexing security issues throughout Asia 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 empire while disregarding the appeals of the White House.
Putin clearly considers Obama a soft leader, as would any ex-KGB officer when confronting a former community organizer. He perceives Washington as withdrawing from the world because of economic pressures and American public opposition to foreign engagements. Until now, Putin seems to have calculated correctly, but the most serious tests lie ahead.
Obama has two years left in his final presidential term and no President wants to leave behind a legacy that looks like failure. The loss of Ukraine that threatens the security of NATO allies in Central-Eastern Europe and a globally assertive Russia that undermines U.S. interests will look like abject failure for the White House. This will also rebound on the fortunes of the Democratic presidential candidate in the November 2016 elections.
The Kremlin push to dismember Ukraine and create havoc in other parts of the Wider Europe may finally convince Obama that incentives and tepid sanctions are insufficient and even counter-productive. The Obama administration is learning the hard way that Russia’s leaders respect determination not concessions. Obama has the opportunity to turn Russia’s offensive against itself, and the U.S. has plenty of tools to stymie Putin’s drive for empire.
A comprehensive set of sectoral sanctions against Russian economic interests, coupled with diplomatic and institutional isolation would be a valuable starting point. The relocation of U.S. troops and NATO bases from Western to Central Europe would send a stronger signal to Moscow that America is prepared to fight to defend its allies. And a full commitment to bringing all European countries, including Ukraine, into Western institutions would counter Russia’s attempts to redivide the continent. It is time for Obama to lead the Alliance and confront his own legacy.
THE SHADOW WAR
Janusz Bugajski, April 2014
The world has not entered another Cold War. The Cold War was a frozen condition that left Europe divided while both sides avoided confrontation. The new epoch is better defined as a Shadow War in which the West and Russia will be in perpetual competition for influence and interest.
Russia may not be the most direct security threat to the West, but it is certainly the most persistent. President Putin’s neo-imperial goals undermine the stability of several regions from the Baltic to the Caspian, challenge NATO as a security provider, and undercut the EU project.
There are three fundamental principles of the Shadow War. First, Russia no longer depicts itself as a European state. It defines itself as a separate “Eurasian pole of power” defending against Western encroachment, proud of its anti-Americanism, and playing a vanguard role among authoritarian governments that reject U.S. influence.
Second, there is no longer a clear division of Europe into Western and Russian spheres. Instead, the stage is set for a prolonged struggle over states that are under pressure to join the Russian zone but whose populations are divided or whose governments do not possess the power to resist. Even countries that are within NATO or the EU, such as Bulgaria or Hungary, are subverted by the Kremlin through corrupt business deals to stay neutral or favor Russia’s foreign policy.
And third, various kinds of weapons will be employed in the Shadow War to undermine the adversary, whether energy, investment, propaganda, cyberspace, or political persuasion. Although U.S. and EU officials claim there is no zero-sum competition with Russia over the allegiance of any country, in reality the protagonists are competing over the future of a string of East European countries.
Western policy must gear itself toward a long-term struggle while Putin remains at the helm. Ukraine is now the symbol and substance of the Shadow War. It is claimed by both the West and Russia as part of its heritage. Most Ukrainians identify themselves as Europeans and want to join the EU. Brussels is offering Association Agreements with post-Soviet states that meet democratic standards, clearly indicating where they ultimately belong
Putin’s Russia denounces the EU approach as conflicting with its own historical and geostrategic claims that the post-Soviet countries form part of the “Russian world” and must return under Moscow’s umbrella. This would not only entail a loss of sovereignty but also the imposition of a value system based on autocracy and statism.
President Obama “reset” with Moscow is dead. All that remains is the hope for Kremlin cooperation in arms control, the Syrian civil war, and Iran’s nuclear program. But the outcome of such collaboration remains uncertain.Russia is well prepared for the new Shadow War, as evident in its current international offensives. Unfortunately, the West is just emerging from its post Cold War illusions and must confront Moscow with the strength of its economic, political, cultural, social, intellectual, and security influences in those parts of Europe that are under increasing pressure to join the “Russian world.”
SOFT POWER RUNNING OUT OF POWER
Janusz Bugajski, April 2014
Addressing the U.S.-EU summit in Brussels in March, President Barrack Obama asserted that “Russia’s leadership is challenging truths that only a few weeks ago seemed self-evident, that in the 21st century, the borders of Europe cannot be redrawn with force.” But the question remains: how can the West prevent the borders of countries bordering Russia from being redrawn by force?
Wishful thinking, endless diplomacy, resets, and concessions evidently do not work because Moscow views these elements of “soft power” as weak and exploitable. Unfortunately, the EU remains riveted on the notion that foreign policy objectives can be achieved primarily through co-operation and partnership, and occasional tough words.
The core of the problem is that Brussels relies on its capacity to attract rather than to convince a potential antagonist to comply with international norms. Soft power also has an economic dimension, whether by offering or denying economic benefits. But economic sanctions can only pressure government to desist from aggression if they are hard hitting, unlike the timid sanctions imposed on Russian officials after the annexation of Crimea.
The prospect of EU membership has been Brussels’ most effective foreign policy tool. It is the promise of EU entry that persuaded Belgrade to forge an agreement with Kosova. Indeed, throughout the Western Balkans Europe’s soft power has been relatively successful but only after NATO’s hard power was deployed against local militaries. However, in the absence of definite prospect for EU accession, foreign policy becomes muted.
In the case of Russia and Ukraine, soft power has serious limitations. Without the initial hard power to deter or thwart Russia’s aggression, the use of soft power to prevent forceful border changes will be mostly hot air. Even more ominously, the EU has dissuaded Kyiv from acting forcefully to combat Russian infiltrators in eastern Ukraine. The fear of provoking a full-scale military invasion simply encourages further subversion.
The EU´s focus on soft power is directly attributable to its negligible hard-power capabilities, particularly when compared with those of Russia or the U.S. Having largely discarded any independent military structure, the EU is dependent on negotiations, partnerships, and agreements to achieve its foreign policy targets. Its stress on democratic values, the rule of law, good governance, and social justice demonstrates its aversion to the use of force.
The EU inhabits a postmodern utopia and is unable to adequately respond when Russia relies primarily on hard power, subversion, sabotage, and propaganda to achieve its objectives. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has bluntly stated that there can be no credible EU foreign policy without the military means to back it up. According to Rasmussen in a speech to the European Parliament, “Europeans must understand that soft power alone is really no power at all. Without hard capabilities to back up its diplomacy, Europe will lack credibility and influence.”
Although the U.S. also deploys soft power tools, it also maintains powerful hard power capabilities. Without NATO and America’s leadership, the EU has little real power to exert toward countries that have no prospect or aspiration to join the Union. And while EU foreign policy revolves around soft power, Russia has realized that it can use its hard power without any serious threat of retaliation.
CAN GERMANY LEAD EUROPE?
Janusz Bugajski, April 2014
The Ukrainian crisis provides Germany with an opportunity to take the leading role in Europe’s confrontation with Russia’s imperialism. The government in Berlin remains weighed down by a traditional timidity and a fear of reviving German nationalism. Nonetheless, a new sense of responsibility for Europe and outrage with Putin may stiffen German backbones.
With the strongest European economy, Germany leads the EU’s economic policy. But as the continent faces the biggest challenge to stability since the end of the Cold War, expectations are growing that Berlin needs to become the vanguard in foreign policy. At the security summit in Munich in February German politicians signaled their readiness for international engagement. However, they were taken surprise by Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
To preclude Berlin’s political assertiveness, Moscow has entrapped large German companies in lucrative business deals and increased German dependence on gas supplies through the Nord Stream pipeline. As a result, Germany’s business lobby has opposed imposing any tough economic sanctions against Moscow.
Russian officials also cultivate the German guilt complex over Nazi policy during World War Two to undermine Berlin’s self-confidence. Any signs of German assertiveness are condemned as a revival of expansionist nationalism. But as Putin’s coercive empire building becomes undeniable, Germany’s coalition government will either need to harden its position or confirm Moscow’s argument that EU “soft power” means no power.
Working against a more realistic Russia policy by Chancellor Angela Merkel is her Social Democrat coalition partner. The SDP joined the CDU/CSU government with a mission to improve relations with Russia. Attempts to resuscitate Berlin’s “Ostpolitik” were evident with the replacement of Putin-critic Andreas Schockenhoff as coordinator for inter-state cooperation by Russia-friendly Gernot Erler.
Nonetheless, even within the SDP activists have become more critical of Moscow as Putin has clamped down on human rights and uprooted Russia’s infant democracy. The government also needs to pay attention to public opinion. In a March poll, only 15% of respondents perceived Russia as a reliable partner, while 75% distrusted Putin. Germans may increasingly view Russia as a spoiler or even a rival.
The intra-German debate on Russia is focused on crisis management and economic costs. Nonetheless, a more fundamental discussion over Europe’s future is also becoming evident. Even a leading representative of the German economy, Ulrich Grillo, president of the Federation of German Industries, is leaning toward supporting Merkel on sanctions stressing the “primacy of policy.” There is also greater focus on the negative political consequences of Germany’s energy dependence on Russia.
Disputes persist on a long-term response to Russia’s reimperialization. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who publicly backed an increased NATO presence in the Baltic States and Poland, was criticized by several colleagues. Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble stated that Putin’s occupation of Crimea resembled Hitler’s 1938 annexation of Sudetenland, then part of Czechoslovakia. He was promptly rebuked by Merkel. If the EU is to have a decisive voice in the struggle over Eastern Europe, then Berlin must speak with a unified and strong voice. Otherwise, Putin will simply feel emboldened to continue with his imperial plans and the only potential resistance will need to come from Washington.
A BOSNIAN MODEL FOR UKRAINE
Janusz Bugajski, April 2014
The threat of Russian invasion continues to hover over Ukraine. However, Moscow’s strategy may not require outright military intervention. President Putin’s diplomatic outreach to President Obama is intended to achieve three objectives: ensure that Russia plays a key role in determining Ukraine’s development, preclude Kyiv’s accession to any Western institutions, and to “federalize” the country to resemble the dysfunctional Bosnian state.
The Kremlin’s main fear in Ukraine is not the allegedly endangered status of the Russian-speaking population. Its paranoia is rooted in Ukraine developing into a democratic, unified, and increasingly prosperous state that moves toward EU accession. Such a model of development would become increasingly attractive for the Russian public and challenge the legitimacy of the kleptocratic and authoritarian Putinist system. It would also disable the creation of a Eurasian Union through which Russia seeks to become a significant global player.
Moscow deliberately sends ambiguous messages regarding its foreign policy intentions to confuse and disarm Western capitals. While it claims to be working for peaceful resolutions, it simultaneously applies political and economic pressures and prepares military responses to further its geopolitical ambitions. Conversely, a positive message of “de-escalation” from Putin is intended to lull the West into a false sense of security.
The Kremlin seeks to gain advantages by partially stepping back from an initially ultra-aggressive stance and enticing Western concessions in accepting some of Moscow’s gains. Western leaders then herald their evident success at averting a larger international crisis.
After threatening military intervention and partition, Putin can appear as the peacemaker by offering a deal over Ukraine. If such diplomatic blackmail is accepted by Washington and Brussels, then Russian officials would have a direct role in deciding on Ukraine’s administrative structure and foreign policy. Kyiv would in effect forfeit its independence.
In this context, the Bosnian “solution” appeals to Moscow and can be used as a precedent, just as the independence of Kosova from Serbia is depicted as a precedent for Crimea’s separation from Ukraine. Such a model would not only keep Ukraine divided without need for bloodshed, it would also disqualify the country from future Western integration. A two-entity or multi-entity confederation along Bosnian lines would result in permanent vetos and blockages by politicians in regions that can be bought or subverted by Moscow.
According to Kremlin calculations, each region of Ukraine would have a parliament, government, and president, so that Kyiv would be left with a limp and paralyzed central administration. Such a radically decentralized state would, much like Bosnia-Herzegovina, remain in a constant limbo and forestall any coherent foreign and security policy. Moreover, the eastern regions of Ukraine, similarly to Bosnia’s Serb Republic and Serbia, would remain closely linked, politically and economically, with a Greater Russia.
Ukrainian leaders will oppose any significant Russian role in the country’s internal and international development. But in a bid to avert outright war and ensure regional stability, which only Russia is threatening, Western governments may inadvertantly play into Putin’s hands and press Kyiv to accept some variant of Moscow’s proposals. Of course, Putin’s invasion option can always be revived if “federalization” is rejected. Russia can rapidly assemble a menacing troop presence along Ukraine’s borders to remind Western leaders of its intention.
COMBATING RUSSIAN IMPERIALISM
Janusz Bugajski, April 2014
In his drive for empire, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will certainly miscalculate. Dictators often think they are invincible when they smell early successes, as Putin achieved through a stealthy annexation of Crimea. An overstretched Russia, facing growing economic problems cannot withstand a prolonged conflict with the West. To ensure Moscow’s retreat, Western strategy must be based on three interconnected approaches: international isolation, imperial indigestion, and regime destabilization
Isolation: The international isolation of the Russian government must have diplomatic, institutional, and economic components. Diplomatically, U.S. and EU leaders need to underscore that by occupying any part of Ukrainian territory Russia is in violation of numerous international treaties and agreements, beginning with the UN Charter. The West must also stress that Moscow continues to occupy the territories of two other states – Georgia and Moldova – both of which are committed to European integration.
Institutionally, Russia needs to be suspended or expelled from a number of international organizations and initiatives, including the G8 and the Council of Europe. Putin has proved false the widespread assumption that integrating Russia into the wider global economy and multi-national institutions would transform it into a responsible international player. On the contrary, mutual integration has contributed to tying Western hands when Russia breaks international treaties and expands its territory.
Economically, the West must aim to strategically blockade the country. Being heavily dependent on raw material exports, Russia remains highly vulnerable to sustained economic pressure. Sanctions against individual Russian officials, oligarchs, and companies tied with the Kremlin may be a useful starting point. More significantly, Russia’s access to the European financial system must be blocked, European investment in Russian industries curbed, and the EU’s antitrust penalties on monopoly violations by Gazprom strictly imposed.
The U.S. and EU need to target Russia’s energy sector in order to wean Europe away from Russian supplies. This would seriously deplete Kremlin export earnings. Washington can release oil from its Strategic Petroleum Reserves, thereby reducing global oil prices by 10% and further decimate Moscow’s export revenues. Europe relies on Russia for more than 30% of its gas and more than a quarter of its oil. However, OECD countries have significant oil and gas reserves that can compensate for the loss of Russian supplies. Gazprom will then lose the European energy market, as the EU increasingly purchases gas from alternative sources.
Economic sanctions will be more effective if they impact on Russia’s public. Oligarchs and officials have access to state funds, which they treat as their personal property. Falling state revenues, a downturn in living standards, and rising unemployment among the Russian masses can fuel the flames of revolt by the ordinary public against a regime that will seen to be increasingly isolated and failing economically.
Indigestion: The attempted digestion of any occupied territories must become painful for Russia. This will require Western defense aid to Ukraine, Georgia, and other states threatened by Moscow. Priorities must include intelligence-sharing, technology for cyber defense, and secure military command and control. An effective territorial defense would help deter and defend against invasion. Ukraine’s army needs technical assistance and equipment to resist Russian military incursions and create a credible territorial defense force that would make any occupation protracted and costly.
Ukraine’s government has so far unsuccessfully appealed for U.S. military aid. An underarmed army is more likely to encourage Russian invasion than a force capable of resisting military assault. The embargo on weapons to the Bosnian government during the 1992-1995 war encouraged Serb assaults on Bosnian cities, as the latter possessed superior weaponry. Training for Ukraine’s newly formed National Guard in territorial defense and in insurgency and counter-insurgency operations will be critical.
NATO remains the vital component of Western deterrence and its post-Afghanistan mission must now be specified: to fully protect the integrity of all members by upgrading the land and air defense of all countries bordering Russia. To demonstrate NATO’s vitality, membership invitations must be issued to Montenegro and Macedonia at the September summit, while Georgia and Ukraine obtain NATO Membership Action Plans (MAP) to confirm that they will also join the Alliance.
In terms of NATO’s military decisions, the West has already taken several steps since Moscow’s assault on Ukraine to strengthen the defense of vulnerable members. It added combat aircraft support to NATO’s Baltic air policing mission, dispatched a dozen F-16 fighters to Poland together with 300 U.S. air troops, and sent AWAC reconnaissance aircraft to Poland and Romania. Vice President Joe Biden announced new NATO exercises in Poland and the rotation of American forces to the Baltic states to conduct ground and naval exercises. NATO’s collective security guarantees can be reinforced by dispatching U.S. combat teams to Poland and the Baltic states, conducting air patrols over the Black Sea, and increasing the presence of NATO vessels in the Black Sea.
Destabilization: To thwart Russia’s reimperialization the Putin regime must be undermined. A strategy can be developed to question Kremlin control over the Russian Federation, not only through sanctions and isolation but by supporting minority rights and national independence movements. If the Putin regime is not replaced with a non-imperialist successor, Russia will increasingly face ethnic conflict and territorial fracture.
Russian public passivity has allowed Putin to strengthen his hold on power and implement an array of repressive legislation. But resentments will deepen, as economic conditions deteriorate and expose the unrestrained corruption of the ruling elite. It will also aggravate inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts, as Moscow turns to ethno-nationalism to mobilize the public in the service of the regime. Russia’s estimated 20 million Muslims have become the primary national scapegoat promoted by Kremlin propaganda, largely because of the spreading insurgency in the North Caucasus. The annexation of Crimea will add another 300,000 Muslim Tatars who do not want to be under Moscow’s control and will become a new source of anti-state militancy.
About a quarter of Russia’s population of 143 million are non-Russians and in many of regions resentment against Moscow’s failing economic policies and repressive centralism is escalating. This is especially evident in the 21 non-Russian ethnic republics. But even in Siberia and the Far East, the ethnic Russian population is steadily declining while the Chinese proportion is growing, as are their political aspirations. In several border regions local populations are seeking international connections without Moscow’s interference. The option of sovereignty will become increasingly attractive.
Consistent with calls for freedom and human rights, the West needs to actively assist regions and populations that desire self-determination and independence, especially nations that were forcibly incorporated into Greater Russia at some point in their history. And paradoxically, Moscow’s annexation of Crimea would mean that the West no longer recognizes Russia’s claimed borders or accepts the legitimacy of its “inner empire.” In the aftermath of the Ukrainian crisis, we should be preparing and planning for a coming Russian implosion.
NATO’S REVIVED MANDATE
Janusz Bugajski, March 2014
At a landmark speech in Washington a few days ago, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen described Russia’s attack on Ukraine as a “wake-up call.” Rasmussen asserted that at NATO’s September summit in Wales, all members must take tough decisions, including increased defense spending, to demonstrate “commitment to the security of all allies.”
NATO remains the vital component of Western defense and its reinvigorated mission must now be specified: full protection for the independence and territorial integrity of each ally. An essential component will be to upgrade the national defense capabilities of all countries bordering Russia, especially the three Baltic countries containing sizable Russian minorities. Strengthened Alliance defenses can deter Russia’s aggression and may even dissuade further attacks on non-members such as Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. A weak reaction will simply undermine NATO credibility.
NATO must also repudiate the key sentence of the 1996 NATO-Russia Founding Act, in which the Alliance pledged not to permanently base combat-ready forces on the territory of new members in Central and Eastern Europe. This agreement was contingent upon Russian behavior, with NATO reserving the right to station such forces if circumstances changed. Conditions have definitely changed following Moscow’s attack on Ukraine and its threats to undermine the security of other vulnerable NATO members along Russia’s borders.
Moscow cannot be allowed to brazenly incorporate any neighboring territories and it must understand the costs of military occupation. This will require both overt and covert Western defense aid to Ukraine, Georgia, and other non-NATO states threatened by Russian forces. Priorities for the Alliance must include intelligence-sharing, technology for cyber defense, and secure military command and control.
Above all, an effective territorial defense would help deter and defend against invasion of southern and eastern Ukraine. Ukraine’s army urgently needs assistance and equipment to create a credible territorial defense force that would make any Russian occupation protracted and costly. An underarmed army is more likely to entice intervention and civilian casualties than a force capable of resisting. We must heed the Bosnian lesson, when an arms embargo imposed by the West on a crumbling Yugoslavia encouraged Serb military assaults on Bosnian cities, as the latter possessed superior weaponry.
NATO has taken initial steps to strengthen the defense of new members. It added combat aircraft to support NATO’s Baltic air policing mission, dispatched a dozen F-16 fighters to Poland together with 300 U.S. air troops, and sent AWAC reconnaissance aircraft to patrol the eastern borders of Poland and Romania. Much more needs to be done, including regular NATO exercises among new allies, the positioning of NATO infrastructure from Estonia to Romania, and the rotation of U.S. forces in the region.
NATO’s revived mandate can be further underscored by inviting Montenegro and Macedonia into the Alliance at the September summit. Both countries have qualified for accession, while the Greek veto over Macedonia must be finally overcome. Simultaneously, Ukraine and Georgia need Membership Action Plans (MAP) to confirm that they too will join the Alliance and that Moscow’s pressure tactics will have the reverse effect. Bosnia-Herzegovina must also firmly decide whether it wants NATO membership and protection in the unpredictable and unstable years ahea.
WEST-EAST CRISIS IMPACTS BALKANS
Janusz Bugajski, March 2014
The Russia-Ukraine conflict is reverberating throughout Europe. In addition to evoking memories of the violent disintegration of Yugoslavia, it will also seriously test NATO as Europe’s security provider. While the U.S. and the EU announced ineffective sanctions on Moscow for its annexation of Crimea and its threats to further partition Ukraine, the Balkan response has also unearthed divisions and confusion.
Kremlin actions have underscored the contradiction between state integrity and national self-determination. Serbia finds itself on both sides of the West-East divide. Belgrade’s close relations with Moscow have placed it in an uncomfortable position of supporting its own territorial integrity over Kosova while muting its opposition to Ukraine’s partition involving Crimea.
Russian officials reassure Belgrade that the separation and annexation of Crimea does not mean Moscow will support Kosova’s independence. But Serbia’s diplomatic problems may grow. If Prime Minister Ivica Dacic opposes future trans-Atlantic sanctions against Russia, he may act contrary to Western consensus and even set back Serbia’s EU entry.
In Kosova and Albania there is an opposite contradiction between support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and justifications for Kosova’s independence. Officials need to more clearly specify the distinctions between Kosova and Crimea. While Kosova faced attempted genocide that disqualified the legitimacy of Serbia’s rule, no population was under threat in Crimea when Moscow manufactured an ethnic crisis to divide Ukraine.
Bosnia-Herzegovina will also become embroiled in the new West-East crisis. Leaders in the Republika Srpska may play with the Crimean scenario to push for “reunification” with Serbia, thus placing Belgrade in an even more awkward international position. And the resistance of the large Tatar community, Crimea’s indigenous population, to a Russian takeover should resonate among Bosniaks and other peoples that fear losing their traditional lands.
There will also be an economic impact among countries that have expanded their energy and trade links with Russia. Gas supplies through Ukraine could be terminated and shortages will affect consumers and businesses. In the long term, this will prove beneficial in weaning Europe away from dependence on Russian gas, which always comes attached with political strings. However, states such as Serbia and Bulgaria that have signed on to Moscow’s projected South Stream pipeline may suffer substantial losses if the EU pushes for energy diversification or imposes meaningful sanctions against Moscow.
The West will also have Balkan nightmares if Putin decides to pursue the Milosevic scenario of ethnic division in Ukraine to construct a Greater Russia. Similarly to Milosevic in his efforts to undermine the Croatian and Bosnian states, the Russian President claims that the government in Kyiv is fascist, has declared Russia’s “right” to protect allegedly endangered co-ethnics in neighboring states, and incited provocateurs to destabilize eastern Ukraine.
Any evolving conflict in which Moscow attempts to seize territory could degenerate into extensive “ethnic cleansing” operations to permanently divide Ukrainians from Russians. However, there is one important difference with the war in Bosnia and Croatia in the 1990s. Ukraine already has a sizable army formed during twenty-four years of independence. The protection of Ukraine’s identity and statehood would ensure that any armed conflict would be bloodier than in former Yugoslavia.
DANGERS FOR WIDER EUROPE
Janusz Bugajski, March 2014
Moscow is preparing to redraw Europe’s borders. Russia’s potential annexation of Crimea and its designs to permanently divide Ukraine are sending shockwaves from the Baltics to Central Asia as countries feel under direct threat of destabilization and dissection.
There are four varieties of flashpoints around Russia’s borders with a possibility of regional escalation. First, is the immediate flashpoint in the Moscow-sponsored separatist enclave of Transnistria in Moldova. Emboldened by success in Crimea, Putin may push for a referendum on federalization or even annexation. The aim would be to squash Moldova’s moves toward EU association.
Moscow may also establish an autonomous entity along Ukraine’s Black Sea coast between Odessa and Crimea. This would create a territorial link between Crimea and Transnistria under Moscow’s de facto control, landlock Ukraine, and undermine Kyiv’s pro-Western government.
The second danger are ticking flashpoints involving states with large Russian populations — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania – where Moscow may decide on more direct measures to allegedly defend “Russian-speaking” populations. The fact that these are NATO members may prove attractive to Putin, as he could test Alliance resolve in defending their stability.
Even without attempts at partition, the Kremlin could pursue various measures to provoke instability through energy and trade embargoes, cyber attacks, inter-ethnic conflicts, or staging sabotage or terrorist attacks on Baltic territory.
The third danger are defensive flashpoints. Poland could be embroiled militarily to protect its eastern borders and defend the besieged Ukrainian state. Romania would defend Moldova from outright partition, while the rest of Central Europe would be exposed to numerous instabilities, from energy cutoffs to refugee outflows. Georgia and Azerbaijan are also fearful of Russia’s military aggression and its support of minority territorial claims inside their territories.
The fourth threat are potential flashpoints in countries currently allied with Moscow but hosting large Russian minorities. Belarus and Kazakhstan are the two most vulnerable states, where Russian nationalists claim territory or see unification with Russia as the optimum solution. Neither government is likely to recognize the annexation of Ukrainian territory for fear that it will set a precedent for their potential federalization or fracture. But Moscow may call upon them to give “brotherly assistance” to a Greater Russia or threaten political repercussions. They may seek Western protection if their integrity comes under increasing question.
However, in his drive for empire, Putin is sure to miscalculate. Dictators often think they are invincible when they smell early successes. An overstretched Russia with growing economic problems cannot withstand a prolonged conflict with the West. Western strategy must be based on two approaches: Russia’s international isolation and domestic destabilization.
On the international front, the digestion of neighboring territories must become painful. Ukraine’s military forces need assistance to resist aggression and create a credible territorial defense that would make Russian occupation protracted and costly. NATO’s post-Afghanistan mission will be to defend the integrity of all members through land and air defense and the stationing of U.S troops as a tripwire to foreign assault. NATO’s article 5 must also be clarified so there is no ambiguity regarding what constitutes an “armed attack.” Crimea witnessed a clandestine “armed attack” in which the territorial integrity of a neighboring state was subverted.
To demonstrate NATO’s vitality and resistance to Russian aggression, membership invitations must be issued to Montenegro, while Georgia and Ukraine should obtain NATO Membership Action Plans. Moreover, a strategy must be developed to destabilize the Russian regime. This must include support for all populations of the Russian Federation that desire self-determination and independence.
THE CRIMEAN IMPACT
Janusz Bugajski, March 2014
The conflict between Putin’s Moscow and the new government in Kyiv is intensifying. Russian forces have already seized control of Crimea and are promoting separatist sentiments in other parts of Ukraine. However, any forcible partition of Ukraine will not only result in a permanent breach between Ukraine and Russia, it can also establish a direct precedent for the partition of the Russian Federation itself.
Crimea is the only region of Ukraine with an ethnic Russian majority and Moscow has mobilized local radicals on the pretext of defending allegedly endangered Russian civilians. The camouflaged Russian military takeover was primarily engineered by troops filtered out of Moscow’s leased naval base in Sevastopol.
By undermining Ukraine’s territorial integrity and seeking to discredit and destabilize the new government, Putin wants to prevent Ukraine from assimilating in Western structures, including the EU. Such a geostrategic shift will seriously undermine his neo-imperial project of creating a Eurasian Union on the territory of the former Soviet Union, in which Ukraine remains the key European prize.
But Russia’s Ukrainian intervention will jeopardize Putin’s entire Eurasia project. It is likely to stoke fear in neighboring capitals that they will face similar threats to their integrity and will encourage countries such as Moldova, Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Kazakhstan to seek closer links with the West.
Moscow claims that the provisional Ukrainian government is illegitimate and has been imposed by the West to tear Ukraine away from Russia. In reality, the Ukrainian people staged a popular revolution and the new administration pledged to pursue closer links with the EU. Unlike Washington and Brussels, Moscow is not interested in majority opinion but in propping up politicians in neighboring capitals who will promote Putin’s Eurasia dream.
Moscow plans to turn Crimea into another “frozen” quasi-state that it can use as a source of pressure against Kyiv and prevent Ukraine’s Western assimilation. To add fuel to the flames, the Russian parliament is proposing legislation that would allow for the annexation of any territory with a Russian population. There is a further danger if Moscow seeks to repeat the Crimean scenario in other parts of Ukraine, such as the six eastern regions where Russians form a substantial minority. This would provoke a more direct war between Russia and Ukraine.
Crimea also has a Crimean Tatar population of some 300,000 people. These are the indigenous inhabitants who settled the peninsula several centuries before Russian colonization and which Stalin tried to eradicate in the 1940s. They will be at the center of resistance to any attempted Russian annexation. Moscow’s repression of Crimean Tatars will also radicalize Tatar and Muslim populations inside Russia itself and ultimately backfire against the integrity of the Russian Federation.
The pursuit of state unity amidst deteriorating economic conditions, state-promoted xenophobia, and escalating inter-ethnic tensions will raise the specter of Russia’s territorial fracture. Over a quarter of Russia’s population of 143 million are non-Russians and in many of the 83 federal regions resentment against Moscow’s failing economic policies and repressive centralism is growing. This is especially evident in the 21 non-Russian ethnic republics. But even in Siberia and the Far East, the ethnic Russian population is steadily declining while the Chinese proportion is growing, as are their political aspirations.
In several border regions, from Kaliningrad, an exclave surrounded by European Union states, to Tuva, along Mongolia’s frontier, local populations are seeking international connections without Moscow’s interference. The option of sovereignty and separation will become increasingly attractive in an artificial federal structure that is unable to control or budget for so many alienated regions. In the aftermath of the Ukrainian crisis, we should be preparing for a coming Russian implosion.
IS UKRAINE RUSSIA’S FUTURE?
Janusz Bugajski, March 2014
Government and opposition in all the post-Soviet states are keenly watching the social revolution in Kyiv. Ukraine’s drama may encourage similar attempts to unseat corrupt and unpopular governments. However, a popular revolt in Russia faces the prospect of even greater bloodshed and national disintegration than in Ukraine.
Russians have failed to dislodge the Vladimir Putin regime with peaceful demonstrations that were confined to the urban middle class. The next phase of protests would need to include at least three elements to have any chance of success: broad composition, unswerving determination, and growing influence within the country’s diverse regions.
The “snow revolutions” in Moscow two years ago ended in abject failure as the urban middle class proved unable to involve masses of workers, students, and small town residents. The peaceful rallies gained little support in the Russian hinterland and the Kremlin was able to dismiss the protestors as pro-Western puppets and spoilt intellectuals. In stark contrast, Ukraine’s protests and support for their demands quickly spread throughout the country and involved broad sectors of society.
Ukrainian revolutionaries also demonstrated unswerving determination during three months of street action. The core of the protesters never left Independence Square (Majdan) in central Kyiv and erected a self-governing tent city. They also formed self-defense units to protect themselves against repeated riot police attacks and on several occasions they counterattacked to seize government buildings and disperse the riot police.
Protests in Russia have thus far been peaceful and timid, avoiding any provocations and police repression. As a result, the authorities waited until protestors exhausted themselves and have since disallowed any large-scale rallies. The Ukrainian revolution has shown that forceful demonstrations led by youthful and committed activists willing to risk their lives for the greater cause have yielded more positive results. The expertise of the defenders of Majdan could be useful for Russia’s urban rebels in the future.
Ukrainian protestors forced President Yanukovych to abandon power. If captured, he may even have to stand trial for the massacres of protestors in Kyiv. Ukrainian revolutionaries also gained the support of all major opposition parties and in some regions of the country even the local authorities and the police switched their allegiance from government to the protestors. The Majdan now has a direct voice in the composition of the next administration in Kyiv.
Russian public passivity has allowed President Putin to strengthen his hold on power with repressive laws and propaganda attacks. But with economic conditions deteriorating amidst the wasteful spectacle of the Sochi Olympics, which underscored the corruption of the ruling elite, frustration and anger will deepen. Russia’s numerous regions will grow increasingly restive as the population experiences growing pauperization. This may encourage mass defections from the Putin camp.
Having suffered a major foreign policy defeat, the Kremlin has also learnt some important lessons from the Ukrainian events. But rather than liberalizing the regime and combating pervasive official corruption, Moscow is likely to sharpen its repressive instruments to stifle opposition, while manipulating ethno-nationalism and alleged foreign enemies to deflect public attention from its own failures.
The Kremlin will seek scapegoats for its abject inability to prevent the collapse of a Moscow-friendly regime in Kyiv. Its manipulation of ethnic conflicts between Russians and Ukrainians in Crimea will also exacerbate tensions in Russia itself by fostering xenophobic nationalism. This could lead to increasingly serious inter-ethnic clashes, including attacks on Muslims as the growing national scapegoat. However, the pursuit of nationalism through repression has a limited life span and the specter of Russian territorial disintegration may prove even more powerful than in Ukraine.
Janusz Bugajski, February 2014
With the opening of an Office for Cooperation, Trade, and Investment in Washington, Bosnia’s Serbian entity is expanding its international presence. The move can be interpreted as the pursuit of separatism, but it may also encourage the Federation to establish its own international offices and enhance Bosnia’s economic progress.
The RS initiative highlights Bosnia’s stagnation. With Croatia joining the EU last year and Serbia and Montenegro moving toward accession talks, Bosnia and its two entities are falling even further behind the rest of the region as an island of laggards in European integration.
For Bosnia to become an EU member it must ensure sufficient internal cohesion in key areas whatever the degree of sub-state regional autonomy. The RS needs to enhance this process rather than blocking it, because it is not to Banja Luka’s advantage to have Bosnia excluded indefinitely from the EU. Exclusion may have serious economic, social, and demographic repercussions. At the same time, it is highly unlikely that the EU will agree to any alternative solutions such as Bosnia’s partition and RS statehood.
In order for the RS to play a constructive role inside Bosnia and the broader Balkan region, it needs transparent foreign investment to fuel economic development, as does the Federation. While Moscow has been courting Banja Luka, Russian investment and energy contracts are always accompanied by political strings and without any sustainable development plan – as Montenegro has recently witnessed.
Kremlin officials view the entity as a useful shield against EU and NATO enlargement and increased Russian involvement will fuel separatism. The EU and the U.S. can help the RS with targeted investments to prevent it falling into the laps of Russian oligarchs. The RS as well as the Federation need to specify what economic sectors are open for business in seeking to attract small and medium size Western investors for a relatively restricted market.
The RS can also act as a pertinent example of Balkan flexibility, where semi-autonomous regions are able to establish international offices and pursue business contacts. Many such distinct regions with offices abroad already exist in South East Europe, including Istria, Dalmatia, and Vojvodina. Closer interaction with US business and economic experts can also assist both Bosnian entities to pursue the reforms necessary to attract investment.
Paradoxically, RS outlets in foreign capitals may also prevent separatist sentiments from rising. After all, most EU states have distinct regions with international connections that do not challenge state integrity or regional security. Moreover, with Washington establishing a diplomatic office in Banja Luka, the RS is now reciprocating the process. The question is how to make the RS an effective contributor to BH’s international integration.
Although the pursuit of EU accession is an optimal target, the Union’s soft power capabilities are weakening. There is evident resistance among member states to further enlargement given the bloc’s economic and fiscal problems, as well as disappointment with the performance of several member states, particularly Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Portugal, and Spain.
Europe’s overall economic stagnation has negative consequences for the Western Balkans, by curtailing investment, encouraging enlargement exhaustion, and reinforcing reform fatigue. It can also create space for populists and nationalists, who usually benefit from economic stagnation and public anger to promulgate ethno-nationalist solutions. Economic hardship decreases trust not only in incumbent governments, but also in state institutions and international agencies.
A self-destructive scenario could thereby materialize in Bosnia. If the country is torn by widespread civic unrest and lack of consensus over structural reform, while Brussels indefinitely postpones Bosnia’s entry, RS offices in Washington and elsewhere could position themselves as the representatives of an emerging state.
Janusz Bugajski, February 2014
Violent protests in Ukraine and Bosnia-Herzegovina may represent a rebellious contagion that can sweep across Europe. Although each protest has its own pedigree of social frustration, the Ukrainian model that uncompromisingly targets an unpopular government may be the wave of the future.
We are no longer witnessing completely peaceful “velvet” or “colored” revolutions, in which governments are pressurized to hold early elections because a ballot has been defrauded. When decades of public frustration are compounded by government failure and economic stagnation, it does not take many activists to spark a riot or even a popular uprising.
To better understand the Ukrainian and Bosnian revolts one must examine their motives, methods, and prospective results. The motives in Ukraine have snowballed since protests erupted against government rejection of an EU agreement last November. Police violence against demonstrators and Russian threats against the country proved counter-productive. They simply spread the anger and mobilized masses of ordinary citizens to come out on the streets.
Ukraine’s protests are both social and national – against corrupt state leaders and against Moscow’s domination. Instructively, government concessions and hesitancy in intensifying the crackdown in Kyiv emboldened demonstrators to escalate their demands to force President Viktor Yanukovych’s resignation. The protests continue.
In Bosnia’s case, years of suppressed resentment against a divided and incompetent government finally snapped in Tuzla and rapidly spread to other cities. Bosnian anger consists of a strong concoction of discontent with dire economic conditions, widespread unemployment, unfulfilled economic expectations, rampant official corruption, blatant inequalities, bureaucratic incompetence, and pervasive ethno-political divisions that stifle the country’s progress toward EU accession.
The only surprise in Bosnia is that such protests have not erupted before, maybe because of lingering memories of the savage recent war and a fear of provoking armed conflicts.
The exact methods employed in each demonstration differ, but one striking feature is the use of violence, whether through attacks on government buildings or confrontations with police units. Most of the protestors in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities eschew violence, but small combative units armed with sticks, shields, and Molotov cocktails have been formed to challenge the police, defend demonstrators, and occupy public buildings.
The success of urban street warfare in Ukraine can be repeated in other countries such as Bosnia to apply more intensive pressure on governments either to change policies or to resign. As in Ukraine, an attempted police crackdown in Bosnia could trigger even more violence by alienated youths and workers who feel they have little left to lose.
No one can be certain of the results of popular uprisings and at what point we will witness public exhaustion or government resignation. In Ukraine, early elections may provoke state fragmentation and more direct Russian intervention if pro-Western parties are victorious in the ballot. In Bosnia, new elections without fundamental changes in the Dayton structure will most probably result in the same stalemate and another wasted epoch before the next public revolt.
Another worrying possibility is the manipulation of Bosnian frustrations by ethno-nationalist leaders. Although the protests have not been connected with ethnicity, some entrenched elites may seek to channel public anger toward other ethnic groups for fear of losing their powers and privileges.
Many European leaders are also watching the unrest in Ukraine and Bosnia-Herzegovina with a profound fear of contagion. Much of the EU continues to suffer from economic depression, high youth unemployment, public alienation from the political establishment, and the growth of anti-immigrant and xenophobic sentiments. If these are combined with street warfare then we could expect a hot European spring.
Janusz Bugajski, February 2014
The threat of terrorism at the Winter Olympics is merely the tip of the iceberg in an increasingly volatile region. While the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo were held on the eve of the Yugoslav wars, the 2014 Olympiad in Sochi has been organized in the midst of expanding regional unrest that may hasten Russia’s fracture.
Conditions in the North Caucasus resemble ex-Yugoslavia on the eve of its collapse and some elements are even more flammable. The federal structure is undergoing escalating challenges to its legitimacy as Moscow rules largely through coercion. Hundreds of police, rebels, and civilians are killed each year and insurgent ranks are swelling.
The absence of local autonomy, stagnant economies, and pervasive official corruption radicalize the political opposition, fuel militant jihadism, and raise calls for national self-determination. Prospects for more extensive violence are growing among the seven North Caucasus republics.
In former Yugoslavia, the deligitimation of the federal structure stimulated the rise of alternative republic-level elites. In the North Caucasus, Moscow has emplaced loyalists to implement its policies, but these regimes are increasingly estranged from society. Republic leaders depend on the Kremlin for resources and office. If their survival is imperiled as federal subsidies decline they can turn to separatism to gain local credibility.
Both conflict zones are also ethnically complex, in which national and state boundaries do not coincide. The manipulation of Serbian nationalism in ex-Yugoslavia by Slobodan Milosevic provoked competing nationalisms in several republics. President Vladimir Putin’s exploitation of Russian nationalism and xenophobia incites inter-ethnic conflicts throughout the federation.
Political pluralism and minority rights in the developing democracies of the Western Balkans countered any appeals of religious extremism. In the North Caucasus, Moscow’s repressive policies and the absence of democratic and secular political alternatives stimulate the growth of Islamist radicalism. Cross-ethnic religious affiliation among Muslims was not a factor in the wars of national liberation in Yugoslavia. Radical Islamists in North Caucasus are forging a multi-ethnic pan-Islamic opposition to the republican and federal governments.
Furthermore, in the Western Balkans, the prospect of accession into the EU and NATO contributed to keeping democratic reforms on track and toned down inter-ethnic rivalries. Aspiring states in the North Caucasus have no organizational destination that could positively influence their internal evolution and international relations.
Throughout the 20th century the Balkans were depicted as Europe’s “powder keg.” The North Caucasus now resembles Eurasia’s “powder keg” and the fuses are burning. A passive approach by Western governments has failed to stem state repression, insurgency, and terrorism. And the instabilities threaten to spill over into nearby regions. The Sochi Olympics are a timely occasion for Western capitals to launch a strategy of engagement that could dampen some of these fuses.
Washington should campaign to open up the North Caucasus to journalists, political analysts, human rights activists, international organizations, humanitarian groups, and Western government officials. During the past decades, the Russian government has squeezed out any international presence, including the OSCE and the Council of Europe. The Kremlin must be pressed to allow for the return of these two monitoring bodies.
Moreover, the sources of terrorism inside Russia need to be investigated. Washington and Moscow implement two contrasting counter-terrorism strategies. The Kremlin engages in arbitrary anti-civilian operations, which exacerbate public alienation and religious radicalism. Russia’s security services are also widely believed to be complicit in terrorist activities, either because of incompetence, bribery, or provocation. Moreover, state terrorism begets insurgent terrorism.
Janusz Bugajski, February 2014
With Ukraine in the midst of revolution, Moscow’s accusations that Western officials are stirring unrest are highly ironic. On the contrary, having failed to address Ukraine’s brewing problems for many years, European and American leaders are now witnessing the results of their strategic shortsightedness.
Ukraine’s crisis is as much an internal battle between competing identities as an external geopolitical struggle between integration and exclusion from the Western project. The Viktor Yanukovych regime has no long-term strategic vision for Ukraine. It operates through short-term tactical maneuvers to maintain power and privilege and gain international funding.
The EU has been complicit in this charade. Few West European political leaders have supported the prospect of either EU or NATO accession for a state that is widely perceived as backward and whose 46 million citizens would allegedly flood the Union if the country were to gain membership.
Foreign policy realists argue that the EU possesses limited instruments in influencing Ukrainian politics given its preoccupation with internal financial difficulties, its opposition to eastern enlargement, and its lack of foreign policy consensus. Ukraine’s political system could not be synchronized with the EU model of liberal governance and rule of law. The failure to sign a trade pact and Association Agreement with Kyiv was therefore greeted in some EU capitals with indifference.
Older members were unwilling to release financial rescue packages claiming exhaustion following the bailout of several Mediterranean states. Meanwhile, Moscow offered significant short-term financial benefits, even if these are a trap to lure Ukraine back under a Russian roof. EU enlargement chief Stefan Fule suggested that the bloc should have offered Ukraine future membership, similarly to the mechanism employed toward the Western Balkan states. Nonetheless, a number of EU capitals staunchly resist any further enlargement and capitalize on the anti-immigrant and racist fears of EU citizens.
As a by-product of the Obama administration’s “reset” policy with Moscow, Washington also discarded the George W. Bush campaign to enlarge NATO eastward and secure the post-Soviet neighborhood within Western structures. This left Ukraine and other nearby countries even more vulnerable to Moscow’s integrationist pressures. Western withdrawal is perceived as weakness in the Kremlin, which simply encourages Russia’s imperial reconstruction.
Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and Georgia are not priority interests for the current U.S. administration, whether in terms of democratic development, national sovereignty, or strategic location. The focus has been on establishing a cooperative relationship with Russia in such spheres as arms control, counter-proliferation, anti-terrorism, and the Middle East, even at the cost of neglecting aspiring European allies.
A more assertive approach toward Putin’s Russia can still be developed in Washington and Brussels to challenge Moscow’s claims to regional supremacy. This would necessitate four main ingredients: a unified EU position in dealing with Moscow; close coordination between Brussels and Washington in devising a consistent Russia policy; a commitment to eastern EU and NATO enlargement; and sufficient economic and diplomatic capabilities to dissuade Russia from cajoling its neighbors.
Unfortunately, neither the EU nor the U.S. have elaborated a strategy on how to counteract Russian pressure on Europe’s East. America’s neglect of the region during the Obama presidency and the lack of a common European voice in relations with Russia create substantial opportunities for Putin’s Eurasian integration plans. The West’s failures will also rebound negatively on the security of nearby EU members, such as Poland and the Baltic countries who fear the repercussions of Ukraine’s turmoil. In sum, by neglecting Ukraine’s independence and that of other post-Soviet states, the EU has undermined its own long-term strategic interests.
Janusz Bugajski, January 2014
The potential implementation of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling in the Sejdic-Finci case would unravel the Dayton accords. Allowing members of any ethnicity to assume public office challenges the core ethno-national principles on which the current Bosnian state was founded.
The Dayton accords did not create a multi-ethnic democracy but a tri-ethnic condominium that stifles Bosnia’s European progress. Paradoxically, the maintenance of ethno-political exclusivity by the three “state-forming” nations will indefinitely disqualify Bosnia from EU accession. The major national parties resist altering a system in which they benefit from the political and economic spoils while claiming to represent the interests of entire nations.
Ethno-politics has dominated Bosnia’s governance since the end of the war. It has stymied the development of state citizenship, programmatic pluralism, individual rights, and a competitive democracy. Ethno-nationalist parties, treated as the sole representatives of ethnic collectivities by Brussels and Washington, are based on patronage networks. Their leaders are adamant that neither the civic nor multi-ethnic principle cannot be applied in Bosnia but only a system of inter-group balancing.
Bosnia’s constitution specifies that only ethnic Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats can be elected members of the Presidency and House of Peoples. In this way, it discriminates against ethnic minorities and any aspirants for government office who do not recognize tri-ethnic exclusivity. The constitution was formulated according to Dayton provisions, and despite their protests over the Sejdic-Finci case the framers of Dayton are hesitant to institute changes that could discard its basic principles.
The most recent failure of the major Bosnian parties to agree on applying the ECHR ruling, despite the mediation of EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule, is not surprising. Although the next round of talks is due in February, the outcome is unlikely to change unless EU representatives demonstrate a firmer commitment to Bosnia’s development. However, after whittling away the authority of the OHR and largely discarding the Bonn powers, EU leverage has become extremely limited.
According to the ECHR judgment, Bosnia must guarantee the right of election to all citizens, regardless of their ethnicity. This is also an EU requirement for progress toward membership. Indeed, some EU officials have indicated that the next Bosnian elections scheduled for 2015 will not be recognized as legitimate if the tri-ethnic rules continue to apply. This position has been confirmed by Commissioner Fule, someone who is fully supportive of Union enlargement unlike a number of EU leaders.
Bosnian citizens are fast losing an important opportunity to become fully-fledged Europeans because of the stance of their political leadership and the weakness of EU negotiators. Elections for the European parliament are to be held in May, followed by the selection of the next EU Commission President and other EU Commissioners. Between the EU and Bosnian elections, there will be little political willpower on either side to deal with the country’s constitutional problems.
According to a new report from the influential think tank, the European Stability Initiative (ESI), preventing Bosnia from making an application for EU membership because of the Sejdic-Finci impasse is a mistake. ESI argues that similar legislation has existed in Belgium, Cyprus, and in Italy’s South Tyrol region, so that Bosnia should not be singled out for punishment.
In actuality, influential EU capitals opposed to further Union enlargement actually prefer to keep Bosnia in a limbo and thereby indefinitely exclude what they view as a burdensome semi-Muslim state. The ongoing constitutional stalemate also suits leaders of the Serb entity. Bosniaks and Croats can be blamed for political failure and perceptions of Bosnia as an untenable state increases in Europe, thus raising the validity of separatist sentiments.
Janusz Bugajski, January 2014
The growing challenge of Scottish and Catalonian independence, imitated by secessionist movements in the Balkans and the former Soviet Union, have refocused attention on the importance of European regionalism. As the role of central governments weakens in the EU, regional movements can determine European stability and development during the coming decade.
The process of globalization and fragmentation is both contradictory and complementary. In the first instance, regionalism is a movement of opposition to national capitals favoring more direct local links with Brussels. In the second instance, regionalism may grow into a movement of resistance to the European project that can fragment the continent.
For the pro-EU separatists, the devolution of power demonstrates that the states they are challenging are becoming obsolete. Many of the Scottish, Flemish, and Catalan separatists are fervently pro-European and argue that the nation-state is simply too big to manage complex societies and diversified economies.
Nation states were important during the Cold War when they performed essential security functions. As the role of central governments shrinks, societies become fragmented in numerous ways. Recent election cycles have witnessed traditional political parties losing their support base. Official institutions are also under growing pressure, as authority increasingly devolves from national capitals to provinces, regions, and the major cities.
Many European governments are no longer capable of delivering on the unwritten social contract that was supposed to ensure economic growth and employment. Regionalists argue that sub-state units will inevitably gain many of the responsibilities that were the prerogative of central governments. In this sense, regionalism is becoming more of a threat to the authority of the nation-state than to the role of EU institutions.
The majority of regional leaders and local officials are self-proclaimed Europeans who primarily want to bypass the national capitals and deal directly with Brussels. Their regionalism is not simply a yearning for distinct identity and recognition, but has a strong practical component. Local authorities believe it is economically rational to fully control their own affairs in the complex era of global trade, capital flows, information highways, and high-speed travel.
Europe’s varied regions and larger cities are convinced they are more capable of stimulating economic growth than central governments. Urban and regional administrations are acquiring larger budgets and developing more capable bureaucracies. A great deal of large-scale investment is conducted at local levels, where regional authorities often cooperate with bordering regions in neighboring states. Many of the wealthiest provinces of Western Europe are interacting and creating larger economic zones that transcend national boundaries.
However, there is a contrasting interpretation of European regionalism that must be carefully monitored. If populist euro-skepticism continues to grow while state capitals remain fervent EU supporters then a more exclusivist sub-national separatism may develop. The acceleration of Europeanization has stirred reactions within several countries to reverse the surrender of powers to the Brussels bureaucracy.
The Euro-crisis invigorated protectionism and nationalism, and in several member states it has raised calls for regional separatism. The EU’s most fervent supporters believed that a post-national cosmopolitan identity would replace the outdated notions of nation states. But they had not bargained for the power of ethnic identity tied to territory, history, and heritage whether at national or regional levels.
At a time of economic uncertainty and a swelling army of unemployed, regionalism can also acquire an ultra-nationalist flavor. Separate provinces may provoke new conflicts as regionalists can manipulate a host of unresolved questions to stir animosity toward regional neighbors.
WESTERN ROLE IN UKRAINE’S TURMOIL
Janusz Bugajski, January 2014
Accusations by the Russian government that Western officials are deliberately stirring unrest in Ukraine are highly ironic. Indeed, it can be argued that having failed to address Ukraine’s brewing domestic and international problems for so many years, European and American leaders are now witnessing the results of their strategic short-sightedness. Ukraine’s crisis is as much an internal battle between competing identities as an external geopolitical struggle between integration and exclusion from the Western project.
It has been clear since its inception after the 2010 presidential elections that the Viktor Yanukovych regime has no long-term strategic vision for Ukraine. It operates through short-term tactical maneuvers to maintain power and privilege, gain international funding, and avoid deciding where the country belongs – whether in Europe or in Russia’s Eurasia. The European Union has been complicit in this confusing charade and perversely welcomed a Yanukovych presidency primarily because it undermined Ukraine’s Western aspirations. Few West European political leaders have supported the prospect of either EU or NATO accession for a state that is widely perceived as backward and whose impoverished citizens would allegedly flood the Union if the country were ever to gain membership.
Neither the EU nor the U.S. effectively condemned or sanctioned the abuse of power by Yanukovych and his “family” business since the presidential ballot and such hesitation contributed to legitimizing the regime. Foreign policy realists would argue that the EU in particular had limited instruments in influencing Ukrainian politics given that the Union is preoccupied with its internal economic and financial difficulties, remains opposed to any further enlargement eastward, dispenses with limited assistance funds, and is hamstrung by a lack of foreign policy consensus. In sum, any expressions of EU concern about violations of human rights, pervasive official corruption, and politically motivated investigations against opposition leaders were simply insufficient to prevent the emergence of a quasi-authoritarian system of government in Ukraine.
Cynics can even argue that requests by EU negotiators for the release of Yulia Timoshenko before any agreements could be signed with the Union were deliberately intended to keep Ukraine at arms length despite the promises of free trade and “association.” Officials in Brussels were well aware that Yanukovych would be adamant against releasing his main political opponent, and besides, many believed that Timoshenko herself was guilty of corruption regardless of the selective justice of the current administration. Ultimately, Ukraine’s political system could simply not be synchronized with the EU model of liberal governance and the rule of law. The failure to sign the trade pact and Association Agreement with Kyiv was therefore greeted in some EU capitals either with indifference or satisfaction.
European Union Cul-De-Sac
Well ahead of the Vilnius Summit at the end of November, those EU foreign ministers who had dealt most intensely with Kyiv were well aware that Yanukovych would not sign the EU documents. This was primarily because of the adverse impact such a deal would have on relations with Moscow, which threatened to engineer Ukraine’s economic collapse and even warned about territorial partition if Kyiv turned westward.
Warsaw and Stockholm also understood that a number of key EU states, such as Germany and France, were unwilling to alter their positions and offer immediate substantial funding to Kyiv. Poland’s Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski expressed his frustration with both sides on the eve of the Vilnius Summit. Ukraine’s EU supporters had insufficient leverage to help the country, as older members were unwilling to release financial rescue packages claiming exhaustion following the rescue of several Mediterranean member states. Meanwhile, Moscow was offering significant short-term financial benefits, even if these were a trap to lure Ukraine back under a Russian roof.
Several insiders, including former Regional Party luminaries such as David Zhvaniya, who helped lead efforts to prepare Ukraine for deeper EU cooperation, accused Yanukovych of double-dealing and outright deception. The EU was evidently duped by Yanukovych’s willingness to discuss the proposed accords until the eve of the Vilnius summit. His real objective may have been to raise the price that Russia would need to pay to maintain Ukraine within its strategic orbit.
Despite these accusations, government spokesmen contend that Yanukovych wanted to sign the EU agreement and forge closer links, but became dismayed by the limited short-term benefits that were on offer. Brussels apparently failed to acknowledge the scale of the financial difficulties faced by Kyiv, such as having to cover foreign debt payments of $8 billion in 2014. The country has been teetering on the brink of bankruptcy because of its stuttering reforms and failed economic policies. Moscow contributed to the severe financial crunch by blocking exports of Ukrainian products and warning that Ukraine’s Russian market would collapse if it signed the EU accords.
Yanukovych estimated that he needed $160 billion over three years to make up for the trade Ukraine stood to lose with Russia, and to help cushion the pain of reforms that the EU was demanding. Union officials refused to provide such a sum, which they claimed was exaggerated. Instead, they offered 610 million euros ($839 million) in the near term and asserted that the agreement would boost trade and investments and open up future financing programs. Some even estimated that Kyiv would have been in line to receive 19 billion euros in EU loans and grants over the next seven years, but no definite commitments were issued to this effect.
Kyiv may still be under the impression that it can negotiate with the EU on gaining more extensive funding. Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has even stated that the Association Agreement could be signed if Ukraine is offered a mechanism to compensate for estimated financial losses stemming from a Russian embargo. In reality, the moment of EU association has already passed, at least for the current administration.
EU enlargement chief Stefan Fule suggested after Yanukovych’s U-turn at Vilnius that the bloc should have offered Ukraine future membership, similarly to the mechanism employed toward the Western Balkan states. This may have convinced Kyiv to sign the initial agreements. At present, Ukraine has no prospect of EU entry, as the road to integration remains blocked by several important member states.
Critics argue that the EU has evolved into an elite club that does not consider current aspirants as trustworthy Europeans. Consistent delays in granting candidate status and accession talks by the EU Council are even evident in the case of countries such as Albania. This is despite the 2004 Thessaloniki Summit commitments to Western Balkan integration and the positive recent recommendations of the European Commission. Such persistent blockages demonstrate that a number of EU capitals will staunchly resist any further enlargement and capitalize on the anti-immigrant and racist fears of many EU citizens.
Yanukovych’s alternative hope for large-scale financing was the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which rescued Ukraine during the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008 with a $16.5 billion loan. It also approved a $15.5 billion stand-by program for Kyiv in 2010, disbursing about $3.5 billion, before freezing the program in 2011 because Ukraine failed to meet its obligations. The IMF’s program has since expired.
The IMF was unwilling to consider any substantial loans for the current administration. In a letter dated November 20, it bluntly told Ukrainian officials that it would not soften conditions for a new loan, in terms of necessary government spending cuts, and that it would offer only $5 billion. In addition, Kyiv would have to pay back almost the same amount in 2014 as part of repayments for the earlier IMF loan. Yanukovych saw no benefit in such an arrangement and was certainly not prepared to cut government spending, increase the retirement age, and freeze pensions and wages, as this would undoubtedly cost him re-election in 2015.
Ignoring Ukraine’s Independence
The same countries that remain skeptical about Ukraine’s EU integration also opposed granting a Membership Action Plan (MAP) on route to future NATO membership. They breathed a collective sigh of relief when shortly after his election Yanukovych opted for Ukraine’s “non-bloc status.” As a by-product of the Obama administration’s “reset” policy toward Moscow, Washington also discarded the George W. Bush campaign to enlarge NATO eastward and secure the post-Soviet neighborhood within Western structures. This left Ukraine even more exposed and vulnerable to Moscow’s integrationist pressures. Western withdrawal is perceived as weakness in the Kremlin which simply encourages Russia’s imperial reconstruction.
Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and Georgia are not priority interests for the current American administration, whether in terms of democratic development, national sovereignty, or their strategic location. The focus has been on establishing a working relationship with Russia in such spheres as arms control, counter-proliferation, anti-terrorism, and the Middle East, even at the cost of neglecting aspiring European allies. Not surprisingly, the Ukraine-U.S. Strategic Partnership has little gravity in the Obama White House; it has also been undermined by the Yanukovych administration. It was based on the assumption that Kyiv would strengthen its democracy and the rule of law, while more effectively preparing the country for eventual NATO accession in line with the final declaration at NATO’s Bucharest Summit in April 2008.
However, the “common values and interests” that the Partnership envisaged has largely evaporated. The Yanukovych government’s “values” have not embraced democratic development, while its strategic interests have diverged from the Euro-Atlantic path. It makes it more difficult for the U.S. or any other country to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty if the government has chosen to expose itself more extensively to Russia’s pressure tactics because of its alienation from the West.
Nevertheless, a more realistic and assertive approach toward Putin’s Russia could have been developed in Washington and Brussels in challenging Moscow’s claims to regional supremacy. This would have necessitated four main ingredients: a unified EU position in dealing with Moscow; close coordination between Brussels and Washington in devising their Russia policy; a commitment to eastern enlargement; and sufficient economic and diplomatic capabilities to dissuade Russia from cajoling its neighbors. All four elements proved inadequate, as the EU operated on the assumption that Russia was a pragmatic business partner and the U.S. viewed Moscow as a useful and cooperative global player. Russia’s reimperialization either went undetected or was cynically ignored for the sake of other global interests.
Neither the EU nor the U.S. have elaborated a strategy on how to counteract Russian pressure on the post-Soviet countries. America’s withdrawal from Europe’s east during the Obama presidency and the lack of a common European voice in relations with Russia create new opportunities for Putin’s Eurasian integration plans. His return to power in May 2012 re-energized the Kremlin’s expansionist agenda and he has consistently disregarded any protests by the EU capitals. The EU’s Ukraine initiative under the Eastern Partnership program, scheduled to be sealed in Vilnius, was at best a half-hearted response to Kremlin ambitions. Its failure will rebound negatively on the security of nearby EU members, such as Poland and the Baltic countries. In sum, by neglecting Ukraine’s independence and that of other post-Soviet states, the EU has undermined its own long-term strategic interests.
Yanukovych struck a deal with Putin on December 17 for a significant Russian bailout. Moscow will reportedly invest $15 billion in Ukraine’s national debt by purchasing government Eurobonds; the first tranche of $3 billion has already been transferred to the National Bank of Ukraine. Moscow will also reduce by about a third the price that Naftogaz, Ukraine’s national energy company, pays for Russian natural gas. In total, the Russian loan will prevent Kyiv from defaulting on its debt, the energy deal will help the country survive the winter, while the Russian market will remain open. It is not certain what Yanukovych agreed to provide Russia in return for its financial support. But he may have to surrender control over Ukraine’s gas pipeline network and bequeath other assets to Putin’s oligarchs.
There are suspicions that American diplomats knew about the secret negotiations between Russian and Ukrainian officials that resulted in the December 17 agreements; and they did not protest or intervene. Indeed, some of Obama’s advisors may welcome a stronger Russian oversight over Ukraine that would be less politically and financially burdensome for the West. “Ukraine fatigue” in the White House and State Department plays into Russia’s hands. Such a shortsighted approach fails to comprehend that instead of stabilizing Ukraine, Moscow’s heavy-handed integrationist pressures could have catastrophic consequences for Ukraine’s internal stability and for regional security.
Step by step the Yanukovych administration is capitulating to Moscow and assuming the role of a “younger brother.” Putin’s two emissaries in Kyiv, Viktor Medvedchuk and Andriy Kluyev, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, have grown in influence as Yanukovych’s advisors. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Azarov has meekly indicated that under Moscow’s guidance, Ukraine is proposing to hold trilateral talks with the EU with Russia’s participation. Azarov noted that during a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on December 24 the Russian side confirmed its readiness to take part in such negotiations. The offer is a classic example of political theater designed to lull Brussels into a false sense of security. It is supposed to convey the message that Moscow does not threaten the “European project” because Ukraine has not discounted a future association agreement.
Without more extensive support from Western governments and institutions, pro-European mass protests in Ukraine will fizzle out. This could significantly weaken the political opposition and bolster Yanukovych’s intent to consolidate a quasi-authoritarian system based more closely on the Putin and Lukashenka models. However, as the government continues to surrender Ukraine’s sovereignty to an ambitious and increasingly arrogant Russia, the end of peaceful protests in Kyiv may also herald the first stirrings of a violent alternative.
POLAND AND RUSSIA: STRATEGIC RIVALRY DEFERRED
Janusz Bugajski, January 2014
Since its inauguration in November 2007, Poland’s Donald Tusk administration has muted Warsaw’s geostrategic conflict with Russia. The ongoing détente is a consequence of both Polish and Russian geotactical calculations in a rapidly shifting international environment. Nonetheless, the sources of bilateral competition have not been resolved and could once again flare up under Vladimir Putin’s assertive third Russian presidency. The bedrock of this relationship consists of an enduring geopolitical struggle over the identity and integration of Europe’s eastern heartland and the comparative strengths of either protagonist.
Geostrategy and Geotactics
The centuries long strategic rivalry between Poland and Russia revolves around two fundamental questions: Poland’s international alliances and the position of intermediate territories that have been a part of either Russia or Poland in various historic guises. Moscow lost Poland as a satellite state when communism and Sovietism collapsed in the early 1990s. However, under the Putin administration Russia has tried to restrict the impact of Poland’s NATO membership by limiting Warsaw’s defensive capabilities and undermining its influence among countries that were once part of the Soviet Union and which Moscow seeks to assimilate in a new Russo-centered dominion.
For Poland, NATO and European Union (EU) membership and a strategic partnership with the United States are all viewed as vital for the defense of its independence. In order to deepen that protective cover, Warsaw has endeavored to build a strategic buffer along its eastern borders by helping its immediate neighbors move closer toward the EU and the North Atlantic Alliance or at the very least to curtail Moscow’s dominant position on these territories. Poland does not harbor neo-imperial aspirations toward Ukraine or Belarus but seeks to incorporate these countries within the democratic security structures of a Wider Europe and a broader trans-Atlanticism.
The contrasting strategic approaches of Warsaw and Moscow have on occasion precipitated sharp verbal disputes, particularly in the early 2000s when NATO was in the ascendancy, the U.S. was closely engaged in building a democratic Wider Europe, and Ukraine and other post-Soviet neighbors were veering westward. In recent years, however, a confluence of factors have served to tone down the Russo-Polish geostrategic conflict: NATO’s enlargement momentum has waned, Washington has relegated Europe in its order of national security priorities, Ukraine declared itself neutral, and Georgia lost a war and two of its regions to Russia.
The Tusk government decided to alter Warsaw’s geotactics, cognizant of Poland’s vulnerability in Central-Eastern Europe (CEE) as a consequence of lessened U.S. engagement and the EU’s internal preoccupations, Foreign policy was redesigned to improve relations with both Russia and Germany. Government spokesmen maintained that this would make Poland more secure than at any time in its history by consolidating its position inside the EU and NATO and lessening prospective conflicts with Moscow. Moves to improve relations with Germany after several years of hiatus under the previous short-lived Jaroslaw Kaczynski administration (2006-2007) were evident in the revival of the Weimar Triangle with Berlin and Paris. The original goal of the Triangle was to help bring Poland into NATO and the EU, but once these objectives were achieved, the initiative lost its focus.
The rapprochement with Russia was part of the broader policy equation designed to boost Poland’s stature inside the EU, whose major states such as Germany and France pursued cordial relations with Russia in the belief that it could be transformed into a democratic partner. Poland sought to shed its “Russophobic” label, which had become prevalent in EU capitals and perpetuated by Kremlin officials. Lessened U.S. involvement with the new European allies after the election of President Barack Obama in November 2008 also contributed to convincing Polish policy makers that Warsaw needed to focus primarily on its relations with larger neighbors.
Moscow calculated that improved contacts with Warsaw would prevent the Polish government from blocking EU-Russia initiatives. It could also constrain Poland in pushing for the incorporation of the post-Soviet states in Western institutions. Russian officials perceived Poland as a rising power within the EU and offered closer political, business, and energy connections to increase Kremlin influence within the Union.
The warming trends were initially assisted by the death of President Lech Kaczynski, together with his wife and 94 leading political and military figures, in a plane crash near the Russian city of Smolensk in April 2010. The group was on its way to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn forest massacre of Polish officers by Soviet security services. Prime Minister Putin personally assisted in crash investigations and publicly condemned the Katyn slaughters although stopping short of acknowledging that they were a war crime. Such gestures improved the bilateral political environment and had a positive impact on Polish public opinion. However, in February 2014, the European Court of Human Rights will reexamine whether the Katyn slaughter constituted a war crime and this is likely to stir fresh disputes between Warsaw and Moscow.
In November 2010, Russia’s lower house of parliament also approved a resolution recognizing that Stalin’s regime was responsible for the Katyn massacre. This was timed on the eve of President Dmitry Medvedev’s trip to Warsaw on 6 December 2010, the first state visit to Poland by a Russian President in nearly a decade. Medvedev and Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski signed several agreements to strengthen trade and economic cooperation, increase cultural and youth exchanges, build infrastructure, and improve environmental protection.
Results of Rapprochement
The most important achievement of Warsaw’s Russian maneuver has been to buttress Poland’s position within the EU, particularly in forging a closer partnership with Germany where Warsaw is now perceived as a constructive player. Closer Polish-German relations assist Poland, as it becomes more difficult for Moscow to drive wedges between the Central European neighbors and isolate Poland within the EU.
The results of rapprochement with Russia have also been felt domestically in Poland, both positively and negatively. On the positive side, official rhetoric is more nuanced and public opinion is less hostile, according to recent surveys. The visit of Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, to Warsaw in August 2012 resulted in a joint statement of reconciliation with Poland’s Catholic Church. A simplified border crossing agreement with Kaliningrad oblast finalized in 2012 is opening up this isolated Russian exclave to EU influence. And Polish, Russian, and German foreign ministers meet periodically in what has become known as the “Kaliningrad troika.”
A cordial Polish-Russian relationship also helped to increase bilateral trade, which has registered a steady growth since 2009. However, Warsaw has opposed large-scale Russian investments and attempts to take control of Polish companies. This was evident in the scandal revolving around the planned purchase of the Polish Chemical Holding Group “Azoty Tarnow” by Russia’s AKRON. In May 2012, Poland’s security services warned the government about a transaction that evidently presented a threat to the country’s energy security and was designed to obstruct the extraction of shale gas. The deal was eventually stymied.
On the negative side, the détente with Moscow has contributed to polarizing Polish politics. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the Law and Justice (PIS) opposition party and brother of President Lech Kaczynski, has persistently accused the Tusk government of neglecting Polish interests and even of conspiring with Moscow to cover up the causes of the April 2010 plane crash. Kaczynski will undoubtedly use the Russia factor in Poland’s next parliamentary and presidential elections, scheduled for 2015. The shrinking legislative majority of the ruling Civic Platform (PO) coalition could also presage an early parliamentary ballot.
The ultimate fragility of the Polish-Russian rapprochement has also been evident on several occasions. For instance, premier Tusk charged that Moscow’s reports on the Smolensk plane crash did not comply fully with the Chicago Convention and accused Moscow of negligence and ignoring Warsaw’s input in the investigations. Warsaw claimed that the Russian side was placing all the blame for the crash on the Polish pilots and whitewashing any responsibility by Russia’s air traffic controllers. Additionally, Russian specialists misidentified many of the bodies and delayed handing over key documents to Warsaw. This has seriously undermined Warsaw’s confidence in the Russian authorities. For some Polish politicians, the entire episode confirmed that Moscow remains secretive, defensive, and arrogant as an international partner.
The Russian thaw and the German warming have increased Poland’s influence in the EU. However, Poland needs to avoid abandoning its historic strategic position by distancing itself from eastern neighbors who continue to struggle in their relations with an assertive Russia. This would be a short-term benefit for a long-term cost. Ultimately, either a Moscow-dominated Eurasian Union or conflicts generated by resistance to such a Union along Poland’s borders would undermine the country’s security.
Warsaw’s aspirations to become a major EU player and to develop its ties with Russia can create the appearance of detachment toward its smaller neighbors.Critics of Poland’s foreign policy often perceive the Tusk government as intent on placating Russia to the detriment of other neighborhood relations. In particular, Polish-Lithuanian disputes have surfaced amidst charges of discrimination against the Polish minority in Lithuania that Vilnius dismissed as spurious. Lithuanian officials claimed that Poland bore a larger share of responsibility for deteriorating relations by positioning itself as a major EU player and sacrificing its ties with smaller states. The authorities in Vilnius have expressed unease over Polish-Russian rapprochement, as the ultimate beneficiary in any prolonged Polish-Lithuanian dispute would be Moscow.
Officials in the Visegrad states (a grouping of four CEE countries – Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic) have also complained about involving Warsaw in regional projects as Warsaw looks toward Berlin as its primary continental partner. Neighborhood disputes or lack of coordination serve Moscow’s goals of reducing CEE influence in international institutions and turning Poland into a more neutral player vis-à-vis the post-Soviet states.
The authorities in Warsaw contend that they have not neglected their eastern neighbors, but by acquiring greater influence in Brussels they will have more of an impact on the Union’s eastern dimension. They point to the EU’s Eastern Partnership Program (EaP) with Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan as a method for engaging the post-Soviet countries. However, the EaP has been criticized as an inadequate means for expanding EU influence and impact. Warsaw also supports the forging of EU association agreements and free trade areas with its eastern neighbors, especially with Ukraine. Such support is viewed as a hostile act in Moscow, which aims to involve these states in its own integrationist projects.
The warming of relations between Warsaw and Moscow is always subject to reversal because bilateral ties are not based on strategic foundations. Under the third Putin presidency, Moscow is growing increasingly assertive in its neighborhood and challenging the security of NATO members. Russia’s Zapad 2013 military exercises in late September resembled previous maneuvers (Zapad 2009 and Zapad 2011), which simulated a conventional war between Russia and nearby NATO states. Russia is also building a military air base near the city of Lida in Belarus close to the Polish border that is likely to figure prominently in future strategic exercises. Officials in Moscow have also threatened pre-emptive attacks on any planned Missile Defense (MD) sites in Poland and elsewhere in CEE in the event of an international crisis.
Despite its cooperative disposition, Warsaw has not let down its guard. Following the August 2008 Russian invasion and partition of Georgia, the government reinforced its efforts to obtain defensive military hardware and station U.S. troops on Polish soil to deter any prospects for Russian military aggression. In response to Russia’s periodic provocations, Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Simoniak stated that Washington’s decision to cancel the fourth phase of the planned MD shield reflected Washington’s unfortunate “hesitation” toward Europe. Some analysts contend that instead of accommodating Moscow’s staunch opposition to any MD system in the region that Russia’s military cannot control, Washington must speed up the timetable for emplacing components of America’s Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System in Poland and Romania regardless of Kremlin warnings.
The new chill in U.S.-Russia relations, illustrated by Obama’s cancellation of the planned summit with Putin in Moscow in early September 2013 may have repercussions throughout CEE. It will also provide an opportunity for Washington to consolidate the defense of key allies in the region, especially Poland and the three Baltic States, through more regular NATO exercises and the construction of national anti-missile systems that would act as a credible deterrent to Russia’s threatening posture.
There is another troubling component to Moscow’s regional policy. Instead of dealing with Russia’s mounting economic, social, ethnic, and regional problems, the Putin administration is mobilizing anti-minority, anti-foreigner, and anti-American sentiments. The crackdown on free speech and independent organizations is part of a larger strategy to build support for Putin in Russia’s heartland. Foreign scapegoats, including Poland, could play a more prominent role in Russia’s unfolding political drama. Although Russia’s military capabilities do not match its Soviet predecessor, the country could become a destabilizing presence if it undergoes major political turmoil and potential territorial fracture, a scenario that a growing number of Russian analysts are now openly debating.
The Polish-Russian thaw does not constitute a strategic alliance, as the geotactics of accommodation should not be confused with a fundamentally competitive geostrategy. This longstanding struggle can only be resolved through two possible scenarios: Russia transforming itself into a responsible international player without neo-imperial aspirations toward its neighbors, or the Russian Federation fracturing with the emergence of a smaller and weaker Russia that can co-exist with Europe’s democracies and multi-national institutions.
A YEAR OF SECURITY RISKS
Janusz Bugajski, January 2014
Global security can be significantly enhanced in the coming year. However, there is a simultaneous danger of even greater instability in several key regions. Two kinds of opportunities lie ahead for major international actors led by the US: defusing escalating conflicts and preventing new emergencies.
Syria and Iran fit the first category. The Syrian civil war is now entering a decisive phase. After pledging to destroy existing stockpiles of chemical weapons, President Bashar Al-Assad feels more emboldened to destroy rebel forces without international censure. Either serious peace talks are conducted to end the hostilities or Assad will vanquish the armed opposition and restore central control.
Despite its outcry over human rights abuses, Washington and Brussels will probably acquiesce to an Assad victory. They have concluded that the alternative to Assad would either be outright chaos and state collapse or a militant Islamist takeover. Both scenarios would gravely unsettle Syria’s Arab neighbors.
Neighboring Iran stands poised between regaining its place as a constructive regional power or provoking a regional arms race that would draw in the former superpowers. Tehran took a major step toward rapprochement with the West in November when it signed a landmark agreement to curb its nuclear enrichment program in exchange for an easing of damaging international sanctions.
Nonetheless, it remains unclear whether the new Iranian government is serious about eliminating its nuclear weapons program. It may instead be calculating that it can temporarily delay its nuclear project while the most stringent sanctions are lifted. This would also avert potential U.S. military action, although the risk remains that Israel stages preemptive strikes regardless of American opposition.
In the worst-case scenario, the entire Iranian deal collapses and hard-liners again come to the forefront in Tehran. We could then witness a spiral of insecurity, with a more overt nuclear weapons program, intensified international sanctions, possible internal turmoil and social unrest, and an escalating arms race as Saudi Arabia will clamor to obtain nuclear weapons. The stability of the entire Middle East would then be affected.
International powers must also focus on emerging regional convulsions, from Eastern Europe to the Far East. Ukraine’s domestic turmoil over its international alliances threatens to tear the country apart, especially if Russia intervenes directly to assist the current regime or encourages separatism among its co-ethnics in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. The EU and the U.S. will need to devise an effective package of incentives for Kyiv to maintain social equilibrium.
The Russian Federation itself is entering a highly unstable phase. A mixture of economic stagnation, regional discontent, and growing social turbulence will undermine the authority of President Vladimir Putin. Equally ominously, the insurgency in the North Caucasus appears to be spreading. The terrorist attacks in Volgograd on the eve of the Winter Olympics in Sochi indicates that Russia’s internal security may be breaking down.
In East Asia, China is increasingly flexing its military muscles and will be challenging Japan and South Korea for regional influence. Beijing also presents a long-term threat to the U.S. presence. Even more dangerously, the bellicose North Korean regime may stage an attack on its southern neighbor if it faces economic collapse or an internal power struggle. This would inevitably draw the U.S. into a new war.
The withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan will also leave a security vacuum in Central Asia that could be increasingly filled by jihadists. The nearby states of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan remain vulnerable to subversion, radicalism, and civil war that could topple the authoritarian governments.
While Washington will seek diplomatic partners to resolve problems it cannot handle through military intervention, the risks to global security can rapidly multiply. And diplomacy may be no match for a determined adversary.