EU DECISIONS STOKE INSTABILITY
Janusz Bugajski, December 2013
The European Council’s postponement of Albania’s EU candidate status will heat up the political temperature in Albania and undermine regional stability. Albania applied for EU membership in 2009, but the European Council has refused four times to grant candidate status and start accession talks.
The Dutch parliament voted against granting Albania EU candidate status, preventing EU leaders from rubber stamping the proposal during the December summit in Brussels. Several other member states, including Germany, France, Denmark, and Britain agreed with the Dutch position. Tirana is understandably concerned that the next EU Council summit in June 2014 will add further conditions while anti-enlargement sentiments escalate in the Union.
The EU Council demanded that Albania meet several priorities, in particular intensify its efforts to reform the judiciary, combat organized crime and corruption, protect human rights, and implement anti-discrimination policies.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle was openly disappointed with the Council decision and praised Tirana for its reformist efforts. He correctly asserted that granting candidate status is an important step, not only for encouraging Albania to pursue far-reaching reforms, but also for EU credibility. In his words, “Albania has delivered and so should we.” According to the EU Commission progress report issued in October, Tirana has met EU requirements and should be granted candidate status.
The EU Council decision inflicts a heavy blow to Albanian government and public aspirations that the country will ever join the Union. 87% of the population support EU membership and last summer’s successful elections further raised expectations. After years of criticism and polarized disputes, the parliamentary ballot finally met international standards.
Many West Europeans harbor racist stereotypes of Albanians as criminals and human traffickers, mired in poverty, and desperate to flood Western Europe. Holland’s liberal but anti-immigration People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy voted against opening the door to Albania precisely because it operates with such stereotypes.
Over the next year, political leaders will continue to exploit the pervasive public hysteria about human floods from Eastern Europe. They will argue that after opening the borders of Western Europe to Romanian and Bulgarian workers in January 2014, future inflows of Albanians, Bosnians, and others must be prevented.
In recent days, British Prime Minister David Cameron threatened to veto the admission of any new EU members unless Brussels adopted sweeping curbs on freedom of movement. He asserted that he would block Albania and other Balkan states from joining unless there were stringent restrictions on how EU citizens could migrate across the continent and claim jobs and social security benefits.
Albanian citizens will compare their fate with that of Serbia and rightly sense blatant discrimination by some EU governments. Although Albania and Serbia have achieved comparable results in meeting EU conditions, not only did Serbia receive candidate status in March 2012, but its EU accession talks are scheduled to begin in January. The EU Council evidently calculated that further steps toward EU accession dampens Serbian nationalism – a threat raised by each successive government in Belgrade.
However, the discriminatory decision by the EU Council will increase public frustration and even estrange Albania from Serbia. It will lead some political activists to conclude that only be threatening the region with radical nationalism and pan-Albanianism will Albania be treated seriously by the EU Council.
Albania’s non-status will also set back Kosova’s progress toward the EU. Although Kosova was recently defined as a “potential candidate” and a feasibility study for a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) has been issued, Kosovars may now conclude that they will remain excluded indefinitely, thus further fueling cross-border nationalism.
Janusz Bugajski, December 2013
Unlike his presidential predecessor, President Barack Obama does not relish international intervention, especially when it involves military action. Although this is often a sound approach, some governments will interpret the consistent avoidance of conflict as guaranteeing U.S. passivity when a conflict erupts.
Obama was elected with a promise to remove U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan – two of the most prolonged and unpopular wars in recent American history. He fulfilled his commitments and has studiously avoided becoming entangled in new interventions in unstable states such as Libya and Syria.
The White House has calculated that civil wars, state repression, and even the mass murder of civilians do not justify another U.S. military mission. Even when such operations are conducted primarily to save lives and encourage democratic development, they invariably degenerate into internationally unpopular occupations and cost the lives and resources of Americans at a time of economic belt-tightening.
Unlike George W. Bush, Obama’s doctrine does not envision aggressive democracy promotion or “regime change” In addition, the jihadist terrorist threat to the American homeland has receded in recent years and dissipates any calls for major military interventions to root out the bombers.
Such an approach makes sense when there is no direct challenge to the U.S. However, it begins to look like weakness when military hesitation undermines diplomatic strength and America’s close allies feel increasingly vulnerable.
A major test for Washington is the historic nuclear agreement with Iran following more than three decades of estrangement and conflict after diplomatic ties were severed in 1979. The Geneva accord, signed in November, commits Tehran to curbing its nuclear development in exchange for limited sanctions relief. The U.S. will disregard any new nuclear-related financial penalties for six months in return for a freeze in uranium enrichment activities.
The breakthrough dialogue was initiated during the U.N. gathering in September, following a conversation between Obama and Iran’s new President, Hassan Rouhani. The White House believes that Iran’s nuclear program will now face significant limitations to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. The deal limits Tehran’s stockpiles of enriched uranium, which can be turned into the fissile core of nuclear arms, and curbs Iran’s ability to produce weapons-grade uranium. Iran’s nuclear program will also be subject to increased transparency and intrusive monitoring.
Although U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has claimed that the Geneva accord will make Israel feel safer, as the threat of nuclear conflict will be reduced, the Israeli authorities are highly skeptical. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is vehemently opposed to the deal, asserting that the international community is giving up too much, while Iran will retain the ability to produce a nuclear weapon and increasingly threaten Israel and other neighbors. The Saudi government is also cautious, fearing that Washington’s commitment to negotiations will limit its appetite for tougher actions if Tehran’s nuclear weapons program is merely delayed.
Other allies are also examining U.S. policy and wondering whether their security could be undermined by Obama’s softer international approach. For example, Russia’s neighbors are not receiving the same intensity of American support as during the Bush years, despite Moscow’s blatant neo-imperial designs on their sovereignty. Even the German government has adopted a more critical position than Washington over Moscow’s policy toward Ukraine.
Obama calculates that Russia’s importance in arranging the chemical weapons deal with Syria and its contribution to the Iranian nuclear compromise necessitates downplaying Putin’s aggressive neighborhood strategy. But allies most exposed to Ukrainian unrest and other crisis points have serious concerns that U.S. power is becoming too soft to be effective.
Janusz Bugajski, December 2014
Greece assumes the European Union Presidency on 1st January 2014, but with little indication of faster progress in integrating the Western Balkans. In fact, the landmark Thessaloniki agenda of 2004, which pledged that the entire region would be assimilated in both the EU and NATO within ten years, will be overshadowed by the name dispute between Greece and Macedonia.
According to Macedonia’s Prime Minister Nicola Gruevski, prospects for a settlement of the naming conflict are worse than ever before. Any potential breakthrough will require the intervention of the U.S. and Europe’s leading powers, a remote prospect unless stability in the region seriously deteriorates.
Gruevski asserted that since the conservative New Democracy party took office in June 2012 relations with Greece have regressed. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is less accommodating to Skopje than his Socialist predecessor and is the original architect of Athen’s policy regarding Macedonia’s name. At one point he even stated that Macedonia would eventually be divided between a Greater Albania and aGreater Bulgaria.
The latest round of negotiations between Athens and Skopje, held in New York under the mediation of UN official Matthew Nimetz, ended without any progress. Nimetz had proposed theUpper Republic of Macedonia as a solution, but both sides rejected this idea. Skopje claims it challenges their identity, while Athens claims it threatens their territory.
The Greek negotiator, Adamantios Vassilakis,also insists that any agreed name must be used generally, not just bilaterally between Greece and Macedonia. In other words, it would require reworking bilateral agreements with over 130 states that have recognized Macedonia by its constitutional name. This is not acceptable to Skopje.
Greece’s foreign minister, Evangelos Venizelos, provocatively suggested that Macedonia’s name could be changed to “Slavo-Albanian Macedonia,” thus further enraging the Gruevski government. In the 1990s, Venizelos was instrumental in advising the Greek authorities to impose an economic embargo on Macedonia.
Greek obstruction has been assisted by lingering problems between Macedonia and Bulgaria over the history of both states. Bulgarian Foreign Minister, Kristian Vigenin, recently confirmed that without the signing of an agreement on good neighborly relations Bulgaria also cannot support Macedonia’s accession to the EU. This would presumably entail ending the “Macedonianization” of Bulgarian history, in which Bulgarian tsars have been claimed by historians in Skopje as Macedonians.
Pessimism is rising ahead of theupcoming European Council meeting, when EU enlargement and Macedonia’s stalled accession process will again be discussed. Despite repeated recommendations by the European Commission for a start to EU accession talks with Skopje, a date certain has not been offered.
Greece also continues to obstruct Macedonia’s membership in NATO, ahead of the Alliance Summit in South Wales in September 2014. The country was admitted to the United Nations under the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FRYOM). However, Athens no longer wants to apply this formula as it viewsSkopje’s entry to both NATO and the EU as the last chance to use its veto to permanently change the country’s name.
In 2011, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Greece violated Article 11 of the 1995 United Nations Interim Accord by objecting to Macedonia’s membership in NATO at the 2008 Bucharest Summit. Instead of taking this ruling into consideration, Alliance leaders failed to extend an invitation to Macedonia during the 2012 Chicago Summit and are unlikely to change their policy ahead of the 2014 Summit.
With Macedonia’s path toward both the EU and NATO blocked indefinitely, the country’s internal stability will be sorely tested during the coming year. Instead of the promise of international integration, it may face the threat of internal disintegration as its large Albanian population grows increasingly restless.
UKRAINE’S YUGOSLAV SCENARIO
Janusz Bugajski, December 2013
Ukraine is the key state in Eastern Europe, by size, population, and strategic location. The country of 47 million looks poised for revolution, but no one can be certain whether this will bring a peaceful change of government through early elections or a violent crackdown by the Viktor Yanukovych government. An attempted crackdown could lead to a scenario reminiscent of Yugoslavia’s disintegration.
President Yanukovych’s decision to abort an EU association agreement and a free trade pact for Ukraine, while seeking closer economic ties with Moscow, has outraged many citizens who want to be part of Europe and not an appendage of Russia. However, Ukraine also confronts deep internal divisions that can precipitate conflict and fracture.
In addition to having an ethnic Russian minority of some eight million people, Ukrainians are divided between a pro-Western majority in western and central parts of the country and a partially Russified citizenry in eastern and southern Ukraine. Although the majority of citizens seek closer ties with the EU, a substantial minority can be manipulated against such aspirations by a revanchist Moscow.
Yanukovich has sought to straddle these internal divisions by reassuring Ukrainians that he can pursue close ties with both Europe and Moscow. But President Vladimir Putin has made this precarious balancing act impossible through his persistent pressure on Kyiv to join the Moscow-centered Customs Union as an alternative to EU association. This presents Ukrainians with a starker choice between West and East that may tear the country apart.
The worst-case scenario could be reminiscent of Yugoslavia’s collapse, whereby distinct regions no longer recognize the authority of the central government and push for self-determination, autonomy, or even separation. Such confrontations could materialize either if the current administration collapses and a new pro-European government is elected or if a state of emergency is declared in Kyiv to preserve the current regime.
The western Ukrainian region of Haliczyna has a distinct European identity and resents the pro-Muscovite policies of the Yanukovich regime, which is linked closely with the more Russified Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. In preparation for a potential crackdown, the mayor of Lviv, the largest city in Haliczyna, has warned that local police would defend the city if the central government were to send in forces to suppress the protests.
The Crimean peninsula in particular faces the specter of separatism, as the majority of its inhabitants are Russians and the region hosts Russia’s military fleet. Russian parties in Crimea could appeal directly to Moscow for assistance if new elections are scheduled in Ukraine. The Kremlin clearly fears another Orange Revolution that would unseat Yanukovych and ensure victory for pro-Western parties pursuing closer ties with the EU. This would seriously damage Russia’s agenda for creating a Eurasia Union from the former Soviet territories. Moscow also fears a contagion from Ukraine to Russia itself that could seriously challenge Putin’s authoritarian policies.
Russia’s propaganda machine is now in full gear claiming that the unrest in Ukraine is engineered by hostile Western powers. In response, Moscow may offer direct assistance to Yanukovych to pacify the protests and strangle any planned general strike. However, such a move could trigger an even more dangerous spiral of violence, as the Ukrainian military and police are likely to resist Russian incursions while some regions may capitalize on the opportunity to declare their secession.
The U.S. reaction to the Ukrainian upheaval has been subdued, as the Obama administration evidently fears stoking the flames of revolt and alienating Moscow. But Ukraine is not the Middle East and American support for Ukraine’s European integration will assist moderates and democrats who want to keep the country together. Washington also needs to send a strong message to Putin not to interfere in Ukraine’s internal affairs or risk diplomatic repercussions.
RUSSIA’S UKRAINIAN TRIUMPH
Janusz Bugajski, November 2013
Moscow has achieved a major triumph against the EU in its battle for regional influence. On the eve of the EU Summit in Vilnius, Ukraine’s government withdrew from signing an Association Agreement, a decision that will push the largest East European country into Russia’s orbit. Secretary of State John Kerry immediately canceled his planned visit to Kyiv, signaling U.S. disquiet over Moscow’s expansionism.
Ukraine’s reversal is both the result of EU requirements and Russia’s pressures. Brussels insisted that Kyiv carry out reforms in the judicial and electoral systems and desist from “selective justice” against political opponents. President Viktor Yanukovych has resisted releasing his main political rival Yulia Tymoshenko from jail, as she could stymie his election prospects in 2015,
The free trade accord with Ukraine would certainly help in trade and investment, but there is no promise of EU membership, unlike in the Western Balkans. Moreover, an association agreement would not resolve Ukraine’s immediate fiscal crisis. The country faces a potential debt fault, the economy is expected to shrink by 1.5% in 2014, while any proposed IMF aid package would necessitate a severe austerity program and cuts in public spending that would hinder Yanukovych’s reelection.
A further reason for cancelling the EU accord is government fear of introducing European standards of transparency and accountability: this would limit the opportunities for large-scale official corruption. But although Kyiv may calculate that it can successfully balance Russia with the EU and gain benefits and concessions from both, in reality Ukraine will now find itself in a much weaker position,
Ukraine’s suspension of the EU agreement was a victory for Russia, which is aggressively seeking to bind Ukraine and other neighbors within a rival Eurasia Union. President Vladimir Putin threatened to take retaliatory measures if Kyiv initialed the EU deal. This would have resulted in trade losses worth billions of dollars in exports and cost hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian jobs.
In a closed meeting with Putin just days before Kyiv’s decision, Yanukovych was also offered significant financial incentives. Gazprom’s natural gas prices are to be reduced from $400 to $250 per 1,000 cubic meters. And the Kremlin offered $20 billion to help Kyiv meet its debt repayments and to fund Yanukovych’s 2015 election campaign. Nonetheless, such short-term gains do not outweigh the long-term costs.
EU leaders have warned that Ukraine may not have another chance of signing the Association Agreement, especially as the EU Commission is due to change in 2014. The current standoff may result in limited EU financial support and hesitation by Western businesses to invest in a country with an uncertain international future.The cancelled EU agreement will also leave Ukraine more exposed to Moscow’s political designs. Putin is pushing Yanukovich to join the Russian-centered Customs Union, of which Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Armenia are already members. Such a move would be incompatible with participation in the EU free trade zone and deepen Kyiv’s subservience to Moscow.
Ultimately, in trying to recreate its empire, Moscow will face a huge burden in trying to rescue the Ukrainian economy at a time when the Russian economy is itself stagnating. It may also confront a Ukrainian revolt, as mass protests against Yanukovych’s EU decision can be a harbinger of broader social unrest, especially if the economy slides into recession. Most Ukrainians see their future inside the EU and not under Russian tutelage.
The next Ukrainian upheaval may not repeat the peaceful Orange Revolution of a decade ago. The prospect for radicalism, polarization, and violent confrontation is rising. Such a scenario could split the country or lead to the overthrow of a government widely viewed as betraying Ukrainian national interests. Moscow’s bullying and pressure tactics may inadvertently lead to a Ukrainian implosion that will impact on the stability of Russia itself.
COMBATING BALKAN CORRUPTION
Janusz Bugajski, November 2013
Combating official corruption is one of the buzz phrases for EU representatives, often directed toward the Balkan countries. But can corruption be rooted out in systems where politics and business are so closely interconnected and personal favors predominate? A recent Transparency International report indicates that it will be a long and arduous struggle.
There are many levels of corruption; while some are commonplace during periods of systemic transition, others are customary and even more difficult to root out. Government office provides a lucrative means for enrichment in awarding business contracts, especially where transparency and accountability are absent. Party financing and election funding by businesses expecting government favors continue to plague the region; this also leaves the terrain open to organized crime.
After its negative experience with Bulgaria and Romania, the EU has raised the conditionality principle on combating official corruption among new aspirants. In a current high-profile case, Serbian oligarch Miroslav Miskovic is standing trial on charges of fraud and tax evasion. Officials assert that more arrests will follow as the government endeavors to demonstrate its seriousness ahead of the expected launch of EU accession talks.
Before its EU entry, Croatia convicted a former prime minister, deputy prime minister, and defense minister on corruption charges. Premier Ivo Sanader became the most senior official in the former Yugoslavia to face a prison sentence for graft. Belgrade is trying to imitate Croatia in its anti-corruption efforts, but skepticism is widespread.
Convicting a few selected individuals once they are out of office or because they have fallen out with the current government does not represent a comprehensive anti-corruption campaign. Experience also shows that many cases collapse short of a criminal conviction, particularly as the courts are not independent and judges can be bribed or threatened.
Corruption infects the public administration and local businesses and can prevent the most efficient enterprises from securing orders. Firms can also face extortion by organized crime groups or the embezzlement of funds by senior managers. Citizens who confront pervasive graft on a daily basis remain highly skeptical of government initiatives. They are convinced that all parties and large businesses are corrupt
The Berlin-based Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer for 2013 has revealed that most of the population believes that their public institutions are becoming even more prone to bribery. According to the survey, the perception level of corruption has worsened in most Balkan countries. The judiciary, medical and health services, parliament, and political parties are perceived as some of the most corrupt public institutions in the region. For instance, 34% of respondents in Bosnia-Herzegovina assert that corruption has worsened significantly and 31% state that it has increased slightly. In most of the Balkans, citizens believe that official campaigns against corruption have either been fruitless exercises or only make a marginal difference.
Civil society organizations face serious obstacles in trying to implement the principles of government transparency. For example, the Open Government Partnership, an EU funded initiative that involves six West Balkan states, aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, combat corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. However, it is hamstrung by the lack of trust in the government among citizens and official hesitation in cooperating with the initiative.
A glaring example of the lack of success in combating rampant corruption is evident in Bulgaria, despite six years of EU membership. Almost daily protests on the streets of Sofia demonstrate public disillusionment with all political elites, as a growing number of citizens believe that politicians work only for their own benefit.
Janusz Bugajski, November 2013
Post-Yugoslavia’s only Eurozone member is confronting a major economic downturn. Slovenia may soon be joining the ranks of the failing southern European states such as Greece and Portugal by seeking financial bailouts to rescue itself from financial failure.
For many years, Slovenia prided itself on its economic performance and was spotlighted as a prosperous and stable model for other post-communist states. Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew on average by 4.5% each year between 1993 and 2008. And in 2007, it was the fastest-growing eurozone member. Because of its well-developed commercial ties with Italy, Austria, and other EU members, Slovenia’s most successful companies were internationally competitive and the country was considered to be well governed and law-abiding.
Unlike Poland and other successful new EU members, Slovenia opted for a gradual program of liberalization and privatization. But although gradualism ensured social stability and provided a safety net for the public, it failed to ensure the necessary structural reforms. The privatization of state-owned enterprises was too slow and Slovenia attracted little foreign investment.
As export orders dried up during 2009 because of the EU-wide recession, many manufacturing firms collapsed, leading to a huge drop in GDP. The competitiveness of Slovenian firms continues to decline, the construction sector has folded, and the unemployment rate has climbed from about 4% in 2008 to more than 10% today.
GDP in 2009 fell by 7.9%, a recovery failed to materialize, and in 2012 the country entered a double dip recession. GDP is expected to shrink by a further 2.7% this year. Public finances are in disarray, with a large deficit and public debt. The deficit will widen to 7.1% of GDP in 2014, from an estimated 5.8%. The public debt will soon exceed 63% of GDP, having stood at 22% in 2008 after Slovenia adopted the euro.
The European Commission is ranking Slovenia as one of the slowest growing economies in the Union. Only Cyprus, which is facing forecasts of an 8.7% contraction in GDP in 2013, is performing worse. As Slovenian financial institutions struggle with bad loans, valued at some 22.5% of GDP, an international bailout looks inevitable.
Slovenia’s economic disarray is compounded by its political conflicts. Since 2004, when a center-right coalition headed by the Slovenian Democratic Party came to power, political polarization has contributed to policy paralysis. Necessary reforms have been thwarted and planned austerity programs culminated in no confidence votes against the government. As a result, Ljubljana failed to restructure and consolidate its finances.
The country is stuck in recession caused primarily by lower demands for its exports and a deepening credit crunch. Due to the soaring cost of debt refinancing, Ljubljana cannot access international financial markets. As borrowing has become expensive, the caretaker government of Prime Minister Alenka Bratušek plans to impose even more austerity on the public. Ljubljana needs to sharply narrow its budget shortfall because a plan to rescue banks may push the gap to more than twice the EU’s allowed ceiling. The IMF has called on Ljubljana to urgently recapitalize the state-owned banking sector, which is burdened with bad loans. Officials estimate that the bank rescue will cost 1.2 billion euros.
In the hope of averting a major bailout that will come with even more stringent austerity and oversight, Slovenia has pledged to raise taxes, cut government spending, privatize Telekom Slovenia, and sell unprofitable state firms that are a drain on the budget. However, this may not be enough to avoid an international rescue package.
Slovenia now serves as a negative lesson for the reforming economies of Central-Eastern Europe, including the new EU member Croatia, as well as the remaining West Balkan countries aspiring to join the Union. Controlling public finances, balancing budgets, diversifying exports, and attracting long-term investment are ultimately more important than illusory short-term stability.
Janusz Bugajski, November 2013
Relations between the European Union and Russia are at their lowest point since the Union began to expand eastwards following the collapse of the Soviet bloc. While EU leaders now realize that Russia does not abide by international conventions and regulations, Moscow views the Union as a significant threat to its regional ambitions. In response to Russia’s aggressive moves against its nearest European neighbors, EU states will need a common voice and an effective “Eurasian” policy in close coordination with Washington.
The Europe-Eurasia Chasm
There is a fundamental difference between the EU and Russia. The EU project is designed to increase multinational governance in an increasingly interconnected continent. In stark contrast, Putinist Russia is intent on rebuilding a strong state that is not bound by international norms and subordinates weaker neighbors. While Russia’s leadership operates in terms of spheres of influence and zero-sum calculations, EU policymakers believe in mutual interests, shared sovereignty, and “win-win” solutions.
In Russia’s western strategic horizon, perceptions of the EU have undergone three main stages. In the early 1990s, the Union was viewed as a relatively harmless organization, limited to Western Europe, focused on economic cooperation and trade, and lacking a foreign policy or security dimension. By the mid to late 1990s, the EU was increasingly perceived as a useful counterpart to NATO and U.S. influence when it assumed a growing number of “soft security” functions amid intensive debates about the rationale for NATO’s future.
During the Putin presidency, the EU has been perceived as encroaching on Russia’s national interests. By the mid-2000s, the Union included most of the Central-East European (CEE) countries, which challenged the accommodating Union approach toward Moscow’s democratic regression and regional reimperialization. The EU’s democratization agenda was viewed in the Kremlin as undermining the policy of maintaining pliable post-Soviet governments along its borders. Additionally, EU standards for government accountability, business transparency, market competition, and environmental protection increasingly undercut Russia’s economic penetration, which was primarily based on opaque business practices. In sum, the EU’s gravitational force was seen as pulling several post-Soviet neighbors permanently out of Moscow’s orbit.
The EU now occupies a pivotal position in Russia’s strategic equations. A unified EU foreign policy synchronized with Washington that undercuts Russia’s aspirations is viewed in Moscow as a source of threat that needs to be neutralized. In effect, the EU may be a more direct challenge to Moscow’s ambitions than NATO. Not only is it disrupting the Eurasia project, but it also could become a growing source of attraction to various regions inside the Russian Federation, including those forcibly annexed from neighboring European states, such as Kaliningrad and Karelia.
The Battle of Vilnius
The EU’s Vilnius summit on November 28-29 promises to be a major showdown between Brussels and Moscow. In the past few months, the battle lines have been drawn between the European and Eurasian projects and they revolve around the identity and membership of several post-Soviet states. Under the Lithuanian presidency, the EU has reinforced its commitment to signing Association Agreements and Free Trade accords with a number of East European capitals. To qualify, each country must meet some basic political and economic criteria. Although the signatories have no immediate prospect for EU membership, the agreements are viewed as the first rung in an upward ladder toward accession.
By establishing a free-trade area with the EU, each country will improve its access to Europe’s markets while gaining increased foreign direct investment. In return, the EU expects the modernization of regulatory systems and business practices in line with Union standards. The association agreement would also require conformity with EU political norms, including a reformed justice system and free elections. The long-term economic benefits of these arrangements will be far more substantial than any closer economic links with Russia.
Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia have been singled out as meeting the criteria for EU association and free trade. This is despite the fact that Moldova and Georgia are divided states and the Ukrainian government has still not released from jail the former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko. The support of new EU members has been crucial in enticing the emerging democracies to join the European project and thus reducing their political turbulence, economic instability, and dependence on Russia.
But instead of seeing the EU initiative as a means of stabilizing its neighborhood, Moscow views the Vilnius summit as a direct threat to its ambitions for creating a Eurasian Union (EuU). In the latter arrangement, the former Soviet republics would need to revoke their commitments to EU accession. Moscow envisages several stages in Eurasian construction, beginning with a Customs Union and moving toward an economic and political amalgamation modeled on the EU but with one significant difference. Whereas the EU is based on shared sovereignty, the EuU will be founded on surrendered sovereignty to a dominant central power. Russia is offering membership in the Customs Union to its former dominions, which currently includes Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, claiming that this will bring tangible benefits. In reality, this is a protectionist project and the first step on a downward ladder toward subordination.
An expanding EU is a direct threat to Putin’s Eurasia project as it precludes future state mergers with Russia. EU entry is also viewed in Moscow as enhancing each country’s qualifications for NATO accession and closer links with the U.S. To thwart such European aspirations, Russian officials have heated up their rhetoric. In early September, Putin cajoled the Armenian government to revoke its EU ambitions and join the Customs Union. Armenian President Serge Sargsyan came home from Moscow visibly humbled and announced that Yerevan would join the Russia bloc, in effect renouncing any EU aspirations.
Putin stressed Armenia’s economic and energy dependence on Moscow and reportedly threatened Yerevan with withdrawing support for Armenia’s occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and other Azerbaijani territories. Moldova is also menaced by Moscow with economic collapse, with sanctions already imposed on Moldovan wine, the country’s major export item. The Kremlin also manipulates Transnistrian separatism to bring Chisinau into line.
The most serious recent threat has been issued against Ukraine, the pivotal piece in the Eurasian jigsaw puzzle. At an international forum in Yalta on September 21, Kremlin adviser Sergei Glazyev brazenly warned of Russian sanctions if Ukraine signs the EU accords. Moscow would evidently impose an economic blockade and raise energy prices to hasten Ukraine’s economic collapse. The Kremlin could also terminate the bilateral treaty on strategic partnership and no longer recognize Ukraine’s borders. It could also support separatist movements in eastern and southern Ukraine and be prepared to intervene on their behalf. In effect, the Kremlin has raised the specter of partition and challenged Ukraine’s existence as a unified state.
The response of Brussels to Russian threats has been stronger than expected. Stefan Fule, the European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy, asserted that Customs Union membership is not legally or technically compatible with the EU Free Trade accords. He also issued a strong statement in the European Parliament criticizing the pressure exerted by Russia on the EU’s Eastern Partnership countries. The U.S. administration has also become involved in the dispute, asserting that Russia’s threats against Ukraine and Moldova contradicted its commitments to various international agreements, including the principles of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Both the Ukrainian and Moldovan governments have refused to succumb to Moscow’s blackmail. If Russia moves from threat to action against Kyiv or Chisinau it is essential for Europe and the U.S. to maintain a unified position. Either the creation of a Moscow-dominated Eurasian Union or conflicts generated by resistance to establishing such an alliance will undermine security along the EU’s current borders. But as the Vilnius showdown approaches, it remains unclear how effective a response the allies are willing to undertake in defending the sovereignty and integrity of neighboring states if the Kremlin escalates its pressures.
In addition to conflicts over the EU’s eastern neighborhood, Russian authorities have accused Lithuania of harming its energy interests. Vilnius has lodged complaints to the European Commission that Gazprom uses its domination of the natural gas market to charge the country excessive prices and manipulates energy supplies as a form of political pressure. Russia’s officials have criticized EU moves to boost energy market competition and undercut Europe’s reliance on Russian supplies. The Commission announced in September that it is finalizing its judgment on Gazprom’s gas trading practices. EU regulators are preparing to charge Gazprom with abusing its dominant position – this could lead to a fine of up to €11bn (£9bn). Furthermore, if gas prices are freed, Gazprom could lose a further $14 billion in revenues.
Moscow’s reaction has been predictable, by imposing trade sanctions on Lithuania and threatening other states with embargoes. In early October, Russia’s Customs Service banned the import of Lithuanian dairy products and an embargo on meat, fish, and other products was threatened. EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht asserted that Moscow failed to provide clarification regarding its customs controls and its moves could precipitate a challenge against Russia in the World Trade Organization (WTO)
Paradoxically, Moscow’s sanctions against Vilnius created serious problems in Kaliningrad, which is more dependent on Lithuanian produce, and even sparked public protests in this Russian exclave against Kremlin tactics. Vilnius has also threatened to block Russia’s road and rail access to Kaliningrad if Moscow continues to pressure its neighbors, thus further isolating the region. Such moves could raise support for Kaliningrad’s independence from Moscow that would boost the region’s chances for closer links with the EU.
Among other sources of mounting EU-Russia tensions are human rights violations and the arrest of Greenpeace environmentalists. According to Ambassador Vygaudas Usackas, Head of the Delegation of the EU to Russia, Moscow’s deteriorating human rights record could obstruct the ratification of the Russia-EU visa-free travel agreement in European parliaments. Moreover, the imprisonment of Greenpeace activists on charges of piracy for protesting against Moscow’s Arctic oil drilling has outraged all EU capitals and confirmed that Russia is becoming a rogue state.
Europe’s Test Ahead
EU parliamentarians, especially those from CEE, have urged the European Commission to adopt a firmer stance against Moscow’s multiple abuses of its neighbors and its disregard of international norms. A bureaucratic response and punitive actions against Gazprom or against Moscow at the WTO are not enough to affect Kremlin policy. The EU has the opportunity to act in solidarity with Lithuania and all member states that are threatened by Moscow by demonstrating that aggression ultimately harms Russia itself.
As the Vilnius summit approaches the most effective response would be to ceremoniously sign association and free trade agreements with Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. The summit should also announce that all post-Soviet states except Russia are invited to obtain the same arrangements. Even those countries that have mistakenly entered Moscow’s Customs Union, where they will incur significant economic and political costs, can return to Europe once they revoke their signatures.
Brussels must also unequivocally confirm that each aspirant will be considered for full EU membership and will be given an accession path similar to those afforded to all the West Balkan countries, once they meet the initial criteria for accession. Simultaneously, a common position with Washington should be issued during or after the Vilnius summit. This must underscore that bullying and pressure by Moscow will be countered by resolute action to construct a democratic, secure, and prosperous trans-Atlantic community that includes all European states. The Kremlin needs to understand that bullying and blackmail is counter-productive and will ultimately defeat its own ambitions.
TURKEY ENCIRCLED BY PROBLEMS
Janusz Bugajski, November 2013
Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu’s famous assertion that Turkey’s foreign policy is based on “zero problems with neighbors” has come back to haunt him. Ankara now faces disputes and conflicts along most of its borders and seems to be adding a new confrontation in the Balkans.
Since he was appointed foreign minister in May 2009, Davutoglu has focused on settling neighborhood disputes and positioning Turkey as a linchpin on the crossroads between Europe and the Middle East. Despite these lofty ideals, the Syrian civil war has dramatically deteriorated Ankara’s relations with both Damascus and Tehran. Ankara is also concerned about spreading Iranian influence in Iraq and the unresolved Kurdish question that threatens to expand the insurgency inside Turkey.
Relations with Israel have remained depressed since the Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010 when Israeli commandos stormed the Turkish ship, alleging that it was carrying weapons to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The claim was vehemently denied and the killing of nine activists on board the vessel was condemned by Ankara
Turkey’s dispute with Cyprus lingers on and its proxy republic of Northern Cyprus remains unrecognized. Tensions with Greece periodically recur and the dispute with Armenia and the Armenian diaspora is unending. A new French law that makes the denial of genocide associated with the 1915 massacres of Armenian civilians by Ottoman forces a crime has also led to a worsening of Turkish-French relations. Other EU states may follow suit in recognizing the genocide.
Turkey also faces a highly unstable Caucasus region where a renewed war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh could draw Ankara into a direct confrontation with Russia, Armenia’s patron and protector.
The one neighboring region where Duvatoglu’s approach seemed to be working has been the Balkans. But following Prime Minister Recep Erdogan’s recent visit to Kosova parts of this region may also become estranged from Turkey. In trying to demonstrate its closeness to Balkan Muslims and to Albanians in particular, Ankara risks alienating Serbs and other non-Muslims. While visiting Prizren in October, Erdogan claimed that “Kosovo is Turkey, and Turkey Kosovo.”
Although Davutoglu claimed that the statement was misinterpreted, Belgrade immediately responded with outrage. Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić announced that he had “frozen” his participation in trilateral meetings organized by Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Turkey, and demanded an apology from Turkey. The Serbian government also withdrew three bills from parliamentary procedure based on agreements reached with Turkey. They cover mutual legal aid in civil and trade issues, criminal matters, and extradition stipulations.
Although Serbia’s claims to Kosova are no longer valid, Erdogan placed a large question mark over Turkey’s “neo-Ottoman” pursuits in the Balkans. Ankara’s claims that the Ottoman Empire helped to develop the region ring hollow in countries that consider their four hundred year occupation as having seriously retarded their European credentials. Claiming only the positives from Ottoman rule risks alienating even the Islamic communities in the Balkans who want to be part of the European project.
But despite Ankara’s ambition to expand its influence throughout southeast Europe, it possesses limited capabilities. Its economic investments, educational programs, religious assistance, and cultural pursuits simply cannot match what the EU has to offer to prospective members. Turkey’s exclusion from the EU and its creeping Islamization under the ruling Justice and Development Party also diminishes its appeal throughout the region.
In this context, warnings about plans to “Islamize” Bosnia-Herzegovina with Turkey’s assistance sound far-fetched. The idea propagated by some Serbian officials that a project is being prepared by Bosniak leaders to bring half a million Arabs to Bosnia is alarmist and seems designed to further polarize Bosnia’s national groups.
AMERICA UNPREPARED FOR CAUCASUS TURMOIL
Janusz Bugajski, October 2013
The Caucasus has replaced the Balkans as Europe’s new powder keg. Religious radicalization, ethnic conflict, insurgent violence, a looming territorial war, and potential territorial fracture will challenge Western interests throughout the Black Sea-Caspian region. But despite the escalating crises, America and Europe lack any viable contingency plans.
In the North Caucasus, insurgency is likely to accelerate in the coming year. Not only are economic conditions deteriorating but Russian xenophobia against Caucasian populations is mounting, further accelerating ethnic polarization.
Jihadists returning from Syria and Afghanistan will reinforce the insurrection. They have gained fighting experience and technical know-how that they can apply in their struggle against Moscow and its proxies in the North Caucasian republics. Rebels will be more radical and ruthless as a result of their stints abroad. The Syrian civil war could also provide resources, contacts, and potential foreign recruits.
Recent amendments to the Russia’s law on terrorism will further raise Russia’s image as a police state and an occupying power in the North Caucasus. By simplifying and speeding up procedures against suspected terrorists, the security forces will be able to conflate terrorism with “extremism” and imprison a much broader sector of political opposition to Russian control.
Other parts of the terrorism law are a classic example of collective punishment, as practiced by occupying powers against subject populations. Instead of combating terrorism, the confiscation of property and other punitive measures against family members of suspected terrorists will spread resentment and deepen divisions between Moscow and the targeted populations. Russian governments have traditionally coated repression with a veneer of legality.
Between the Sochi Olympics in February 2014 and NATO’s London summit President Vladimir Putin may plan to demonstrate Russian power by undermining the progress of Georgia and Azerbaijan. This will be magnified if a terrorist attack is staged during the Olympic games on which Putin has staked much of his prestige. The Kremlin will seek to scapegoat external enemies for any atrocity and mobilize Russian nationalism.
To deflect attention from its own domestic turmoil, the Kremlin can increase its pressures on Georgia in particular ahead of the NATO summit. Despite the replacement of President Mikhail Saakashvili in the recent elections, Moscow does not trust the Georgian elites because they express continuing commitment to both NATO and EU membership. They steadfastly resist subordination within any new Russian political, economic, or security organizations. By provoking conflicts, Moscow will try to demonstrate that the South Caucasus are also unstable and cannot be part of the trans-Atlantic sphere.
Turmoil in the North Caucasus and Moscow’s distractions may also restoke the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Azeri territories occupied by Armenian forces. To directly assist Armenia, the Kremlin may decide to further dismember Georgia and create direct territorial corridors for Russian forces to traverse to their military base in Armenia.
As the conditions for armed conflict intensify, Washington cannot turn a blind eye for fear of antagonizing the Kremlin. At a minimum, it must place the question on the international agenda and press for allowing international observers into the North Caucasus, which Moscow has sealed off from the outside world.
If Russian officials claim that international terrorists operate in the area and constitute a serious threat to both Russian and Western security, then international monitors must be allowed to inspect the region. At ground level, they can better determine the causes and consequences of terrorism and the degree of threat to Western interests. Unfortunately, evidence indicates that both international terrorism and Russia’s counter-terrorism operations are a serious threat to international security.
EU ENLARGEMENT AGENDA
Janusz Bugajski, October 2013
The European Commission has released an in-depth report on EU enlargement in the Western Balkans. While it underscores the long-term commitment to inclusion, it also outlines new provisions that will be interpreted in some capitals as increasing conditionality to postpone membership.
In his presentation of the report, EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Fule highlighted the “fundamental” conditions that need to be met for accession. As usual, the list includes the Copenhagen criteria adopted twenty years ago, such as the rule of law, judicial reform, combating organized crime and corruption, freedom of expression, free media, human rights, and minority protection.
With both sides of the Atlantic preoccupied with deep domestic problems there is little appetite for further operations following the withdrawal from Afghanistan. A common purpose is urgently needed to reinvigorate the Alliance or it could rapidly decline.
However, two novel elements are introduced in the report: sound economic governance and the protection of vulnerable groups from discrimination, particularly the Roma population and those based on sexual orientation.
According to the Commission, the global economic crisis has stressed the need for all countries to strengthen their economic governance and improve competitiveness. A number of proposals are intended to support this objective among aspirant states, including the introduction of national economic reform strategies and action plans for public financial management.
The impact of this initiative could be the addition of new conditions for EU candidates in their economic programs and financial management. It is understandable that Brussels does not want to bring fiscally irresponsible states into the Union after the debacles in Greece, Portugal, and Spain, but it is unclear to what degree economic reform strategies will need to be implemented to obtain the green light toward membership.
Governments will also be concerned whether budgets will be strictly supervised by EU officials much like the Mediterranean economies that required massive financial bailouts. Such an intrusive approach to national sovereignty could provoke resistance and complicate qualifications for accession.
The second set of elements in the EU report revolve around minority protection and the combating of discrimination. The position of the Roma has been raised on countless occasions but limited progress has been achieved even among EU members. Indeed, Fule’s home country, the Czech Republic, has been widely criticized for state-sponsored discrimination against Roma. Inclusion and integration are sound principles, but in practice the impact of inequality, prejudice, and culture prevent a melding of most Romas into the national mainstream.
An even more contentious issue may be the ending of discrimination against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) population. It took the EU several decades to introduce legislation combating homophobia. This was also the case with racism, a rampant phenomenon in many European countries just a few years ago.
It will be an uphill struggle in the traditional societies of the Balkans to convince majorities that discrimination based on sexual orientation undermines the principles of individual freedom. Legislating against homophobia will also be resisted by religious authorities who view the LGBT population as Satan’s envoys. It will be interesting to see whether the EU will introduce new conditions for aspirant states in this sensitive arena.
The Commission report also includes updates on all the West Balkan countries. While it recommends granting EU candidate status to Albania and, for the fifth year in a row, the opening of accession negotiations with Macedonia, the verdict on Bosnia-Herzegovina is unfavorable.
Bosnia is the laggard in the accession process. The results achieved by the country’s leaders since the launch of the EU’s “high level dialogue” have not met expectations. Sarajevo’s relations with the EU are described as being at a standstill. Substantial efforts will be needed to meet the conditions for the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) to enter into force and for a credible membership application. Bosnia faces a long and difficult struggle toward EU entry even without potential new conditions.
THE FUTURE OF TRANS-ATLANTICISM
Janusz Bugajski, October 2013
With both sides of the Atlantic preoccupied with deep domestic problems there is little appetite for further operations following the withdrawal from Afghanistan. A common purpose is urgently needed to reinvigorate the Alliance or it could rapidly decline.
Cultural and economic links between America and Europe are often cited as the glue that maintains a special relationship. But in the age of global communications and global commerce these may prove an insufficient binding force, even with the planned signing of a free trade accord between the U.S. and Europe. To survive and thrive, trans-Atlanticism must revive some of its basic principles.
One key strategic objective among the Allies after the collapse of the Soviet bloc was for NATO and the EU, as complementary institutions, to encompass all European states and help to transform them into secure and consolidated democracies. For this purpose, the phrase “Europe, whole, free, and at peace” was coined. Without the completion of this mission, security in parts of Europe may come under increasing strain and further undermine the Alliance itself.
There are three possible futures for trans-Atlanticism: mission completed, mission postponed, or mission abandoned. In the ideal-case future where the mission is completed, both NATO and the EU continue to grow throughout the Euro-Atlantic space and include qualified new members. There is unequivocal commitment in both Washington and Brussels to enlargement and the defense of all member states.
NATO absorbs the remaining West Balkan countries and also fulfills its verbal commitment that Georgia and Ukraine will enter once they meet all necessary criteria. The Alliance then turns its attention to the remaining European aspirants. In this positive scenario, the EU overcomes its economic malaise and becomes an even more attractive destination. A vibrant EU that helps transform candidates into more consolidated democracies helps complete a key element of the trans-Atlantic mission.
In the mission postponed alternative, the future is uncertain. The prospect of EU and NATO accession remains intact, but enlargement slows down to a crawl. NATO will be preoccupied with defining its post-Afghanistan mission, it will claim that there are no credible candidates for accession, Alliance members will have little appetite for new responsibilities, and the U.S. will desist from dealing with institutional complications in Europe.
Meanwhile, the EU will be consumed with internal convulsions and will keep candidates at a distance. This may wear down the appeal of the Union in the Western Balkans and Europe’s east and undermine public support for reformist leaders and political parties that stake their reputation on EU accession.
In the worst-case future, where the trans-Atlantic mission is abandoned, almost everything goes wrong. NATO lacks consensus on enlargement, its defense commitments are weakened by further budget cuts, Washington relegates Europe in its strategic priorities, and confusion reigns over NATO’s future. In a complementary crisis, the EU’s debt problems deepen and expand, the Eurozone economies enter prolonged recession, social turmoil escalates, and populism grows. The danger of a deeper EU fracture looms, while candidates in the western Balkans suffer from reform fatigue.
To add to the malaise, Moscow’s attempt to create a Eurasian alternative to the EU and to NATO generates growing disputes with its western neighbors. The ensuing conflicts unsettle the EU-NATO eastern border and challenge the security of several current members.
These prospective instabilities threaten to further undermine trans-Atlanticism. Instead of a Europe whole, free, and at peace, one can envisage a continent that is strategically divided, politically debilitated, and whose security is threatened both by internal and external factors. The choices made depend on leadership and commitment; unfortunately, both are lacking on either side of the Atlantic.
Janusz Bugajski, October 2013
The EU’s Vilnius summit on November 28-29 promises to be a major showdown between Brussels and Moscow. In the past few weeks, the battle lines have been drawn between the European and Eurasian projects and they revolve around the identity and membership of several post-Soviet states.
Under the Lithuanian presidency, the EU has reinforced its commitment to signing Association Agreements and Free Trade accords with a number of East European capitals. To qualify, each country has to meet some basic political and economic criteria. Although they have no immediate prospect of EU membership, the agreements are viewed as the first rung in the long ladder toward accession.
By establishing a free-trade area with the EU, the post-Soviet countries would have better access to Europe’s markets while gaining increased foreign direct investment. In return, the EU expects these states to modernize their regulatory system to meet EU standards and bring their business practices in line with the Union. The association agreement would likewise require conformity with EU political norms, including a reformed justice system and free elections. The long-term economic benefits of these arrangements will be far more substantial than any deeper economic link with Russia.
Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia have been singled out as meeting the criteria for EU association and free trade. This is despite the fact that Moldova and Georgia are divided states and the Ukrainian government has still not released from jail the former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko. The support of new EU members has been crucial in enticing the emerging democracies to join the European project and thus reduce their political turbulence and economic instability.
But instead of seeing the EU initiative as a means of stabilizing its neighborhood, Moscow views the Vilnius summit as a direct threat to its interests. Russian government ambitions center around the creation of a Eurasian Union (EuU). In this arrangement, the former Soviet republics would need to revoke their commitments to EU accession.
Moscow envisages several stages in Eurasian construction, beginning with a Customs Union and moving toward an economic and political amalgamation modeled on the EU but with one significant difference. Whereas the EU is based on shared sovereignty, the EuU will be founded on surrendered sovereignty to a dominant central power. Russia is playing on the slow pace of EU entry and offering membership to its former dominions in the Customs Union, which currently includes Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, claiming that this will bring tangible and immediate benefits.
An expanding EU is a direct threat to Putin’s Eurasia project for several reasons. The EU is viewed as a strategic choice that would prevent future mergers with Russia. Its legal rules and regulations undermine the opaque business practices of the Muscovite elite. Moreover, EU entry is viewed in Russia as enhancing each country’s qualifications for NATO accession and a closer link with the U.S.
To thwart its neighbors EU aspirations, Russian officials have heated up their rhetoric. In early September, Putin cajoled the Armenian government to revoke its EU ambitions and join the Customs Union. Armenian President Serge Sargsyan came home from Moscow with his tail between his legs and announced that Yerevan would join the Russia bloc, in effect withdrawing from the EU project.
Putin underscored Armenia’s economic and energy dependence on Moscow and reportedly threatened Yerevan with insecurity if Russia withdrew its support for Armenia’s occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and other Azerbaijani territories. Moldova is also threatened by Moscow with economic collapse and sanctions have already been imposed on Moldova wine, the country’s major export item. The Kremlin also plays with Transnistrian separatism to bring Chisinau into line.
However, the most serious recent threat has been issued against Ukraine, the pivotal piece in the Eurasian jigsaw puzzle. At an international forum in Yalta on September 21, Kremlin adviser Sergei Glazyev brazenly warned of Russian sanctions if Ukraine signs the association and free trade accords with the EU. Moscow would evidently impose an economic blockade and raise energy prices to ensure Ukraine’s economic collapse.
The Kremlin would also terminate the bilateral treaty on strategic partnership and no longer recognize Ukraine’s borders. It would support separatist movements in eastern and southern Ukraine and be prepared to intervene on their behalf. In effect, the Kremlin has raised the specter of partition and challenged Ukraine’s existence as a unified state.
The response of Brussels to Russian threats has been stronger than expected. Stefan Fule, the European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy, asserted that Customs Union membership is not legally or technically compatible with the EU Free Trade accords. He also issued a strong statement in the European Parliament criticizing the pressure exerted by Russia on countries that are part of the EU’s Eastern Partnership program.
The U.S. administration has also become involved in the dispute, asserting that Russia’s threats against Ukraine and Moldova contradicted its commitments to various international agreements, including the principles of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Both the Ukrainian and Moldovan governments have refused to succumb to Moscow’s plans. If Russia moves from threat to action against Kyiv or Chisinau it is essential for Europe and the U.S. to maintain a unified position. Either the creation of a Moscow-dominated Eurasian Union or conflicts generated by resistance to establishing such an alliance will undermine security along the EU’s current borders. As the Vilnius showdown approaches it remains unclear how effective a response the allies can muster to defend the sovereignty and integrity of neighboring states if the Kremlin escalates its pressures.
THE RETURN OF THE BALKAN UNION
Janusz Bugajski, October 2013
Montenegrin Foreign Minister Igor Luksic has tabled an initiative to forge a Balkan Union styled as the “Balkan Six Group.” Reaction in the region has been mixed; some see it as an attempt to create a new Yugoslavia. In reality, if the Union is to have any real impact three things must be avoided: unrealistic agendas, internal integration, and external expansion.
According to Podgorica, the planned alliance would include Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosova, Macedonia, Serbia, and Montenegro. Reportedly, the initiative has gained the support of EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule and even envisages a future “Western Balkan Six” Parliamentary Assembly in the European Parliament, with ten representatives from each member country.
To have any chance of success, such a Balkan alliance must avoid unrealistic agendas and restrict its focus to two arenas: EU integration and economic development. The pooling of knowledge and experience and mutual diplomatic and technical support can help every capital qualify during each step of the EU accession process. Lobbying for joint interests with other governments and international organizations is valuable.
An informal alliance can also assist in economic development, whether enabling regional infrastructural projects, developing regional markets, easing travel by rescinding passport requirements for crossing borders, and enhancing energy cooperation and environmental protection. It may also be useful in sharing data on corruption and organized crime.
A practical initiative with a manageable number of concrete projects will be much more beneficial than an overambitious plan that misfires and precludes further cooperation. Implementable projects in such areas as regional traffic connections and energy pipeline interconnectors could also gain EU funding and technical support.
However, any plans for collaboration on minority rights are more likely to provoke disputes and undermine the entire initiative. For instance, if Prishtina presses for the same rights for Albanians in southern Serbia as Serbs benefit from in Kosova, or Albanians in Macedonia claim the Bosnian entity model as applicable in the entire region then the Balkan Union would rapidly unravel.
The Balkan Group must also avoid internal integration through the creation of some cumbersome structure and self-perpetuating bureaucracy. Ideas for joint institutions such as a common parliament, police force, or educational and health care systems may simply waste time and energy without any tangible results.
A third bad idea is the creation of a broader grouping that would not only include Croatia and Slovenia, but also Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, and Turkey. The larger the group, the less effective its impact. Although Croatia and Slovenia can bring valuable experience to its neighbors and lobby on their behalf in EU institutions, Bulgaria, Romania, and Greece are encumbered with their own domestic problems while Turkey’s involvement would further disperse and dilute the West Balkan agenda.
The most useful model for any planned Balkan Group is Central Europe’s Visegrad Four (V4) initiative. This has not been a substitute for either EU or NATO integration and did not impinge of the sovereignty of any member state. It was structured as a facilitator of international integration.
The fundamental idea behind Visegrad, launched in the early 1990s, was for the four emerging democracies (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia) to better coordinate their policies toward the EU and NATO. Government officials believed that by banding together and speaking with one voice in various multi-national formats they were more likely to be heard.
The Visegrad group increased its effectiveness by following two core principles: cooperation not integration, and not institutionalization. Attempts to establish permanent structures would have simply turned the V4 into an expensive and unwieldy sub-European bureaucracy. The Balkan Union must learn from nearby precedents.
GERMANY’S EUROPEAN CHALLENGE
Janusz Bugajski, September 2013
The re-election of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats will have a direct impact on the evolution of the European Union. A great deal will depend on whether Germany’s traditional hesitation in assuming a leadership role will be overcome by the necessity of pulling the EU out of its current malaise.
“Europe’s decade” has not arrived despite all the predictions of rising global prominence during America’s alleged decline. While the EU still remains the world’s largest trading bloc, since 2010 the five largest contributors to global economic expansion do not include any of the EU economies. The U.S., China, Japan, Brazil, and India have been outperforming all the Union countries. Economic growth remains tepid, while some countries confront a protracted budgetary shortfall and fiscal crisis that still threatens to fracture the Euro monetary union.
Despite its substantial economic size, the EU is not a major security player, and only two states, France and the UK, are willing to lead military missions, although largely for their own national interests. Hence, the EU’s impact is less than the sum of its parts. National leaders are preoccupied with domestic challenges and newly emerging parties are increasingly competing over the EU project itself.
Although the EU-wide recession has recently abated, the Union faces long-term threats as economic growth remains slow, unemployment is at record highs, the population is rapidly aging, and debt is rising fast. Additionally, Europe’s banking system has not been sufficiently repaired to unfreeze credit markets and restore sufficient economic stability.
With France and Italy depleted by their economic shortcomings and Rome facing further political turmoil, Europe’s spotlight naturally falls on Germany. However, since World War Two, Germany has played a restricted leadership role in Europe, much below its economic size. Indeed, Berlin has feared assuming a vanguard position and being viewed as stirring German nationalism. After all, the EU was principally a project designed to anchor Germany in a multi-national Europe in which the country would never again be in a position to dominate the continent.
Germany has been rising by default during the last decade because of two key factors: its relative economic strength and the deterioration of the EU as an economic and political bloc. Germany remains Europe’s largest economy, especially in its manufacturing sector and export potential, and its 2.7 trillion Euro GDP (Gross Domestic Product) accounts for about 30% of all euro zone output. It has largely weathered the storms of recession while most of its neighbors have stagnated.
Germany has also gained influence because of its position as the largest financial contributor to Europe’s sovereign debt bailouts. Berlin played the decisive role in rescue packages for Greece, Portugal, and Cyprus. Without German contributions, the Euro currency would be in perilous straits. During the coming year, Athens will need further financial assistance and Lisbon may require a second bailout, and Berlin will play the pivotal role in the process. Germany will also remain the central player in deciding on possible Eurozone banking and fiscal unions to better coordinate financial policy.
If the UK decides to abandon the EU altogether, following a planned referendum on membership after the next general elections, Germany’s prominence will also grow. It will need to decide whether to more brazenly lead a multi-national alliance in which it is supposed to be one country among equals.
Similarly to the U.S. on a global scale, a stronger German role in Europe will be deeply resented by other EU member states. This was evident during the financial bailouts for Greece and Cyprus when Berlin was accused of seeking to control Europe and populist politicians compared Merkel to Hitler. The more the EU depends on Germany, the more animosity will be directed against Berlin. It will become a scapegoat for Europe’s failures and is unlikely to be congratulated for Europe’s successes.
RUSSIA’S NEW WESTERN SUPPORTERS
Janusz Bugajski, September 2013
History moves in unpredictable circles. During the Cold War, the West’s radical left idealized the socialist Soviet Union and its alleged anti-imperialism. Now it is the turn of the ultra-conservative and neo-fascist Western right to openly sympathize with the policies of the Russian Federation.
For Europe’s hard left, the USSR was the alternative to everything they detested about their own countries: capitalism, economic inequality, NATO, and close links with the U.S. Their delusions were only fully revealed when communism, the Soviet bloc, and the Soviet Union all collapsed like a stack of cards.
A few neo-communist groups still claim that Moscow only failed because it abandoned the pursuit of the socialist paradise. To this day, they cannot admit that the entire project of socialist engineering was based on false premises and doomed to failure.
History has now swung in the other direction and it is the ultra-right nationalists and Christian fundamentalists who perceive Russia as the emerging righteous power. This growing support for Moscow is based on three developments: national self-assertion, anti-Americanism, and religious conservatism.
Some Western nationalists depict President Vladimir Putin’s opposition to U.S. military strikes against the Syrian government as a noble defense of statehood and independence. They conveniently overlook the fact that Moscow has armed the Bashar-al Assad regime with both conventional and chemical weapons and has justified attacks by Damascus on Syrian civilians. For many nationalist racists, the victims hardly matter when it comes to basic principles; after all they are only Arabs and Muslims.
Neo-fascist groups in Italy now prominently display portraits of Putin in military uniform, as a modern-day Mussolini. His machismo image and restoration of Tsarist rituals appeals to the fascist love of tough leaders and collectivist obedience. Italy’s National Front, a revival of Mussolini’s Fascist Party, proudly expresses its solidarity with Putin. Neo-Nazis and ethno-nationalists in other West European countries have voiced similar sentiments.
Putin is described as a politician who stands up for his people against the anti-national European Union and the imperalist United States. The Kremlin leader has become the embodiment of global anti-Americanism who has allegedly raised Russia from its knees and openly resists U.S. policy at every opportunity. Putin’s opposition to any Western intervention in other countries’ civil wars also appeals to rightist and leftist isolationists in the U.S. Russia’s own attack on Georgia in 2008 is conveniently overlooked.
The third component of Putin’s political charisma is his alleged defense of traditional Christian principles and family values and Kremlin actions against modern-day immorality. This is exemplified in Moscow’s open attack on homosexuality. Legislation passed by the Russian parliament in June outlaws the dissemination of information about “non-traditional sexual orientations,” causing outrage among human rights activists. Indeed, the Russian legislature is now preoccupied with defending morality and protecting traditional models of monogamy. It is currently discussing legislation that will limit the number of legal marriages a person can have in their lifetime.
The Russian Orthodox Church staunchly supports all government initiatives. It views Putin as a modern-day saint and a savior from Western depravity. The Moscow patriarch Kirill has described Putin as “a miracle of God” and criticized the country’s liberal opposition as a satanic force manipulated by Washington to destroy Russia.
Paradoxically, elements of the religious right in the West agree with Moscow’s moralistic campaign and are moving closer to Russia’s Orthodox Church. Some radical American pastors have hailed Putin as the “defender of Christian civilization.” This new Christian ecumenism is not based on liberalism and tolerance, but on more fundamentalist values that deny individual freedom and personal choice.
LONG BALKAN ENGAGEMENTS
Janusz Bugajski, September 2013
As the new season of EU engagement in the Western Balkans begins, disagreements persist over its intensity. With decisions pending over Stabilization and Association Agreements, candidacy status, and accession talks, the debate between proponents of greater intervention and lesser involvement highlights three persistent problems: perceptions, expectations, and performance.
The proponents of a less obtrusive EU and U.S. role argue that effective state building can only be accomplished when international intervention is minimized and locals demonstrate their commitment to political institutions. Bosnia’s Serb leaders support this position, contending that foreign interference stifles self-determination.
In contrast, interventionists argue that allowing local politicians to determine the future of the state results in government paralysis and territorial division that will necessitate an even more intrusive international role. Although it is difficult for outside actors to assist in constructing an effective state where political consensus is absent, as in Bosnia-Herzegovina, any existing consensus can be further undermined if international instruments are weakened.
Political perceptions are important. Although U.S. Secretaries of State periodically visit the region, this is viewed more as symbolism than substance by interventionists. Washington asserts that it remains closely involved with Brussels to resolve the most pressing problems, although the Western Balkans are now the primary responsibility of the EU. Washington is heavily engaged in much more troublesome places. The region may not be fully stable but it is no longer chronically insecure. Without the prospect of armed conflict, there is no need for special U.S. envoys and their presence could actually undermine EU credibility.
Political expectations remain important and the magnetism of the EU appears to be weakening. The premise that Union membership would become a source of irresistible attraction propelling the reform process in every capital has not come to fruition. For local actors, the pull of EU entry has diminished amidst doubts that the Union will quickly absorb new states beyond Croatia.
Given the long drawn out process of accession, “reform fatigue” will become more palpable, with leaders and publics resenting conditionality and prolonged timelines. The perception of receding opportunities for membership is reinforced as additional conditions are added. Impressions may thereby escalate that the EU seeks to indefinitely postpone the process because it does not want to incorporate new members.
Political performance is also critical, and if EU conditionality is intended to create fully functional states, local leaders who favor territorial autonomy or partition will not comply with such programs. EU membership would also necessitate stricter compliance with standards of business transparency that may threaten the positions and incomes of several office holders.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the EU has been unable to strengthen the central government, which is essential for purposes of EU integration. This fits with broader criticisms that the European state-building model has inadequately addressed the question of ethno-national representation in state institutions. Union members possess a diversity of structures, from highly centralized states, or ones that do not recognize ethnic minority rights, to more decentralized systems and federations. As a result, there is no single standard that is applicable to all Western Balkan countries.
Citizens appear confused on whether to support a greater international role to generate domestic reforms or to oppose overbearing foreign intrusion. Ultimately, to resolve this dilemma, ordinary voters must themselves push for political changes that displace interest groups who resist the beneficial demands of EU accession and hide behind ethnic labels. Otherwise, the status quo will simply ensure stagnation and new bouts of future conflict.
MOSCOW THREATENS U.S. OVER SYRIA
Janusz Bugajski, September 2013
President Barack Obama’s decision to engage in a military strike against the Syrian government, pending U.S. Congressional approval, has provoked grave threats from Moscow. The Kremlin is not only concerned about its key ally in the Middle East but that Washington no longer views Russia as a relevant partner.
The Kremlin charges that U.S. air strikes against Syrian government targets will have a devastating impact throughout the region. Syria is Russia’s closest ally in the Middle East and hosts the sole Russian naval base in the Mediterranean.Above all, Moscow views both Syria and Iran as important buffers against Western interests and America’s regional presence.
Although the planned military strikes against Damascus will not overthrow Assad, Russia does not want to be embarrassed by its glaring impotence, as it was over Iraq and Libya. It will seek new options to prove its credentials and damage U.S. interests.
In Syria itself Russia will not intervene militarily, but it can buttress the government by selling more advanced weaponry. It can also strengthen Iran, Syria’s chief ally in the region, through the sale of S-300 air defense missile systems while blocking any further UN pressure on Tehran regarding its nuclear weapons program.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has stated that Western intervention in Syria will seriously damage relations with NATO countries. All NATO-Russia meetings are likely to be cancelled and Moscow can reinforce the Zapad 2013 military exercises later this month, designed as a war against Poland and the Baltic states.
Mikhail Aleksandrov, head of the Baltic section of the Moscow Institute of CIS Countries, has proposed that the Russian government respond to “American aggression” against Syria by sending its military into Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. He also contends that Moscow must restore its military control over the entire South Caucasus. By deploying forces where Russia possesses strategic supremacy, it would allegedly make it clear that the West will pay a high price for any attack on Syria.
Such direct military actions are highly improbable. Nonetheless, Moscow could increase various pressures to weaken the security of neighbors that it views as being too close to Washington. This can include positioning Iskander missiles and concentrating troops close to the Baltic borders, engaging in cyber attacks against national governments, aggravating inter-ethnic relations within the Baltic countries through its proxies among the Russian minorities, and cutting energy supplies.
The U.S. may soon face new challenges in Eastern Europe. Vulnerable countries exposed to a more aggressive Russia will call for Washington’s assistance in defending their independence. Obama would then need to respond appropriately in order to preclude any signal that it is unable to defend Europe’s newest democracies.
Washington itself is unlikely to register any rapid success in Syria. Air strikes will be insufficient to dissuade Syrian forces from attacking rebel and civilian targets, and there is no appetite in the U.S. for another costly ground intervention. Western air strikes could also strengthen rebel forces that are more anti-Western than the Assad government and intensify the civil war.
Russian experts have warned that if military intervention in Syria leads to the overthrow of Assad this could presage the break-up of the country, expand terrorist activities in the region, increase threats to neighboring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel, and provoke much more intrusive Iranian involvement.
Regardless of who occupies the White House, America continues to be entangled in a perpetual dilemma between passivity and acceptance of mass murder, on the one hand, or intervention and the danger of even greater regional instability on the other. By contrast, Russia’s authorities exhibit no moral scruples when it comes to defending an ally who murders his own population. After all, Moscow has engaged in far more extensive slaughters of its own citizens in recent history.
A NEW U.S. STRATEGY TOWARD NEO-IMPERIAL RUSSIA
Janusz Bugajski, August 2013
After cancelling his planned summit with President Vladimir Putin, scheduled for early September, President Barack Obama accused his Russian counterpart of displaying a “Cold War mentality.” The same charge has been leveled by the Kremlin at members of the U.S. Congress and at several White House advisers. In reality, the West is no longer waging a global Cold War to contain or roll back the Soviet bloc. Instead, it confronts a regionally assertive Russia seeking to expand its “pole of power,” remove American influence from Eastern Europe, and bully its neighbors into strategic submission within a new Russian imperium.
After four years of toiling to “reset” relations with Moscow, on the assumption that Russia can mature into a strategic partner, Washington needs to fundamentally reassess its approach. In particular, it must deal more intensively with all of Russia’s neighbors who fear Kremlin designs on their independence. To prevent a new Cold War with Russia, Washington must work to strengthen the sovereignty and security of all nearby states and consolidate Europe’s democratic development.
Russian Lessons for Obama
Throughout the Obama presidency relations with former Soviet satellites and new NATO members have been neglected in the erroneous hope that a cooperative U.S.-Russia relationship would preclude any conflicts over the eastern part of Europe. Hence, Washington did not expend political capital on further NATO enlargement or the active defense of new allies.
The mistaken assumption by Obama officials was that the previous George W. Bush presidency was primarily responsible for the deterioration of bilateral relations with Moscow because of its support for Ukrainian and Georgian entry into the North Atlantic Alliance. Hence, by pushing aside the Wider Europeans and pursuing collaborative links with Moscow in areas of common interest the Russian government would supposedly act as a responsible international player.
Putin perceived Obama’s soft approach toward Moscow as proof of American weakness in the wake of the financial crisis and the exhausting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also saw White House appeasement as an opportunity to pursue the creation of a Eurasia Union that would combine political, economic, and security levers in a new Russian-centered anti-democratic condominium to counter the influences of the EU, NATO, and the U.S.
The new chill in U.S.-Russia relations was provoked by a range of disputes, including the granting of political asylum to an American intelligence defector, Putin’s support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, and escalating violations of human rights inside Russia. Moreover, despite Obama’s fixation on nuclear disarmament, the Kremlin has rejected any further cuts to its nuclear arsenal as its military strategy is constructed around the use of nuclear weapons. These bilateral rifts have exposed White House naivety about Russia’s neo-imperial regional ambitions, its authoritarian political system, and its officially sponsored anti-Americanism.
The strategic consequences of the frostier relationship between Moscow and Washington will directly affect Russia’s neighbors. Until now, they have either complained about U.S. neglect in ensuring security in the Wider Europe or gravitated toward Russia because of America’s evident disinterest and Moscow’s pressures and enticements. If the Obama administration wants to become relevant again in strengthening Europe’s self-determination and democratic development it will need to adopt a three-pronged strategy: buttress the security of the newest NATO members; re-energize the process of Alliance enlargement for those countries that desire to enter; and reengage more energetically with states that feel most vulnerable to Russia’s pressure and seek an outlet westward, particularly an increasingly exposed Ukraine.
Steps Toward a New Strategy?
Immediately after announcing that he was cancelling the planned summit with Putin, Obama invited the three Baltic Presidents for talks at the White House on August 30, ahead of the G20 summit in St. Petersburg. The meeting will cover a broad range of mutual interests, including regional cooperation, defense programs, energy security, cyber cooperation, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Obama will also underscore joint efforts to advance human rights and democratic values in the region, with a clear reference to Russia. The meeting will be a good opportunity to raise other pressing regional questions, including the future of Ukraine and its relations with the EU.
The three Baltic states, which joined the EU and NATO almost a decade ago, have had conflictive relations with Moscow and continue to express concern over Obama’s push for nuclear disarmament. Russia persistently applies pressure on Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania regardless of their NATO membership, whether by depriving them of energy resources, manipulating the position of ethnic Russian minorities, or engaging in provocative military exercises. At the beginning of August, Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev complained about their NATO accession and claimed that these three small countries actually threatened Russian security. If one were to replace the word “security” with “expansion” in such statements, we would be closer to understanding Russia’s real ambitions.
Moscow is growing increasingly aggressive in its neighborhood and challenging the security of NATO members. Russia’s Zapad 2013 exercises in September will resemble Zapad 2009, which simulated a conventional war between Russia and NATO over Poland, culminating in the nuclear annihilation of Warsaw. Russia is also building a military air base in Belarus that will figure prominently in future exercises and possible combat operations. Such steps necessitate a more concrete American commitment to the defense of Central-East European through more regular NATO exercises and the construction of national anti-missile systems that would act as a credible deterrent to Russia’s aggressive posture.
Obama has also announced that he will visit Sweden on his way to the G20 summit. This sends a strong message to a country that is considering joining NATO and which has experienced increasing pressure from Moscow to remain neutral. In April, Russian planes provocatively overflew Swedish air space without being tracked by the Swedish military, causing a major uproar in Stockholm about the effectiveness of national defense.
In June 2012, General Nikolai Makarov, chief of the General Staff of Russia’s armed forces, warned Sweden and Finland that any moves to join or develop closer ties with NATO would be construed as hostile actions toward Moscow.Makarov also described the ongoing Nordic-Baltic defense cooperation projects as a potential military threat to Russia.Instead, he claimed that both Nordic countries should develop closer military cooperation with Russia. Such proposals are strenuously rejected by both Helsinki and Stockholm; in fact, sentiments toward NATO entry may grow in the wake of Moscow’s menacing stance.
Makarov 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. Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Simoniak subsequently stated that Warsaw would prefer a return to “good old NATO” and that the U.S. decision to cancel the fourth phase of the European missile defense shield reflected Washington’s unfortunate “hesitation” toward Europe.
Instead of bending over backwards to accommodate Moscow’s staunch opposition to any MD system in the region that Russia’s military cannot control, Obama must confirm that components of America’s Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System will be placed in Poland, Romania, and other states by a date certain regardless of irritating Kremlin warnings. If Warsaw and Bucharest are not cowered by persistent Russian bullying, why should Washington be concerned?
Ukraine and the Wider Europe
Washington must develop a sustained strategy with achievable targets toward the Wider Europe, particularly with former Soviet republics that seek constructive ties with the U.S. Ukraine’s independent stance from Russia needs to be reinforced, Georgia’s path toward NATO bolstered, Belarus’s Western orientation revived, Moldovan territorial integrity ensured, Azerbaijan’s pro-Western position supported, and Central Asia’s ties with the U.S. developed.
Such a comprehensive strategy must be mutually driven and incumbent governments have to be closely engaged in designing its content. The Ukrainian administration needs to perceive the expiration of the U.S.-Russia “reset” as an opportunity to reengage with Washington. A formula will need to be found to remove the most neuralgic disputes with regard to political prisoners and other anti-democratic policies. Despite Ukraine’s stalled political, economic, and security progress, unlike Russia it still qualifies as an emerging democracy and its people desire to be part of a unified Europe.
For his part, President Viktor Yanukovych must put forward credible initiatives to defend his country from Russia’s economic penetration and its political ambitions designed to ensnare Kyiv in the Customs Union and subsequently rope it into the Eurasia Union. Washington must encourage the granting to Ukraine of an Association Agreement and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement at the EU’s Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius at the end of November. Economic development through a Western orientation will provide more effective protection against Russia’s recolonization.
Georgia after its presidential elections in October will need to confirm its commitment to NATO membership through a Membership Action Plan (MAP). The MAP process must then be launched with Tbilisi at the next Alliance Summit scheduled for 2014. Belarus can reduce Moscow’s pressures to sell its national assets to Russia’s state oligarchs by releasing the remaining political prisoners and engaging with the EU to devise association and trade agreements similar to the Ukrainian model.
In Moldova, Washington needs to move beyond the stalemated format of current negotiations and assist Chisinau in forging a joint state. This will require not only coordination with Brussels but also working with nearby countries such as Ukraine to exert pressure on the pro-Muscovite regime in Tiraspol and establish a single Moldovan federation. However, in such a political arrangement central government decisions on national security and foreign policy cannot be blocked by Transnistria.
U.S. relations with Azerbaijan must become more active, as the country remains key for developing security in the Caspian Basin region, whether by supplying alternative sources of energy to Europe, combating international terrorism, or standing up to a belligerent Iran and a threatening Russia. Azerbaijan is also the gateway for more constructive relations with the Central Asian states who remain fearful of Moscow’s pressures to join the planned Eurasia Union.
It may also be time to convene a U.S.-initiated summit with the newest European democracies and with NATO and EU aspirants. This could be hosted in a constructive trans-Atlantic tandem with a reinvigorated Germany following the September elections. The likely victory of Chancellor Angela Merkel will further boost Germany’s voice in EU affairs. Berlin could become a more assertive partner for the U.S. in pursuing the agenda of democratic security for the Wider Europe. Indeed, in recent years Berlin has been more outspoken on Russia’s democratic regression and its regional ambitions than the Obama administration. A high-level gathering will be a valuable opportunity to synchronize policy and gain the inputs of key countries such as Poland and Ukraine in a coordinated approach to consolidate the national security of each European state.
If Obama is serious about restoring America’s pivotal role as the promoter of democratic security then competition, confrontation, and even occasional conflict with Moscow are inevitable. However, Putin’s Kremlin must not be allowed to dictate the foreign and security policies of any European state, whether they are new NATO members, aspiring candidates, or neutrals. The U.S. must encourage their sovereign decisions to partner with and join whatever multi-national organizations bolster their security.Such a sustained strategy will also help prepare the continent for the impending fracture of the Russian Federation, a coming conflagration that is unlikely to be as peaceful as the unraveling of the Soviet Union.
MERKEL’S EUROPEAN WARNING
Janusz Bugajski, August 2013
With Germany’s federal elections only a month away, Chancellor Angela Merkel has issued a stark warning about rising far-right extremism throughout Europe. Although Germany’s neo-Nazis and other ultra-nationalists have little chance of gaining any significant number of seats in the Bundestag elections, the actions of a radical minority may increasingly damage the country’s inter-ethnic relations.
Merkel made a call for vigilance against the ultra-right during a visit to Dachau, one of the first Nazi concentration camps. Surprisingly, she is the first German chancellor to appear in Dachau, where more than 200,000 Jews, Romanies, gays, political opponents, disabled people, and prisoners of war were imprisoned. Over 41,000 were killed, starved, or died of disease before U.S. troops liberated the camp in April 1945.
Merkel’s intent was to deliver a strong message to voters that democracy anywhere is always under threat. She expressed her shame that police needed to be deployed around Germany to prevent the desecration of Jewish institutions. Democracy watchdogs also claim that unofficial summer camps and special schools clandestinely teach youngsters about the glories of the Third Reich. And government officials report that “several thousand” households in Germany are now raising their children to admire the Nazis.
The most significant radical right movement is the German National Democratic Party (NPD), which is currently represented in two of Germany’s sixteen state parliaments but with no seats as yet at the federal level. It appeals to citizens who are frustrated with high levels of immigration and a welfare state that is seen to be catering to foreigners.
However, the more immediate danger lies in non-parliamentary and quasi-terrorist groupings that do not recognize the legality of the current German state and seek to expel all immigrants. German authorities are growing concerned with armed networks that target minorities. Official figures indicate more than 17,000 crimes last year linked with neo-Nazis, 842 of which were violent. There are an estimated 22,000 extremists in the country and the security services believe that nearly half are inclined toward violence.
Public attention is riveted on neo-Nazis in the midst of a trial of Beate Zschaepe, an activist of the National Socialist Underground (NSU), which conducted a shooting campaign against foreigners for nearly a decade. Two other members of the group committed suicide to avoid capture. Zschaepe is charged with complicity in the shooting of eight Turkish men, a Greek, and a German policewoman in towns across Germany, as well as two bombings in immigrant areas of Cologne and 15 bank robberies.
The NSU terrorist campaign has forced German officials to acknowledge that the country has a more militant and dangerous neo-Nazi movement than previously estimated and is recruiting young people into its ranks. Some politicians have accused the intelligence agencies of being “blind in the right eye” and of focusing so much attention on Islamist groups that they overlook the threat from the radical right.
The high-profile NSU trial is one of the most significant in post-war Germany. The hearings began in May and will continue for several more months. Simultaneously, the German parliament is conducting an inquiry into how the security services failed for so long to link the murders with a neo-Nazi network. The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency resigned a few months ago after it emerged that files documenting the use of informers in the far right had been destroyed after the discovery of the NSU.
Germany’s experience with violent radicals may indicate that future challenges to European stability may not emanate primarily from ethnic conflicts and nationalist populism in eastern or southeastern Europe. Instead, nationalist extremism in parts of Western Europe must be closely monitored, especially if economic conditions continue to stagnate and immigrants increasingly bear the brunt of local resentment.
Janusz Bugajski, July 2013
Senior U.S. Senators have suggested a boycott of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in February 2014 unless the American defector Edward Snowden is extradited from Moscow. While President Vladimir Putin has staked his reputation on a successful Olympics in Russia, the biggest danger may not be international boycotts but a precarious security situation and potential terrorist attacks.
In recent days, Chechen insurgent leader Doku Umarov has urged his followers to prevent or disrupt Russia’s Winter Olympics. Umarov controls an Islamist guerrilla grouping styled as the Caucasus Emirate. It aims to carve out an autonomous Islamist caliphate across the region and claims responsibility for the assassination of local officials, attacks on police, and terrorist bombings of Russian civilians.
However, opposition to the Sochi Olympics is not confined to Chechen Islamists. Above all, the Back Sea region where the Games will be held is the traditional home of the Circassian people, who were massacred and “ethnically cleansed” by Tsarist forces in the 1860s. Sochi itself is the location of mass murders and forced deportations.
Historians credit Russia with inventing the strategy of modern “ethnic cleansing” and genocide. The Russians drove the Circassians from their homeland and exiled them to the Ottoman Empire. At least 600,000 people were massacred or starved to death, while hundreds of thousands were forced into exile. By 1864, three-fourths of the population was annihilated and the Circassians had become one of the first stateless peoples in modern history.
Circassian populations in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan are believed to number over four million and Russian authorities are blocking any large-scale return of this diaspora. Nonetheless, the campaign for international recognition of the Circassian genocide is gaining momentum. It is also feeding into growing calls for independence from Russia.
Activists are pressing for the reunification of three Circassian-inhabited republics in the North Caucasus: Adygea, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachaevo-Cherkessia. This would entail the break-up of the latter two regions and a formation of a new autonomous unit as a first step toward Circassian independence. Such territorial claims will make the region increasingly ungovernable for Moscow.
Conditions throughout the North Caucasus continue to deteriorate as armed clashes, assassinations, and bombings are spreading. The escalation of guerrilla terrorism is a direct response to Russian state terrorism following the stifling of Chechen independence and the murder of tens of thousands of civilians by Russia’s military and security services.
In addition, the entire region is characterized by corrupt and abusive local governments, high rates of unemployment, and widespread poverty. All these factors exacerbate opposition both toward Moscow and the republican authorities. Terrorist attacks in combination with local conflicts over territory, statehood, and Islamic religious authority, have escalated into regional insurrections.
In the past decade, Chechen nationalism has been transformed into a pan-Caucasian insurgency in which guerrillas from various ethnic groups engage in acts of terrorism and the Circassian-populated republics are increasingly affected. The more ruthlessly the Kremlin tries to stamp out separatism, the more likely that Russia will fracture and lose the North Caucasus altogether.
When Presidents Obama and Putin meet at the G20 summit in St. Petersburg in early September, the U.S. President should demand that Putin open up the North Caucasus to Western reporters, analysts, and human rights campaigners, as a prelude to the Olympic Games. Following the Boston bombing, it has become clearer that the region’s instability also directly affects Western interests.
For its part, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) should inform and educate the attending athletes from around the world that the Games will be held precisely in an area where horrific war crimes that qualify as genocide were perpetrated only 150 years ago.
Janusz Bugajski, July 2013
The reignited Egyptian revolution presents major challenges for the theory and practice of democracy promotion. It also highlights the policy dilemmas for Western governments and questions the entire premise of an “Arab Spring.”
In Western perceptions, the “Arab Spring” uprisings were supposed to herald the dawn of pluralism and democracy after the overthrow of secular dictatorships across North Africa and the Middle East. The relatively peaceful changes in Egypt and Tunisia allegedly signaled that every nation was capable of realizing its democratic aspirations. The Arab world was simply following the Slavic world from autocracy to liberty.
However, recent events in Egypt have posed difficult questions for democracy promoters and the proponents of peaceful transformation. Egypt not only exemplifies a struggle between dictatorship and democracy, but also a battle between modernity and an archaic interpretation over the role of religion in a 21st century political system.
Following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in 2011 in the largest and most powerful Arab state, it appears that liberal democracy cannot be easily grafted with political Islam. The Egyptian elections in 2012 were supposed to signal the institutionalization of democracy. Few foresaw that radicals would be capable of using the ballot box to pursue the transformation of the country into a single-party state based on religious principles.
The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which gained nearly half of the seats in parliamentary elections, has sought to establish its monopoly in all state institutions. This alienated a broad section of secularists and even its religious opponents. Activists of the Tamarud (Rebel) movement launched a petition demanding President Mohammed Morsi’s resignation, which culminated in massive nationwide protests and a military coup
The secular army grew alarmed about political and sectarian polarization and clerical interference in politics while the economy was rapidly deteriorating. Although the generals sought to prevent civil war, their actions have sparked civil conflicts that may further split Egyptian society. The FJP has called on Egyptians to stage an uprising to restore Morsi, while the Tamarud movement will back the military to eliminate the Islamist threat.
U.S. officials exhibit confusion in their response to Egypt’s turmoil. President Barack Obama cannot simply approve of a military coup against an elected government and call it democratic progress. On the other hand, he cannot condemn the military takeover, which appears to have the support of a slim majority of the population, against growing autocracy by the previously elected government.
Even Senator John McCain, a key supporter of democracy and an outspoken opponent of military interference in politics, admits that Washington is in a quandary. Does it suspend $1.5 billion in annual aid to its most important Arab ally until a new constitution is passed and elections held, or would this further destabilize a highly precarious situation?
American officials have assumed that Islamist parties can be enticed into supporting liberal democracy through their inclusion in the process. They did not envisage the possibility that elections can be used by Islamists to legitimize their archaic programs, especially when much of the public remains conservative and traditional.
And of course in the streets of Cairo, the Islamist radicals now claim that they are the only true democrats as the secularists and liberals support military coups. Naturally, they accuse the U.S. of double standards and of being anti-Islamic.
Morsi’s overthrow underscores the widespread misinterpretations of the Arab Spring. Revolutions are not singular events but long-drawn out processes whose outcome cannot be predicted. In the absence of any credible political formula that satisfies both sides, the struggle between secular modernism and clerical reactionism will continue to rage across the region.
ALBANIA’S CRUCIAL ELECTIONS
Janusz Bugajski, July 2013
Every election is important, but the consequences of Albania’s parliamentary ballot is critical for the country’s future. The landslide victory by the Socialist Party-led coalition can accelerate Albania’s progress toward EU integration, but the new government will also face significant economic challenges.
On the eve of the balloting, Tirana stood poised between progress toward EU membership and slipping into a grey zone status on the periphery of the European project. Since its first open elections in March 1991, Albania has never held a ballot that was deemed fully democratic by international observers. Another failure would have been a disaster for the country’s aspirations.
Albania applied to join the EU in 2009 but unlike its neighbors it has still to gain candidacy status. Whether it succeeds depends primarily on the legitimacy of its elections, the formation of a stable government, and the implementation of a credible accession plan.
Brussels regularly postponed its decision about candidate status for Albania because of fears of instability caused by a deeply polarized and hostile political climate. Election Day itself was marred by one incident of violence but the voting process was reasonably calm and efficient. The OSCE and other international missions declared the voting sufficiently “free and fair” to give their seal of approval.
The elections could not be disputed given the wide margin between the two competing coalitions, with the Socialists gaining 85 out of 140 parliamentary seats. A narrow victory could have brought the entire process into dispute as in previous ballots.
Albanian citizens felt they were stuck in a two party gridlock and a sizeable majority for the new government can help propel the country toward EU accession. It will enable the incoming administration to pursue policies without parliamentary stalemate. However, a super-majority could also encourage the creation of a party monopoly that captures and monopolizes all political institutions. Such a scenario must be avoided if Albania is to stay on track for EU entry
The next important step is the formation of a government that can intensify the process of reform necessary to meet EU standards. However, the new administration will face several pressing economic problems at a time of Europe-wide recession. Although the country has been partially shielded from the EU’s fiscal crunch, the national debt and the budget deficit are rising, GDP is stagnating, investment is down to a trickle, and remittances from Albanians working abroad are decreasing.
To reverse these negative trends, the authorities need to pursue several priorities. Above all, Tirana must ensure a stable political climate that is welcoming to foreign investors. Hence, the stance of the Democratic Party opposition will also be important, whether it will act as a spoiler and create controversies or act as a constructive force for the national interest. Unfortunately, Albania lacks the traditions of a constructive parliamentary opposition.
According to IMF guidelines, Tirana must embark on a sustained economic growth path that will attract international business and stimulate domestic entrepreneurship. It needs to address the constraints that hinder private sector investment, including uncertain property rights, weak enforcement of the rule of law, inadequate physical infrastructure, and pervasive official corruption that discourages business growth.
An effective privatization program, especially in the energy sector, is long overdue. This would increase depleted government revenues, help reduce the public debt, and create employment.
Questions will also be raised whether the outgoing Prime Minister Sali Berisha will step aside from politics after two decades of leadership of the Democratic Party. Although Berisha has little experience of losing elections, a gracious retirement would raise his stature internationally and domestically. It would also signal that Albania has entered a new era.
Janusz Bugajski, June 2013
A year into his third presidential term, Vladimir Putin is facing an economic slowdown that is eroding his popularity. But instead of focusing on restructuring and modernizing the economy, the Kremlin is cracking down on public criticism and opposition. Despite these repressive measures, the edifice of Putinism is cracking and Russia confronts escalating turmoil in the months ahead.
Putin’s first two terms in office witnessed an economic boom based largely on rising energy prices, as Russia became one of the major exporters of fossil fuels. In recent years, falling global demand for Russian energy due to diversification, conservation, and the emergence of new sources has exposed Russia’s fragile economic base.
During his brief tenure as President, Dmitry Medvedev understood that without economic modernization, Russia would be out-competed in the world market. However, Medvedev could not deliver because economic restructuring would necessitate political reform that would in turn undermine the hierarchical structure of power. So instead of economic development, the country entered a prolonged period of stagnation.
Since Putin’s return, public frustration has been visibly mounting. According to a recent poll by the internationally respected Levada Center, 55% of citizens want someone else to be elected president in 2018, while only 26% support Putin. A mere 14% want Putin’s successor to carry on with his policies, while 41% want a new leader with a different strategy. In other words, citizens do not want “Putinism” to continue indefinitely and increasing numbers would like it replaced as soon as possible.
But instead of listening to his public, Putin decided to undermine the opposition movement. Russian prosecutors are now investigating the organizers of anti-Putin street rallies that were organized during the 2012 election campaign. Alexey Navalny, a popular opposition leader who coined the slogan “Putin is a thief,” is on trial for a trumped up charge of embezzlement and could face ten years in prison.
The crackdown on civic society targets NGOs who receive foreign donations. They have to register as “foreign agents” or shut down their operations. According to the Levada Center, such unpopular new laws have resulted in falling approval ratings for Putin. These findings provoked a strong reaction from the Kremlin with prosecutors asserting that the Levada Center itself violated the new law on registering as a foreign agent. As a result, Russia’s only major independent pollster and information center could soon be terminated.
Putin’s popularity has been based on an implicit social compact. People surrender political freedom in return for economic opportunity. However, Kremlin policies are now undermining the foundations of economic growth that helped to preserve Putin’s power. Shrinking state budgets and static or falling living standards will affect ever-larger segments of the population.
The failure to restructure the economy and make it less dependent on fossil fuels has resulted in sharp economic deceleration. Growth has declined to an annualized rate of 1.6% in the first three months of 2013, the slowest pace since the 2009 crisis. With the price of Russia’s oil exports down by 14% compared to 2012, some economists believe the country is entering a recession.
In addition to economic stagnation, Russia confronts a growing list of social maladies. Shrinking economic opportunities and pervasive official corruption encourage an army of young people to emigrate. Between 2008 and 2011 over 1,250,000 Russians emigrated, more than the exodus after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Surveys indicate that 21% of Russians want to leave, compared with only 5% in 1991 when the USSR collapsed. Emigration has become a safety valve as antagonism toward Putin escalates among young people, professionals, and intellectuals. This brain drain in turn further erodes Russia’s potential for modernization.
Demographically, Russia faces a disaster with a rapidly aging population and declining birth rates. While people in most industrialized countries have increased their life expectancy, in Russia deteriorating health conditions result in accelerating depopulation. Between 1993 and 2010 the population fell from 149 to 142 million people. If current trends continue, the total in 2050 will be between 100-107 million and Russia will slip to the status of a medium sized state.
Citizens are also beset by serious health problems as a result of high rates of smoking, alcohol consumption, and HIV/AIDS. More than two million men are HIV positive, and the epidemic shows no signs of abating. 80% of those infected with HIV are under 30, and the epidemic is closely associated with high levels of intravenous drug use.According to the World Health Organization, heart disease, aggravated by alcohol and tobacco, is responsible for over 1.2 million deaths each year.
To revive economic growth, major new investments are needed together with the development of alternative economic sectors. But this in turn necessitates the protection of property rights, an independent judiciary, the curtailment of state corruption, open economic competition, political pluralism, an independent parliament, administrative decentralization, and freedom of speech. All such steps are anathema for the Putin regime.
Since he retook power, Putin has exacerbated the most negative aspects of the system, including strict control over the economy, electoral manipulation, censorship in the state-control media, and the persecution of political opponents, entrepreneurs, and liberal economists who criticize his regime. Instead of deep reform and investment in non-energy sectors, Putin is focused on preserving power and blaming domestic opponents and Western capitals for undermining Russia. Paradoxically, the more that Putin is officially depicted as indispensible for Russia, the more he will be blamed if the economy nosedives and the country begins to implode.
NORTH CAUCASUS IN TURMOIL
Janusz Bugajski, May 2013
The terrorist bombings in Boston on April 15 turned the international spotlight on Russia’s volatile North Caucasus region. President Vladimir Putin has tried to capitalize on the Boston attacks to justify his policy in the Caucasus and gain U.S. support for Moscow’s pacification campaigns. And while Moscow and Washington discuss enhancing their cooperation in counter-terrorism and intelligence sharing, President Barack Obama must pay greater attention to the causes and consequences of the North Caucasian conflict if Western interests are to be defended.
From Crisis toward Separation
The victory in Chechnya announced by the Russian government in the spring of 2009 turned out to be a pyrrhic triumph. In reality, the conflict has spilled over into several neighboring North Caucasian republics. Despite Moscow’s assertions, conditions throughout the region continue to deteriorate, as armed clashes, assassinations, ambushes, and bombings are now almost daily occurrences.
The escalation of guerrilla terrorism is a direct response to Russian state terrorism following the stifling of Chechen independence and the murder of tens of thousands of civilians by Russia’s military and security services. Chechen nationalism and separatism have been transformed into a pan-Caucasian insurrection in which religious and nationalist radicals from various ethnic groups engage in acts of terrorism across the region.
Moscow bears enormous responsibility for fanning radicalism and violence through its brutal counter-terrorism operations in which entire villages were targeted for repression and family members of suspected insurgents continue to be kidnapped, tortured, and killed. Collective punishment continues to be exacted on communities if security forces suspect that a village has harbored any gunmen.
In such conditions, militant jihadism has provided a mobilizing ideology across ethnic lines, where the systematic callousness of the state toward civilians has fueled vendettas and recruits for insurgency movements. In what has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, the more ruthlessly the Kremlin tries to stamp out separatism, the more likely that Russia will fracture and lose the North Caucasus altogether.
Contributing to the growing mayhem, each of the North Caucasus republics is plagued by corrupt and abusive officialdom, high rates of unemployment, limited business investment, widespread poverty both in urban and rural areas, and the breakdown of social services. All of these factors exacerbate opposition both toward Moscow and the Kremlin appointed republican authorities that are not democratically accountable to the local populations.
Terrorist attacks, in combination with local conflicts over territory, political power, and Islamic religious authority, are escalating into regional insurrections. The growing insurgency is compounded by numerous territorial disputes between and within republics. Inter-ethnic-conflicts over land ownership, resources, and government representation have intensified since the beginning of the decade. They also place Moscow in a perilous position of either favoring one side in a dispute and alienating its rivals or avoiding involvement and thus further undercutting its influence in the region.
In addition to insurgencies in the republics of Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia, Russia confronts a growing Circassian national movement in the western part of the region involving Abkhaz, Adygean, Kabardin, and Cherkess populations increasingly demanding self-determination. The Sochi region, the site of the February 2014 Winter Olympic Games, historically belonged to various Circassian groups before the genocide and expulsions perpetrated by Russian Tsarist forces in the 1860s.
Activists in Russia and abroad are seeking to reinstate Circassia on the map of the Caucasus and have called on all Circassians to declare a single identity and press for the reunification of three Circassian-populated republics: Adygea, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachaevo-Cherkessia. This would entail the break-up of the latter two republics and a formation of a new autonomous unit as a potential first step toward Circassian independence.
Competing territorial and political claims will make the entire region increasingly ungovernable and Moscow’s attempts at “normalization” will prove prohibitively costly and ultimately unworkable. The escalation of inter-communal clashes and moves toward self-determination in the North Caucasus can also encourage revolts against Moscow in other parts of the Russian Federation, such as the heavily Muslim Middle Volga republics of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.
The Threat of Russian Nationalism
Paradoxically, the chief threat to the future of the Russian Federation and the inclusion of the North Caucasus within its over-extended borders may be Russian nationalism. The manipulation of Serbian nationalism in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s demonstrated how mobilization for the allegedly repressed rights of one ethnic group alienates other nationalities and mobilizes competing nationalisms. The slogan “Russia for the Russians” is becoming more commonplace, and if taken to its logical conclusion it will fracture the country. Russia simply cannot be a national state and a multi-national empire at the same time.
The Russian ethnic component in the North Caucasus has been steadily declining since the collapse of the Soviet Union and Russians now form shrinking minorities in all seven republics. Between 1989 and 2002, the percentage of ethnic Russians in the overall population of the region decreased from 26 percent to 12–15 percent, or from 1.36 million in 1989 to about 940,000 in 2002. Meanwhile, the indigenous populations have grown from 66 percent to 80 percent, or from 3.5 million to 5.3 million. The exodus of Russians from the region continues to accelerate and some analysts estimate that the Russian ethnic component will fall to under 2 percent within the coming decade, while the Muslim birth rate continues to climb.
According to recent censuses, ethnic Russians constitute under a third of the population of the entire North Caucasus Federal District, although this also includes Stavropol krai where Russians form a substantial majority. As a result of negative demographics, Moscow will find it difficult to mobilize Russian nationals for purposes of self-defense and state preservation. However, it can manipulate inter-ethnic disputes in the region to pose as a benevolent mediator or an essential presence to prevent outright war. It may also play the role of Serbia within the defunct Yugoslav federation by pushing for border changes among the republics or territorial mergers with neighboring Russian regions on the pretext of defending Russian ethnics or local pro-Moscow ethnic populations.
Even in the predominantly Russian region of Stavropol krai, the Muslim North Caucasian population is growing. This has provoked Islamophobia among ethnic Russians and resulted in several violent clashes. It has also called into question Moscow’s policy of including Stavropol in the North Caucasus Federal District. As conflicts escalate an increasing number of Russians will have serious doubts whether trying to maintain control over the North Caucasus is worth the price in blood and treasure.
Moscow’s Self-Defeating Counter-Terrorism
Russian counter-terrorism has created the very enemy that Moscow was supposedly seeking to eliminate. According to Jacob Kipp, a leading expert on the Russian military at the University of Kansas, the Russian army is more prone to commit war crimes than Western forces because they have a tradition in which every war is a “total war:” Hence, there are no limits in terms of casualties, reprisals, human rights violations, and the brutal treatment of prisoners. Russian forces are renowned for their use of torture, rape, looting, and gratuitous acts of violence that remain unpunished.
To defeat the insurgent threat in the North Caucasus, Kremlin strategy has combined outright force, economic assistance, and the installation of loyal regional leaders, such as the Chechen regime of Ramzan Kadyrov. However, this policy has only provided superficial stability and increased public disaffection as massive funds are pumped into Grozny and disappear into the coffers of an opaque government. Even Kadyrov’s forces are not fully subordinated to the federal government and their loyalty to Moscow will remain uncertain after the demise of Putin and Kadyrov. Indeed, they may become the spearhead for a new war of Chechen liberation against Russia.
Moscow itself established a significant precedent for separatism in the former Soviet republics in August 2008 by recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the breakaway territories of Georgia, as independent states after its invasion and conquest of these regions. This precedent can be used to justify and legitimize the partition of Russia itself, particularly throughout the North Caucasus.
A number of national groups can insist that the principle of statehood for Abkhazia and South Ossetia should now apply to them and this could stoke conflicts with neighbors, minorities, as well as the federal government. Moscow itself faces a potential conflict with Abkhazia regarding the extent of the region’s long-term political and economic dependence on Moscow and its drive for full sovereignty.
The Limits of U.S.-Russian Cooperation
After the terrorist bombings in Boston, the Russian and U.S. presidents announced that they would intensify their cooperation in counter-terrorism. Unfortunately, there are two fundamental problems with such an agreement. First, Russian and American counter-terrorism operations are based on radically different principles, and second, President Putin’s regime itself engages in state terrorism against unarmed civilians.
U.S. law enforcement agencies avoided any bombings or shootings in the Boston neighborhood where one of the terrorist fugitives was hiding. The objective was not to harm unarmed civilians or to unnecessarily destroy property. Russia’s equivalent would have been a massive bombing operation to eradicate the location. A few hundred civilian casualties would have been dismissed as unavoidable upon declaration of victory.
Moscow’s reckless strategy was evident when Russian security forces stormed a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, in September 2004, where 380 children and teachers held by terrorists perished, as well as the gassing of 130 civilians in a Moscow theater by Russian special forces in October 2002 to eradicate terrorist hostage takers.
There are two principal reasons for the Kremlin’s counter-terrorism outreach to Washington. First, Putin is intent on using the camouflage created by the Boston attacks to try and suppress Islamic rebels in the North Caucasus with American approval and support. The Kremlin’s objectives are served by depicting the two radicalized youths who perpetrated the Boston bombings, and with family connections to Chechnya and Dagestan, as the embodiment of “international terrorism” and a common threat to Russia and the U.S.
Second, Moscow is signaling that any planned disruption of the February 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in the North Caucasus, on which Putin has staked his reputation, will be pre-emptively dealt with and the Games will proceed without incident. He wants to avoid boycotts and cancellations at all costs and needs to create the impression of stability and normalcy.
An even more ominous possibility revolving around Boston should also be considered: that the Kremlin wants to promote Islamist terrorism in the U.S. in order to move the spotlight away from its own internal wars. One of the Boston bombers spent several months in Russia during 2012 and may have received militant indoctrination. It also remains unclear whether he acted alone or was recruited by Islamist terrorists or by Russian secret services. The fact that Russian agencies did not share important intelligence data about the bomber with the FBI may indicate their passive or active encouragement of terrorist acts on U.S. soil.
Leaders of the main Islamic insurgency movement in the North Caucasus, the Caucasian Emirate, who do not shy away from claiming credit for terrorist attacks, deny that the Boston terrorists were linked with any North Caucasian guerrillas. Instead, they have pointed the finger at the Kremlin. Russia’s special services are not averse to recruiting alienated youths from the North Caucasus to serve their purposes in infiltration, assassination, and other special operations.
The likelihood of any involvement or intervention by outside powers or multi-national alliances in the North Caucasus remains negligible, unless the conflicts were to destabilize a broader region. Conflict and war within the North Caucacus is unlikely to draw in the U.S. or the Europeans in any international efforts at diplomatic mediation or peacekeeping. Such initiatives would be seen as challenging Russia’s territorial integrity and could precipitate a direct conflict with Moscow.
However, a spillover of armed clashes into the South Caucasus could impact more directly on Western interests, especially if the Georgian or Azerbaijani governments were to appeal for outside military assistance to protect their sovereignty and territorial integrity. This could place Washington on a collision course with Moscow.
The Kremlin has tried to isolate the North Caucasus and limit the influence of Georgia and Azerbaijan in the region. It also seeks to establish greater control over Tbilisi in order to undercut Georgian connections with Russia’s southern republics. Local experts believe that Russia is ultimately unable to control the North Caucasus unless it also dominates the South Caucasus. Developments in Georgia since the election of the Bidzina Ivanishvili government in October 2012 have left the North Caucasians uncertain about future Georgian support. Paradoxically, this may further radicalize populations in the region, as insurgents are likely to seek greater help from Islamic countries and other Muslim insurgency movements.
The aspiring countries that can emerge in the North Caucasus in the coming years from a fracturing Russian Federation will become contested states. They are unlikely to be accepted into international institutions or gain recognition as independent countries. They would remain as “frozen states,” acknowledged by a handful of countries but with unresolved domestic disputes or ethnic and territorial conflicts with neighbors.
The process of fracture in the North Caucasus will have a direct impact on neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan. It could lead to a number of destabilizing scenarios, whether through spillovers of armed conflicts, refugee outflows, or Russian military attempts to use or even seize territory in the south Caucasus. Russia may exploit the opportunity of its own looming fracture to undermine the territorial integrity of its neighbors and divert attention from its own failings. Conversely, some of the fracturing federal units may gravitate toward Georgia and Azerbaijan and seek their support against Moscow.
A spreading conflict will also affect a range of Western interests. An unstable Georgia would jeopardize energy supplies from the Caspian Basin to Europe, it could draw Turkey (a NATO member) into the conflict, it could provoke a new war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, and it could even draw Iran into the spreading unrest.
When Presidents Obama and Putin meet on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland on June 17-18, the U.S. President needs a more vigorous and creative approach toward the Caucasian region to avoid being seen as a cheerleader for Moscow’s repressive and regressive policies. Above all, he should demand that Putin open up the North Caucasus to Western reporters, analysts, human rights campaigners, humanitarian bodies, and government officials, so that Washington can better understand the extent of the regional threats. Following the Boston bombings, it has become clearer that instability in the North Caucasus and the predicted fracture of the Russian Federation directly affects Western interests.