Is Vladimir Putin Pragmatically Plucking a Little the Eastern Partnership?

Here in the text „Vaccine against Coronavirus Has Been Already ‘Employed‘ in the Front of Politics and Propaganda‘ we reminded of an address of thirteen member states of the European Union (UN) to the European Commission on 6…

Here in the text „Vaccine against Coronavirus Has Been Already ‘Employed‘ in the Front of Politics and Propaganda‘ we reminded of an address of thirteen member states of the European Union (UN) to the European Commission on 6 January, prompting to help provide a vaccine for the states of the Eastern Partnership programme of the EU. The letter was signed by Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovak Republic, and Sweden. Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Belarus are members of the Eastern Partnership.
Not everything there is constructive and optimistic; the post-Soviet environment is controversial, as always. Here is the chronology of some declarations and events at the end of 2020 and the beginning of the current year.
Head of the mission of Ukraine to the EU and Ambassador in Belgium Nikolay Tochitsky in the press conference held on 22 December indicated that the Eastern Partnership programme of the EU had a great potential and the ‘trio’ – Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova were capable to play the consolidated role in it. According to the Ukrainian diplomat, these three countries had done a lot in the sectors of economy and infrastructure projects to ‘attract‘ other countries of the programme.
Ukraine is watching the situation in Belarus as a member of the Organization for Democracy and Economy Development (GUAM, established in 1997, which includes Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova; we should say that recently it is hardly surviving) tries to maintain constructive contacts with colleagues in Azerbaijan, besides it is talking to colleagues in Europe, however without involvement of ‘big politics‘ regarding discussion of the objectives to be sought in the meeting dedicated to Eastern Partnership in the EU.
This meeting dedicated for preparation of 10-year programme actually was planned in March,, however, as a result of the crisis in Belarus the EU had to fundamentally review its relations with this state, the same as the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan for Nagorno-Karabakh may not leave the Eastern Partnership programme unaffected. We should remind that the Eastern Partnership programme was activated in 2009. At first, besides the abovementioned states it also included Azerbaijan.
The Parliament of Georgia on 25 December unanimously supported the resolution of the country ‘s aspiration to become a member of the EU and NATO, which was called an aspiration of the foreign policy of Georgia without any alternatives.
On 28 December Roman Dobrokhotov, Editor-in-chief of the website The Insider that is involved in investigative journalism (together with an international team found out the poisoners of the Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny) told Kiev TV channel that when relations between the Kremlin and US were getting worse, Vladimir Putin was becoming more toxic on the international space, thus eastern Europe (the Balkan countries, Bulgaria and Romania – the ones, although they do not belong to the Euro-Atlantic structures, used to play double games between the East and West) are trying to break all previous relations with Moscow in favour of integration with the EU.
Therefore, Moscow maintains influence of significant number of politicians in Soviet environment. Roman Dobrokhotov recalled the investigation of Moscow centre , after correspondence of the Russian intelligence services was hacked, massive information about manipulated politicians of Moscow and members of parliaments in Georgia, Moldova and other post-Soviet countries was disclosed. For instance, the former President of Moldova Igor Dodon was coordinating his foreign politics and even his public speeches with officials of Russia. According to the Editor-in-chief of The Insider Moscow would not give up such a policy.
In this regard we should remind that in the concept of the foreign policy of Russia announced in 2016 and still implemented, it is specified that the priority of this policy is promotion of integration processes in post-Soviet space. The image of Russian identity as geopolitical power not of Europe but of Eurasia requires definition of its area of interests (vitally important), that is why it has been defined.
Meanwhile Secretariat of the Association of Ukrainian Writers adopted a decision on 30 December not to take part in common events (creative events, round tables and conferences) with colleagues from Russia, Belarus and Armenia as well as not publish their texts in publications of the Association of Ukrainian Writers.
The President of Moldova Maia Sandu, who started her cadence in December and had her first visit to Kiev on 12 January (the previous president Igor Dodon has never gone to Ukraine) indicated that the membership in the EU is a strategic objective of her country. The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, who welcomed the guest, indicated that positions of both countries totally coincide in this regard and that Ukraine and Moldova agreed to continue cooperation.
During the presidential election campaign Maia Sandu avoided to say open criticism to Russia, announced that she supported good relations with Moscow, however not at the account of the EU. She also told that they had to seek regulation of Transnistria conflict by withdrawing Russian forces from this region. The so-called Transnistria Republic of Moldova not controlled by Kishinev and supported by Moscow is one of separatist enclaves (alongside Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Donetsk and Luhansk ‘people‘s republics‘) in the territory of the former USSR that had formed at different time with participation of Russia.
According to a political analyst Arkady Dubnov, Belarus is the last bastion to the Kremlin, which cannot be given to the West by no means, because this would mean the end of Moscow regime. Therefore, in the republic ruled by the dictator Alexander Lukashenko, that has been protesting against him since August, we can expect changes only when Moscow works out the concept of the changes in the government and will be able to ‘select‘ a personality of a new leader, who is loyal to them and who is able to satisfy the protesting civil society of Belarus in order to make at least appearance of independent Belarus.
According to the political analyst, year 2021 will be very hard to the post-Soviet environment because of the democratic crisis in the United States – attack of Capitol Building in Washington on 6 January and its ‘geopolitical halos’ will be particularly painful to the former republics of the USSR that are seeking to democratise, where the Kremlin will try to formulate the rules of the political game to a wider extent.
The politician – a Liberal of the Russian opposition (one of the rare left), a historian by profession Vladimir Ryzkov indicated that in case majority of Belarusians does not accept the regime of Alexander Lukashenko, there is a controversy between this presumption and the fact that instigation of the opposition politician Sviatlana Cichanouskaya to have a general strike failed. It turned out that people are against the regime, however they go to work every morning, pay taxes, and thus support vitality of the regime. He also recalled that the Romanov dynasty of the Russian emperors fell in March 1917 as a result of the pressure of general strikes. Thus, in Belarus and in heroic circumstances of strikes there is a balance between the society and the regime.
On the other hand, if previously Alexander Lukashenko could manoeuvre among Brussels, neighbour.
By the way, Alexander Lukashenko in the Russian public TV channel programme ‘Deistvyjischie lica’ (acting persons) on 10 January managed to state that he had no friends besides the President of Russia, only opponents, who might be even enemies. Also, Vladimir Putin proved this year that he was not his friend, but a friend of the Belarussian nation. Maybe because of that on the first week of January Moscow transferred the common 500 million US dollars to Minsk of the billion and a half that has been promised. By the way, the dictator of Belarus was actively advertised on public TV channels of Russia at the beginning of January. Thus, it is not just the fact that the Kremlin is looking for somebody to replace the dictator.
In the context of what has been described here, a meeting of Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinyan that were fighting for Nagorno-Karabakh and who brought about a cease-fire with mediation of Moscow at the beginning of November in the Kremlin on 11 January would also be considered an undoubtful victory of Vladimir Putin. It means that Russia is the main player in Transcaucasia and no Turkey (an active ally of Azerbaijan) is hiding there. Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinyan did not manage to meet in Ankara, Brussels, even in Washington and flew namely to Moscow to talk to Vladimir Putin.
A quote of experts also exists that in 2020 a new tendency was seen in the Russian policy regarding post-Soviet environment: the Kremlin is watching events and protests in neighbour countries, however it acts quite reservedly. It is most probable because it pragmatically thinks how to maintain influence on post-Soviet environment by using the resources that have been significantly restricted because of COVID-19 pandemic. As Executive manager of Carnegie Moscow Centre Dmitri Trenin indicates that politics and emotions are separated – no special relations or discounts.
Eurasian economic community established on the initiative of Moscow had to include 200 million citizens of the former USSR and thus make a competition to the EU. Integration started because Moscow restricted functioning of this project. The military strategy expert of Russia Yuval Weber from the George Bush School of Government and Public Service in Washington agrees that Russia started saving in the foreign policy.
Meanwhile Vladimir Putin actively supports his colleagues in the former Soviet republics by making use of his personal relations and promises to give some support. Actually, quite often in the style ‘nothing personal, just business ‘. On 28 September the President of Russia met the President of Kyrgyzstan Sooronnbai Zheenbekov and told that Moscow would do everything to support the leader of Kyrgyzstan. After two weeks or so Russia was silent when the President of Russia represented that Sooronnbai Zheenbekov had to resign because of protests.
The need to save invites to act profoundly, however we still have a question whether it will be good in the case of the Eastern Partnership. Moscow will try to keep Moldova, will try to encumber aspiration of Moldova and Ukraine for Euro-Atlantic integration at any cost. It is even silly to ask whether its policy in respect to Belarus will change. Anyway, the Eastern Partnership is becoming of ‘two speeds ‘– Ukraine, maybe Moldova are still for the Euro-Atlantic integration, Belarus, and Armenia – most probably not anymore.
Arūnas Spraunius

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Autorius: Voras Online