Ukraine, Belarus, the failure of the EU´s Eastern Partnership- Point of No return or New Eastern Policy?

Ukraine, Belarus, the failure of the EU´s Eastern Partnership- Point of No return or New Eastern Policy?

Belarus plays with high stakes. Lukashenko has to prove that he still has control of the country. He is also angry with the Baltic states and Poland for allowing Belarusian politicians to stay who led the opposition to his regime. Above all, Lukashenko wants the EU to recognize his leadership role in the country. He hopes to be able to force the European heads of state and government to speak to him and to recognize him as an equal – which the German Chancellor tried to avoid  in her telephone conversations with Lukashenko by calling him „Mr. Lukashenko“ instead of “ President . He would also have nothing against some EU money – even if it was only used to send migrants home. This has worked for Belarus in similar situations in the past. However, Lukashenko is also feeling the heat in his own country, and he has to maintain order and gain the public’s trust. He sees a way of achieving this in solving the humanitarian crisis on the border. Lukashenko knows that he no longer has the support of the majority of the population for himself. According to a survey by a Russian polling institute published online in October, 59 percent of Belarusians want Lukashenko to be replaced. Incidentally, if Moscow wanted to replace him with another pro-Russian leader, it wouldn’t have to look far: the imprisoned presidential candidate Viktor Babariko, a bank chief with ties to Russia, would be a first-class person. Lukashenko maintains his loyalty to Moscow, but has worked hard to integrate Belarus into the West in order to gain leverage against the Kremlin and options in the event of a Russian economic crisis. The Kremlin is certainly upset that it has invested for years in the project of a military union with Belarus, which has still not been realized. Moscow had to use all possible tactics, including energy issues, to keep Lukashenko from getting too close to the West. With Ukraine largely lost to the West, Russia had to redouble its efforts in Belarus.

The question now arises, however, whether one has not come to a point of no return at which Luakschekow can no longer play the western card, but has now switched to the Russian camp. Lukashenkow is now announcing that Belarus can become the second military deployment front against Ukraine, that he will hold maneuvers with Russia in Belarus against Poland and Ukraine, that he recognizes the annexation of the Crimea not only de facto but also de jure and threatens with the deloyment of Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus, if the US should deploy nuclear weapons in Poland. The USA has no intention of doing so and it is is more of a threat and a pretext for the next coming offenses of a bankrupt despot.

At the moment hardly a day goes by without fresh threats from the Belarusian ruler Alexandr Lukashenko. The source of the statements is the Russian state news agency Ria Novosti: it is gradually publishing excerpts from an interview that its director, state television man Dmitrij Kisselev, recently conducted with Lukashenko in Minsk. On Thursday, the ruler’s quote from the conversation made the rounds that Russian and Belarusian soldiers would hold joint maneuvers in Belarus on the border with Ukraine, „in two stages over the next few months“. He agreed that with President Vladimir Putin, said Lukashenko. The first phase of the exercises will take place „this winter“. It is important for Belarus, which borders Ukraine in the south, to „cover its south“. In the event of a conflict, Belarusian soldiers would go to “war” first, followed by Russian soldiers. „All plans are drawn up.“ The background to this is the Western concern that Russia may be planning another attack on Ukraine and is therefore pulling together troops. The fears are not only directed towards south-west Russia and the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, as deployment areas, but also towards Belarus, so that Ukraine would be attacked not only from the east and south, but also from the north.

In addition, the word “maneuver” is a reminder that Moscow intervened in 2014 under the guise of military exercises in the border area of Ukraine. Belarus is Russia’s partner in the so-called union state, in the Eurasian Economic Union and in the defense alliance ODKB. But Lukashenko succeeded in the Ukraine conflict from 2014 onwards in positioning Belarus as an almost neutral party and in establishing Minsk as a negotiating location. In return, almost all western sanctions against his regime were lifted. Up until the mass protests against his rule last year, the ruler sought an exchange with Washington and Kiev even on defense issues and outlined threats to Belarus from the overpowering partner Russia. It’s over; The western sanctions imposed from 2020 onwards in view of the brutal repression of the protest movement and the forced diversion of a flight to Minsk are tougher than ever, Lukashenko’s traditional “balancing policy” has become impossible. Now the ruler is bringing Belarus into play for the first time as a Russian deployment area: on Monday, at a meeting on national defense, in a war instigated by the West, “Belarus will not remain on the side in Donbass or anywhere on the border with Russia. And it is clear whose side Belarus will support. “ Lukashenko goes beyond expressions of loyalty to Moscow; At the forefront is the statement made to Kisselev that Crimea is not only “de facto” but also “de jure” Russian, which in Moscow was seen as the long-awaited Minsk recognition of the annexation. As can be seen with concern at NATO, it is also about nuclear weapons. On Tuesday, for example, an excerpt from the interview was distributed in which Lukashenko announced that he would propose to Putin „to bring nuclear weapons back to Belarus“ in the event that American nuclear weapons would be removed from Germany under the future federal government and stationed in Poland, for example. .

According to the Budapest Memorandum signed in 1994 (by Lukashenko himself) Belarus had surrendered the Soviet nuclear weapons stored on its territory to Russia and, like Ukraine and Kazakhstan, received guarantees of sovereignty from Russia, Great Britain and the United States. In Moscow, Sergei Ryabkov, the deputy foreign minister responsible for armaments, said that they had „heard the signal from President Lukashenko“ and were examining it. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Lukashenko’s remarks were a „very serious warning“ to the West. In this way, the Minsk ruler becomes part of the Moscow threat towards Ukraine and NATO. Putin’s spokesman also contributed to this on Thursday, who, with a view to a recent appearance by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi, claimed that Kiev was considering bringing back the „Russian region“ of Crimea by force. This is a „direct threat to Russia,“ said Dmitry Peskov. In line with this, the FSB secret service presented three Ukrainians who had spied for Kiev in Russia and had prepared an attack. Such demonstrations regularly illustrate Russian threat scenarios; in this case, the FSB announced that it was seeing “terrorist efforts by the Ukrainian military intelligence service”.

All of this happened in the run-up to a NATO foreign ministerial meeting, which took place in Riga , and at which NATO representatives also met with the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Georgia. Against this background, it is probably no coincidence that the deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, Dmitri Medvedev, described the situation on the Belarusian-Polish border on November 29 as one of the most serious migration crises in Europe, which may have a delayed global impact. Meanwhile, Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Chrenin announced on November 29th that Belarus was planning military exercises with Russia on the southern borders at an as yet undetermined time. In other words, it is not just about migrants, but also about the potential to involve opposing powers in a conflict. Russia is a vulnerable nation. It is not in their best interest to start an argument, but it would welcome an opportunity to play the victim. Moscow’s main strategy is to maintain its buffer zone and prepare for a possible aggressive move by the West. It sees the NATO expansion as a threat to its interests, so that a direct attack by a NATO member would certainly confirm this view. Meanwhile, Russia has developed a soft approach to dealing with the West, using political and economic problems to increase its influence in its buffer zone.However an incasion in Ukraine cannot be ruled out.

Before US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met with Russian Foreign minister Lawrow, Lawrow aired clear warnings:

“Russia tells Nato to back off or face a ‘nightmare’ amid spiralling crisis over Ukraine

Russia said yesterday that Nato expansion into eastern Europe risked plunging the world into a “nightmare” of military confrontation and accused Ukraine of sending more than 100,000 troops to its Donbas conflict zone.

Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, issued the warning before talks in Stockholm yesterday

“The alliance’s military infrastructure is being irresponsibly brought closer to Russia’s borders in Romania and Poland, deploying an anti-missile defence system that can be used as a strike complex,” Lavrov, 71, said. “American medium-range missiles are about to appear in Europe, bringing back the nightmare scenario of a military confrontation.”

While both foreign minister exchanged threats to the other side and Blinken warned of “serious consequences” should Russia invade Ukraine, Biden and Putin want to have a virtual meeting. If this changes anything, deescalates the conflict or even brings some sort of compromise remains to be seen. However Putin already reached one of his goals to become accepted by Biden as a leader of a great power. It would be already be the second meeting while during the Trump era there was no meeting despite Trump´s willingness, only a short inofficial meeting at the sidelines of the G 20 Summit. However the USA declared that Russia would have no say and no veto right against a NATO membership of Ukraine which last time openly was supported by US Secretary of Defense Austin.

The conflict on the Polish-Belarusian border and around Ukraine proves once again that the EU strategy of the “Eastern Partnership” has failed. The Kiev foreign policy expert Mykola Kapitonenko calls on Brussels in his guest contribution „The Eastern Partnership – What is dead can never die“ in the Cicero on November 20, 2021 to rethink its East Policy. Mykola Kapitonenko is Associate Professor at the Institute of International Relations at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kiev and Director of the Center for International Relations Studies.

 “In 2009 the EU launched the“ Eastern Partnership ”project to bring more democracy, prosperity and stability to Eastern Europe. Twelve years later there are fewer and fewer of them in the region. Instead, there are more problems, risks, and threats. The Eastern Partnership is certainly not to blame. For most of the EU Member States, the project was hardly a priority. And the problems in the target states were too complex and had a long history. Notwithstanding this, the European Union needs an instrument to influence the situation east of its borders. And it should be as effective as possible.

Reforms against access to the European market

Originally, the plan consisted of exchanging access to European markets for reforms that would bring the post-Soviet states closer to the standards of democracy and a market economy. If it had worked, the space along the eastern borders of the European Union would have become safe. Mutual dependency and common democratic practices seemed suitable for preventing violent conflicts and helping to resolve the conflicts that already existed in the post-Soviet area. Ten years ago the belief in normative power – the power of European values- was even stronger. But the reality looked more brutal. The magnet of European values was weaker than the interests of the corrupt elites, the power of the oligarchs and the power of geopolitical contradictions. Even in those states that had expressed a desire to join the EU one day – Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine – things did not go well. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus viewed the Eastern Partnership as a purely pragmatic project. European rhetoric has often been used as a carrot for voters: Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych managed to use pro-European rhetoric for over a year to refuse to sign the association agreement at the last minute. The political leaders of the Eastern Partnership countries were ready to talk a lot about Europe but were in no hurry to reform their countries‘ political systems.

The partnership proved counterproductive

Today there is little progress to be recorded. The revolutions and upheavals in Ukraine and the political competition in Georgia and Moldova have not led to a democratic transformation; all of these countries continue to belong to the group of hybrid regimes, and democracy in these countries is largely relative and unsustainable. The situation in Belarus is particularly clear. President Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime has not only not disappeared, it has become even stronger. The Eastern Partnership and the sanctions regime could not prevent this – and only increased Minsk’s dependence on Moscow: The result was the opposite of the original goals.

EP countries are being held hostage to geopolitics

 It doesn’t look any better in the area of security. The mechanisms of the Eastern Partnership have failed to maintain peace in the region. The Kremlin’s particular type of perception and interests have not been adequately addressed, and some countries in the region have been hostage to a large-scale geopolitical confrontation. It looks like this will continue for many years to come. In a sense, the Eastern Partnership has been unlucky over time. The turnaround in Russian foreign policy, often associated with President Putin’s speech at the Munich Security Conference in 2007 and the wars that followed in Georgia and Ukraine, has destroyed the fragile calm that the EU was looking for after the last major wave of enlargement. The Eastern Partnership was designed for a time of peace and competition of standards when the EU had the upper hand. However, she proved helpless in the face of an acute security crisis. The classic threats in the form of armed conflict are not the only ones. Other challenges have intensified in recent years: uncontrolled migration, threats in cyberspace, environmental and humanitarian issues. They usually have to be resolved at the level of bilateral negotiations. The Eastern Partnership is of little use here.

Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine paid a heavy price

 When the stalemate became apparent, Brussels tried to reform the Eastern Partnership. In 2017, “20 goals by 2020” were resolved; and there has been a lot of talk about how nice it would be to develop individual approaches for the quite different countries participating in the project; or at least draw a line between Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, which have signed association agreements, and Azerbaijan, Armenia and Belarus, which do not seek rapprochement with the EU. All of this has not solved the main problems. The main achievements of the Eastern Partnership – the signing of the Association Agreement and visa liberalization – seem to be a thing of the past. Its main positive effect has been to strengthen the role of the EU in foreign trade with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine; however, the price for this achievement has been high and the prospect of further dialogue remains dim. If the Eastern Partnership project is so far from what it was twelve years ago, the EU should reconsider its approach to neighborhood policy (of which it is part), its normative strength and the situation in Eastern Europe. The region needs a new security architecture – and the EU is particularly interested in this. The main problems – the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the energy issue, the policy towards Russia – will require new approaches that take old mistakes into account. „

Ultimately, the question remains whether a Neue Ostpolitik/New East Policy which defines Ukraine as a neutral state that does not belong to either Russia, the EU or NATO, might be a bridge state between the EU and the Eurasian Union would be an option, or whether both sides NATO, EU and Russia will continue to pursue their expansionist efforts and maybe the situation is too far advanced and therefore away for any possible compromise. Russia might even want to incorporate Eastern Ukraine for its Eurasian Union, especially since Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov believes that conflicts such as Ukraine, Syria or Libya can only be resolved when the USA and the West agreed and accepted a new international security and multipolar world order. That means: No New Eastern Policy/ Neue Ostpolitik and solution of regional conflicts, no regional solutions, but only an international solution through a new world order in which Russia is accepted as a great power within the framework of a multipolar world where the regional conflicts are then resolved. And the main address for Russia to come to this constellation is the USA and not the EU or Germany.

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