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Post Riga Summit – Disappointments yet to come

May 22, 2015

Much has been offered in the media and academia relating to disappointments for Ukraine (and Georgia) at the on-going Riga Summit.

With regard to Visa-free, which both nations, rather too hopefully considering how they benchmark against the required standards, were hoping to get definitive start dates.  In reality, further assessments are likely in the Autumn with a more realistic Visa-free arriving for Georgia by the year end/Spring 2016 and for Ukraine in the summer/autumn of 2016 – fully dependent upon the remaining work being done by both nations, rather than promised to be done.

That being so, even with approximated dates if mentioned aloud and publicly by EU leaders, (albeit no dates being offered in Summit declarations), does not amount to a washout.  It at least would remove the current Kremlin theme that Georgia and Ukraine (not forgetting Moldova that is already Visa-free) offer nothing to the EU, and the EU is not that bothered, despite its rhetoric, about these nations either.  (Russia, however, offers the EU much more by inference.)

Fuzzy, woolly text and words acknowledging “European aspirations” are likely to be the lowest common denominator wording by consensus relating to any potential EU Membership in the decades ahead – and it will be decades as anybody that understands EU budgetary cycles and the costs of enlargement knows.  That is notwithstanding “politics” and “vested interests” of some Member States.

Indeed the Riga Summit itself may not be as disappointing as the aftermath of the Riga Summit.

It is in the aftermath that The Kremlin is likely to try and drive wedges into cracks, and link issues that are currently not linked, in order to get its way in Ukraine.

If the EU and its leaders are wise enough to orate (if not write down) an approximate Visa-free date, be it Summer or Autumn 2016  for Ukraine, that is likely to be both close enough on the calendar, and incentive enough for the Ukrainian population, to insure its continued (and perhaps reinvigorated) desire for those European values of rule of law, consolidated democracy etc.  In short a carrot that every Ukrainian could eat should they chose to when it is served in the not to distant future.

With regard to disappointments, to be brutally frank, it is the aftermath of the Riga Summit, despite any rhetoric that comes tomorrow, that is the concern.

A tailored approach to the EaP nations makes sense, and indeed the policy should be reshaped to account for who seeks what, and attempt to accomplish that as fully as is possible in the years that follow.  However, one has to be concerned that such tailoring will occur when some EU Member States may allow the shadow of the Kremlin to directly or indirectly set parameters upon any such individual planning.  In short, appeasement during a convenient bureaucratic planning phase, prior to plan publication.

Whether this is blatant, or whether it is subtle, matters little.  What matters is whether it is allowed to occur, and by default, allow The Kremlin to set the parameters on EU (foreign) policy/national policy.

There is also, as a possible Iran deal is upon the immediate horizon, Kremlin induced linkage.  Likewise Syria, North Korea and whatever else The Kremlin feels it can link, in particular to, EU-Ukrainian integration which remains a priority to frustrate and negate.

As it appears that President Obama’s only notable foreign policy “win” after two terms in office may be a deal over and with Iran, how likely is it concessions will be made over Ukraine, and pressure thereafter put on Kyiv by the US to accept “peace at any cost” even if it means its own dismemberment- a situation not dissimilar to the pressure put upon Czechoslovakia in 1938 when “accepting” its salami-ing.

Any refusal by Ukraine to accept “peace at any cost” would be spun as undermining the authority of France and Germany (and the USA) naturally.

Of course the military issues in eastern Ukraine will be allowed to boil over immediately before (as an additional lever), or after (as a reprisal), any diplomatic offensive by The Kremlin with the USA, EU, Germany or France.  This, after all, a long practiced pattern throughout the war in Ukraine’s east whenever “talks” have taken place.  Bets upon military action if/when EU sanctions are rolled over to the year end?

In short, for those who felt Minsk II was a disaster for Ukraine (and it certainly wasn’t a good deal), then Minsk II is still not good enough for The Kremlin to insure the war ends on its terms – terms that ultimately would forever prevent Ukraine entering any “western clubs” whatsoever at any time in the future.

A full scale war is still a real possibility too – and perhaps not just with/over Ukraine, but involving it nonetheless.

As previously written, the appeasement that the EU nations is accused of by many, is not entirely accurate – at least when compared to the appeasement of 1933-1939 when Europe’s last annexing dictator called the European bluff.  It may have been late, it may have been meek, it may have been consistently reactionary displaying no will to take the initiative – but appeasement is a difficult case to make thus far considering the EU did act.

What happens in the few months following the Riga Summit, however, may make what was meek, late, and reactionary look positively robust even if existing sanctions are (which seems likely) rolled over to the end of 2015.

Consciously or subconsciously allowing The Kremlin to have any input into shaping the much needed, individually tailored EaP national plans going forward, will be a disaster.  A disaster for the nations involved and a disaster for the EU.

Thus, it is not any notional disappointments based upon unrealistic expectations announced (or rather not announced) at the Riga Summit that is of most concern.  It is what happens in the months following the Summit that may prove to hold the biggest disappointments of all.

Issues of “staying the course” are now going to have to be accompanied by issues of political and diplomatic strength and foresightedness to avoid ambush issues of linkage, and of “peace at any cost”.

If, thus far, events and circumstances have been “a test” for the EU and Ukraine – things are going to get a lot more “testier” for the foreseeable future.

Concessions are not necessarily appeasement, but a natural part of any negotiation.  Appeasement is a process of yielding to belligerent demands at the expense of justice, ethics and honour.  Let us hope that all involved manage to keep clear daylight between what constitutes both.  A bad peace is no peace at all – it is an armistice.   A bad faith negotiation is a contract waiting to be broken.  These are all The Kremlin is offering to the EU and Ukraine.

Thus, when arriving at a bespoke EaP plan for Ukraine, let us hope that EU-Ukraine issues take primacy over Kremlin threats and bullying – and not the other way around.  Now is the time for both the EU and Ukraine to be assertive and ambitious in their reform and integration plan.

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