Posts Tagged ‘EaP’

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Not in my lifetime

May 25, 2015

Stripping away the rhetoric, the reality of the Riga Summit sets in, and the reality is that the EU seems very pleased with itself for essentially standing still/firm, rather than retreating, before a belligerent Kremlin.  Perhaps rightly so, as The Kremlin begins to work its insurgency within the EU (Greece, Hungary and potential EU Member Serbia, notwithstanding its sponsored political parties, NGOs and business friends across various EU nations).  The EU and its Member States, short of a major Kremlin escalation in Ukraine such as the taking of Mariupol or the introduction of air interdiction, has gone as far as it is collectively going to go regarding Russia.  The leadership burden/baton, has been handed back to the USA as the sole bearer if the West is to go any further in reaction to numerous and accumulating minor escalation.

Meanwhile, a convenient pause under the guise of reassessment of the EaP (and ENP) policies takes place, thus not irking The Kremlin further.  The battle over “rules” between the EU and The Kremlin will switch to lawfare, with Gazprom first up in the EU sights.

As has been written here, and as was tweeted prior to the Riga Summit, it is not the lack of ambition and political will displayed at the summit that was likely to disappoint, for a lack of combined political will and any sort of ambition it was expected.

It is what now follows that may prove to be the most disappointing of all when any new/revamped policy emerges.  Indeed for the three nations that have signed and ratified their respective political Association Agreements and trade DCFTAs, the EaP perhaps offers no major opportunities as a platform any further.

Moldova is already Visa-free, and Georgia and Ukraine seem likely to get it by the end of 2016 – That being if the government of Ukraine (and the Rada) manage to make the few decisions necessary to address the 6 points summarised below.

Visa free

If the government of Ukraine can’t address these points before the end of 2015, thus allowing for Visa-free sometime in 2016, then they are not going to address the far, far more difficult and prickly decisions required to reform the nation by 2020 laid out in the “Presidential Plan”.

In the 12 years the ENP (and 7 years the EaP) have been EU policy, only Tunisia can be reasonably held aloft as a success – though some progress can be claimed with Morocco, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.  The latter three all bringing the EU policy into dramatic conflict with The Kremlin these past 18 months.  Therefore, with regard to the ENP, it can be argued that 1 success from 16 ENP nations is a disaster, or 5 positive work-in-progress from 16 ENP nations is a (barely) acceptable result – particularly in light of the rather lackluster effort put in by (major) European capitals in support of the EU institutions.

That said, if we consider the ENP (and EaP) as “transformational” in character, then transformation and nation-building depend in a large part on the nations themselves actually wanting to transform – and that means the political elite, oligarchy and society acting in concert.  When they don’t, conflict can arise internally – and if you happen to be unlucky enough to live next door to Russia and don’t want it meddling in your affairs, externally too.

Internal conflict avoidance generally, very much depends upon time frames/timeliness, often in exchange for guaranteed/implicit immunities.  In short, the ruling elite releases its grip on power within and agreed time frame, often in exchange for no action for previous acts being taken against them, and the retention of some ill-gotten gains, no questions asked.  This, in turn, occurs in an attempt to insure the “retired” elite remain retired and do not try and “come back”.  Society is the convinced that this is required to achieve their aims, distasteful as it may find the arrangement.

The issue with timeliness is that firstly all must know the timescale, secondly they must accept it, and lastly they must abide by it.  If not, transformation is a rocky road, and consolidation of desired gains far more difficult.  Conflict within and without the rule of law occurs.

Another issue with transformation, and specifically in the case of the “under review” EaP, is that “under review” when faced with Kremlin belligerence, may actually result, not in a more ambitious, tailored policy – but a politically expedient retreat and partial/complete appeasement of The Kremlin as the outcome.  The transformation of this policy may yet be exceedingly negative for those attempting to break out of The Kremlin orbit.

How fortunate it will prove to be that AA/DCFTAs have already been ratified and therefore (theoretically) are far harder to row back from, remains to be seen – for when all is said and done, there is a transformational plan within them that simply need be followed.  A plan in fact, that would take the EaP nations that have ratified, well along the way to reaching a realistic platform from which to initiate their Article 49 EU membership requests and go the remaining distance to meet Acquis Communautaire Chapter requirements – and if Ukraine is to ever become an EU Member, it is likely to have to invoke its Article 49 rights (when it is far closer to meeting the requirements than it is today), rather than be invited in.  It will have to force a “rules based” suprastructure to follow own its rules, whether it likes its own rules or not.

This brings us to the title of this entry – “Not in my life time”.

Without being precise, your author is as close as makes no difference to half a century on this earth.  Certainly of an age where to look back in years takes longer than to look at those that can be reasonably expected to still lie ahead.

With a fair wind (which clearly there isn’t and won’t be for a decade or more whilst Russia is under its current management), it will take Ukraine somewhere between 7 and 10 years to effectively implement the AA/DCFTA.  To then invoke the AQ EU Membership system, and comply with all 31 Chapters therein, on average has taken other nations 7 years (discounting the farce that is the Turkish application) – though Ukraine will have already traveled part of the reformation way.

There is then the matter of the 7 year EU budget cycles which must account for any envisaged enlargement (and enlargement is an expensive process – not withstanding for a nation the size of Ukraine to join, the EU structures themselves need to change, for example some current Member States giving up some of their seats in the European Parliament for the Ukrainian MEPs to take up).  Ukraine will still be implementing the AA/DCFTA when the next 7 year budget is decided upon some years from now.  Thereafter, the following cycle will not account for Ukrainian entry, whilst it tackles the AQ Chapters. It may, but probably not, be in the next budget cycle.  Thus 3.5 EU budget cycles (about 24 years) from now?  Probably.

With smooth sailing, no ill-winds, no one step forward, two steps back Ukrainian politics, no stalling on closing AQ Chapters by certain EU Member States etc – would bring Ukraine at the very earliest to a 2035 (ish) EU membership.  More realistically, 2042 (or even later).  This would make your author approximately 80 (or more) years young – or dead.

Further, by 2042 (or later), whatever the EU is today, it most certainly won’t be the same by then – for better or for worse.  It may, indeed, have shrunk with some current Members having voluntarily (and foolishly) left of their own accord, whilst others may have been forced out/ejected.  Moldova, and perhaps Georgia may be in, as well as the Balkans, as they are not too large to change the EU internally – unlike Ukraine.

The point being, however, Ukraine may simply not want to join what the EU becomes by the time it is truly ready to join.  It may even rebut EU overtures to join by the time we reach  2035 – 2042+.

Otherwise, lest a force majeure incident hit the EU so hard and in such a way that its rules based system is politically expedient in return for the needed additional bulk of Ukraine within its number for whatever reason – Ukrainian entry into the EU?  Probably not in my life time.

That said, despite the EU having little appetite for expansion today, it will ultimately have to expand to remain relevant globally.  1 billion Indians, 1 billion Chinese, would seem to suggest 1 billion (EU) Europeans makes for that multilateral equilibrium.

Within my life time, however, a democratic, rule of law adhering, Visa-free, market economy driven, EU integrated Ukraine?  I expect so – though not for at least a decade, perhaps two, will a consolidated, irreversible “European (values) Ukraine” strut confidently on the continent.

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Avoiding the avoidable whilst doing the necessary (Long time no blog!)

May 18, 2015

Firstly, long time no blogging from your regular(ish) author.  It will take a few entries to “get back into the saddle” no doubt.  As such, a rather long, yet shallow and less than nuanced entry to get matters going once more.  Prepare for some less than erudite rambling, but hang in there dear readers, hopefully the entries will get better over the next few days and return to their previously barely acceptable standard – or not!

An entire month has past since the last entry written here by your author.  Heartfelt thanks to MWDabbs for stepping into fill the void whenever it was possible, whilst a somewhat personal trek across the Mediterranean nations, visiting locations where Grandfathers fought in trenches throughout WWI, and ending up in the UK visiting places like Bletchley Park where your author’s Godmother (and Aunt) worked during WWII – or not WWII, but the continuation of WWI if we consider the words of Marshall Foch in his commentary upon reading the Treaty of Versailles “This is not peace.  It is an armistice for 20 years.” an accurate and insightful statement.

In short, a personal homage of sorts, honouring and remembering family clan members, now departed, for their sacrifices upon the 70th anniversary of the end of war in Europe took place.  It is an adventure the invoked strange, previously unacknowledged, or perhaps better said, under-acknowledged, feelings.  No doubt other readers have had similar experiences for those that have embarked on such a personal journey.  Nevertheless, it was something that it was felt had to be done with the recent passing of the most elderly family clan member at 96 years of age colliding with such a marked international anniversary.

In keeping with this personal adventure, and continuing with the WWII theme recently embarked upon by the “stand-in author” and considering the many comparisons swamping the social and commercial media  of Messrs Hitler and Putin, (and no such comparisons will you find within this blog), and associations of Auschlus, tactical and propaganda parallels proclaimed, acknowledging Mr Putin’s public change of attitude toward the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact etc., – perhaps a little time should be spent – albeit superficially – comparing the political and diplomatic responses in the years prior to WWII officially commencing by the Europeans (and US) and comparing them to the action taken (or not) now.  (Not that WWIII is likely to arise from Kremlin actions in Ukraine (or its neighbourhood) unless things are allowed to spiral out of control very swiftly and the law of unintended consequences takes root in chaos.)

WWII was also labeled “The Unnecessary War” by Winston Churchill when President Roosevelt was seeking a name for WWII.  There was, if Churchill’s suggested name is to be believed, a mammoth amount of unnecessary death, destruction and injury.  Indeed, the annexing and/or severing of parts of nations and “enslaving” part of its populace, notwithstanding all the desirables that can be carted away, hardly ever comes close to the recouping of costs of war.  Pillaging and plundering do not usually change the bottom line from red to black!

If “unnecessary” be the case, then there is a significant amount of failed diplomacy and/or political catastrophe that be responsible for allowing WWII to happen.

Contemporaneous correspondence and speeches clearly identify that there was an almost consistent theme of missed opportunity from almost 1919 until 1935/36 to avoid war – yet war was not avoided.  Thereafter there were yet further opportunities to delay the war, though probably not avoid it, allowing France, the UK etc., time in which, to some degree, a reversal the policy of disarmament per agreed international instruments could and should have occurred.

Suffice to say, numerous treaties between 1919 and 1939 were broken, thrown under a bus, created, circumvented, undermined (eg: Anglo-German Naval Agreement 1935), and simply ignored both bilaterally and collectively, when breaches were made and/or discovered – mostly justified in the name of “peace” (at all costs).

The good faith and integrity that underpins all international instruments vanished amidst stormy domestic political circumstances within France which had an ever-changing political line-up, a willing and deliberate blindness of the UK political leadership under the MacDonald, Baldwin leaderships, not to mention immense and sustained pressure on France to disarm despite the Versailles Treaty insuring, on paper, its right to military superiority over Germany – regardless of known illegal and considerable German rearmament.  This pressure on France continuing far beyond Germany’s surpassing of parity with the UK air forces in the mid 1930’s, and its blatant general large scale militarisation deep into Chamberlain leadership.

After all, collectively, the UK and France until about 1937 held the belief that together they could handle Nazi Germany whilst continuing to disarm individually.  Peace, and with it security, at all costs and by all methods was the aim – and pacifism ruled the roost as the policy to achieve it, even if appeasement of the aggressor was the easiest route to travel at the expense of (some) others.

Disingenuous interpretations of what was offensive and defensive weapons and military numbers abounded within the understandings and interpretations of the Treaty of Versailles.  Similar disingenuous conversations are no doubt occurring regarding what is, and is not, lethal defensive weaponry for Ukraine.  Is a Javelin anti-tank missile a defensive weapon?  Is it necessarily lethal, or whilst disabling a tank, is it only occasionally lethal?  Does it depend upon whether it is fired from a Ukrainian soldier within a fortified line, or an advancing soldier retaking stolen ground?  In short, does it depend upon whether the man with his finger on the trigger is stationary and holding his ground, retreating, or attacking?  Is there truly any lethal weapon that is entirely and exclusively only able to be used defensively and cannot be used in acts of aggression, no matter how less than optimal such use would be?  Semantics is where the European “powers” found themselves then, and quite possibly where the European nations find themselves now over such decisions.

The Rhineland issues were more or less accepted without political or diplomatic fuss – and certainly without significant consequences.

Mussolini gave Nazi Germany a signal as to European (and the League of Nations) weakness when they collectively slapped on deliberately ineffective sanctions upon Italy following its actions in Abyssinia/Ethiopia/Africa – That the sanctions were deliberately weak, was in order to try and prevent Italy swapping sides and joining with Nazi Germany – Do something, but not enough to annoy The Duce.  As history shows, that attempt failed.

The unanswered creation of Manchuria in China by Japan, also sent signals of an unwillingness to tackle clear violations of territorial integrity by the “powers” of the day.  The September 1931 invasion of China by Japan on the pretext of “local disorder” met with no response by the “powers”.  If the UK had maintained its understandings with Japan, instead of severing them at the US request some years earlier, perhaps this incident and the accompanying signal of collective inaction to the dictators in Germany and Italy may have been avoided.  Perhaps not.

Events in Austria? “Germany neither intends nor wishes to interfere in the internal affairs of Austria, to annex Austria, or to conclude an Auschlus”, Hitler 21st May 1936.  “Those aren’t our little green men?”  Mr Putin, February 2014.

After Germany’s puppet. Mr Henlein failed to galvanize sufficient local support in Sudetenland, more coercive and direct bullying tactics were required to achieve and eventually “salami” Czechoslovakia (with no little help from Hungary, Italy, and Poland by its own hand) met with no robust response either – other than collective and individual tutting.

Hitler’s 20th February 1938 speech stated “It was the duty of Germany to protect those fellow Germans and secure to them general freedom, personal political and ideological”.  A repeated meme within Mr Putin’s “Russian World”.  During the early months in The Donbas conflict, echoes perhaps of the early days of Sudetenland, when considering Pavel Gubarev’s equally failed attempts to mobilise the vast majority of the locals, akin to the attempts of Mr Henlein in Sudetenland, forced a more robust, coercive and direct bullying intervention by the respective puppeteers.

In 1938, the European “powers” simply accepted Sudetenland – anything other than doing so may well have brought forward a war they were not prepared for.  Consultations and collective tutting, but no sanctions, no threats of sanctions, and no remotely hostile acts.  Previously wasted and misused time was being bought with European space – unfortunately for those within that effected European space.  Ukraine now pays a similar price.

Indeed the Czechs had no input into the agreement of its “salamiing” amongst the “powers” seeking peace at any costs, and considerable pressure was put upon it to accept the result in the name of continental “peace”.  It’s dismemberment perhaps being ably assisted by France wriggling out of its guarantees to the Czechs “in the circumstances” obliged under the Locarno Treaty.  A notable act of integrity and honour was that of the French General Faucher, so affronted by the French actions/inactions, that he left the French Army, and took up Czech citizenship should fighting begin.

The Baltics, Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia that were also party to French obligations under the Locarno Treaty, rightly trembled.

The message ultimately sent by France failing to robustly uphold its obligations and commitments, undoubtedly being received in similar fashion to that of those now looking at Ukraine and pondering the wisdom of nuclear non-proliferation/disarmament, or the robustness of existing security treaties previously unquestioned.   It is probably fair to say that whilst the Baltics, Poland and Romania are hardly trembling today, Kremlin actions in Ukraine have certainly caused their “unsettling” – though those responsible for the security pacts within which they sit have tried, and vocally reaffirmed, their preparedness to honour obligations to them, unlike 1938.

However, when push comes to shove, what should we expect?  Indeed, what faith in Article 5 if it is ever tested in the Baltics?  What exactly constitutes an act of aggression sufficient to activate Article 5 these days?  More importantly – what doesn’t?

Further, is there a common understanding and position taken by all European nations regarding the interpretation of Minsk?  The Kremlin and the US undoubtedly have their own interpretations of Minsk – but they are single actors where positions are more easily reached.  What of the collective European capitals?  Do they share an interpretation of Minsk?  How closely aliened is it to the Ukrainian or US interpretation of Minsk?  How accepting are they of the Ukrainian interpretation of Minsk?  What next, as and when the Ukrainian border is not returned to Ukrainian control and secured?  1930’s styled acceptance and appeasement, simply no further action whilst maintaining existing measures (which most including The Kremlin would interpret appeasement), or a meaningful response?

Ukraine, now of course, following the interpretation of Budapest Memorandum, knows very well what it feels like to have those “powers” whom give assurances, being quite prepared to wriggle out of the spirit of such documents, abiding only by the narrowest politically expedient possible legal interpretation of the actual text.

Ukraine, unlike 1930’s Czechoslovakia, has however, been most certainly included in talks by the Europeans and USA over its own possible “salamiing” at Russian instigation.  Indeed, whilst western reaction has been slow, reactionary and generally meek, unlike events leading to the commencement of WWII, there has been a unanimous decision not to recognise any annexations or proclamations of independence from the very outset that would undermine the officially recognised territory of Ukraine, and numerous international instruments too – and thus, some form of action/reaction.

Indeed, the USA, perhaps due to, and in penance for its rather expedient interpretation of the Budapest Memorandum, not withstanding witnessing international law being cast aside by The Kremlin, has been politically and diplomatically engaged from the very start in Ukraine when armed Kremlin aggression presented itself.  The same cannot be said of WWII – though it has to be said President Roosevelt did, in January 1938, try to intervene politically and diplomatically to prevent the war, by offering to host and partake in a conference between the UK, France, Germany and Italy – an attempt shot down by Neville Chamberlain who was pursuing his own plan to separate Italy from Germany by de jure recognising Italian annexation of Abyssinia in return for a change in Italian alignment.  The rebuttal to President Roosevelt was sent in Chamberlain’s 12th January letter, despite the previously isolationist US quite possibly being able to radically change the equations of the dictatorial European powers involved – an equation the US did indeed, eventually change when it entered the war.

As mystifying as Chamberlain’s actions were (and remain), at least the UK was at the forefront of seeking solutions (even if at peace at any cost and thus poor solutions).  Today, a sign perhaps of the continuing slide in the UK’s ethics and integrity – not to mention clout – upon the international stage, whilst diplomatically the UK may well remain a solid institution within the walls of UK Embassy Kyiv, respected and engaged with by the Ukrainian elite, politically no attempt to lead the way was made over Ukraine.  By default both France and Germany were left to pick up the leadership gauntlet and make a political and diplomatic leadership stand with the US.

As an (interesting) aside, during the ten day period your author was in the UK (5 – 15 May), Ukraine was mentioned but twice on the BBC news.  Firstly when reporting (for about 30 seconds) upon the Russian military parade which “took place in the shadow of events in Ukraine”, and secondly a 15 second acknowledgement of FM Lavrov/Secretary of State Kerry call for “all sides to show restraint”.  That was it – Nothing else.  A dozen words over 10 days, and through a Russian lens – Pitiful!

(Equally as shocking, Syria and Yemen got no mention whatsoever during those 10 days either.  International news via the BBC for the UK domestic audience has clearly decayed far beyond anything approaching “meaningful”, following the long coma it has suffered since Tony Blair began to muzzle it in the wake of the Iraq debacle and David Kelly affair.  The dumbing down of the nation via the public institutions continues.  The two main and repeated international news stories being reported by the BBC news were the second Nepal earthquake, and the saving of asylum seekers in the Mediterranean by the flagship of the UK navy, accompanied by the fact the UK will refuse to take any migrants despite EU proposals to “share the burden”.  Apparently there was no other international news whatsoever of any importance!

Back on topic, despite Von Ribbentrop telling Churchill face to face in 1937 that Nazi Germany intended to enter and annex Belarus and Ukraine, the then UK political leadership continued to believe one broken promise after another regarding territorial claims issued by Herr Hitler at the expense of nations far closer to Germany.  Quite how and why such statements by Von Ribbentrop were ignored, and quite how the UK political leadership expected Nazi Germany to invade these nations without going through others en route is a matter of some pondering.

A shelf-life of the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact there obviously was from the moment it was signed – Another agreement made to be broken.  To the point however, in 1937, there was again no meaningful political or diplomatic action taken to dissuade Germany from such an adventure.  The UK and France “consulted” – nothing more.

In 2014, both the US and Europeans did at least make known more sanctions would follow if further territory was taken – albeit when this year further territory was taken in Debaltseve, no further sanctions came.  Perhaps unsurprising, as many onlookers recognise the European unity over sanctions has possibly reached its limitations, and rather than disunity over new sanctions, retaining unity over existing sanctions is the better face to show the world.  We may soon see if The Kremlin will once more call the EU bluff, either prior to, or immediately after the Riga Summit, or prior to, or immediately after, any successful renewal of sanctions as they expire, in the belief that no new sanctions will come having stretched Euopean “unity” to its collective lowest common denominator limitations.  Second guessing any US reaction however, may yet keep the Kremlin somewhat corralled despite any European anticipated failures at extensions or expansions.

The prevailing policy in the 1920s/30s was”Peace at all costs”, “Never again”, and all that.  Appeasement.  Rapprochement between France and Germany – as time passed, years became decades, public attitudes changed – after all a once great Teutonic nation, perhaps should not be as repressed as the Treaty of Versailles set out to do.  Some slack/appeasement, in the name of “peace” and liberal forgiveness, could/should be afforded – and ultimately was, despite numerous very concerned and vocal voices of erudite statesmen from many nations.

Thus, a (former) European “great nation/power” under an all-powerful domestic dictatorship, determined to return to that “great power” status on the world stage after a significant defeat, casting aside international agreements and obligations, annexing nations, redrawing national boundaries under the guise of “race/common peoples” by coercion, bullying and military intervention, rearming/militarising, mobilising, attempting to justify illegal and thus illegitimate action, whilst making promises and further committing to obligations it fully intended to break (and was expected to break by many) along the way, was met with almost absolute appeasement in the name of “peace”.  Meanwhile the other “powers” of Europe sought to, and did – appease and “understand”, whilst they themselves continued to disarm/seeing no requirement to rearm or upgrade, until far too late to prevent a then inevitable war – knowing full well a Germanic march and annexation of Poland, Ukraine and Belarus was upon the immediate horizon as they had been told by Germany in 1937.

Then, as now, should any rearming take place, the cry from the aggressor is one of “unfriendly actions”, and spun to the effect that its own large scale rearmament was thus preemptive and justified domestically having foreseen such events.  Then, as now, great lengths are being taken not to upset the (perceived previously humiliated) aggressor to the detriment of the immediate victims, as well as European collective security and cohesion.  However, now, unlike then, the victim Ukraine, is getting a good deal of support (if not still enough considering the gargantuan tasks it faces) – other than that of the lethal military kind.  Even far more generous (in time, money, political and diplomatic energy) support however, is not likely to be enough to undo what has already been done – at least any time soon – perhaps never.  It may yet also prove not be enough to prevent further losses either.  Time, as it always does, will tell.

“Humiliation”, a familiar (and convenient) theme for those that would equate Germany losing WWI with the Cold War as a similar humiliation to those now running The Kremlin perhaps – with some general commonalities in actions and attempted justifications for the illegitimate responses some may proclaim too.

Continuing, the use of funded and supported political (fascist/allied/sponsored) parties in nations such as Austria, Czechoslovakia, Rhineland etc., in the 1930s occurred, as well as the external promotion and insertion of puppets in various nations domestic politics – something occurring again today many will note.  Thus Europe has, in recent history, been here before.  Can it deal with it any better (or worse) this time?

Perhaps in the context of Ukraine, the most notable event of the Spanish Civil war was not Germany taking advantage of it to practice its first air-raid, but that of Mussolini’s 5 Italian Army brigades that were there – and publicly accepted to be there by many – as “volunteers”, rather than as the Italian Army they so clearly were and privately acknowledge to be by many.  Again there was no robust response from the European “powers” against a European dictator.  This time around when confronted by “volunteers”, the Kremlin military presence and equipment has been publicly and formally called out by politicians, academics and diplomats (though not the BBC news).

Without going on and on, the numerous pre-WWII historical dots similar to those dots of today, the numerous justifications used to excuse the illegitimate as we see on the European continent today with regards to international obligations, and the wiggling out of assurances given as again seen today, the appearance/perception of appeasement (to some) once more, and the fairly rare occurrence of a national leader deliberately publicly lying to his peers (and the public by extension), and admitting to doing so (Yes those “little green men” were ours really – but you all guessed correctly eventually),  the question to be asked is whether the same diplomatic and political mistakes are being made once more – or if not, are being handled in a manner that may yet have disastrous results through timing, tone, robustness, and scale etc?

The illegal annexation of Crimea was met with sanctions – albeit they were late in coming and not as robust as they perhaps could and should have been given the seriousness of the incident and the sacrifice of fundamental international legal instruments at The Kremlin alter of expediency.  Further sanctions followed occurrences in Donetsk/Luhansk, which may or may not have come without the shooting down of MH17, but if Mr Navalny and numerous concurring academics are to be entertained, such meek sanctions did prevent further rapid expansion into Ukraine by The Kremlin.  Maybe so – at least in part, though there are certainly other contributory factors and considerations that can make a similar claim.

Mr Putin, perhaps, is not as capable of bluffing the Europeans as Herr Hitler was between 1933 and 1939 – or perhaps the Europeans have managed to remember, if only just, the lessons that some noticable response was, and remains necessary to avoid a 1930’s rerun.

However, containment if it has indeed been achieved by (in part) sanctions, does not mean reversal of Kremlin policy and small military adventure in Ukraine (thus far), just as it didn’t reverse Mussolini’s Africa policy and small military adventure there.

As the Russian Federation is but a shadow of the USSR, obstructionism, coercion, limited but widespread meddling, bribery, blackmail and corruption are the far more likely weapons of choice than overt large scale military occupations or war.

The diplomacy and politics of 2014/15 in response to military adventurism on the European continent has seemingly, thus far at least, stopped the rot – but it does not mean the returning of any occupied territory is likely any time soon either.   Indeed, it may be that just as the swallowing of the Rhineland resulted in an deliberate period of “digestion” by Nazi Germany before pushing onward, Crimea and what has currently been occupied in The Donbas also requires a period of “digestion”.  There may well be a long, long way to go before The Kremlin reaches its political limits/tolerance with regards to its acceptable costs for military adventurism and political/social/economic interference in Ukraine (and other neighbouring States).

How to insure European unity and Ukraine (as well as other Russian neighbours) can withstand Kremlin aggression in whatever form it comes for as long as it takes to rise out the storm?

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Thus the issue of time and timeliness arises.

To whom time and timeliness is most beneficial depends upon the length of time and events within.  If we expect Mr Putin to be sitting in The Kremlin following another reelection a few years from now, we can be certain Messrs Hollande, Obama and in all likelihood Mrs Merkel – by deciding not to stand again – will have left office.  If President Poroshenko is to be a single term president as seems likely at the time of writing, a new (though unlikely to be pro-Kremlin) Ukrainian President will also be in office.  Perhaps the UK will have left the EU by then too (though hopefully not).

Whilst Ukraine (less the occupied territories) may (or not) get slowly stronger by the day, the EU and the “historical powers” within it may indeed suddenly get politically weaker – even if current sanctions “unity” manages to last for several more years and withstand a few significant national elections.  That said, it seems highly likely the US will return a more robust US President when it comes to its foreign policy, and perhaps one that will take a harder line against Kremlin mischief.

Whether time will best serve a Kremlin dictator or messy and unpredictable democracies remains to be seen.  Which has the long term ability (and will) to remain steadfast on their current course in unpredictable global and regional winds – and will Ukraine make the best use of that time internally to reform and consolidate, making it a far more difficult proposition to Moscow than it faced when initially casting international rule of law aside in 2014?

Will the Europeans eventually arrive at a common understanding of what the CSDP is, to which they have obliged Ukraine to adhere to and engage within via the Association Agreement?

Will the EU at the forthcoming Riga Summit change/adapt its EaP – rightly with the individual EaP nations as the focus, or wrongly to that of “accommodating” Russia at the expense of the EaP nations?  Will Ukraine and Ukrainian issues dominate the EU’s EaP policy arena to the detriment to Moldova or Georgia?

Can or should the lessening of support for EaP nations reforms be accepted?  Reforms themselves are hardly “anti-Russia” even if The Kremlin is not keen on its neighbours creating and eventually consolidating the pillars of democratic nations.

As a result of the EaP Summit, and in its aftermath, will there then be a period of putting together a genuine Russia Policy that accommodates the EaP national policies – or will it sadly be the other way around?

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.  Currently it appears prima facie, the current crop “western” politicians and diplomats are doing today, far more than their predecessors did for Austria, Rhineland, Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia in the prelude to WWII when faced with an aggressive, militarised, (and apparently humiliated) European “power” that is not the same as them – and has no intention of being like them either.

The question remains however, whether their efforts are enough to end an on-going – albeit contained – conventional war on the European continent without appeasement?  Thus far, clearly not.

Tomorrow, hopefully less rambling and a more insightful entry – Well, hope is one of the last qualities to abandon the human spirit after all!

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EaP revisited – Ukraine

March 10, 2015

Ms Mogherini, EU High Representative and EEAS boss, together with Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy, have decided upon a review of the current neighbourhood policies – The EaP policy toward the EU’s eastern neighbours, and particularly Ukraine being of greatest interest to this blog – naturally.

The geopolitical landscape is far more tense than it was when the Neighbourhood Policy was last reviewed.

To say it has suddenly changed, or is suddenly different as far as the EU’s east is concerned, is something of a stretch – for this blog was warning in 2012 that Russian geopolitics would take a far more coercive, robust and forceful turn as AA/DCFTA agreements were due to be signed and ratified within the “joint neighbourhood”.  (A view that earned the author of this blog a public and on the record dressing down by then EU Commissioner Stefan Fule as being “unhelpful” at the time.)

As a result of stubbornly ignoring warning signs, the EU has been left reactionary and behind the curve ever since..

It also has to be said, that neither Ms Mogherini nor Mr Hahn instill much confidence with regards to either personal, or their nations, positions regarding The Kremlin.  To be generous both they, and their respective home nations, would be seen as “understanders” in the softest kindly Aunt sense of the word (rather than the sense of expert comprehension), some, perhaps overly critical, may say “appeasers”.

Fortunately neither Ms Mogherini or Mr Hahn set EU foreign policy.  That remains, ultimately, a decision of the European Council and the leaders of the 28 Member States – and not that of the EEAS or European Commission.

Thus Ms Mogherini and Mr Hahn may try to set the agenda, or put forward suggestions, which is indeed part of their respective remits, (such as the previously dismissed “January Mogherini Paper“) but in doing so, it should be recognised it may have no effect on outcomes within the European Council.

With regard to the “Mogherini Paper”,  there were only 3 problems – weak language, extremely poor timing, and a profound/astounding lack of understanding of what drives Russian foreign policy – and thus the fundamental differences between Russian realism and EU institutional liberalism, which will result in little more than a transactional relationship for the foreseeable future.  Kremlin “zero sum” vis a vis EU “win-win” ideology will not be reconciled.

In short there was no recognition that “delete partner” and “insert competitor/adversary” in all Russia concerned affairs, was (and is) a necessary amendment under current Kremlin management with regard the “shared neighbourhood”.  No surprise then, that the European Council rolled its collective eyes, quietly tutted, and pushed the paper back with “Must try harder” stamped across it.

However, for those on the outside looking in that questioned who actually decides EU foreign policy, such a public short shrift provided a very clear answer – Not Ms Moghereini or the EEAS.

That said, Ms Mogherini and Mr Hahn do have a very prominent role with regard to the level, intensity, and depth of political engagement of the EU institutions with Ukraine.  Ergo risks arise for Ukraine should that engagement decrease.  It will be up to Ukraine (and no doubt the situation will be closely watched and oft commented upon publicly by “the Balts” and Poland) to keep that engagement both driven and focused.

Nonetheless, to be very blunt, even without the explicit recognition of eventual EU membership, the EU has still offered a more attractive social and economic model than that offered by The Kremlin – the latter a dismal model well known to Ukraine.   Thus an EU offering “anything”, is seen by many as far more attractive than “something” being offered by The Kremlin – and only The Kremlin itself can be blamed for not having made itself socially and economically more attractive to its neighbours over the past 20 years.  It certainly has had the time and money to do so, but failed to even try.

Anyway, Ms Mogherini and Mr Hahn are absolutely right in pushing for an EaP policy review in light of current and foreseeable regional circumstances, though the outcome may not be anything like what they are expecting with regard to massaging Russian sensibilities.  Yesterday Foreign Secretary Phil Hammond clearly stated he expected the UK-Russian relationship to be “prickly” for some time to come.  Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė and fellow Baltic States are certainly not about to take a soft line regarding the Kremlin either, ditto Poland and Sweden.

As the tweet above outlines, EU foreign policy often comes down to the lowest common denominator  – the place where all 28 Member States manage to agree – thus finding a consensus of goodwill toward The Kremlin as some Member States or EU institutions might like, seems unrealistic short of dramatic U turns by numerous EU members.  Similarly, the renewal of some sanctions appears more than a little open to question, despite the rhetoric from some hawkish European capitals.  In short, a “Russia Policy” seems far from a reality, with at best a strategy of “wait and see” – for as long as it is possible to “wait and see”.

However, any Ukraine (or any other EaP nation) policy is not a Russia policy.  Any policy the EU may arrive at regarding Russia or Ukraine (or others) may have some overlap, or dovetailing, but they are not one and the same thing – particularly so as there are now ratified Association and DCFTA Agreements existing which, as EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom made crystal clear only a few days ago, “will not be amended.

Ergo, as these ratified agreements provide a comprehensive political/democracy and trade model with freely undertaken legal obligations to comply, any mollycoddling of Kremlin concerns can only be found within any wiggle room of the text therein, or issues that are excluded from the agreements.

As is being ably demonstrated, that is not an outcome The Kremlin is going to accept willingly.

Thus the review of the EaP will have to look at the ends, ways and means regarding the driving any redefined policy in light of ratified AA/DCFTA agreements first and foremost – what is the goal of such a policy and how does it fit with the expectations/desires of the EaP partner States?  There is, at the very least, a ratified strategic document now in existence that must be considered.

Secondly in light of an adversarial and aggressive Kremlin over some EaP nations and their chosen directions westward, how will the Kremlin obstruct, undermine and slow progress?  How to mitigate that when concessions are simply pocketed by Moscow, but demands remain unchanged?

With the integration model/strategy now ratified, and thus European markets opening up, together with a Visa-free regime likely to be raised at the Riga summit two months hence, perhaps resulting in a projected implementation date now Ukraine has got its biometric act together, both motivating factors of markets and mobility may be at least partially achieved by the year end/beginning of 2016.

If Ukraine has some sense, it will not allow the “mobility” driver to stop at Visa-free tourism, or opening markets to be adversely effected by Visas either.  It may do well to then consider a move toward abolishing entirely, the current Visa requirement for EU citizens to do business in Ukraine, taking the next sequential step, which in turn will then lead to similar – and naturally protracted over many years – reciprocal dialogue.  In the meantime, the European SMEs that drive the EU economy would be free to enter Ukraine and do the same thing without needing an appropriate Visa.

This naturally takes a degree of political will by Ukraine to drive ever onward toward Europe, by giving Europe far simpler access and business facilitation, exceeding current bureaucratic limitations, regardless of how reticent Europe is about any Ukrainian accession pretensions.

There is perhaps a perceived half-way house regarding membership of the European Economic Area as a potential next step that may be deemed progression by Ukraine, and yet a holding position by the EU regarding membership – perhaps France, a nation dead-set against EU membership for Ukraine, would feel far happier at such an outcome.  A place where all can buy political time, and a place where Norway and Iceland seem reasonably happy to sit, going no further toward EU membership after all.

If the ratified AA/DCFTA agreements are to become a strategic document within a Ukraine Policy (within a broader EaP Policy) – and it is certainly a strategic document for Ukraine and its reform process – then perhaps any new “Ukraine Policy/Strategy” within an EaP context would be wise to concentrate upon/prioritise certain parts of the agreement – those that would benefit both Ukraine and the EU the most in current turbulent circumstances.

Perhaps the following should be given priority, considerable political energy, and sufficient funding:

ARTICLE 7 –Foreign and security policy

1. The Parties shall intensify their dialogue and cooperation and promote gradual convergence in the area of foreign and security policy, including the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), and shall address in particular issues of conflict prevention and crisis management, regional stability, disarmament, non-proliferation, arms control and arms export control as well as enhanced mutually-beneficial dialogue in the field of space. Cooperation will be based on common values and mutual interests, and shall aim at increasing policy convergence and effectiveness, and promoting joint policy planning. To this end, the Parties shall make use of bilateral, international and regional fora.

2.. Ukraine, the EU and the Member States reaffirm their commitment to the principles of respect for independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of borders, as established in the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and to promoting these principles in bilateral and multilateral relations.

3. The Parties shall address in a timely and coherent manner the challenges to these principles at all appropriate levels of the political dialogue provided for in this Agreement, including at ministerial level.

ARTICLE 337 – Energy Cooperation

1. The Parties agree to continue and intensify their current cooperation on energy matters for the enhancement of energy security, competitiveness and sustainability, which is crucial for the promotion of economic growth and to making progress towards market integration, including through gradual approximation in the energy sector and through participation in regional energy cooperation. The regulatory cooperation shall take into account the need to ensure relevant public service obligations, including measures to inform and protect customers from unfair selling practices, and access to affordable energy for consumers, including for the most vulnerable citizens.

2. Such cooperation shall be based on a comprehensive partnership and shall be guided by the principles of mutual interest, reciprocity, transparency and predictability, consistent with the market economy, the Energy Charter Treaty of 1994, the Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the field of energy and other multilateral and related bilateral agreements.

ARTICLE 14 – The rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In their cooperation on justice, freedom and security, the Parties shall attach particular importance to the consolidation of the rule of law and the reinforcement of institutions at all levels in the areas of administration in general and law enforcement and the administration of justice in particular. Cooperation will, in particular, aim at strengthening the judiciary, improving its efficiency, safeguarding its independence and impartiality, and combating corruption. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms will guide all cooperation on justice, freedom and security.

ARTICLE 345

A regular dialogue will take place on the issues covered by Chapter 2 of Title V (Economic and Sector Co-operation) of this Agreement.

Also, the EU would be wise to invest heavily into the Ukrainian civil society with both political energy and sufficient finance, insuring it remains robust, engaged, influential, and able to function without political interference.

Fiscal and economic issues will be subjected to IMF overview for the next 4 years anyway (assuming a 4 year loan is forthcoming), so until the next EaP policy review that follows that of 2015 – whenever that will be – it would perhaps be wise, whilst not disregarding the other legal obligations Ukraine has undertaken within the AA/DCFTA, to focus policy, political energy, finance and policy on a few crucial and mutually beneficial points.

If a well defined European “Grand Plan” is absent, which it definitely is, the Neighbourhood Policy is to subjected to lowest common denominator agreement, thus the 2015 review may very well result in little more than a fuzzy overarching policy umbrella devoid of clear goals and leadership, then perhaps a truly focused bilateral progression strategy prioritising AA/DCFTA Chapters, under the auspices of whatever fuzzy policy umbrella that emerges, will be the best option Ukraine can hope for.

Whatever the case, as the policy review is not due to be completed until the year end (by which time the full weight of the AA/DCFTA (and possibly Visa-free) comes into force), it will be interesting to see what the enlightened arrive at for as a new, fit for purpose, Neighbourhood Policy.

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Balcerowicz invited to join Ukrainian reform effort

January 31, 2015

In an effort to further fill the Ukrainian reform effort with international stars with relevant experience, President Poroshenko has invited the Polish politician and economist Leszek Balcerowicz, the man who was instrumental in devising the Polish reformation plan of 1989, to join the Ukrainian effort.

The Balcerowicz Plan, also known as “Shock Therapy”, has been referred to numerous time throughout the years at this blog – almost every time previous governments have made hollow calls for Ukrainian reform in fact.  (Search within the archives and you will find, should you feel the need).

One of the most notable and wise features about the Balcerowicz Plan, was that is was presented to the public prior to its introduction on 31st December 1989 – on 6th October 1989, on television, to be precise.  Thus the public was mentally prepared for what was to come, some months in advance – albeit, the plan hit far harder than society was perhaps prepared for.  Nonetheless, the “Shock Therapy” was still far less of a shock to the people, than it was to the Polish economy, when introduced.

The plan consisted of:

Act on Financial Economy Within State-owned Companies, which allowed for state-owned businesses to declare bankruptcy and ended the fiction by which companies were able to exist even if their effectiveness and accountability was close to none.
Act on Banking Law, which forbade financing the state budget deficit by the national central bank and forbade the issue of new currency.
Act on Credits, which abolished the preferential laws on credits for state-owned companies and tied interest rates to inflation.
Act on Taxation of Excessive Wage Rise, introducing the so-called “Popiwek Tax” limiting the wage increase in state-owned companies in order to limit hyperinflation.
Act on New Rules of Taxation, introducing common taxation for all companies and abolishing special taxes that could previously have been applied to private companies through means of administrative decision.
Act on Economic Activity of Foreign Investors, allowing foreign companies and private people to invest in Poland and export their profits abroad.
Act on Foreign Currencies, introducing internal exchangeability of the Złoty and abolishing the state monopoly in international trade.
Act on Customs Law, creating a uniform customs rate for all companies.
Act on Employment, regulating the duties of unemployment agencies.
Act on Special Circumstances Under Which a Worker Could be Laid Off – protecting the workers of state firms from being fired in large numbers and guaranteeing unemployment grants and severance pay.

By 1992 the positive effects of the plan were being felt -although the intervening years were undoubtedly a “populist politician’s” dream when it came to saying just how badly the effects of the plan were being felt during that time.  There is no shortage of populist Ukrainian politicians that would boohoo any such plan for Ukraine.  The Kremlin too, would no doubt exploit it.

As written a few days ago, Ukraine already has numerous reformation plans.  Indeed Ukraine has far more plans, from numerous authors, than could be found at an annual gathering of architects “best design” ceremony.  Thus the vast majority, if not all, of the Balcerowicz Plan will already appear in one, or several, existing plans.

What Ukraine hasn’t done (thus far), that Poland did, is explain the plan(s) to the Ukrainian constituency “adult to adult” – perhaps because it doesn’t know what to do with so many plans, or perhaps nobody wants to accept personal responsibility and accountability for implementing them.

Implementation teams, if they exist, are completely unknown to the public – ergo, personal responsibility and accountability is zero in the eyes of an expectant society when it comes to implementation.  As Ukrainian history ably displays, “the team” is always happy to produce plans, but nobody in “the team” is ever held individually accountable for failure of implementation once any such plan has been announced – and subsequently fails to tangibly manifest.

However, Ukraine is not Poland – and successful reform within Poland still continues to this day.  It is an on-going process.

Indeed Ukraine (and Georgia, Moldova and some Balkan nations) suffer an additional and significant problem that Poland never faced – that of a meaningful, cancerous, overt and covert, insidious Kremlin intervention.  Poland was blessed by a weak (and distant compared to Ukraine and Georgia) Russia when it began to reform.  Upon joining NATO its continuing reforms then enjoyed the protection of significant security.  Poland is now strong enough to cope with the current Kremlin shenanigans within its borders, preventing any reform derailing.

It goes without saying that in the current circumstances, such things matter, for security removes the excuse that war (in whatever form it takes) slows or prevents reform.  War (in whatever form) presents a universal excuse to a weak and/or infiltrated political class for not, or failing at, reform.  It is, at the very least, a distraction with a significant impact upon the national treasury and society alike – perhaps with catastrophic consequences to the orientation of the victim nation’s direction.

Thus whilst the Kremlin experiments with a hybrid and asymmetric war, the west experiments with economic warfare – Ukraine (Moldova, Georgia and some Balkan nations), experiment with reform without security whilst under Kremlin attack.

The Kremlin will ultimately fail to bring down the post 1945 European/western architecture – though it may cause considerable damage along the way if Europe/”The West” does not fully appreciate the challenge that has been presented.

Given enough time, the western economic warfare at current levels may ultimately prove to be successful.  Turning up the “pain dial” is always an option.

What is entirely unclear, and perhaps the least likely experiment to succeed, is national reformation without any form of “group security”, whilst under consistent and meaningful Kremlin attack – perhaps aggravated by the absence of clearly defined external western prizes for success.

Undoubtedly Mr Balcerowicz would bring something to the Ukrainian table should he accept the offer made to him – but when all is said and done, Ukraine is not Poland.

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A quick glance over the border at Moldova

June 27, 2014

Today a very quick glance over the border at Moldova – and why not?

With tomorrow almost certainly seeing Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova signing EU Association Agreements and Deep and Comprehensive Trade Agreements, despite Ukraine currently taking by far the most grief of the three nations from The Kremlin, it goes without saying that these other two nations are not going to be spared some form of retribution either.

It therefore raised an eyebrow when the following tweet left the bowels of the Russian Foreign Ministry yesterday:

The reasons for the proposed delay according to Sergei Gubarev , Russian Ambassador at large  – “Russia does not see any need for holding talks for the sake of talks.   We returned to the initial stage when the parties lay claims.

The key task is to make our meetings effective: if the July round does not yield any result, this will discredit the negotiations.”

That may seem fair enough prima facie when considering The Kremlin’s “realist” perception of the world and how it should work.

If there is nothing to say, why say anything? – Or even bother sitting down?

However, September is only 8 weeks away.  How will matters have moved on from a “return to the initial stage when parties lay claims” between July and September without any dialogue?  Surely such a problem existing in July will remain an existing problem in September?

Perhaps this is nothing more than the first of many obstructionist acts by The Kremlin regarding Moldova and nothing more?

Perhaps, however, it is also necessary to look to events in either Russia or Moldova in September, that may possibly suit The Kremlin for one reason or another – over and above simple obstructionism.

I may have touched upon one in yesterday’s entry regarding the Russian military, although that may have no connection considering what would undoubtedly follow by way of western reaction.  Would military intervention in Moldova be worth it for The Kremlin?  No – particularly so when 15-20% of Moldavian citizens also hold Romanian passports and are thus EU and NATO citizens by extension.  A very dim Romanian view of any such act would follow.

So what else could be gained for The Kremlin by moving such negotiations back to September?

The answer may very well be found in the forthcoming Moldavian parliamentary elections that occur in November – elections that are likely to give a far more Kremlin accommodating Communist Party a very reasonable chance of gaining electoral victory and the parliamentary majority.

September therefore would provide for the negotiations taking place at the beginning of the electoral campaign cycle – and throwing a spanner into the works of the existing pro-European majority at this time via the 5+2 negotiations – as well as gas, economic and social  shenanigans undoubtedly – may just be enough to tip the scales away from another pro-European parliamentary term.

Moldova will sign the agreements with the EU tomorrow.  If the current pro-European parliament has any sense it will ratify the agreements with the uppermost speed too (as will Ukraine no doubt).  However, whilst any new Communist majority would probably not undo any such agreements, it can be expected to slow implementation of these agreements down to a snails pace.

For The Kremlin, to throw spanners into the 5+2 negotiations in July, either directly – unlikely – or via instruction to Transnistria to do so, and inferring (pro-European) Chisinau inability/fault for the results (or lack of) – would seem premature considering the far greater impact that can be had by doing so at the start of parliamentary election campaigning in September.

Something to keep a watchful eye on perhaps?

Tomorrow, back to Ukraine and a signed AA/DCFTA with the EU and a simultaneously expiring ceasefire in the east.

 

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Questions for 2014 at the end of 2013 – Ukraine

January 1, 2014

Probably the most important thing I will write in 2013 – Many thanks to the 100,000+ unique readers of the blogs this year.

Truly humbling that so many people take the time to read something I have written – no matter how badly constructed entries can be.

I hope you all visit again in 2014.

As 2014 is but hours away in Ukraine amongst numerous questions large and small about what it will bring, these to me, remain the most prominent.

Firstly, will Євромайдан find a leader that it can rally around in its entirety, and sustain its momentum?  Whether you consider Messrs. Klitschko, Yatseniuk and Tyahnybok the three wise men, or Curly, Larry and Moe – none truly represent the many Євромайдан and their supporters around Ukraine.  Can and will Євромайдан produce a leader with genuine legitimacy to all?

Second, with Ukrainian domestic and foreign policy in something of a mess, and an obvious loss of control by the President.  Will he regain control of policy, the elite, his party and the nation?

Third, with EU policy in both Eastern and Southern neighbourhoods having achieved no solid and irreversible results in 2013 – is it likely during a period of European Parliament elections and then European Commission position bartering, that a more coherent and effective neighbourhood policy will be forthcoming in 2014?  How best to make EU soft power have a harder edge when EU policy is threatened by other geopolitical actors?  How can it be made more effective and nimble?

Forth, with demand for democracy at almost 90% but the EU Association Agreement at 43% – will democracy be acknowledged by all actors as the goal of society rather than any agreements?

Last but not least, will civil society and NGOs eventually fulfill the roles they are supposed to do now the spotlight is firmly upon them in Ukraine?  If there was ever a time when grass roots activism is going to grow, it is between now and the 2015 elections.  Can it become what it is meant to be?

2014

And with that, I wish each and every one of you a very happy, healthy, prosperous 2014.

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Delighting in perversity – regional geopolitics once more

November 29, 2013

Yesterday I wrote that whether Ukraine or the EU likes it or not, Russia has declared through its actions, a geopolitical battle over the EaP nations.

The day I wrote that, perversely, the Roshen chocolate ban, a completely unjustified and arbitrary unofficial sanction on Ukrainian produce that had been running many months, was lifted.  As this occurred pre-Vilnius, a clear indication that the Kremlin was absolutely confident that Ukraine would not have a last minute change of heart and sign the Association Agreement with the EU.

It is perverse in so much as the banned chocolate brand is owned by Petro Poroshenko – a robust supporter of EU integration who took the ban and $ millions of losses in his stride, never wavering from his European integration – via the Association Agreement – stance.  The result of not signing the agreement is of direct benefit to his business perversely.

Wouldn’t it be even more delightfully perverse if his regained Russian source of income was then employed by sponsoring continued momentum of the євромайдан campaign?

For certain, євромайдан would be very welcome when it comes to maintaining upwards pressure on both the Ukrainian president and EU with the EU-Ukraine Summit due at the end of February 2014.  Another plausible chance at signing agreements – prior the European parliamentary elections and a good deal of inward looking by Europe for a while.

The EU also announced that it has recommended the removal of Visas for Moldavian citizens – at least those who hold a biometric passport.  That decision, perversely, now gives Moldavians Visa-free within the Schengen area, despite neighbouring Romania, a full EU member and “cultural home” to many Moldavians, still being denied Visa-free within a block it is a member of.

Perhaps that will stem the tide of 22% of Moldavians seeking and happily being granted Romanian passports and thus Romanian annexation of Moldova via populous if not territory.

Perversely, after forcing Ukraine and Armenia from the thus far less than convincing embrace of the EU Association Agreement, and with a need to put spanners in the Moldavian and Georgian works as well, there is perhaps to be expected a short but definite lull in overt Russian pressure leading up to and during the Sochi Winter Olympics – despite momentum being with Russia in the geopolitical battle currently.

However, thereafter, undoubtedly Russian pressure will increase, surpassing anything seen thus far, as Mr Putin can then concentrate more fully on his political legacy of Russian imperialism via the Eurasian Union due to launch officially in 2015.

Despite many “experts” and “commentators” stating that without Ukraine it is nothing but a hollow shell, it is perhaps Kazakhstan and not Ukraine that will be the undoing of Mr Putin’s Eurasian political legacy before it even officially gets going.  It is no secret that the Kazakhs are very unhappy with the existing Customs Union and will need a great deal of convincing to continue onwards with the new Eurasian Union.  Perversely the threat of it unraveling comes not from an unwilling Ukraine, but from within its existing ranks.

Recognising the pooh-poohing of Mr Putin’s imperialist desire to leave a political legacy of the Eurasian Union by the Europeans, perversely, if there is a driver other than his own legacy of a Eurasian Union, it is not to combat the slow moving, lowest common dominator and cumbersome European Union – which he more than capable of tackling – it is to restrain the far more nimble, unilaterally decision making China.

I could go on and on with such examples, but there is a peculiarly delightful perversity to the geopolitics of this region that hardly ever fails to deliver, no matter what layer of policy or strategy you care to look at.

Meanwhile, amongst all this perversity, let us hope that Mrs Merkel, Poland and the Baltic States, put some spine into European affairs and Russia is confronted in its geopolitics convincingly.

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Georgia becomes a parliamentary republic – Did anyone notice?

November 19, 2013

Yesterday, with the swearing in of the new Georgian President, Georgia made the move from presidential/parliamentary rule to that of parliamentary/presidential governance.

The president now little more than a figurehead, no different to the German President, with parliament holding the real power.

In my opinion, a very positive move, removing the claims of legitimacy to absolute personal power and authority concentrated within a single political office and an individual.  We need only look to Kyiv and the surrounding post-Soviet neighbourhood to see the problems with presidential rather than parliamentary governance, and the misuse of power when concentrated in the hands of individuals past and present.

Perhaps, if Mr Klitschko becomes president and carries out his “Saakashvilliian” purge on state officials, he will also follow Misha in the transference of power from the office of President to parliament?  Not that it worked out as Mr Saakashvili planned.  No other likely presidential candidate would entertain the idea, that’s for certain.

Sadly, I very much doubt we will see a similar move by Ukraine anytime soon – and it will probably be very much to the detriment of the country.

Nevertheless, congratulations to Georgia on becoming a parliamentary republic – regardless of the calibre of governance that comes forth from parliament, there is at least a very European model of governance now in place.

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