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ANKARA: EU Vs. Russia

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  • ANKARA: EU Vs. Russia


    Today's Zaman, Turkey
    Sept 17 2013


    Two weeks ago I wrote about the decision of Armenian President Serzh
    Sarksyan to join the Russian-led Customs Union instead of proceeding
    with a trade agreement Yerevan had spent over three years negotiating
    with the EU.

    Armenia's turnaround acted as a wake-up call for the EU in terms of
    understanding how seriously Russia is working to repeat the Armenia
    case with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. With the EU's Vilnius Eastern
    Partnership (EaP) Summit taking place in November and the Summit of
    the Commonwealth of Independent States due to take place on Oct. 25,
    a geopolitical battle is under way between the EU and Russia. For
    the EU, this is a battle it cannot afford to lose in terms of the
    success of its neighborhood policies.

    The EaP was never intended to be anti-Russian. Russia views its
    Western neighborhood as a strategic imperative and views the EaP as
    a tool for containment. Hence the creation of its own integrating
    projects. While there are no criteria or conditions for joining the
    Customs Union, joining countries not only need to give a hefty chunk
    of their budget to the new supranational institutions but also their
    sovereignty. Hence the only way Moscow can get them on board is by
    a lot of arm-twisting and bullying.

    While Ukraine and Moldova are direct neighbors of the EU, with Ukraine
    being of particular importance because of its size, regional role
    and economic potential, Georgia should not be forgotten. Therefore,
    I was disappointed when during a recent speech by Lithuanian President
    Dalia Grybauskait─-, she stated that the EU would fight for Ukraine and
    Moldova, but when asked about Georgia she said Georgia had signaled
    that it was interested in both options. She was no doubt referring
    to the comments of Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili over
    Customs Union membership despite the fact that Georgia's leadership
    has reiterated on numerous occasions that European integration is
    their priority.

    While Georgia may be further away and in a difficult neighborhood,
    it is equally important. While not everything is perfect, Georgia
    has worked hard to meet EU criteria. Furthermore, it is now the only
    country in the South Caucasus where the EU has real influence. Armenia
    is lost, while leverage on Azerbaijan is almost non-existent. Russia
    has already used a lot of sticks on Georgia. They have invaded the
    country, occupied two regions, consolidated a military presence, cut
    off gas supplies and banned Georgian wine and water. While Georgians
    want good ties with Moscow, it needs to be a relationship of mutual
    respect. I doubt Georgians will forget the image of Russian tanks
    rolling towards Tbilisi only a few years ago. Yet Moscow still has
    the cards and is likely to lure Tbilisi with carrots, with rumors
    that Russia will offer to reverse its recognition of South Ossetia
    and Abkhazia as independent states or even make a deal whereby one
    of these regions is returned to Georgia.

    The EU has reacted to Russia's new assertive approach, but so far
    with words only. A European Parliament resolution states that "MEPs
    deplored the unacceptable pressure that Russia has been putting on
    EU Eastern Partnership countries as the Vilnius Eastern Partnership
    Summit approaches. They call on Moscow to respect the independent
    states' sovereignty and not to intervene in their internal affairs,
    as required by international law." Unfortunately, this demand is
    about as likely to be met as asking a lion to no longer eat meat.

    Small and vulnerable states such as Georgia need to know the EU
    is fully behind them and that they will get adequate support both
    politically and economically. The EU needs to move away from what
    is often viewed as a passive approach and show some real strategic
    thinking. It needs to demonstrate that its neighborhood policies
    have teeth and are able to deliver. The EU should start to open its
    markets, increase financial assistance and proceed more rapidly with
    the lifting of visas. Second, it needs to speed up its technical
    readiness, which often seems to move at a snail's pace. Moreover,
    it needs to show the ticket it has sold its neighbors has an end
    destination, which is presently not the case.

    From: Baghdasarian