The leaders of the European Union meet for their latest Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga this week in a gloomy mood.
Since the last summit in Vilnius at the end of 2013, Ukraine has sunk into crisis and conflict. With the small exception of Belarus, which is undergoing a slight thaw in its relations with Brussels, there is also bad news for the EU from the other countries that fall under the Eastern Partnership umbrella. Armenia has moved closer towards joining the Russia-led Eurasian Union project—even though Armenian imports to Russia have actually fallen over the last year. Azerbaijan has moved even further from Europe towards becoming a Central Asia style authoritarian regime.
In practice, this advice mainly applies to Georgia and Moldova, as Ukraine is currently more in need of emergency assistance than long-term reform projects.
But there is sobering news for the EU in two new polls from both countries, showing that public support for the European project is faltering.
In both places, the government is losing popularity. Last month’s opinion poll in Georgia, one in a regular series commissioned by the National Democratic Institute, shows a decline in support for the current governing Georgian Dream coalition, caused mainly by its disappointing performance on the economy. However, most voters have swung not to the party associated with the former government, the United National Movement, but into the “Don’t Know” column.
There is still fairly strong support among Georgians—68 percent in favor as against 16 percent against—for their country’s Association Agreement with the EU. But there is also a sharp increase in approval ratings for the Eurasian Union with 31 per cent of those surveyed now supporting Georgia joining the project. (Evidently, some Georgians want the impossible and to be part of both projects).
Moldova should have much more going for it. It has geographic proximity to the EU and the unstinting support of an EU neighbor, Romania. But here the news for Brussels is even worse. The latest Barometer of Public Opinion poll shows a strong swing in favor of the Eurasian Union (58 percent support) as against the European Union (40 percent support).
The consensus of Moldovan analysts is that public is venting its anger at the governing “pro-European” coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party (PLDM) and the Democratic Party (PDM) and its perceived implication in this year’s massive corruption scandal that has rocked the country in which one billion dollars has disappeared from three major banks. Few believe that the young businessman under house arrest and accused of the crime is the mastermind behind it.
There is fault on both sides for the stalling of the Eastern Partnership project.
Eastern European governments have not been fully honest with voters about the costs of European integration and tend to present approximation with the EU as something they are automatically entitled to. In all these countries there is still an ingrained habit of trying to play the would-be patrons, Brussels and Moscow, off against each other to win cost-free political support and economic aid—or, to put it another way, of treating them as the new Gosplan.
On the EU side, as Richard Youngs and I argue, the Brussels lacks a big vision and gives the impression that a re-design of the various EU “instruments” will solve the region’s problems.
In the shorter term, the EU does have one big carrot it can offer to both Georgia and Ukraine, having given the same to Moldova. This is visa liberalization. But in the longer term, there is only one incentive the EU can offer that can make a fundamental difference. That is an EU membership perspective, but it is something the European Union has still not put on the table.
As it attempts to step back from the brink of a new Cold War, the West will have to make sure that Putin does not interpret backtracking as a reward for bad behavior
Ukrainian society—particularly sectors that pushed for greater accountability and transparency during the EuroMaidan Revolution—and Western governments, particularly the United States, are pushing Poroshenko to rein in the oligarchs.
In a system that requires participation, mere nonparticipation comes across as a sign of foreign political culture to the regime. Even more so, it is a form of resistance.
Vafa Guluzade was Azerbaijan’s leading foreign policy advocate in a very difficult period and part of the most promising initiative to resolve the Karabakh conflict. He has never been adequately replaced.
The conflict in Ukraine is anything but frozen. The dynamics of this conflict are driven as much by Ukrainian domestic affairs and local commanders’ decisions in the conflict zone as they are by any Cold War-style stand-off between East and West.
The latest friction between Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov and Moscow’s siloviki was not an attack intended to unseat Kadyrov. It was not even a conflict per se. Instead, it was an attempt to reformat Moscow’s approach to Chechnya. The contract with Kadyrov isn’t being annulled; it’s just being rewritten before its next extension.
Kim Jong-un eagerly and easily communicates with foreigners, but at the same time avoids meeting foreign heads of state. After three years in power he has never once met with a single one of his foreign colleagues.
Old totalitarian practices can reemerge with new symbols, from new directions. And a struggle against the symbols of past unfreedom isn’t enough to protect against a lack of liberty in its latest incarnation.
According to Russian military experts, the new S-400 missile system can reach distances of up to 400 km. This range signifies a fundamental change in the rules of the game in Taiwan and the Senkaku Islands, two potential hot spots where China is involved.
Eurasia Outlook provides insight into this critical but difficult-to-understand region with analysis from Carnegie’s experts in Moscow, Washington, and other leading voices.
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