Moldova: the forgotten in-between Russia and the EU

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The difficulty of the implementation of the EU’s Eastern Partnership is as we have witnessed that these countries constitute the so-called Russia’s “backyard”and for strategic and historical reasons, Russia is not willing to let go easily. The paradigmatic case was Ukraine in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea, but Russian efforts to hinder  the post-soviet space relationship with the EU started years before.

Beyond the military means and political involvement, Russia has wielded its power in the form of economic sanctions and bans to imports and goods from the EaP countries. But Russia’s loss of power  is patent, recurrently in Ukraine and Georgia, both having left the Commonwealth of Independent States . The  republics’ eagerness to become close partners with the EU have resulted in Russian attempts to interfere in the countries’ political arena and processes; economy and trade relations through the use of a variety of means ranging from military and occupation to economic sanctions and trade bans.

But just like Georgia or Ukraine, the situation of Moldova has been an in-between position that cannot be fully understood without taking into consideration its causes and consequences, to be sure: state capture, structural poverty or a great migration crisis 

Moldova, as other post-soviet countries witnessed as well this state capture from the 1990’s, culminating in the so-called “billion-dollar theft”, the 2012-2014 theft of one-eighth of Moldova’s economy, which led to a few politically motivated arrests, but it has never been recovered. The same years, Moldova saw itself involved in the massive theft that became known as the “Russian Laundromat”, a scheme led by government officials and members of Moldova’s judiciary, who had moved $20.8 billion in funds stolen from the Russian treasury through Moldova’s banking system. The case is another example of how Moldovan regulators have been captured by corrupt interests and consistently fail to indict those responsible for large scale financial crimes.

Russian ambitions in the post-soviet space are nothing new. In Moldova, the situation is worsening as this path of post-soviet state capture is being transferred to Russian hands since the 2016 election of Igor Dodon: the audio-visual sector, the railway and even the international airport are slowly being financed (and thus controlled) by the Russian Federation. Energetic dependency gives further power to Russia in Moldova, as most of their gas comes from Russia, little diversified.

State capture has had its consequences on Moldova, as the Human Development Index of 2019 positions Moldova in the 107th place out of 189, making it the poorest country in the EU neighbourhood. Endemic corruption, the main consequence of normalised state capture for a long time now and the poverty created by this situation has made emigration levels an all-time high.

Despite the fact that Russia is slowly gaining political significance once again in Moldova, the European Union is still a close partner with the country. The Republic of Moldova is today between the East and the West, and each player, in particular Russia, have interests in the country.

Although often overlooked, the geopolitical implications of Moldova cannot be underestimated.

Rest in Pieces: Brexit’s Aftermath

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‘Let’s Get Brexit Done!’ Boris Johnson’s slogan for his latest campaigning became reality with the end of January. Indeed, it is done, at least when one understands Brexit as nothing else but the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. Because this is essentially what happened. Most urging questions, including the border issue between EU member state Ireland and UK member Northern Ireland, trade relations, the status of EU citizens living in Great Britain, and the like, remain unresolved regarding the long term. Hence, there is still plenty of political work to be done, both in Brussels and London.

It is therefore fallacious to jump to overly optimistic conclusions which appear to be widespread in both media and politics. While some celebrate the reincarnation of self-determination, others welcome getting rid of an awkward negotiating partner. Still others are just happy not to be bothered any more by the never-ending story of extending withdrawal talks again and again.

Yet, sorry to say, all these perceptions fall short. This is best shown by the perhaps most prevalent myth surrounding Brexit: That the EU now finally is a real union again. Proponents of this thesis have a fair point when arguing that the entire storyline of Brexit so far comes closer to a horror movie than a love flick. The back and forth of the negotiations between London and Brussels just as lockdowns and dead ends in British politics indeed sent a strong signal to the 27 remaining EU members. Leaving the often-disliked union in those days is as unattempting as never before. As David ‘Oops-a-Daisy-I-accidently-made-my-country-leave-the-EU’ Cameron and Theresa ‘Dancing-Queen-aka-Brexit-means-Brexit’ May showed strikingly: Such an agenda easily turns into a political suicide mission.

What tends to be forgotten, however, is the fact that the voter generally is oblivious. In other words: Having a strong community spirit now does not equal a guarantee for standing strong forever and ever. Besides, whether the sense of community actually is as alive and kicking as assumed should be questioned. The so-called ‘Friends of Cohesion’ recently convened in Portugal to agree on their post-Brexit strategy. Needless to say, this circle of ‘friends’ does not incorporate all 27 EU states. With numerous more or less formal sub groupings within the EU, from the Eurogroup to PESCO to Visegrád, when the chips are down, every member state will look for the alliance that is most promising to its very national advantage.

With the pressing schedule to get Brexit really done until the end of the year – let us leave aside the quite likely event of a prolongation for a second – the EU would be wise to avoid falling into pieces even more (ironically, the decision makers at the River Thames faces the same risk: think Scotland). Instead, Brussels would be better off staying strong together, overcoming dissents quickly, and, ultimately, speaking with one voice internationally.

Else, the EU may rest in pieces.

Watch Out for the Sultan – Erdoğan in Libya

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The unprecedented escalation in Iran following the assassination of military mastermind Qassem Suleimani by one of Donald’s drones overshadowed another highly interesting development in the Middle East lately getting a new spin: Turkey entering the conflict in Libya.

With this step, that explicitly is at odds with the advices of many other stakeholders in “a failed state par excellence”, as observers say, not least the Arab League, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan shows his claim to great power status.

This action appears in line with Erdoğan’s (over)confident self-perception of Turkey being a rising power that urges for its share in a multipolar world and is willing to apply blunt power politics whenever and wherever necessary.

Previous actions by his neo-Ottoman Excellency underline that. Be it infrastructural mega projects like the construction of Istanbul’s new airport, the first road tunnel under the Bosporus, or his newest desire, a canal through Istanbul. Be it his increasingly authoritarian rule finding its expression in press censorship, a purge targeting intellectuals, or his hunt for political opponents from both the Gülen Movement and the left-wing party HDP.

Yet, his attempts of showing off with his power have an international scope, too. Libya, where Turkey’s engagement did not just start last week, in that respect lines up in a row with Northern Syria, where Erdoğan tried to kill two birds with one stone. Pursuing a buffer zone to the war-torn neighbor to resettle refugees residing in Turkey coincided with a military warning to his archenemy, the Kurds, being home in and around that very region. Besides, Turkey made demands on natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean, by heating up the Cyprus conflict, Europe’s longest frozen conflict.

Now, one might jump to the conclusion of perceiving Turkey as nothing but becoming another dubious Middle Eastern autocracy, but beware! This is far from reality. Ankara is the pivotal element of many conflicts in the region and thus of crucial interest to the international community.

It is Turkey that keeps myriads of refugees from entering Europe. The end shall not justify the means, though Turkey thereby effectively does the EU’s dirty laundry. It too is Turkey that sits at the table with Russia and Iran negotiating about how to bring an end to the war in Syria. This triangle can be considered the forum that is most likely to achieve this goal. And Turkey is the most pro-Western member, being part of NATO and, yet with neglectable prospects for success, EU candidate country. At the same time, Ankara is the gateway from Europe to the Middle East, not least being a member of the OIC.

Bearing this in mind, the international, particularly European, community shall have a critical but conscious look at Turkey that repeatedly and insistently shows it is not willing to be a mere passive actor of the fight for hegemony in the Middle East between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The whole world focusing on Tehran in those days might open the back door for the sultan.

25th December beyond Christmas: wars, colonization and the end of an era

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Today, the 25th of December, is Christmas day, and it is celebrated around the world.  The Christian tradition commemorates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, although, before that, the 25th was already marked as a festivity to celebrate Winter solstice in pre-Christian cultures. But beyond celebrating Christmas, the 25th of December has been a date of relevance throughout history.

As such, here are some events that happened on the 25th December around the world and in different periods of time that hold some relevance and impact for International Relations.

In Europe, in 1356, in Nuremberg and Metz, the Emperor Carlos IV of Luxembourg promulgated the Golden Bull of 1356, the decree that would fix for more than four hundred years constitutional aspects of the Holy Roman Empire, such as the mechanism for the election of the Kings. The Holy Roman Empire constituted the primary ruling entity in Europe, lasting almost 1,000 years.

In South America, in 1492 the Spanish ship Santa María (one of the three first ships sent by the Spanish Royals and with Cristobal Columbus on it) ran aground in front of the island named “the Spanish”, today territory of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. With the remains of the ship, the Spanish would build the  From the first establishment on American soil, named “Fort Christmas” (Fuerte Navidad), initiating the colonization period that would last more than 300 years.

In 1553 in Chile, the indigenous people (los Mapuches), within the Auraco war defeated the Spanish colonizers in the Battle of Tucapel, the first battle won by the indigenous people that would demystify the invincibility of the Spanish troops and boosted resistance and uprisings against colonization.

In Asia, the 25th December 1978, in the context of the Cambodian-Vietnamese War, the Vietnamese army launched the definitive offensive, deploying more than 150,000 soldiers, that would end with the loss of more than half of the Kampuchean Revolutionary Army, making the Khmer Rouge retreat, paving the way for their final defeat of the Kampuchean troops and the occupation by the Vietnamese army.

And of course, in the last years of the 20th century, one of the events that marked the World until today, the 25th of December 1991 the resignation of Mikhail Gorbachev following the Belavezha Accords and transferring power to Boris Yelstein made the USSR finally dissolve, putting an effective end to the Cold War, as the Soviet flag was lowered from the Kremlin. 

Although these are just a few of the events that have happened on the 25th of December, the date has had a meaning beyond Christmas throughout history. Notwithstanding and for those who are celebrating in 2019 the tradition, have a merry Christmas and enjoy the holiday.

Who knows what the next 25th December beyond Christmas will be. It may be already happening today.