Moldova: the forgotten in-between Russia and the EU

, , , , ,

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

, , , ,

‘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

, , , , , , ,

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.

Organ Donation Postponed: A Bright Outlook for NATO and EU (?)

, , , ,

“What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO“, French president Emmanuel Macron said in an interview which thereafter spread like wildfire. A provoking statement, though Monsieur le Président obviously aimed at nothing but triggering his fellow state leaders. Now, after this emergency call with which NATO – as a proxy of most international organizations in those days – was hospitalized, the international community was curios what would be next up. Would the brain-dead patient donate his organs?

Admittedly, the organs of a 70-year-old might be hard to sell. But to most observer’s surprise, none of the brothers in unpredictability, Erdoğan, Johnson, Trump, and the like, blew up or hacked up the anniversary summit in London. There have been some minor issues, with Trudeau, Rutte, Johnson, and Macron accidently mocking the real Donald on camera. Yet, one of the negotiators rightly puts it when stating that “we were expecting worse”.

Whether North Macedonia, as stated in the final declaration, is soon to be the newest ally  has to be questioned to the same extent as the statement that NATO denotes “the strongest and most successful alliance in history”. Same holds for the claim that the alliance is “making good progress”.

But this is exactly where to draw on. In those days it is maybe not about making progress, setting new agendas, and speaking highly of multilateralism and one another. Perhaps it is a state leader like Boris Johnson realizing that indeed there is far more that unites the allies than what divides them. Perhaps it is to let Trump claim that no president would have ever achieved so much in so little time when at the same time he is willing to sign the final declaration and even mentions tremendous things being achieved. Perhaps it is seeing the state leaders mocking each other like at the play ground as long as they do not transfer the childish behavior to actual policy making.

If this is what Macron wanted to achieve, reinforcing awareness within the alliance of its importance, then he succeeded. If, on the contrary, he really aimed at questioning the organization or at least radically reforming it, then there is still a long way to go. And there is reason to doubt the success of this objective.

Yet, also taking into consideration the handover of the European Commission’s presidency Juncker to Ursula von der Leyen, it shows that the two most important international organizations for Europe, seemingly, are released from intensive care. vdL, as the new president is often referred to, proposed and outlined a very ambitious agenda for the upcoming five years.

She now has to meet the high hopes she awoke, of course. But, just as NATO, EU seems to be back on its feet. Trust in the long-lasting peace project is as high as it has not been in years. The first actions taken by vdL furthermore seem promising.

So, the two sick men of Europe, as one might still have labelled them a month ago, appear to recover now that it comes to the end of the year. It has to be proven in reality whether or not this is enough for a bright outlook. Notwithstanding the patient’s age, there remain to be plenty of prospects panting for the patient’s organs. Hence: Full recovery welcome.

Europe’s responsibility to bring back ISIS fighters home

, , , ,

Following ISIS’ loss of the last sliver of territory in March, US President Donald Trump asked the UK, Germany, France and other European allies to take back the over 800 ISIS members that are captured in Syria and to put them on trial in their home countries. However, European countries have shown to be reluctant to repatriate nationals that have been accused of being affiliated with ISIS or have been involved in the fighting. They claim that bringing them back would pose serious security concerns and they fear that they may have difficulties obtaining enough evidence to prosecute them. They have chosen to revoke their nationality instead, passing on the responsibility to those countries where the fighters are held.

The recent withdrawal of US troops from Syria and the invasion of Turkey have created further tensions in the region, leaving liberated areas unable to contain ISIS fighters in camps, meaning the potential for further activity and radicalization, as many are being freed or have escaped. The Syrian Democratic Forces, in charge of caring for the situation in these camps in northern Syria, have called for an urgent long-term solution as they are struggling to maintain cohesive control over their assigned territories, but European countries are also unable to find a comprehensive way out of the situation. ISIS has lost its territory and leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but has readjusted to the circumstances and continues to carry out numerous attacks and to grow in numbers. Therefore keeping ISIS fighters and relatives in the region without being prosecuted will not help the situation and could lead to further recruitment in both the Middle East or Europe.

The issue here is not only the continuing of terrorist activity in the region but also the conditions that these European nationals are living in. Conditions in these camps are inhumane and desperate. Widespread trauma among children subject to abuse, inadequate sanitation, and medical facilities as well as a general environment of lawlessness are present and becoming the norm in the camps, which again is strengthening the risk of further radicalization.

The instability in Syria following the Turkish incursion and the long-term detention of these men, women, and children are problematic for many security and humanitarian reasons. European governments should then address the challenge by accelerating the repatriation of their nationals, but instead, they have chosen to respond with exclusion policies and laws, displacing their responsibility onto others.

Some European officials have been trying to send suspects to be trialed in Iraqi courts or international tribunals but, despite some advantages to this prospect, it has been criticized over the risk of unfair or unreliable trials. Therefore, although it will expect some political courage to do so, European governments will have sooner or later to bring ISIS members home.

It is the fastest way to bring ISIS fighters into accountability for crimes through fairly conducted trials, it will get detainees and their relatives out of an unsustainable security situation and therefore limit the risk of the spreading of ISIS activities in the currently unstable northern Syria.

HAS ANYONE TOLD YOU THAT BREXIT IS ABOUT DISCRIMINATION?

, , , ,

Brexit is definitely one of the most popular topics at the moment, at the international level. Deal or no-deal, what that means for the EU and for the UK, what can immigrants expect, economy, will the boundaries be closed… It seems obvious, but it is surprisingly not enough and communicated straightforwardly, however Brexit is about discrimination.

Source: UKIP

Brexit campaign has been based on politics of prejudice and discrimination. Eastern-Europhobia has spread across the country before the referendum. Campaign posters trying to raise the feelings of threat among the UK citizens, ‘threat’, that is, threat by Eastern Europeans coming and stealing their NHS money by playing social security victims, threats by the Turks that will rush to the UK when they join the EU and whelm the Holy Kingdom, these posters have achieved their goal. Thirty seven percent of the UK voting population managed to decide about destiny of 66 million people. But that’s democracy.

Thirty seven percent of the voting body is xenophobic? The manipulation with their national identity was successful. They voted against immigration from countries that are even not in the EU. It is not even certain that they will become a part of the EU any time soon. Even if they do, the people that voted for leaving the EU are people who discriminate against other national groups. I can’t even emphasize this process enough.

Source: BBC

Since the beginning of the referendum campaign, the anxiety among migrants and discrimination against them has risen. Many people have been denied visas, but the outburst was the most visible among academics. Researchers from other countries were even denied visas for visiting conferences. Scholars had to leave their already existing positions because they were ordered to. Scholars’ babies were denied visas, hence forcing themselves to leave. Academics have been threatened with deportation to countries they have never visited. Who knows how many more have been denied or deported, but are not so loud to yell about their situation. No-deal Brexit has already started.

The independence of the UK is based on discrimination. It is not a pity then to be denied their visa or residency. Who would want to live in such a society anyway?

A Dire Love Triangle (II): Europe’s Cold peace?

, , ,

A climate of “Cold Peace” has been around Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The two major European centers of power, the European Union and Russia have developed two opposing approaches to international politics: the normative and the Realpolitik. It is that confronting vision which has been a determinant factor in handling the situation in Ukraine, particularly in Crimea.

While Russia has exhibited a more assertive foreign policy through its hard power -labeled as a neo-revisionist power in search of great power status-, the role of the EU has taken another turn. It has been pictured as a civilian power whose unification ‘is not directed against anyone, nor is it inspired by a desire for power’. However, this is an ideal depiction, especially regarding its relationship with Russia. Bearing in mind the context and positions, two interrelated factors can be  identified when trying to understand the EU’s response in Ukraine, starting with Crimea.

1.No possible war on European soil

Firstly, the lack of preparedness for conflict within the European territory. Crimea’s annexation was something the EU was not ready for, although some could argue that Georgia in 2008 was a warning sign. The situation in Ukraine and Georgia have similarities regarding their location as post-soviet space, but in Georgia, unlike Ukraine, the conflict ended by a ceasefire promoted by France, and Russian troops mostly pulled back.

2. EU’s dualism of identities

As mentioned elsewhere, the fact that the EU has a dualism of identities reflected in a European vs. State disjunctive has consequences in Ukraine. In this regard, most of the Central Eastern European Countries (CEEC) have pursued a confrontational approach towards Russia, to the point of being labeled as   “new cold warriors”. Furthermore, their push for NATO intervention in the area vis-à-vis other EU countries wanting to pacify the situation has made the EU’s response to Ukraine mostly passive, as reflected in the only cohesive action taken by the EU: sanctions.

Finally, the EU is aware that to avoid conflict in Europe, the situation can’t be solved through military means. It can’t force Russia to give back Crimea. But the EU doesn’t want to participate in negotiation efforts either, such as the Minsk Agreements. The dilemma remains: should we take steps for a European warmer peace or keep dragging the same Cold War dynamics?

Macron’s game of thrones

, , ,

Last Thursday, a man who has been starting to play games of power in the EU, with slow withdrawal of Angela Merkel, did not support the opening of accession talks for North Macedonia (and Albania). The European Union has internal issues, he explained, and first has to focus on solving them. ‘Historic mistake’, that was the reaction of the Head of the European Commission. The EU needs ‘a reformed enlargement process, a real credibility and a strategic vision of who we are and our role’, said Macron. The other 27 leaders did not see this as an issue that would prevent this Balkan country from more hard work, but at least with a European vision. Does Macron know better? Or is he trying to square up to Merkel?

Did the French president really make a historic error in his attempt to present himself as the new top dog? His unspoken veto unquestionably has multi-level implications. The hopes and dreams of North Macedonia were thrown into the trash. The country has had one of the most painful periods in its recent history in an attempt to make way for the European path. This Thursday might have been their only window to come closer to the West. Big geopolitical dogs are certainly ready to attack their piece of meat once again. They have, for a short period of time, lost their huge influence over this country, but now they can strike the wounded animal again. Russia? China? First come, first served? One thing is for sure: the playground is open again.

It is, of course, crazy to imagine that North Macedonia is the only one to suffer this defeat. The message that was sent to other (potential and) candidate members in the Balkans is: no matter how hard you try, we can (and will?) bring you down. Why then would they turn to the EU? Also, the question of resolving Serbia-Kosovo case might get another perspective, with Greece-North Macedonia issue resolution being treated like it has. Big actors are in play, but it would be dangerous not to take into consideration the feelings of disappointment and betrayal. In the games of power, they can bite back. The bite-marks are usually in the shape of Russia…

… who signed an agreement with Serbia to start building a nuclear center there. But that’s another story.

THE SHAPE OF IDENTITY – part 3

, ,

As previously explained, the EU created a recategorized nation-type identity which aimed, among others, to help the integration of all members of the Union, invite to cooperation and decrease intergroup bias, by that increasing positive attitudes towards other groups. However, not all national groups feel equally attached to the European identity. One of the reasons why some of them may feel threatened by identifying with this identity lies in the threat to their distinctiveness. Eastern European countries are culturally different from the West, which created the Union in the first place. Their identification with the European identity may be perceived as complying with ‘their’ rules and losing the identity of one’s own group.

Another reason that can hinder the adoption of a superordinate identity is the attitude or belief of one (or both) group(s) that this superordinate category is supposed to bear the characteristics of their identity, that is, to portray their values and qualities. If the groups disagree about these aspects, they may find it hard to identify with the new category. The groups may also feel threatened by potential loss of their identity characteristics, such as Eastern European nations in the area of the EU. This may also be one of the reasons for the migrant crisis. It can even be heard among the spokespeople of the groups that articulate their feelings of threat that the migrants carry the islamisation of Europe with them, meaning that the new society would have to adopt their values and that they will not be integrated into our existing culture.

The right-wing parties that have been rising during the last two years in many European countries and gaining more power often manipulate with this fear of attack on identity. These groups, like Vox in Spain or AfD in Germany, are openly calling for stopping of immigration and ‘salvaging their nations from the claws of evil migrants who are taking over their resources, but also their culture’. Except, globalisation is inevitable and these manipulations damage the society as a whole. Where could this newly-risen toxic nationalism lead?

A Dire Love Triangle (I): the EU, Russia & Ukraine

, , ,

I. The path to Ukraine: EU’s overstretching phenomena 

The post-soviet space saw from 1991 the struggle for two different projects in Europe: Wider Europe, led by the EU’s enlargement project, and Greater Europe, led by the Russian Federation, a defeated power knocking on need’s door. As the enlargement project emerged as the only possibility pushed largely in the former Soviet space and ignoring Russia, the country entered the decade of humiliations: ‘stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok’ didn’t become an option.

Within that logic and with the EU’s blessing, the relationship between the former Soviet space and Russia quickly deteriorated. Within Wider Europe, the EU developed the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) as a previous step to membership and launched its most geopolitical branch: the Eastern Partnership (EaP). In 2004, the ‘big-bang enlargement’  gave full membership to  8 Eastern European countries.  However, this expansion effort has had consequences within the consolidation and democratization of EU institutions, particularly regarding Poland and Hungary. EU’s winner complex and enlargement at all costs in Russia’s ‘near abroad’ has made tangible the widening vs. the deepening dilemma in the European Union.

Regarding the ENP, many Eastern countries such as Ukraine have institutionalized the European destiny for decades, fueled by EU’s policy and promises through the EaP and hatred against Russia. Following this path and according to the  Strategy of Ukraine’s Integration to the European Union, Ukraine would have gained EU membership by 2007. However, it didn’t; and today one might wonder if there are any indicators of any EU plan to further integrate Ukraine.

The year 2014 heightened tensions within Europe to a point of no return. Following the events of the Maidan, Crimea’s annexation by Russia and the war in East and Southeast Ukraine, the EU finally realized that it had been overstretching, and thus pushed for a reform of the ENP, acknowledging that ‘the EU cannot alone solve the many challenges of the region (…) there are limits to its leverage’. It has further emphasized, intra-EU, the need to consolidate the democratic principles and common rule of law of those already members.

However, this state of affairs posits great challenges for the EU and the European continent. Is membership still an option for EaP countries? What kind of relationship does the EU want to have with Russia? What do we do with the situation in Crimea? What are the EU failures in relation to the situation in Ukraine?