This analysis was prepared for the International Centre for Policy Studies in Kyiv by Vasyl Filipchuk, Olena Zakharova,and myself (Amanda Paul)
Russian aggression in Crimea and power play on the Ukrainian-Russian border has become a key issue of the international agenda today. Russian actions are aimed at making the world take into consideration its own geopolitical ambitions, enforcing the order of the post-Soviet region which would best fit its interests as well as solving a number of its internal problems.
The international community demonstrates an increasingly appropriate response to Russian aggression – it was the stance of global players that became a major counterbalance to the Russian pressure. However, further steps need to be taken by Ukraine’s new leadership to strengthening their institutional capacity in terms of responding to this serious challenge from their neighbour.
1. Russian aggression and international response
1.1. Positions of major global players
Insisting on the legitimacy of Viktor Yanukovych, Russia used him as a tool in achieving its goals in Crimea, while breaching a number of international treaties, namely:
•United Nations Charter;
•1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law;
•1975 Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe;
•1997 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership between the Russian Federation and Ukraine;
•Agreement on the Status and Conditions of the Black Sea Fleet stationing on the territory of Ukraine dated August 8th, 1997 (it was prolonged in April 2010).
Besides, refusal of the Russian Federation to carry out preliminary consultations with Ukraine and the countries, which are guarantors of its security and territorial integrity (Great Britain, USA and France), blatantly neglects international commitments enforced in the Budapest memorandum of 1994.
1.2. Geopolitical and economic interests of Russia
From geopolitical viewpoint, Crimean affairs are part of Russian foreign strategy and the means to enforce its geopolitical positions, predominantly in the region it considers to be its area of influence.
Through the campaign in Crimea Russia tries to attach the Crimean peninsula to a so-called “small security belt” which already includes Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, and Kaliningrad. At the same time it wants to increase the presence of its Navy in the Black Sea, which is perceived as a component of national security system and factor of regional stability in confrontation with NATO.
Besides, Russia tries to solve the following economic tasks:
•To ensure energy security through reducing the cost of South Stream which, in this case, would be constructed on the continental shelf of the Black Sea instead of deep international waters;
•To use gas pipelines to “tie” Crimea to Russia, whereas nowadays the former totally depends on Ukraine in terms of infrastructure and resources;
•To neutralize or take under the Russian control profitable projects of gas exploration and extraction in the Black Sea, which were initiated by Ukraine with the assistance of major European and American companies;
•To deprive “Ukraine without Crimea” of major territory of exclusive economic zone in the Black Sea etc.
1.3. Conspiracy theories
In order to explain the Russian logic, experts consider several conspiracy theories.
1.A Russian game to raise the stakes. Russia decided to use the vulnerability of the newly appointed Ukrainian government in order to raise the stakes in the negotiations on Ukrainian-Russian relations after Maidan. Such a step was aimed at preventing new Ukrainian officials from raising the issues of Kharkiv treaties denouncement or the withdrawal of the Russian Black Sea Fleet from the territory of Ukraine. According to this scenario, after Russian power play, which would not transform into military conflict, the parties will start negotiations where Russia will insist on its terms for the conflict resolution. Russia needs a loyal Ukrainian government which would not enter NATO and would take into account Russian economic and military interests.
2.Russian reply to the US. Russia perceives Ukrainian Maidan exclusively as an American “special operation”, the first stage of post-Soviet “democratization” based on the scenario of the Arab spring. The Kremlin believes that events in Ukraine from November 2013 – February 2014 may serve as an example for weakening Putin’s regime in Russia. Therefore, after Yanukovych’s defeat Moscow decided to counterattack and fight the US on the Ukrainian territory. In this case it is unknown how far Russia would go; yet, considering the vulnerability of the newly appointed Ukrainian government, Moscow may try to split the country and return Viktor Yanukovych as a puppet leader of a quasi-state.
3.Oligarchs’ theory. Supporters of this theory believe that Viktor Yanukovych failed to ensure Russian interests in Ukraine and Vladimir Putin decided to return or introduce other individuals in Ukrainian politics. The scenario of aggression on the Crimean peninsula was used to regain control over the processes in the country and allow particular individuals to get power. In this case Moscow will start negotiations or make concessions when a pre-approved negotiator will be offered to whom Vladimir Putin will “grant the victory” – settlement of the conflict and return of control over Crimea.
4.Economic theory. According to this theory, the Russian leadership understands that their global positions have weakened due to end of the crisis in the EU, the start of economic growth in the US, considerable economic growth in the East and progress in the resolution of Iranian problem. It is believed that by the end of 2014 an irreversible processes will start in the Russian economic and financial system, and the Crimean affair was initiated to distract attention from the Russian economic problems and destabilize the global economic system.
5.Psychological theory. Certain experts believe that the actions of Russian political elite are sincere and they reflect psychological and moral traumas related to the demise of the USSR.
None of these theories are perfect. We do not fully know the motivation and logic of Russian leaders. It is possible that their actions were caused by a combination of factors.
At this point it is impossible to say whether Putin will move on to the “continental” phase of the conflict and how far Russia will go in case of this phase. Each of the possible options (1. Crimea; 2. Two or three eastern regions; 3. 6-7 regions of Russian-speaking South East; 4. Zbruch line, meaning the whole territory of Ukraine except for Western Ukraine) will depend on a number of factors, namely:
1.War-making capacity of Ukrainian army;
2.Kyiv’s control over regions and local population supporting the government;
3.Level of international support to Kyiv and pressure on Moscow;
4. Internal political and economic situation in Russia.
1.4. Restraints of Russian special operation
Though Russians form the majority in the Crimea (58.5%), there are also considerable minorities – Ukrainians (24.4%) and Crimean Tatars (12.1%), – who are against Crimea joining the Russian Federation and may form an alliance against the Russians.
Nevertheless, it was the response of international community that restrained Russia from further escalating the Crimea conflict. Furthermore, the NATO-Russia military ratio in the Black Sea is evaluated to be 5 to 1.
Conflict in Crimea will also activate Muslim factor inside Russia and may cause new terrorist attacks there.
Aggression in Crimea also negatively affected the Russian stock market and currency rate, which significantly influenced the calculations of the Russian government. However, at the same time there can be little doubt that political expediency will be the only factor which will define any further Russian steps.
1.5. Information war: Russia vs Maidan
Over the last few months Russia has carried out full-scale informational campaign to discredit Maidan in the West and eastern regions of Ukraine.
Special attention is paid to depicting Ukrainian protesters as extremists. In particular, considerable efforts are aimed at discrediting Dmytro Yarosh, leader of Praviy Sektor.
Another element of the Russian campaign is aggressive speculations over the issues of language and the rights of ethnic minorities, namely Russians in the Crimea. Thus, Russia delivers a message that Maidan is a revolution of Ukrainian nationalists, aimed against ethnic minorities.
Due to this fact, informational coverage of events in Crimea looked like a demonstration of power, rather than a military operation. Messages from the Russian mass media about Russian soldiers taking control over military facilities and panic among the Russian-speaking population in Eastern Ukraine were not true. The press conference of Viktor Yanukovych, organized on February 28th, 2014 in Rostov-na-Donu, is perceived as a part of the information campaign in which the former Ukrainian president is just a tool of Russian influence.
We may assume that the aim of this information campaign is to determine the reaction of Ukrainian citizens to the Kremlin’s steps in order to define the level to which Moscow may raise the stakes at the negotiations or the potential scale of military intervention.
At present Putin leaves himself space for manoeuvring in Crimean situation. For instance, it was done through a statement that the Resolution of the Council of Federation, which allows Putin to use army on the territory of Ukraine, was adopted based on the information, which was not confirmed.
In turn, since December 2013 Maidan was losing the information war in the West. For a long time Russian positions were strengthened by Ukrainian official diplomacy.
At the same time, actions taken by the new Ukrainian government (in particular, the decision of the Council of National Security and Defence of Ukraine on ensuring security and territorial integrity of Ukraine dated March 2nd, 2014 and parliamentary Resolution “On Appeal of Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine to parliaments of the countries which are security guarantors of Ukraine and international organizations” dated March 2nd, 2014), strengthened positions of Ukraine in future negotiations with Russia.
2. Plan of action for Ukraine
The Crimean affair showed the institutional vulnerability of the Ukrainian state machine, its inability to take preventative measures in conflict situations. When the information on Russian actions in Crimea appeared in mass media, representatives of the new government were focused on the distribution of positions instead of ensuring control over regions.
Russian aggression made the Ukrainian government face reality and act under extraordinary circumstances. Ukraine’s new leadership took positive steps. However, it is still necessary to strengthen positions for negotiations, which would make Moscow start negotiations and would raise Ukraine’s stakes in the process.
What steps may be taken? First of all, an adequate response to the military threat is needed. For instance, a state of emergency may be announced in certain regions; the Minister of Defence may start the mobilization of the army and inventorying its resources with a public report to Commander-in-Chief on the readiness to fight against the aggressor. It is necessary to use the Security Service of Ukraine and army units to strengthen and protect the eastern borders of the country. The government should arrest people, responsible for the destabilization of situation and block the borders so that agent provocateurs would not be able to come from Russia.
Steps were made to launch a patriotic information campaign; yet more proactive work with the international mass media is needed.
More importantly, a national coalition of people’s trust should be formed. It may be achieved through the transformation of the government headed by Batkivschyna into a government of national unity which will include professionals representing various regions and parties. Controversial and weak personalities should be eliminated from the government.
Instead of being an object for geopolitical games, Ukraine should become their subject. The country needs its own plan for solving the conflict and competent negotiators.
Ukraine should offer Russia and the international community a new memorandum which would become a compromise and basis for long-lasting peace and stability in the region. This Memorandum should grant Russia and other countries, which do not aim at entering the EU, the prospect of integration in European area with freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and people. Such an opportunity would guarantee political independence of Russia while providing it with access to European advantages.
The Memorandum may offer security guarantees to Russia – for instance, the consent of Ukraine not to integrate with NATO if Russia withdraws its fleet in 2017 and provides effective international guarantees for the borders of Ukraine.
This Memorandum may also cover other issues, including language and humanitarian ones, and in the future it may complement Helsinki documents and become a mechanism for reforms within OSCE.
There may be many ideas and concepts in negotiations with Russia and the international community, yet it is important for Ukrainian government to have the institutional capacity to elaborate them and conduct negotiations with partners. A key task today is to appoint a professional negotiator, who could communicate with Russia on a par and have trust both on the part of the EU and the Russian Federation.
Russian aggression has become the largest challenge for modern Ukraine. At the same time it has offered a unique chance to review current architecture of Europe in which Ukraine does not take its due place. We shall see whether the government will use this opportunity.
By implementing military aggression in Crimea, Russia makes steps “to force Ukraine to conduct negotiations” on the part of the international community and major geopolitical players. Moscow sent a clear signal to the world community that it would not allow them to define the rules on post-Soviet territory without taking into consideration its interests. Russia leaves space for negotiations, but it clearly defined the USA and West, not the Ukrainian government, as a party in these negotiations.
The most important task for Ukrainian diplomacy is to restore direct dialogue between Kyiv and Moscow, which is the only way to prevent the final loss of international legal standing. That is why it is extremely important to appoint a competent negotiator to represent Ukraine. Discredited individuals who have political or pragmatic interest to use the conflict for their own sake should not become such negotiators.
Russia will raise the stakes in negotiations with the West to distribute spheres of influence and with Ukrainian government to consider interests of Kremlin in its future politics. Moscow will advance to the point to which Kyiv would allow it through insufficient control over eastern regions and institutional weakness of the government. It is only through its own actions that Kyiv may define the limit to which Moscow will advance, solving its geopolitical, energy and economic interests in the region.
Ensuring a strong national position in negotiations is a key task for Ukraine. This position should be based on the highest level of war-making capacity of the army, its mobilization, control over all regions in the country, consensus of the elites over major state issues till the conflict is solved. Ukraine should propose a large-scale document to settle the conflict, which may become a basis for a long-lasting European order.
On Feb. 11, almost a decade after the failure of the Annan plan, the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, Nicos Anastasiades and Derviş Eroğlu, respectively, began a new round of talks aimed at reunifying the island after nearly 40 years of division. The previous attempt, which began in 2008, ran aground in May 2012.
The talks, which are being facilitated by the United Nations, aim for a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. So what are the chances of success, given that all other attempts have unfortunately failed? There are a number of reasons that make me feel more optimistic.
The fact that the leaders of the two communities have signed a joint declaration/communiqué, representing a framework for the talks seems positive, despite it taking four months to achieve this. The communiqué underlines the single sovereignty and international identity of the future federal state — something the Greek Cypriots wanted — while also underlining political equality and strong residual powers for the constituent states, which is important for the Turkish Cypriots.
The fact that there will be so-called cross-talks with Ankara and Athens is also something new. The Turkish Cypriot negotiator will visit Athens while his Greek Cypriot counterpart will travel to Ankara. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras have been particularly active in pushing for this new round of talks. Turkey in particular remains a key element in coming to a successful conclusion, hence any steps that can help build trust between Turkey and Greek Cypriots and that could reduce the fear and suspicion that Greek Cypriots have toward Turkey should be welcomed. Furthermore, the fact that Anastasiades is seeking a light federal solution represents a significant change from the past, and could make an eventual deal more digestible.
Not everybody liked the communiqué. Anastasiades’ coalition partner, the Democratic Party (DIKO), labeled it a “bad deal.” Head of the party, Nicolas Papadopoulos accused Anastasiades of “caving in” to international pressure and threatened to withdraw from the government — DIKO has five ministers. However, Papadopoulos does not have the full support of DIKO. There is a 60-40 split, which may make it more difficult. More positively, opposition Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) has thrown its support behind Anastasiades, as has Archbishop Chrysostomos II, which is important.
The choice of the two chief negotiators should also help the process. Andreas Mavroyiannis is a diplomat with considerable international experience. Having had many conversations with Mr. Mavroyiannis during his time as ambassador at Cyprus’ Permanent Representation in Brussels, I know him to be deeply committed to finding a solution. His counterpart on the Turkish Cypriot side, Kudret Özersay, also has many years of experience. He is very proactive and has acted as chief negotiator previously. Building a good working relationship will be key.
Another positive point is that the US has had a more active part, playing a key role in ironing out the difficulties in having the declaration signed, with Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland visiting Cyprus. The sudden increase in US involvement caught many by surprise as Washington has been quite passive on the issue over the last few years. It could indicate that they see genuine commitment from the two sides. There is also the fact that US energy corporation Nobel is involved in the Cypriot natural gas extraction projects, which would become much easier with a solution.
Still, we should not expect a quick result. A lot of work lies ahead. There are many thorny problems to work out such as property and territory, as well as the issue of settlers. They will need to dig deep to find sufficient political will. I also hope both sides will have learned from previous mistakes and make this an “inclusive” process that bring in all stakeholders — including media, business, civil society and, crucially, Cypriot society.
A solution would not only bring peace and stability to the Eastern Mediterranean, it would give a much needed boost to the economy of the island, facilitate the transport of both Cypriot and Israeli natural gas to Europe and unblock Turkey’s accession process with the EU to a considerable extent. But perhaps most importantly it will help bury years of distrust and acrimonious relations.
* This article first appeared in Today’s Zaman
Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, remains the most powerful and charismatic man in Turkish politics today. Yet, despite the many positive steps he has taken during his term in office, with his increasing retreat from the path of democracy and growing disregard for freedoms and the rule of law, Erdoğan may well have pressed the self-destruct button on his own legacy.
Erdoğan has led the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to three consecutive election wins. This is no mean feat. On Nov. 3, 2002, after years of shambolic coalition governments, the elections ushered in a major realignment of the Turkish political landscape.
The three consecutive wins may be attributed to two main things: successful policymaking, in particular not only revamping the economy which has gone from being on skid row to a success story in a world of austerity and economic downturn, but also addressing key issues that were previously taboo, such as the Kurdish issue and putting Turkey in the spotlight on the international stage. The second thing is weak opposition forces, meaning the AKP has faced no serious competition. Turkey’s opposition misses real leadership and real policies. Hence they have helped Erdoğan far more than they have helped themselves or their supporters.
However, too much power intoxicates, and during this third period of AKP rule, Erdoğan developed an increasingly “Jekyll and Hyde” character. One moment he portrays himself as a reformer and a democrat, talking about equality and values and freedoms for all. A short time later, he will burst into a fit of anger and rage about just about anything he does not agree with. He has developed a number of particular pet peeves, including Twitter, famously stating: “There is now a menace which is called Twitter. The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.” Because he has progressively become a “loose cannon,” this has made Turkey an increasingly unpredictable partner.
Erdoğan has also developed a tendency to explain his actions by linking them to morality — how it is necessary to take such steps for the good of the people, to protect their virtue. When trying to defend (but clearly failing) a new draconian Internet law, not only did Erdoğan claim the law advanced Turkish democracy, he went further, stating it protected society from the “porn lobby” and “parallel state.”
A quote from George Orwell’s book “Animal Farm” seems to describe Erdoğan’s view of life: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” Nowadays he is unable to embrace Turkish society as a whole because it seems he has a problem accepting that not everyone is going to support his ideology. The gestures that he makes are generally aimed at shoring up his own support, rather than genuine tolerance and acceptance that there is another way of life in Turkey other than his.
Erdoğan and his colleagues always boast about creating a “new Turkey,” that the old Turkey was a “sick” country with low levels of democracy and respect for human rights, where torture existed with impunity and where freedom of expression was strangled. While there are no longer military coups today and the military’s role in the country has, quite rightly, been neutered, many things that were problematic in the “old Turkey” have resurfaced in the “new Turkey.” Yet this is not that surprising. Turkey is not a consolidated democracy.
Rather, democracy is a fragile work in progress, with the modernization and democratization of Turkey being a long-term project. Turkey has never had an independent judiciary or fully functioning rule of law. Freedom of expression was problematic in the old Turkey and it still is. While Erdoğan may have started off taking steps to advance democracy, he is now going in the opposite direction, including trying to cover up corruption allegations and meddling with the judicial system. Yet for his core base, no matter what he does, it seems they will stick with him. It’s the “floaters” that Erdoğan needs to be concerned about. And it may be these floaters that could determine the outcome of the March local elections that will decide his political weight in the country.
*This article first appeared in Today’s Zaman
As the saying goes, “you reap what you sow” and Ukraine’s President seems set to face the consequence of the seeds of anger, resentment and disgust that he has sewn in Ukraine. Despite having spent the last few years eroding democracy, consolidating power and pilfering the country’s wealth, it was ultimately the fact that he misled the nation into believing he was committed to European integration that became the issue that broke the camel’s back. Peaceful protests against his geopolitical U-turn, led to the security forces killing, beating, jailing and torturing. Ukraine has changed forever. It is now a country with Martyrs – brave souls that have lost their lives in the fight for freedom.
One way or another Yanukovych‘s days as President of this great nation seem to be numbered. The question is how and when? Of course Yanukovych does not want to accept this fact. Yanukovych will never voluntarily relinquish power. He will try every maneuver and trick in the book to hold on to it, but the clock is ticking. The people in the streets are getting increasingly impatient as Yanukovych and his inner circle play games, stalling for time. Ukraine is literally teetering on edge of a cliff. As the political crisis deepens, Ukraine’s economic situation becomes more perilous with the chances of default on its debts steadily rising. In fact this could even happen as early as the next couple of weeks. This week the exchange rate of the Ukrainian Hryvnia dropped 17%!
There seem to be two main options on the table. First, accepting the EU-US financial aid package which is rumored to be more than $30 billion. EU foreign policy chief, Baroness Ashton discussed this with Yanukovych today (Wednesday 4th). While this money will not hinge on Kyiv first agreeing upon a long-term International Monetary Fund agreement, whose financial conditions, Kyiv would find almost impossible to meet, it will come with a long list of other conditions which, despite the massive sum, make it a bitter pill for Yanukovych to swallow. Economic and Political reforms are key including urgently amending the Constitution in order to allow it to return to the 2004 model which would drain Yanukovych‘s powers. While this reform is crucial in order to bring the power back to the government/parliament, at the same time let’s not forget the ugly situation this constitutional arrangement created during the reign of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and former President Viktor Yushchenko. Despite the government having the right to take decisions, the President was still able to veto them. Hence it is necessary to have much deeper constitutional reform and it seems this would take longer to bring into place.
Only a comprehensive package, that can deliver what the EuroMaidan protestors have been asking, will bring an end to the crisis and protests, return the country to political stability and ease the dire economic situation. Elections, either next year – or earlier – would oust Yanukovych, although again crucial reforms to the electoral law would need to be pushed through beforehand. So far Yanukovych has shown no sign of being ready to make serious compromises. Over the last days his negative rhetoric has increased as the PoR has played a show in the Rada, bickering and trading insults with the opposition. Of course, if a shift was to take place in Parliament the picture could also change. If the some 60 Party of Regions members which are under the influence of two of Ukrainians major oligarchs, Renat Ahmetov and Dmitrii Firtash, who have recently shown an unwillingness to be hostages in the President’s game, or other non-aligned members move to join the opposition forces, this would change the picture and Yanukovych would have his hands tied. However, given that last week Yanukovych personally blocked such a move when he showed up at the Parliament and threatened MPs, such a shift not guaranteed.
The second option is to try and squeeze a new deal out of Russian President, Vladimir Putin, when Yanukovych meets him in Sochi at the end of this week. In effect he will be asking Russia to outbid the West. While Russia clearly wants to keep Ukraine at its side how far Putin is willing to go with this dead duck remain is questionable. Yanukovych will try to convince Putin that he can hold things together (with Russian assistance); can put together a strong pro-Russian government including possibly making Andrii Kluyev, who is allegedly a man of the Kremlin, Prime Minister, and possibly take further aggressive steps to clear out EuroMaidan, in order he can remain as President and avoid making the constitutional amendments. However, it also clear that Yanukovych has dug himself into a deep hole which is almost impossible to climb out of; he is not in control of the country and his own party of regions is rupturing. Hence Yanukovych is far from a good bet.
Moreover while Yanukovych may believe that he can still oppress the people in the streets, or that they will simply become tired of this battle and go home this would seem rather unlikely. Rejecting an EU deal, while pushing for a Russian one will only add fuel to this fire. This would be a serious gamble and probably one he will lose because all the signs are that Ukrainians are ready to fight to the end although that end could be very ugly indeed, including the breakup of the country, with an outflow of refugees to the EU. Some hot heads in Ukraine’s eastern regions such as Party of Region members, Oleg Tsariov and Vadim Kolesnichenko as well as the regional authorities in Kharkiv and Crimea, have already called for Russian engagement, which would allow Moscow to repeat what it did in 2008 in Georgia. Such a scenario would represent a serious challenge to the international community (as well as to Moscow), which is almost certainly not preparing to face such a reality. Only Poland seems to have made contingency plans to that end.
If Yanukovych continues to stall, thereby deepening the crisis, the EU needs to take tougher measures otherwise it risks losing all credibility, not to mention contradicting the principles on which the EU was founded – to bring stability and security to the European continent. As Member of the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, recommended, the EU needs to be ready with a “loaded gun”: the freezing of assets of key political elites and oligarchs who have significant financial assets in a number of member states, targeted sanctions, as well as travel bans. While there is presently a division between member states on the topic sanctions, this needs to be overcome with the EU putting together a decisive, robust and credible strategy.
Furthermore, whichever new government eventually comes into power, Yanukovych‘s legacy is set to shadow them, irrelevant on when or how is leaves office. His successors will inherit a very muffled and difficult situation which will test them from the moment they come arrive in office. A new government seems set to pick up the Association Agreement and DCFTA with the EU. However, unless we want to return to square one with Moscow, in terms of the punitive measures Russia has taken against Ukraine – and are still doing to today – , it is imperative that the EU engages with Moscow in parallel talks in order to find an amicable way out which satisfies Ukraine’s European integration aspirations, including deep trade, but at the same time is able to pacify Moscow over its cited economic concerns.
There are also many other questions that need to be addressed. Do the opposition forces have any real strategy for the future, including how they will deal with Russia, including paying back the debt, because they simply cannot ignore their big neighbour? What could be the consequences when Yulia Tymoshenko is released from prison? How will she fit into the picture? And probably most important do they have the political will and conviction to do what virtually all other Ukrainian political elites have failed to do until now: namely put the country, society and Ukraine’s modernization and democratization before their own interests? – Слава Україні!
Freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty and can never be restrained but by a despotic government. Indeed media freedom levels are a good test of the democratic health of a nation.
Turkey is in very poor health, with the government continuing to muzzle free media. The latest effort is related to the Internet. If proposed amendments to the Internet law, which are expected to go to Parliament this week, are adopted, it would further restrict free expression. The Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) will be given the right to request and collect data on any Internet user without judicial oversight.
Is it acceptable that the government empowers the TİB to censor electronic media outlets as well as the personal blogs of parliamentarians, while claiming all the while to be abiding with the principles of democratic governance? In fact the authorities have already been meddling. Opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) member Umut Oran published a parliamentary inquiry (as he always does) on his website on bribery and fraud allegations regarding Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s family. He received a message from the TİB that his website would be shut down if he did not remove the content. A year ago, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that Turkey’s existing Internet law already contradicts the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and freedom of expression.
Winston Churchill once said, “I am always in favor of the free press but sometimes they say quite nasty things.” Regrettably, Erdoğan does not think along the same lines as his government has taken more and more steps to muzzle what they perceive as “nasty press.” While initially there was a tweak here and there, more recently it is being done in a more blatant manner.
Self-censorship has become more common as more journalists are hounded for criticizing the government. The government has also been taking control of or co-opting numerous media outlets. Thereby more and more newspapers that were once rather critical of the government have become more or less government mouthpieces. The fact that a large number of Turkish newspapers are in the hands of industrial bigwigs who have very extensive interests has led to widespread self-censorship by these media owners. It was particularly noticeable that much of the mainstream media did not widely report on the June 2013 Gezi Park protests. Several journalists and columnists were fired as a consequence of their reporting.
The most recent wave is a consequence of a corruption scandal that has plagued the government since Dec. 17. Some 100 journalists have lost their jobs, either being made redundant or resigning after being harassed.
Sentencing journalists to life imprisonment is also common. In November of 2013, Füsun Erdoğan, Ziya Ulusoy, Bayram Namaz, Ibrahim Cicek and Sedat Şenoğlu were accused of being members of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP), which is banned under Turkish anti-terrorism laws. All were given life sentences, with the exception of Şenoğlu, who received just over seven years. The anti-terrorism law has been systematically used to silence critical voices. Along with the terrorism law, it allows for the arrest, detention and sentencing of journalists on terrorism charges for doing their work.
Another case is that of Muharrem Erbrey, a writer, lawyer and human rights activist from Diyarbakır who has been in pre-trial detention since 2009. He is accused of attempting to humiliate the Turkish state in speeches given in the Swedish, Belgian and UK parliaments, of being Diyarbakır Mayor Osman Baydemir’s lawyer, of attempting to humiliate Turkish security forces — the list goes on. His detainment has been heavily criticized by Amnesty International and other international organizations
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Turkey is now the world-leading jailer of journalists, with some 40 (many of them Kurdish) in prison as of December 2013, with others facing very long pre-trial detentions. Meanwhile, Reporters without Borders’ Press Freedom Index ranks Turkey 154th out of 178. A further report, released earlier this week by Freedom House, accuses Turkey of a “frantic crackdown” on the media. Yet, according to government officials, not a single one of those in prison is being detained or tried for something they have written.
While the international community has criticized Ankara, it has had little impact. More needs to be done to stop this ugly trend.
This Article was first published in Todays Zaman
Watching the ongoing drama in Turkey is like reading a thriller. Each chapter — or, in this case, day — brings a new twist. Only this is not a book, it is real life and what is happening these days in Turkey is very disturbing.
The last few weeks have shown that Turkish democracy and rule of law is little more than a house of cards. Important reforms taken over the past decade aimed at strengthening democratic standards, including separating powers and building a more independent judiciary after years of military tutelage, have been seriously violated. Rather than following the “rule book” Turkey’s leadership has thrown it in the trash and is acting to protect itself and its close associates. Actually, I do not think that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could have handled this crisis in a worse way if he had tried.
The legitimacy of all Turkey’s executive organs has been eroded, with perhaps worse to come. There seems to be little difference between Turkey’s elites and those they have criticized so harshly in other parts of the world, such as Egypt. The government has now removed or re-orientated around 2,500 policemen (the very same police that Erdoğan congratulated for their service during last summer’s Gezi Park protests), scores of prosecutors and tens of top bureaucrats. In some cases, the entire staff of some Cabinet ministers (and not just those that are no longer in their posts) have been booted out, while the deputy head of the Istanbul police has been replaced five times in three weeks.
This massive purge, which seems set to continue, is aimed at removing what Prime Minister Erdoğan claims is a “parallel state,” aka the Gülen Movement, which is accused of trying to bring down the government. However, if such a parallel state did exist, would it not be more difficult to break it down? And if, as the government claims, they have not been “profiling” as it has been illegal since 2010, what evidence do they have to prove that all these people are working towards destroying them? All such investigations need to be done in a transparent manner within the framework of the rule of law, which is not the case.
So the rule of law in Turkey has been designated. It scares me that Erdoğan clearly does not understand the concept of the rule of law or the importance of separation of powers. The recent bill the government submitted to Parliament to have the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) under the control of the executive underlines this. If it were to pass the reform, it would not only undo some 12 years of reforms but also makes the government a court, fully contradicting the separation of powers.
And what about the role of Turkish President Abdullah Gül in all of this? Personally, I am so far a little disappointed by Gül, who is a man I have always respected. While he has made a few statements over respecting the rule of the law, and apparently during the Dec. 25 Cabinet reshuffle vetoed seven out of 10 ministers proposed by Erdoğan, it has all been quite mumbled. He can do more, as he has in the past. During last year’s June Gezi protests, Gül was more outspoken in his criticism of Erdoğan’s handling of the crisis. He was also critical about Erdoğan’s desire to introduce a presidential system. Gül has broad support in Turkey and is a well-respected statesman around the world. He should not just sit on his hands and make political calculations about possible future scenarios and where they will leave him. He has a good opportunity to step out and protect democracy and the rule of law. The draft reform of the HSYK will arrive on Gül’s desk in the coming days. He is reportedly strongly against the draft. He has the power to veto it and he should do this.
Today Turkey is no longer a country where democracy is advancing, but rather a place where autocracy is rising. What a sad tale this is for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Erdoğan, who have taken so many positive steps during their time in office.
(The article was first published in Today’s Zaman on 11 January)
Working on Ukraine is similar to watching a soap opera — a cast of colorful characters in dramatic story lines, with Kiev moving from one crisis-ridden moment to another. Indeed, Ukraine’s politicians are experts at keeping us on the edge of our seats. From an analyst’s point of view, this is fascinating. As for ordinary Ukrainians, they simply long for a boring, uneventful, stable state.
However, despite the endless political and economic turmoil, Ukraine remains an important country — Europe’s seventh most-populous country and a key gas transit state, it has wonderfully fertile soil and significant economic potential. It is a regional “backbone,” as the largest country between the EU and Russia, thus it is key for regional cohesion and stability. Ukraine’s strategic location and proximity to Russia’s breadbasket and economic heartland in the Volga region make the country key to Russia’s geopolitical strength. Russia allied with Ukraine gives Moscow confidence and strength, while a Russia without Ukraine is much weaker.
Ukraine is now in the midst of a particularly dramatic episode: whether or not to sign its Association Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), with the European Union at the forthcoming Vilnius Eastern Partnership (EaP) Summit on Nov. 28-29. Despite the fact that Ukraine’s political elites have consistently stated that European integration is their top foreign policy goal, the decision still hangs in the balance.
Ukraine has not fully met the EU’s criteria as spelled out in December 2012. Important reforms that could have been made earlier were not made because of a lack of political will, a failure of political parties to reach a consensus and the age-old problem of “vested interests.” Only since early summer has Ukraine accelerated its efforts, and this was principally a consequence of Russian attempts to derail the deal. Important legislation related to the prosecutor general, electoral law and the imprisoned former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko (which the EU has labeled selective justice), expected to pass through the Ukrainian parliament last week, did not. The process was postponed until Nov. 19. Because Ukraine is crucial to the success of the EaP, the EU has continued to move these deadlines. It now seems certain the decision will be last minute, possibly on the eve of the summit.
The EU — for right or wrong — has made Tymoshenko the make-or-break issue. However, the chances of Tymoshenko being out of prison by the time of Vilnius seem non-existent. The best we can hope for is that an agreement between Ukraine’s political elites and the EU will be reached in order to begin the process of a transfer to Germany for medical treatment, although again this hangs in the balance. The EU decision will be based on the recommendation of the European Parliament’s two special envoys on Ukraine, Aleksander Kwasniewski and Pat Cox.
The second problem is Russia. Ukraine needs and wants good relations with Russia, yet Moscow has been crystal clear that Ukraine will pay economically for going ahead with the EU deal. Moscow is using every type of carrot and stick, although so far not to a successful end. Generally Russian carrots tend to have bitter centers. However, meetings (even secret ones) continue to take place between the two leaderships. Russia wants Ukraine to join its Eurasian Customs Union, but ultimately will settle for Ukraine ditching the DCFTA with the EU. Yanukovych, in whose hands everything rests, is becoming increasingly unpredictable and at this point it is not clear which may he may ultimately jump. While this is far from the perfect situation for the EU, for Ukraine’s small neighbour Moldova, it also represents a considerable headache. Moldova needs a strong and stable Ukraine, closely engaged with the EU in order resist Russian pressure and pursue its own EU path most effectively. If Ukraine does not sign it puts Moldova into a very difficult situation included related to the Transnistria conflict where Russia has many levers to pull.
In the medium-to-long term there is no doubt the EU agreement will be beneficial for Ukraine, as its implementation will help modernize and democratize the country, including cleaning up the rampant corruption and making Ukraine a safer place to invest. Yet this won’t happen overnight, and in the short term the situation is going to be tough. Economically, Ukraine is in bad shape. The IMF recently refused Ukraine a much-needed loan again because of Kiev’s failure to meet certain criteria. Combine this with trade losses relating to Russia, which will increase after Ukraine’s signature, and we are looking at a very difficult short-term financial situation.
This situation has also fuelled a fight between Europe and Russia the likes of which has not been seen since the Cold War. The EU does not want such a confrontation with Moscow, but unfortunately Russia’s zero-sum imperialistic approach has put the two on such a collision course. How this story is going to turn out is still anybody’s guess, yet ultimately the road that Ukraine chooses to follow is going to have an impact far beyond its own borders.
The new democratization package, labeled by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as a “historic moment for Turkey,” has created quite a stir, further dividing Turkey’s already-polarized society.
While the package hardly represents a democratization revolution, at the same time there are some positive elements. With 28 separate legal reforms, it throws a lot into the pot, which is not that surprising in the face of the forthcoming local and presidential elections. No doubt the package is also aimed at cleaning up Erdoğan’s image, particularly in terms of his respect for fundamental rights and freedoms and authoritarian tendencies, which took a bashing following the Gezi Park protests during the summer.
First the positive news. Turkey will have hate crime legislation for the first time, although precisely which crimes this will apply to is not known yet. It also seems that lesbians and gays (LGBT) have been omitted, which is a shame as they are frequently the target of hate crime. Ending discrimination against women wearing the veil in public institutions (although it will remain for police, judiciary and military) is excellent news, as is the decision to lower the election threshold, which should allow for much broader political representation in Parliament. The return of confiscated land of the historic Mor Gabriel Monastery in Mardin province is positive and should reassure Turkey’s Syriacs. While the establishment of a Roma language and cultural institute was pleasant news, as was the new housing that the prime minister said would be built for the Roma, I would hope some EU states may learn from Turkey’s positive approach towards the Roma.
Now for the weaknesses. Turkey’s Kurds had been eagerly waiting this package to see whether its content would be enough to keep the government’s cease-fire deal with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on track. I would say it only just manages that being a “better than nothing effort,” and certainly does not go far enough. The package seems more aimed at creating a feel-good factor for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) rather than the Kurds. Sure there are some positive points — Kurds will no longer be fined for writing the three letters, Q, W and X, which have been banned since the 1920s, and Turkified towns and villages will be renamed. Clearly, the decision to abolish the pledge of allegiance to Turkey and to being a Turk, which schoolchildren are obliged to chant every morning, will be welcomed, although it has created an uproar in some circles.
Erdoğan may have bought himself some time with the Kurds, but they want and deserve much more. According to some Kurds I spoke to, the package only scratches the surface. First, the fact that limiting mother tongue education to private schools is a big flaw. Public schools should also have been included. Moreover, the wide-ranging definitions of “terror” and “organization membership” that are the cause of the detentions of many Kurdish politicians and activists will remain the same, with legal provisions that enable mass detentions also staying unchanged.
The package also fails to address measures regarding the rights and freedoms of Alevis. Naming one university after their spiritual leader — Hacı Bektaş-ı Veli — is totally inadequate. The failure to grant cemevis the status of a place of worship is a significant shortcoming and sends a very negative signal about the AKP’s approach. Erdoğan has in the past infuriated the Alevi community by stating that cemevis are places of cultural activity, not worship. Apparently a separate package will be launched for the Alevis, although no exact timeframe has been fixed yet. They must do this as a matter of urgency. Meanwhile, the Halki Seminary issue is also left untouched, which is disappointing. The government should learn that one of the keys to a safe, secure and stable state is to pamper your minorities.
This package is clearly a half-full glass. I want to see this glass topped up. Yet, despite the shortcomings it should be welcomed. I would like to see quick and full implementation of all the measures it addresses — although unfortunately the government does not have a good track record in this respect — as well as rapid moves to address its inadequacies.
(This article first appeared in Sunday’s Zaman)
Last week during a visit to Moscow Armenian President, Serzh Sargsyan, announced that Armenia would be joining the Russian led Customs Union (CU). The price tag for membership, is ditching a trade agreement that Yerevan had been planning to initial with the EU in November in Vilnius as the two tariff systems are not compatible.
While Sargsyan is reported as stating it was a “rational decision based on Armenia’s national interests,” nobody really believes this was a free choice but rather a consequence of the significant leverage that Russia has over Armenia which clearly includes deciding Yerevan’s foreign policy. If this were not the case then why did Yerevan spend so much time negotiating with the EU, given these same national interests existed when talks kicked off? While Armenia may have talked about having a balanced foreign policy, the reality now seems very different. Not surprisingly, many Armenians reacted with outrage, with protests outside the presidential palace declaring Sargsyan betrayal to the nation, which led to several arrests.
Armenia spent more than three years enthusiastically negotiating an Association Agreement (AA) which included a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the EU. The DCFTA would allow Armenia to diversify its export opportunities as well as improve the regulatory and legal standards of the country by aligning with the EU. However, as Yerevan inched towards completing the talks (negotiations were finalized in July), Moscow turned up the heat even though such an agreement with the EU would in no-way have jeopardized Russia’s dominant role in the country. Russia had been squeezing Yerevan for months including related to gas prices and threats of restricting Armenian labour migration to Russia. A high profile visit of Russian President, Vladimir Putin, to Azerbaijan in early summer, with a large arms deal also signed with Baku were also clearly aimed at riling Armenia.
Unfortunately it seems that Armenia is reaping what it has sown. Its deep-rooted security and economic reliance of Russia has resulted in Armenia’s sovereignty being increasing eroded. Armenia is entirely dependent on Russia for security. Yerevan is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Russia maintains a military base in Armenia and Moscow is the key force in Armenia’s conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh with the power to leave Armenia high and dry if it so wishes. Furthermore, while Armenia may export more to the EU than it does to Russia, Moscow has a significant stake in the country’s economy. This includes in the transport sector with Russian railways running the Armenian railway and related to the energy sector with Russia having a significant stake in the electricity and nuclear market as well as Gazprom being majority owner of Armenia’s pipeline system. As well-known Caucasus expert, Thomas de Waal recently stated, “both the administration of Sarkisian, and Robert Kocharyan before them, embraced a Russian take-over of the economy, which left them political control and did not expose them to European-style competition”. While Armenia is small, Russia’s presence there is important for Moscow in terms of having an outpost between Turkey & Azerbaijan including from the south of Georgia.
The CU agreement still needs to signed as well as ratified by the Armenian Parliament. Questions have also be raised over whether it is legal with some analysts, such as David Shahnazaryan, saying Armenia’s Constitution does not allow full-membership of the CU; then there is the issue that the two countries have no common customs territory.
Armenia has indicated that it would still like to initial its AA at Vilnius, thereby separating the political components from economic. However, this is not straight forward. When Armenia started negotiations it was agreed that the DCFTA would be an integral part of the broader AA, therefore trade is woven into several parts of the AA. This means that the entire document would need to be picked apart with all trade references eradicated. This would be a lengthy job and almost certainly not possible to do before Vilnius. Moreover, without the DCFTA, the AA would seem rather a light-weight, more symbolic than anything else. Unfortunately Armenia’s boundaries seem to have been set. This was made quite clear during a meeting between European Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner, Stefan Füle, and Armenian Foreign Minister, Edward Nalbandian on 5 September, when Nalbandian stressed Armenia’s readiness to continue broad cooperation with the EU as long as it would not contradict Armenia’s membership of the CU. Still the EU needs to find a way to “accommodate” Armenia the best way it can, not least as a way to demonstrate its support to Armenian society, a large chunk of which strongly backs stronger ties with the EU.
The EU is clearly disappointed and frustrated. It represents a blow to the EU’s Eastern Partnership policy which still misses success stories; its ability to succeed when faced with serious challenges in its neighbourhood and a knock-back to its influence and ability to play a key role in the South Caucasus. The Russian approach has been condemned by many EU political elites and ministers and, at an informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers on 7 September, discussions apparently took place over how to deal with Russia’s increasingly strong approach. Unfortunately the EU once again finds itself looking for a strategy and a solution when “the horse has already bolted”. It was no secret that Russia had been pressing Armenia for months and not only Armenia.
Furthermore, the game is not yet over. Three “prey” remain: Moldova, Georgia and, the top prize, Ukraine. We can be sure that between now and Vilnius and beyond (signature with Georgia and Moldova is not due till the end of 2014) Moscow will be pulling out the stops using carrots and sticks to keep these states in its “sphere of influence” and have them, as Armenia, ditch their DCFTA’s. The EU needs a robust and convincing response.
(This article was origially published (in a shorter version) in Todays Zaman)
Ukrainian-Russian relations are rarely short of drama. As has been widely reported, in mid-August Russia accelerated efforts to “persuade” Kyiv to rethink its decision to further integrate with the EU by imposing arduous extra customs controls on Ukrainian imports. Ukraine hopes to sign an Association Agreement (AA) including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with the EU at the Eastern Partnership (EAP) Vilnius Summit in November. Russia is far from pleased about this. Sergei Glazyev, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Chief Economic Adviser, could not have been clearer or blunter when he warned Kyiv that signature would be “suicidal”.
Russia wants Ukraine to join its Eurasian Customs Union (CU), an integration project aimed at the countries of the former Soviet space, instead. To this end Russia has used a vast range of soft power tools to try and achieve this including language policy, shared cultural and historical legacies and, probably the most well-known, gas-prices. So far Ukraine has not cracked, although as a consequence of the drive, a considerable chunk of the Ukrainian population seems to support the idea of CU membership. In fact the AA does not prevent Ukraine from developing a constructive relationship with the CU as long as this is based on the respect of WTO rules and does not contradict the DCFTA. The agreement, which will be beneficial to both the EU and Ukraine, should not be at the expense of Ukraine’s relations with Russia or other neighbours. Unfortunately, Russia does not see the picture this way. For Russia, maintaining influence over Ukraine is more than a foreign policy priority, rather it is an existential imperative.
Kyiv has repeatedly stated it does not want to join the CU, preferring to settle for observer status. Indeed Russia is finding it difficult to sell the project beyond its present membership, which is limited to Kazakhstan Belarus and Russia itself, to any country. Rather like trying to sell sand in the desert, nobody is buying. While all the targeted states want to have good and productive relations with their big neighbour, further integration with the EU is viewed as more beneficial, while Russia’s integration project seems to be viewed more as a tool to increase Russia’s economic and political influence.
According to the Federation of Employers of Ukraine (FRU), since 14 August, all Ukrainian exports are on a “high risk” list meaning they undergo special scrutiny. Given that 25% of Ukraine’s exports go to Russia, if Russia were to maintain this policy or further tighten it, Kyiv will find itself in an increasingly vulnerable position. This action came following a ban on confectionery giant Roshen back in July while also cutting the duty-free import of pipes for the remainder of this year. Such actions are not new as, among other examples, back in 2011 Russian berated Kyiv over cheese imports. Moscow probably hopes this “taster” of what could be on the cards long-term will “break the camel’s back” as a pro-longed dispute with Moscow, which is clearly politically motivated, could potentially be extremely costly for Ukraine.
It is not the first time Russia has taken such measure. In the past Moscow has banned goods and placed sanctions on a number of other countries including Georgia, Moldova, and Poland as well as taking measures to prevent the Baltic countries from joining NATO and the EU. In virtually all cases the states stood their ground, withstood the hardship, and Russia’s approach failed. Ukraine needs to do the same although this will be a bitter pill particularly as its economy is already in dire straits. While Ukraine desires good relations with Russia, this relationship should be one of mutual respect which is not the case presently.
Russia’s actions simply underline that Moscow cannot be trusted and that entering into the CU, would make Kyiv increasingly dependent on Moscow, placing Ukraine in a more perilous and vulnerable situation. Russia also risks becoming increasingly unpopular with ordinary Ukrainians if this situation further affects their already poor standard of life. The fact that it was reported that some 400 people were expected to made unemployed as a result of Russia’s policy towards Roshen, will hardly make Russia flavour of the month in those households.
The signing of the AA should take place as rapidly as possible. While the signing of the AA may not end Russia’s browbeating it would send a clear message to Moscow and would at least put an end to the monotonous debate and discourse over signature. However, at this point there still remains a question mark over whether the AA will be signed at Vilnius because, as I have previously written, the EU has made signature conditional on Ukraine meeting a number of criteria, in particular the situation regarding former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko which it finds itself increasingly bound to. Therefore, while the EU has labeled Russia’s behavior “unacceptable”, there has been no sign that the EU is ready to change this approach as regards Ukraine meeting the 11 benchmarks laid down, despite the increased pressure from Moscow.
The drama seems set to continue. At the end of September Ukraine’s efforts to meet EU demands will be evaluated which will lead to the key decision over whether or not signature can take place or not. Leaving the agreement unsigned is risky and would represent a serious blow for relations between the two partners and a severe knock-back for the EU’s Eastern Partnership policy. Relations will probably be left in an increasingly precarious situation, with both partners focus being elsewhere. Ukraine’s political elites will be totally fixed on the 2015 Presidential elections and the battle for the throne which has already kicked–off. Meanwhile the EU will enter a period of upheaval with European Parliament elections and a new European Commission. For the Russians, leaving the AA unsigned will be a gift.