Archive for category EU
The leaders of the five Caspian Sea littoral states – Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan – frequently talk about the need for peace and security in the Caspian region. However, as the Caspian has taken on greater geostrategic importance, not least for its rich hydrocarbon reserves – rivalries and distrust between these countries has increased which, among other things, has made it increasingly difficult to reach a proper agreement or consensus over the legal status of the Caspian and how to divide it up fairly. As Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former national security adviser to US President Jimmy Carter wrote in his book, The Grand Chessboard, “a power that dominates Eurasia would control two thirds of the most advanced and economically productive regions of the world”. The Caspian Sea, with its massive oil and gas reserves, represents a significant chunk of this.
These rivalries have led to a significant increase in military spending. According to a new report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), while world military expenditure fell slightly in 2012 to $1.75 trillion (a fall of 0.5 per cent in real terms since 2011), in some regions, including the Eurasia/Caspian region, there was an increase: with all countries actively engaged in building up their capabilities. Unfortunately, such a military build-up serves to raise tensions in this already fragile and security-challenged region.
While Russia and Iran (to a lesser extent) have always had a strong naval presence since their independence, just over twenty years ago, the other three states have slowly built up their naval capabilities. Today, the level of militarisation is becoming dangerously high and over the years there have been numerous menacing confrontations. In 2001 Iranian jets and a warship carried out gunboat diplomacy on a BP research vessel prospecting in waters that Baku considers its own; in 2012 there were several incidents between Baku and Turkmenistan, while just a few weeks ago a Turkmen vessel was alleged to have come unnecessarily close to Azerbaijani oil fields. Ongoing naval military exercises, either unilaterally or between states, are also not conducive to stability and peace-building. And while Moscow has been rather belligerent over the possible construction of a TransCaspian pipeline between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, Iran’s erratic and unpredictable behaviour – along with its controversial nuclear programme – is of significant concern, seriously adding to the security deficit.
Russia’s Caspian Flotilla, which is based at Astrakhan, is its oldest naval fleet, dating back to 1722. It remains its strongest on the sea with Moscow having replaced many ageing vessels. Moscow is reportedly planning to add a further 16 new ships by 2020, including three new Buyan-class corvettes. The first is expected to be launched this year, with the others to be ready by 2014. Moscow is building up its naval air force, reportedly creating coastal missile units armed with anti-ship rockets capable of hitting targets in the middle of the sea. Missile cruisers of the Caspian flotilla are also now anchored off the coast of Dagestan. This naval presence is strengthened by military bases across Central Asia, Armenia and the occupied Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia, which has reportedly allocated some $55-60 billion for defence spending in 2013, has signaled this upgrading is linked to a possible military strike on Iran. According to Russian General Leonid Ivashov, who is now president of the Academy of Geopolitical Science, war with Iran would “end up at our borders, destabilise the situation in the North Caucasus and weaken our position in the Caspian region.” However, it is also no doubt linked to the internal situation in Russia. Because Russian President Vladimir Putin is increasingly losing support from the grassroots, Moscow may be trying to show strength in its foreign policy, demonstrating that Russia seeks to dampen the role of the West while strengthening its own. Hence this beefing up of the military goes hand-in-hand with Russia’s new reintegration projects, such as the Eurasian Union.
Meanwhile, Kazakhstan has also increased its defence spending. Last year the Kazakh government announced plans to spend some 8.6 billion for the period 2013-2015. In 2012, one quarter of the country’s defence budget was spent on re-armament, to replace some of what the country had inherited from the Soviet Union. Kazakhstan was the only Central Asian country that managed to get on the select list of Military Balance 2012 procurements, which featured two major deals: 40 S-300 air defence systems and 20 MIG-31 fighter jets.
Kazakhstan launched its first proper naval vessel in 2012, which it built itself. Other homemade combat vessels are also expected to be added to the fleet. Astana also bought at least two further missile boats and in 2013, Kazakhstan is expected to purchase more of these rocket-artillery ships. A marine training station is due to be opened in 2016 and Kazakhstan plans to turn the Aktau seaport into a hub for transporting military cargo from Afghanistan, bypassing Russia.
While Turkmenistan’s military has had a reputation of being poorly maintained and funded, in recent times Ashgabat has shifted up a gear, with President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov having signed a decree on the development of Turkmenistan’s navy up to 2015 in 2010. Still, according to SIPRI statistics it has comparatively low levels of defence spending of some $240 million. Nevertheless, Turkmenistan has enhanced its naval capabilities, building a naval base and naval academy in Turkmenbashi, and has bought several Russian and Ukrainian missile boats, as well as Turkish patrol boats. This beefed-up naval force is tasked with ensuring that the country’s interests in the Caspian Sea are protected. In September 2012, for the first time since gaining independence, Turkmenistan conducted a military exercise on the Caspian which was almost certainly aimed at showing that the country is able react to any attack on its oil and gas fields. Turkmenistan holds the world’s fourth-largest natural gas reserves, surpassed only by Russia, Iran and Qatar. Indeed, it is also likely that this naval force upgrade may be designed to match Azerbaijan, with which it continues to have strained relations amid continuing talks with Baku over three disputed fields.
Azerbaijan, meanwhile, has made no secret of its defence spending which is reported to be set at some $3.7 billion for 2013. Baku has purchased a number of capable naval weapons including Gabriel anti-ship missiles and Green Pine radar stations, which demonstrates that Azerbaijan is investing in defence. Still, while Baku has increased its naval capabilities, more focus has been placed on its land and air forces as a result of the security situation surrounding its ongoing conflict with neighbouring Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding occupied territories. Relations between Baku and Tehran also remain tense, not least as a consequence of Azerbaijan’s close ties to Israel and Tehran’s reported efforts to destabilize Azerbaijan by supporting radical Islamic groups in the country. Furthermore, with Iran heading towards presidential elections, Tehran’s feelings of insecurity and paranoia may further increase. Iran’s large (30 million) ethnic Azerbaijani population is viewed as a potential source of trouble and instability and there have been some recent signals that an awakening may be in the offing, including during a recent football match when fans chanted that Iran’s East Azerbaijan province was not part of Iran.
Despite the painful economic sanctions placed on Iran, Tehran continues to have a sizeable naval fleet – although many of the vessels date back to the Shah’s era. Tehran is slowly moving to modernise and spends an estimated $10 billion on defence. Already in control of some 100 missile boats, the Iranian Navy and IRGC regularly carry out exercises including laying mines. In March Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that the presence of Iran’s newly-launched, and domestically made, Jamaran-2 destroyer in the Caspian Sea would “guarantee security” in the region. At least two others are planned. According to Ahmadinejad, “without doubt, all neighbouring countries are happy with the Iranian Navy’s achievements because they consider these advancements as a step towards their own security in the region”. Ahmadinejad could not be more wrong. Coincidentally, the Iranian destroyer was launched on the eve of the start of bilateral talks between Azerbaijan and Russia on the Caspian Sea delimitation issues.
External actors, in particular the US, have unfortunately added to the tensions. Washington, which has used Baku and Aktau to transit equipment to Afghanistan, has given naval development assistance and training to Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. It has also strongly supported the development – as has the EU – of the TransCaspian pipeline, which has irritated Moscow. The main interest of the US – above and beyond the regions importance vis-à-vis its operations in Afghanistan, would seem to be to keep a geopolitical check on the two major Caspian naval powers, Iran and Russia.
The current militarisation of the Caspian directly affects the whole security architecture of the region. While realistically it seems very unlikely that any of the Caspian states would use their navies against each other, it cannot be totally ruled out, particularly in the event of a military strike on Iran, which would create bedlam in the region.
The current military build-up is detrimental to efforts to increase regional stability and trust. However, with no progress seemingly being made towards resolving the Caspian border and legal status issue, and the region facing many security-related challenges – whether related to protracted conflicts, border disputes or water, unfortunately it seems unlikely that any move towards demilitarisation will take place any time soon. Moreover, there is a risk of further escalation as a consequence of the US pull-out from Afghanistan in 2014, which could possibly exacerbate regional security still further, bringing risks of increased drug and people trafficking as well as the spread of radical Islamists throughout the region.
So far 2012 has been quite a tough year for EU-Ukraine relations. The entire relationship became politicized as a consequence of the imprisonment of former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko and her former Minister of Interior, Yuri Lutsenko, which is viewed as politically motivated, with Ukraine’s leadership also being accused of eroding democracy in the country. In fact, there is hardly a single area these days where the EU and Ukraine cooperate which is not becoming affected by this politicization one way or another even if it is counter-productive to the EU’s own interests or those of the region. An example of this is Ukraine being politically sidelined in the negotiations for a settlement of the Transnistria conflict, an area where Ukraine has always played an important and traditionally constructive role.
EU leaders decided to put on hold the Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), which Ukraine and the EU spend almost five years negotiating and which was initialed earlier this year, until Ukraine improves democratic values. This approach has been labeled by its architects as “tough love”. There seems to be a belief that by leaving Ukraine to stew, it will increase the chance of a successful outcome, although this approach is certainly not shared by all member states which fear the consequences of increasingly pushing Ukraine away. I would say that by putting the association agreement on hold the EU missed an opportunity to bind Ukraine to the EU. Thereby this strategy could lead the EU into a dead-end, reducing its influence on Ukraine’s decision-makers and pulling the carpet from under Ukraine’s reformers. In fact the signature of the association agreement is in the strategic interest of the country and should be seen as a tool to help modernize and transform Ukraine. Ditto for the DCFTA which at first glance may look less attractive than Russia’s Custom’s Union which would immediately give Ukraine economic benefits including cutting the price of gas by almost 50%. However in the longer term the DCFTA will be more beneficial for Ukraine including making the country more competitive on the world market.
Interestingly, having to pay more for gas has actually forced Ukraine to begin to give more focus to diversifying its energy resources as well as start to take steps to modernize its energy sector, in order to save money.
Signature of the AA and DCFTA has been supported by all Ukraine’s political forces, including the jailed Mrs. Tymoshenko. However as time has passed broad support from the business community has started to drip away. This is in part a consequence of a proactive campaign by Russia, criticizing the DCFTA and flagging up the economic benefits of its Eurasian Union as a better deal. As far as I am aware there has been no communication campaign from the EU side flagging the benefits of the DCFTA. This is another indicator of the EU’s somewhat “take it or leave it, it makes no difference to us” approach.
Unfortunately the EU’s approach is starting to affect Ukrainian society as a whole, which has now become a sort of hostage to the situation. One of the latest examples of this was the decision of the European Parliament to refuse to ratify changes to Ukraine’s visa facilitation agreement with the EU, until after the 28 October Parliamentary elections.
The conduct of these elections as well as the pre and post-election periods are viewed as a litmus test for democracy in the country with Ukraine’s further EU integration heavily tied to the result. Ukraine’s leadership has declared it wants to do everything to make sure these elections are free, fair and transparent; meanwhile the united opposition, as well as a number of civil society organization, cites numerous problems from vote buying to media restrictions. In order to have a clearer picture, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Konstantyn Gryshchenko, invited more than five thousand international short and long term election monitors to assess the situation. He is also now travelling to EU capitals to try to convince his counterparts that the EU’s wait and see approach is counterproductive. At a recent roundtable on EU – Ukraine relations in Vienna he stated the best way to deal with all of today’s current challenges in the troubled relationship is by positive engagement.
Meanwhile, First Deputy Prime Minister, Valeriy Khoroshkovsky, who is responsible for EU Integration, has asked a number of independent NGO’s including the Soros Foundation to hold an independent Media Monitoring mission to assess the media access of all candidates. This mission was launched last week and is expected to produce regular reports on the ongoing electoral campaign.
Current polls, from a number of different sources, show the Party of Regions is presently leading with some 26-28% of the vote with the United Opposition trailing slightly behind with around 23%. While polls in Ukraine are notoriously unreliable, the fact that the United Opposition seems to have focused their campaign primarily on complaining about Ukraine’s current leadership rather than spending time on explaining their policies, particularly socio-economic ones – combined with the fact that Ukrainian’s are rather fatigued will all political figures, could have contributed to the current outlook.
Quite frankly nobody is expecting these elections to be perfect, which is a shame given that Ukraine has carried out a number of free and fair elections in the past, as well as being the only country in the EU’s Eastern Partnership to carry out a peaceful transfer of power. Yet at the same time nobody expects a total disaster either. And the fact that these elections are proving to be so competitive is a positive point and at least demonstrates that the country is not an autocratic dictatorship as some like to claim. Yet the period after the election will need to be monitored particularly attentively as regards the formation of the new parliament, etc, because this is the time when a lot of horse-trading and funny business could take place.
Apart from holding free and fair elections, the EU also demanded that Ukraine put an end to political justice and get their EU reform process back on track. Ukraine’s leadership claims, something that was underscored by Khoroshkovsky at a meeting with think-tank representatives during his visit to Brussels earlier this week, that the recent criminal procedural code reform, means the law under which the Tymoshenko and Lutsenko charges were proceeded, has been done away with, with a new criminal procedural code starting in November. In theory this should mean no more such cases should be expected. He also stated that Ukraine would respect the ruling of the ECHR on the Tymoshenko case. Let’s hope this will be the case.
After a long period of inactivity Ukraine has relaunched its reform process, something that has been confirmed by the EEAS. Yet, it is something of a mixed picture. While there have been positive steps such as the new criminal procedural code, which used Council of Europe recommendation, other initiatives such as the recent Prosecutors law, which was rushed through without any consultation with Council of Europe, was a total flop. Ukraine needs to focus more on the quality of the reforms rather than the quantity. Moreover, many reforms fall at the first hurdle because of the corrupt state of Ukraine’s judicial system which needs a total overhaul, something Khoroshkovsy said would be a priority after the elections.
And while some steps had been taken to improve the business climate (customs, VAT reimbursement), Khoroshkovsky admitted that a number of difficult problems remain including law enforcement bodies pressure on business, corruption in judiciary, overregulation. Implementing the DCFTA would help to push reforms in these areas.
On visa, while there has been a slowdown in progress as lawmakers have focused their attention on the elections, some outstanding pieces of legislation necessary for implementation of the EU visa action plan have been adopted, including for biometric passports, personal data protection, fight against discrimination. The second hearing for laws on biometrics, personal data protection and legal status of foreigners is expected in October. If successfully passed the first chapter of EU visa action plan will be closed.
Yet Ukraine keeps shooting itself in the foot. The case against TVi for example and more recently the crisis over the defamation law. The law, which has the potential to seriously harm freedom of the media in Ukraine, was adopted last week in the first reading. It causes a massive outcry in the country and was subsequently recalled.
Sometimes Ukraine is a difficult country to understand, particularly when it comes to it politics and there can be no doubt Ukraine’s leadership has dug itself into something of a hole. To a large degree the ball is now in Ukraine’s court, and it is in Ukraine’s interests to cooperate over EU concerns. Yet at the same time the EU also needs to act in a proactive and responsive way. The EU has a responsibility to the people of Ukraine to support the country in its transformation, yet unfortunately until now the EU has been using long-term strategy in order to obtain short term results which has clearly not worked and, which could eventually lead to an implosion in the country. It is time for the EU to develop a real strategy for its engagement and relationship with Ukraine.
On 14 November it seems EU Foreign Ministers will meet to assess developments in Ukraine, including the election result and the conclusions of the OSCE and other international monitors. It still remains unclear to what extent the ongoing imprisonment of Tymoshenko and Lutsenko will play into the EU’s eventual decision; whether there will an agreement to sign the AA or whether it will be left to gather dust. There is a lot at stake and the outcome of this meeting may prove crucial in defining the next chapter in EU-Ukraine relations.
Turkey’s fight against the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) has heightened over the last few months, with the Turkish military fighting one of its toughest battles in years. There have been more than 700 deaths in the last 14 months – one of the highest casualty rates since the PKK took up arms in 1984. A key reason for this escalation has been Ankara’s ill-defined policy towards Syria. Ankara is facing a growing security challenge along its southern border with Syria. Turkey’s Kurdish problem will now only be solved when the Syrian crisis is solved.
Unfortunately, “Turkey’s zero problems with neighbours” policy, the brainchild of Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has pretty much collapsed. It is a tragic outcome for a policy which only a short time ago Turkey was being celebrated both by Turkey’s leadership and the international community. Relationships with former foes, Syria, Iran and Iraq had considerably improved; efforts for rapprochement with Armenia were underway; while Turkey was putting itself forward to mediate in numerous different conflicts in the Middle East and beyond. Turkey was trying to be everything to everyone; have an impact everywhere. Ankara failed to prioritize and spread itself too thin which led to the unraveling of the policy. Today there has been an almost total reversal. Neighbors have once again become enemies; tensions have increased in the southeast of the country but also in the Eastern Mediterranean, with Ankara’s credibility and aims in its neighbourhood suffering a major setback.
Unfortunately Turkey became over confident and rather boastful. Davutoglu’s now infamous speech announcing that” Turkey would be reshaping the Middle East” is a good example. To a certain extent the international community also contributed, given how much praise both Washington and the EU piled on Turkey, boosting its already sizeable ego.
After decades of hostile relations the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), developed exceptionally close ties with Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad. So close that joint Cabinet meetings were taking place. Syria was the example Turkey always cited when talking about how successful its “zero problems with neighbours” policy was. When the up-rising in Syria began, Ankara tried to persuade Assad to reform. Turkey expected Damascus to listen given their close ties. It came as a blow to realize he was not interested in what Ankara had to say. Rather he continued with his brutality. Turkey changed policy (as it had previously done in Libya after initial hesitation) calling on Assad to step down, openly pushing for regime change. As a consequence, relations with Syria were turned on their head with Erdogan making Assad an enemy. Consequently this led to Turkey relations with the Shiia leaderships in both Iran and Iraq also unraveling.
Turkey’s decision to support only the Muslim Brotherhood dominated Syrian National Council (SNC) and the Free Syrian Army unfortunately led to Ankara being accused of following a sectarian foreign policy and has not helped prevent the break-up of Syria into an ethically and religiously divided country. Turkey should have taken a more pluralistic approach and supported all the opposition groups. This was further complicated by Assad granting autonomy to certain Syrian Kurdish regions which resulted in the Syrian Kurds not supporting the opposition. Rather it resulted in making the Kurds more ambitious about creating an independent Kurdish homeland spanning Syria, Turkey and Iraq. Turkey’s failure to resolve its own Kurdish issue has been a gift in this respect. The PKK has used the turmoil in Syria to strengthen its own position, getting support from Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian Kurds.
All in all Turkey’s Syrian policy has blown up in the face of its architects, Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister Davultoglu, something Davutoglu had to admit during a meeting of the UN, when his plan to force the international community to form a safe zone in Syria, as a consequence of Turkey growing refugee crisis, found no support. After allowing almost one hundred thousand refugees into the country an increasingly dangerous security situation has arisen and it is likely that Ankara will soon have to start moving refugees to other regions. There has already been an increase of clashes at the border with opposition forces taking control of the Tel Abyad border gate, with bullets and mortars falling in the central Akçakale district. As a result Turkey as deployed armored vehicles and heavy weaponry. The financial burden is also a strain on Turkey’s coffers. Initially insisting it did not need financial assistance and could handle the burden alone. A decision it has now come to regret.
The Turkish public is getting fed up too. Initially many Turks supported Erdogan’s Syrian policy, believing it would equate to the Egyptian or Tunisian experience. They have now realized that Turkey has gotten in too deep and the policy is creating insecurity and instability in the country.
Meanwhile Ankara remains at loggerheads with Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki. This is not only because of Turkey’s position on Syria but also because Turkey is still providing asylum to Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, now sentenced to death for alleged crimes which are broadly viewed as politically motivated. Relations with Iran have also gone down-hill as Ankara has accused Iran of supporting the PKK.
Unfortunately there are only a few positive stories in Turkey’s neighbourhood policy, in particular Azerbaijan and Georgia with which Turkey had good relations in the first place. Of course before the Arab Spring, the biggest failure of the “zero problems with neighbours policy” was with Armenia with which Turkey has no diplomatic ties. A diplomatic process designed to normalize relations, including reopening the shared border, between Armenia and Turkey led to the signing of two protocols in Zurich in 2009. Unfortunately Turkey made a u-turn, backtracking by deciding to link ratification of the Protocols in the Turkish Parliament to progress on a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Turkey did this under pressure from Azerbaijan, when it was confronted by a hostile reaction from Baku that accused Turkey of betraying Baku’s interests. Turkey crumbled under Azerbaijani pressure and it killed the process. Turkey’s credibility was damaged internationally while Yerevan declared Turkey had acted dishonestly. The whole episode increased rather than decreased tensions in the region.
As long as Turkey continues to insist that Armenian-Turkish relations can only move forward if Armenia complies with Azerbaijani demands on Nagorno-Karabakh, I doubt there will be any new effort to normalize relations. However, since then Turkey has further strengthened relations Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is now one of the biggest investors (soon to be the biggest) in Turkey with the two signing to important energy contracts this summer. Indeed Ankara’s relationship with Azerbaijan is now so important and valuable that Ankara remained completely silent, unlike the rest of the international community, when Azerbaijan recently pardoned and shockingly promoted Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani soldier who brutally murdered an Armenian soldier during a NATO Partnership for Peace Training in Budapest in 2004. Extradited to Baku some two weeks ago, where he received a hero’s welcome, it created a diplomatic storm and increased tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia, throwing another spanner into the already difficult Karabakh peace process.
All in all Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbours” policy has fallen on tough times, contributing to regional tensions, rather than reducing them. Thereby regional ambitions have been hobbled and domestic troubles have been exacerbated. While I feel sure that Turkey will “bounce back , it currently seems that Davutoglu’s great success has ultimately become his greatest failure.
Following President Obama’s recent statement about Syria and WMD’s I thought I would post a recent article I wrote on the issue for Todays Zaman
While Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s days are clearly numbered, the current insurgency in Syria seems to be heading towards a full-fledged sectarian civil war, with regional stability and security increasingly at risk.
According to a recent article in The New York Times, the US State Department and the Pentagon have been sharpening preparations for a post-Assad Syria, including plans to maintain health and municipal services, restart the economy and avoid a security vacuum. Unfortunately, the US hardly has a good track record, bearing in mind the situation in neighboring Iraq. With regional powers moving to consolidate or increase their influence, the protracted chaos and sectarian violence is creating a growing security vacuum which, if not handled properly, risks hideously exploding.
When Muammar Gaddafi’s regime lost control in Libya, huge amounts of arms were grabbed by various groups. Some of these arms remained in Libya while others were sold or transferred out of the country, possibly into the hands of terrorists or rogue states. Thankfully in Libya, with the exception of a secured stock of mustard gas, there were no weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). This is not the case in Syria, which apparently began to develop and produce chemical weapon agents in 1973 to counter the security threat which Damascus evidently felt from Israel. Syria never signed the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1992, which makes it illegal to stockpile, produce or use chemical weapons. Hence Syria has been able to accumulate a massive pile with apparently very few questions asked.
Syria’s security vacuum opens the door for terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and al-Qaeda to try and get their hands on its large stock of chemical weapons including blister agents, such as mustard gas, and more deadly nerve agents such as Sarin, Tabun and VX. VX is the most potent and deadliest. It is also the least volatile which means it is the slowest to evaporate from a liquid into a vapor making it very persistent in the environment. Under average weather conditions, VX can last for days on objects that it has come into contact with. The 1995 Tokyo subway nerve gas attack is a reminder of just how lethal chemical weapons can be. The attack was carried out with a tiny amount of low purity agent and very rudimentary dispersal techniques. 13 people died, and many more were injured.
As Assad comes to the end of the road, his pyramid of control is crumbling, most recently with the defection of his prime minister. This loss of command structure opens the door even further for control over his chemical arsenal to be lost. While Syria’s leadership recently threatened to unleash them if the country faced a foreign attack, the regime has said it would not use chemical weapons against the opposition forces. Yet Assad is clearly not a sane man; sometimes desperate people do desperate things and in a climate of war, nothing should be ruled out both by him and the opposition forces.
Clearly securing Syria’s WMDs is not going to be easy. The Pentagon has reported it could take up to 75,000 troops to do so, with intelligence reports suggesting there are an estimated 50 different WMD sites around the country, predominantly in rural areas. This would mean, according to a Washington-based think tank the RAND Corporation, that disposing them would require industrial-scale destruction operations, special facilities and a lot of time. However, the idea of sending US troops into Syria to carry out this job is a non-starter. It would be far too risky and would probably never get the relevant approval. Of course it could be possible to send in Special Forces from other nations, in particular other Muslim states, or it could be something which the European Union could take a lead in. Yet this would also only be able to happen after Assad falls and a new transitional leadership is in place. If Assad’s fall is messy, it will further complicate the situation.
While we can hope that the worst case scenario will not happen and that the WMDs will never be used, there is still an urgent need to develop a contingency plan, just in case. Israel is particularly nervous with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declaring that Israel would have to act if there is a hint that these weapons may be used, talking about striking Syrian weapons arsenals. It would not be the first time Israel has carried out a military strike in Syria. In 2007, the Israeli Air Force attacked a nuclear reactor. However, an air strike on chemical weapons could have catastrophic consequences unless the chemical agents have been neutralized beforehand.
For the time being, it seems there is little we can do other than continue to increase intelligence operations, request the opposition forces to act responsibly if they stumble upon the WMDs and hand them over and press Moscow — Assad’s key ally and which claims Syria’s 1968 ratification of an international protocol prohibits the country from using poison gas — to keep the pressure on Assad on this issue. Perhaps fears are exaggerated but the risk is too great to ignore.
A few days ago campaigning for Ukraine’s 28th October Parliamentary elections began. It seems set to be quite a battle with emotions running high. It may prove to be one of the most important elections in Ukraine’s history. Not only will it represent a litmus test for democracy, it may also be a defining moment for EU-Ukraine relations.
Today the EU and Ukraine are passing through a difficult period. For a long time Ukraine was the “star” in the EU’s Eastern neighborhood. All the other countries in today’s Eastern Partnership have gained from Ukraine’s labours. Kyiv pushed for Association Agreements, Free Trade Agreements and visa liberalization. Unfortunately today “the star” has lost some of its shine. The Association Agreement, including an integrated Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), which Ukraine and the EU spent more than four years negotiating may not be signed due to EU concerns over democratic values and the rule of law. The EU has made further economic and political integration dependent on improving democratic standards, ending selective justice, serious reform and carrying out free and fair elections. Ukrainian efforts to justify events in the country have fallen on death ears, with a negative trend towards Kyiv prevailing in Brussels.
Dialogue of the Deaf
While the answers to today’s problems lie, rightly or wrongly – mainly with Kyiv, at the same time history has shown that Ukraine’s relationship with the EU has never been a really satisfactory one. Ukraine has always wanted more than the EU has been willing to give. For most of the past fifteen years the EU and Ukraine have been carrying out something of a “dialogue of the deaf”. While Ukraine has talked incessantly about obtaining an EU membership perspective, the EU has spent most of this time trying to avoid this eventuality.
Unfortunately, for the most part, Ukraine has been burdened by incompetent leaders more interested in furthering their own interests than those of the country. Transforming the country has been more wishful thinking than concrete actions. This has led to “development stasis” and sadly, for a country with so much potential, today’s Ukraine scarcely differs from that of ten years ago. Meanwhile, the EU has never really embraced Ukraine, failing to develop a policy that could stimulate and encourage reform by giving strong support to the reformers in the country. The EU has seemingly been quite content for Ukraine to remain in a sort of grey zone.
Ukraine has watched many of its neighbours enter the EU. It also witnessed, almost ten years ago, the countries of the Western Balkans receive a membership promise even though the region was far from meeting EU values of democracy, freedoms and human rights. Meanwhile Kyiv has been consistently told it is “different” and needs to get fit, both politically and economically, before a membership perspective may be considered. The combination of Ukraine’s lack of capacity and weak leadership, together with the EU’s lack of strategy and inadequate support has made EU conditionality, the core element of its European Neighborhood Policy, virtually ineffective in Ukraine. Yet, while Ukraine may seem like a country unchangeable in its habits, these habits were broken with the 2005 Orange Revolution. Unfortunately, the Yuschenko-Tymoshenko duo failed to deliver. While one cannot pin the shambolic and wasted “orange years” on the EU, more may have been achieved if the EU had been more generous and visionary in its approach in the revolution’s aftermath. Unfortunately the EU failed to harness the momentum, maintaining the same mediocre policy and Ukraine slipped back into bad habits.
While undoubtedly Ukraine is a complicated country, burdened by a Soviet past and continually struggling with identity issues, it is unmistakably a European country. Yet at times some member states, for example Germany, have resisted recognizing this fact. Why has the EU done this given the EU defines Ukraine as a “priority partner”; the most important country in the region. Rather like the case of Turkey, the EU has always been divided over Ukraine, although for different reasons. Big countries which would one day have a significant share of power are not particularly welcomed even though they have the potential to make the EU stronger and more globally competitive. Indeed, if Poland had not been part of a group of ten, its membership may have been far more difficult.
Ukraine’s situation is further complicated because of Russia, and the interesting relations some member states have with Moscow. Ukraine was always the biggest jewel of the Soviet Union, and for Russia “losing Ukraine”, would be like having a limb severed. Moreover a modern, prosperous and democratic Ukraine, grounded in European values would serve to undermine Russia’s current style of governance. Therefore today Ukraine has turned into a battle-ground, with Moscow trying to persuade Kyiv, one way or another, from pursing closer ties with the EU, and join Russia’s Eurasian Union instead.
What Lies Ahead?
While efforts in the reform arena have shifted up a gear including the establishment of an EU Coordination Centre, launching of a broad package of EU demanded reforms and intensified dialogue with civil society, it is not enough to guarantee the signature and ratification of the Association Agreement by EU member states. If Yulia Tymoshenko remains in prison the status quo will probably prevail. Much will depend on the report of the EU’s Special Envoys, Pat Cox and Alexsander Kwasniewski, who are monitoring the Tymoshenko appeal. At the end of the hearing a report will be submitted to the EU based on their findings.
The 28th October Parliamentary elections, the crucial pre-election period -and its compliance with international standards, including on issues such as media freedom which has recently come under fire, will also be key. Indeed the EU would be well placed to create a special media monitoring commission, as they have done in Georgia which is due to hold parliamentary elections on 1 October.
If Ukraine does not deliver the Association Agreement and DCFTA, which have the potential to anchor Ukraine onto a track of reform and modernization as well as support the reformers in Ukraine’s government, will be shelved. Considering how much effort went into negotiating these agreements it would be a big loss. It also leaves them open for renegotiation at some future point, if there is a change of leadership. The visa liberalization negotiations will probably continue, as blocking this would have a negative impact on ordinary Ukrainians, seriously damaging the EU’s image.
However, relations will not freeze, Ukraine is not Belarus: the two partners are entwined in too many different sectors including energy, transport, biotechnology, airspace, security and defence, for this to happen. Yet a Ukraine left to “float” and “flip-flop” in the “grey zone” is not in the interests of either party, nor will it contribute to greater regional stability. Unfortunately, today’s EU is neither courageous or visionary, and it is therefore more than likely Ukraine will be left to drift, even if that drift risks Kyiv finally succumbing to Russian pressure.
Yet, even if Ukraine delivers, it is unlikely Kyiv will receive it’s much sought-after membership perspective, more so because of the current climate of economic malaise and depression in Europe. However, even without the EU membership carrot Ukraine needs to step up and introduce European standards: first and foremost for its long suffering but ever patient population.
Unfortunately today the EU still does not know what its ultimate objectives are for this region. It has failed with Ukraine and its neighbourhood policies are still waiting for a real success story. The EU needs to have a serious discussion over how it sees its future relations with Eastern Europe. Whether the final outcome will reflect the position of Poland or the UK -if you achieve certain criteria you will join – or whether it will be nearer to the German position – Russia first and foremost – remains to be seen.
Almost 40 years after Turkey’s intervention left Cyprus divided into a Greek Cypriot South and a Turkish Cypriot North, a successful reunification recipe has yet to be found. There have been many lost opportunities. The set of ideas produced by Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1992 came to nothing thanks to the then Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktas and a hard-line government in Ankara, while the 2004 Annan Plan failed due to the intransigent position of former Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos, who accused the UN of negotiating a Turkey-friendly settlement, which his compatriots then voted against. While most ordinary Cypriots have almost given up hope, the international community continues to insist Cyprus can somehow be glued back together, not least because an internationally recognized independent “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” is not palatable.
Today Cyprus is de facto two states. Turkish settlers out-number Turkish Cypriots and time is running out. The Cyprus problem continues to bring instability to the Eastern Mediterranean, creates problems in NATO-EU relations and has hobbled Turkey’s EU membership aspirations including being used by those opposed to Turkey’s accession as a skirt to hide behind.
In February in Greentree, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, gave the leaders of the two communities some 2 months to make serious progress in the current round of talks which have been underway for four years. With the Greek Cypriots due to take up the EU’s rotating presidency on 1 July, and with Turkey (which does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus) stating it wishes to have no contact with the Greek Cypriots during their Presidency, the optimal outcome was to have a deal by then. Unfortunately, one leader (Christofias) has little credibility amongst his own people, while the other, (Eroglu) has historically not favored the sort of deal that is presently being negotiated — a bi-zonal, bi-communal, federation.
In true Cypriot style the two sides have spent much of the time playing a game of chess, trying to check-mate each-other. While the Greek Cypriots continue to blame Turkey (which bank rolls the Turkish Cypriots, and maintains some 40 000 troops in the North), insisting Ankara controls every move the Turkish Cypriot leadership makes, the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey say the Greek Cypriots do not want to share power with the Turkish Cypriots and are more interested in making trouble for Ankara in its EU accession talks. The situation was further exacerbated in 2011 with the start of Greek Cypriot oil and gas exploration, which was viewed as unconducive to the talks and has resulted in increased tensions in the region.
Ban’s Special Envoy, former Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, is due to report to his boss on 19 April. The optimal outcome would be for Downer to state that sufficient progress has been made to call an international conference to discuss external issues related to security and guarantorship which would include the participation of guarantor states, Turkey, Greece and the UK. This conference would have paved the way for a referendum in 2013.
While there seems to have been a last ditch effort by the Turkish Cypriots, the Greek Cypriots, who have always opposed timeframes, do not seem to have made any last minute concessions. This is not that surprising, given that for the already unpopular and increasingly isolated Christofias, who is already battling to save the Cypriot economy, such a conference would be political suicide, reducing his already remote chance of being reelected in the February 2013 Presidential elections.
While there have been calls from Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots, that at this point the UN should call it a day this is unlikely to happen. Therefore, even though Ban has previously stated these final months as being “the end game” for the process, it will come as no surprise that it will not be the end game at all. At a time when the UN is facing far more urgent problems elsewhere, facing up to fact that Cyprus simply cannot be glued to together in this bi-zonal, bi-communal manner is not really on their agenda.
Therefore, the most likely outcome is that during the Cypriot Presidency talks may be slowed down, reduced to what has been termed a “technical level” until after the Presidency and the (Greek) Cypriot Presidential elections. While the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey will not like this, it is unthinkable that they will go against the recommendations of the UN. Moreover, in these circumstances the Greek Cypriots may find themselves under greater pressure to accept a stronger UN involvement whereby Downer will have a freer hand to arbitrate, while the Turkish Cypriots may be pushed to return to positions of Eroglu’s predecessor, Mehmet Ali Talat, who was far more flexible.
It is also very possible that the “Greek Cypriot” Presidential elections will bring a change of leadership in the shape of the leader of the main opposition party, the Democratic Rally (DISY), Nicos Anastasiades. Anastasides is currently the front-runner with around 30% support. He also supported the UN’s 2004 Annan Plan. However, the very fact that he supported the Annan Plan will probably be used in a negative way by his competitors during the election campaign.
However, I doubt that Turkey will just sit back and allow the Greek Cypriots to enjoy their Presidency. In fact a senior Turkish official recently said as much to me. It seems Turkey may roll out some new initiatives during the Presidency (or even just before). Until now nothing has been disclosed other than a rumour, which is probably no more than a red-herring, that the ghost town of Varosha will be opened under Turkish Cypriot administration, thereby allowing its former Greek Cypriot residents to return.
Such an action, which has created a lot of “chatter” amongst the Greek Cypriots, would be bitter-sweet. While Varosha’s former residents have spent the last four decades dreaming about returning, it is unlikely that many would be willing to if the town were to remain under Turkish control. Furthermore, the costs of rebuilding infrastructure and derelict properties would run into billions.
I also doubt that Turkey would want to violate UN Security Council Resolution 550 which states Varosha may only be returned under UN Control. Turkey wants to be seen as a serious regional player and Ankara will not want to find itself in trouble with the UN Security Council.
All in all this round of talks has so far delivered exactly what was expected of it – nothing. Sadly, forty years on, the Cyprus problem seems no nearer to a solution.