Archive for April, 2012

EU-Ukraine: from fatigue to irritation

Ukraine’s favourite foreign policy game is called ‘multi-vectorness’ – a constant process of ‘eschewing choice’ as this recent study explained. For years Ukraine sought to extract concessions and be treated nicely by both Russia and the EU or US not because it was sticking to its promises, but because it played sometimes skilfully and sometimes brazenly on contradictions between external actors. A simplified version of the rule of rules of the game, in its Ukrainian version, looks the following way:

  1. Promise both Russia and the EU everything they might want to hear (usually integration into some Russian- or EU-led initiative);
  2. Ask for something in exchange (market access, lower gas prices, financial assistance, opportunities for lucrative but opaque deals  etc).
  3. Get what you asked and drag your feet on delivering on your promises.
  4. If either the EU or Russia is upset for not getting what they were promised – threaten that you will intensify cooperation with the other external partner.

The truth is that this has mostly worked. (Not just for Ukraine, but also for Moldova under Voronin and at times Belarus’ Lukashenko or a whole series of Central Asian states, not to mention a plethora of historical case from Italian city-states in the Middle Ages, to Nasser’s Egypt and Tito’s Yugoslavia.)  Read the rest of this entry »

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Will Yanukovich become a Putin?

On a recent trip to Ukraine for the Kiev Security Forum I asked some of the Ukrainian analysts whether Yanukovich will manage to become like Putin – a successful authoritarian leader able to retain firm political control for a long time. There is little doubt that Yanukovich would like to be like Putin and is trying to build a more or less similar system. But there are a number of differences. First, is that Ukraine does not have energy resources and Yanukovich therefore lacks the money to co-opt the elites and the public as widely as Putin could do.

But another important factor is how Putin and Yanukovich play their systems. Putin’s role in the Russian system is that of the ultimate arbiter between various elite groups. He is a moderator, not a player in the elite squabbles. He is not neutral, nor fair. During his presidency, his closest friends acquired vast assets, and there has been quite some redistribution of property. But Putin mainly tries to stay above the fray realising that this is an important power resource for him. This is how he makes himself indispensable to the multiple interests groups within the Russian elites. That is also why elites value him – he has the power and the skill to maintain some degree of balance between competing factions.

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EU is showing its teeth

It is standard practice to bash Catherine Ashton and how the External Action Service turned out. The story is of an inward looking institution, without having a grand narrative or strategic vision, and little credibility in either EU member states or EU’s external partners. It is hard to argue that EU foreign policy is doing well. But that is first and foremost because of structural factors – the economic crisis that drastically reduces EU’s foreign policy appetite and resources, as well as soft power appeal (see EU Foreign Policy scorecard 2012 for a similar assessment).

It is perhaps time to reconsider at least some of the standard, off the cuff, assessments of the EEAS (and Catherine Ashton). If one looks at some specific foreign policy dossiers, the reality is that of EEAS gradually emerging as a political animal that can show its teeth if and when necessary (were the Soviet Union alive, its propaganda department would have have used the consecrated term of  ‘zverinnyi oskal imperializma’ – the evil grin of imperialism), rather than a fat cat throwing money around as its recently dominant image used to be. Read the rest of this entry »

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US-Russia: from reset to upset

A year or so ago, while doing research for the post-BRIC Russia report, I spoke to a US diplomat dealing with Russia about the ‘reset’. He sounded (naturally) very positive about its effectiveness. Among its two key achievements he mentioned cooperation on transit to Afghanistan and  halt of anti-US propaganda on the Kremlin-controlled media and a subsequent decrease in anti-Americanism in Russia society.

With Putin’s return, protests in Russia and the US elections all talk is now about the end of the reset. In the last few months anti-American propaganda made forceful comeback in the Russian media. Many thought it was just electioneering in the run-up to the March presidential elections. But that was too optimistic, it seems. In the last few weeks things became even more heated. NTV, a Russian TV channel owned by Gazprom Media, has been following US ambassador Michael McFaul pretty much everywhere, which lead to an outburst of indignation from McFaul, as well as accusations that his phone (and therefore calendar) is hacked, and a formal US State Department protest over the harassment of the US ambassador. McFaul also claimed that upon arrival to Moscow last January he felt like he was back in the Cold War and that ‘it has been surprising that there was so much anti-Americanism, because we thought we were building a different kind of relationship, and it makes some people nervous that it could so quickly and reflexively go back to – in terms of rhetoric – an era that we thought was behind us’. Then, on a different occasion, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov called McFaul ‘arrogant’. In other words, the dismantlement of what was considered a key achivement of the reset is well advanced.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Rogozin’s travails in Moldova

Brussels might have started to get used to the sharp-tongued former Russian ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin, but Moldova is only in the early stages of doing so. After a stint in Brussels, Rogozin moved back to Moscow last December to be appointed deputy prime-minister in charge of the military-industrial complex. Rogozin is a Russian populist nationalist politician with huge  (rumour has it that presidential) ambitions. A couple of weeks ago he was also appointed special representative of the Russian president on Transnistria (rather than on conflict settlement in Transnistria) and co-chair of the Russian-Moldovan intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation. The move was badly staged. The Moldovans learned about it from the media. The appointment came in the same package as the nomination of two Russian regional governors (of Krasnodar Krai and North Ossetia) as ‘special representatives’, read overseers, for the adjacent Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And Rogozin on the third day of his new appointment called Moldova a ‘hencoop’ on his twitter account.

The Moldovans are worried, the EU unimpressed and both irritated. Clearly the appointment of Rogozin shows a much higher Russian political interest in Transnistria. The trouble is that when Russia would rather put up a show instead of cooperating – Rogozin is the right person to (mis)handle dossiers. Given that in the last couple of months there have been some hopes regarding conflict settlement in Transnistria after the long-serving Transnistrian leader Igor Smirnov lost power to the younger Evgeny Shevchuk and Moldova finally elected a president, the appointment of Rogozin is an ever bigger nuisance. Rogozin is likely to be more concerned with self-promotion than pursuing conflict-settlement. Read the rest of this entry »

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