Archive for category Moldova

EU’s neighbourhood policy after Ukraine

A decade ago the EU launched the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in an attempt to surround itself with a ‘ring of friends’. As the Economist put it recently, however, it now seems surrounded by a ‘ring of fire’.

As the EU begins to reassess and adjust its policies towards its neighbours, it is necessary to examine what went wrong, and equally important to avoid false diagnoses, in particular about what sparked the conflict in Ukraine.

What the crisis was not about

It was long thought that Russia was hostile to NATO but not the EU. This has proven to be false: the current crisis in Ukraine is a result of Russian opposition to the European Union, not just the transatlantic military alliance. Moscow perceives any steps towards economic integration with the EU as a threat to its broader geopolitical goals, and is bent on proving that European integration will damage post-Soviet states, irrespective of whether they wish to join NATO or not. Moldova is a neutral state which never pursued NATO membership, yet it faced constant Russian pressure. Under President Yanukovich, Ukraine abandoned its NATO accession plans: yet it continued to be a target of Russian coercion efforts in the trade and energy spheres.

This crisis is also not about trade. The EU’s Association Agreements with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are compatible with the existing Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) free trade area, which governs trade relations between Russia and other post-Soviet states. Article 18 §1 of the 2011 CIS charter explicitly states that ‘the current treaty does not preclude participating states from taking part in customs unions, free trade or cross-border trade arrangements that correspond to WTO rules’. Serbia has (and Israel will have) free trade areas with both the EU and Russia. What is legally and economically possible for Serbia is therefore also possible for Ukraine. Read the rest of this entry »


Three scenarios for Ukraine

In two weeks Ukraine has gone through two major shocks. The Ukrainian revolution was one of the most violent transitions to date, and not just in the post-Soviet space. And the Russian military intervention in Crimea arguably constituted the biggest European security crisis since the Balkans wars of the 1990s.

The events in Ukraine will long be contested by competing narratives and propaganda both inside and outside Ukraine. What matters now is managing the political fallout from the crisis and learning the right lessons to prevent any future recurrence of similar events. A useful way to consider future policy responses is to organise them around possible scenarios. For Ukraine, there may be at least three: a return to the status quo ante, a ‘Transnistrisation’ of Crimea, and a future of more military interventions.

Status quo ante?

The status quo ante would mean the return of Crimea within the legal realm of the Ukrainian state. It would mean that local authorities in Crimea are subordinated to Kiev and that local police, border guards and tax authority operate within Ukraine’s legal framework. Such a scenario appears very unlikely now.

Once Russia moved in militarily and dismantled the normal functioning of the Ukrainian state institutions – from the army to police and border guards – there is not much that could reverse this fait accompli. If one compares the developments in Crimea with the events in Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the late 1980s/early 1990s, one notices that whereas it took 2-3 years for the secessionist entities to gradually and painfully secede – de facto – from Georgia and Moldova, it took 3 days for the same to happen in Crimea. The reason is that, in the early 1990s, the process was mostly bottom-up: Russia offered some support but was mostly confused and consumed by its own crisis.

In Crimea, the opposite is true. First Russia moved in troops, then local actors mobilised to dismantle the Ukrainian state institutions in the region through a swift and targeted military action that took hours, not years. Read the rest of this entry »

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After Vilnius: tough year ahead

The run-up to the Eastern Partnership (EaP) Summit in Vilnius has been one of the most dramatic episodes in the recent diplomatic history of the EU. The events that followed have been even more extraordinary, with hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians taking to the streets in protest against the non-signature of the Association Agreement with the EU.

The three key EaP countries – Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia – are all suffering to differing degrees from a form of pre-electoral fever. The EU is faced with the challenge of how to proceed with Ukraine whilst keeping Moldova and Georgia on the EaP track.

Ukraine: choosing not to choose

The halting of the Association process just a week before the Vilnius Summit has largely been presented as something of a geopolitical catastrophe, with Ukraine choosing Russia over the EU. This is, however, not the case. In fact, Kiev chose not to choose at all between Russia and the EU and tried hard to maintain the status quo in Ukraine’s foreign and domestic policies. Yet in his bid to buy time, President Viktor Yanukovich inadvertently precipitated the biggest crisis of his presidency to date. Read the rest of this entry »

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A solidarity package for the eastern partners

The year ahead will be a crucial one for the success of the Eastern Partnership (EaP). While Ukraine and the EU work towards the eventual signature of an Association Agreement at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in November, Moldova and Georgia will only initial the Agreement, and are not due to sign it until autumn 2014.

Since the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) will only become a legal reality for them towards the end of 2014, between now and then they will be vulnerable to external pressures – diplomatic, commercial or energy-related – aimed at disrupting the signing of the agreement.

The recent U-turn by Armenia (which chose to join a Russia-led Customs Union rather than sign up to the DCFTA), as well as rising trade pressures on Ukraine and a new wine embargo on Moldova, probably mark just the beginning of a longer escalation of trade-related hostilities. The aim of these pressures is to either divert some of the  Eastern partners from their EU association agenda, or drastically increase the costs of  pursuing this option and weaken the political forces behind pro-EU moves. As a consequence, they will start paying the economic and geopolitical price for association with the EU well before they start reaping the benefits of it.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Keeping the Eastern Partnership on track

Sir Humphrey Appleby, the suave civil servant in the British sitcom ‘Yes Minister’ known for his wise but cynical pessimism, once remarked that diplomacy is about surviving until the next century – while politics is about surviving until Friday afternoon.

Such differences in time horizons apply also to the pace of European foreign policy when dealing with post-Soviet realities, as the EU and most of its Eastern partners enter the finishing line on Association and Deep and Comprehensive FreeTrade Area agreements. For in the case of EU-Armenia relations, things have not survived intact until Friday afternoon. After having been engaged for years in the preparation and negotiation of an Association and Free-Trade agreement with the EU, Armenia has aborted the process just before its conclusion and announced its intention to join the Russian-led Customs Union. 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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Ukraine-Moldova race to EU visa-free regime

This will probably make boring reading, but for those with some stamina to go through typically unreadable, but important, EU-speak here is a comparison of how Ukraine and Moldova perform on their way towards a visa-free regime with the EU. The assessment is based on the recent progress reports by the European Commission on the implementation of the Action Plans on visa liberalisation by Ukraien and Moldova. (The relevant documents are here: Action Plans for Ukraine and Moldova outlining the conditions; and the progress reports for Ukraine and Moldova evaluating progress September 2011).

The progress reports are mainly concerned with legislative adjustments, which correspond to Phase 1 of the Action Plan. Evaluating realities will come next years. In order to somehow quantify the conclusions I also decided to give a ‘plus’ to the country that is ahead with some reforms, and a ‘minus’ to the country that lags behind the other (a simplified version of what ESI did with the Schengen White List project). Giving just plusses and minuses is of course quite simplistic, but nonetheless a useful exercise for a ‘quick and dirty’ look at where Moldova and Ukraine stand in relation to each other. I also decided to give additional bonuses in the form of half or full plusses to some areas which are much more important than the others (like introduction of biometric passports – a full plus, or half-pluses to having a half-functioning migration service or having implementing protocols for readmission agreements with EU member states). Read the rest of this entry »

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Of Eastern & Southern neighbours

Just when the southern neighbourhood of the EU is shaken by a wave of revolutionary situations that toppled consolidated dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt, the eastern neighbourhood seems to be in the middle of a trend towards authoritarian consolidation. So the paradox is that whereas the Southern neighbours look like those in the East in the revolutionary years of 2003-2005, but in fast forward mode, the Eastern neighbourhood seems to look increasingly like the south a few years ago – a collection of states with increasingly close economic relations with Europe, but with centralised, non-competitive politics, which routinely afford to ignore the EU on many political and security questions. Today, every country in the Eastern neighbourhood except Moldova is less pluralistic than it was 5 years ago (though Belarus arguably could not become worse).

Seen from Ukraine, Moldova or most of the new EU member states one of the most irritating aspects of the European neighbourhood policy is that it dumps together the Southern and the Eastern neighbours of the EU. The Eastern neighbours tend to be rather arrogant about the Mediterannean neighbours of the EU. The argument goes that you cannot approach ‘European’ neighbours of the EU and ‘neighbours of Europe’ like Morocco or Syria through the same policy lenses; Read the rest of this entry »

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Democracy and reformism in EU’s neighbourhood

Throughout the 90s in Central and Eastern Europe, and later in the Balkans reformism and democracy tended to go hand in hand. Governments which were more respectful of democratic norms, also tended to be more reformist. (By ‘democracy’ I mean respect for human rights, media freedoms and opposition parties. And by ‘reformism’ I mean the implementation of reforms such as fighting corruption, cutting red tape, improving the business climate, modernising state institutions like police, customs, tax inspectorates  or the border guards.)

In a sense, the 90s was a simpler world in which Meciar, Tudjman or Milosevic were undemocratic and non-reformist; whereas Dzurinda, Mesic, and Djindjic were both reformist and democratic. The good and the bad guys were obvious; the black was clearly distinguishable from the white. And the EU’s approach to these governments was shaped by this unbreakable link between reformism and democracy.

But it seems that the Eastern neighbourhood is different. There is much more grey than black and white. Categorising the likes of Yuschenko, Timoshenko, Saakashvili, Putin and Medvedev is more difficult. The link between being reformist and being democratic is much more blurred. Some are reformist, but less democratic; some are more democratic, but less reformist; and some are neither reformist, nor democratic.

Think of the following examples. ‘Orange Ukraine’ in 2005-2010 was the most democratic post-Soviet state with a vibrant media, lively parliament and vociferous opposition. But it was hardly reformist. Few deep reforms were even tried, let alone successfully implemented. Read the rest of this entry »

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Moldova’s fin de regime

Moldova’s transfer of power is in full swing, confirming an earlier claim I made that Moldova is the only post-Soviet state (the Baltics aside) where every single transfer of power since 1991 took place through a tortuous, but still uninterrupted, cycle of elections. (Though, to be fair, Ukraine is more pluralistic and is likely to have a transfer of power through elections in Januari 2010.

Voronin’s fin de regime

On 9/11 Vladimir Voronin announced his resignation. Except for Communist party members few ventured to say a good word about Voronin’s eight years in power and except for the pro-Communist TV channels few seemed to regret it. It was also striking just how short and muted the farewell was (see a piece I wrote on that in Romanian). When Eltsin or Shevardandze resigned (in 1999 and 2003 respectively) their departures were historical events that sparked heated discussions in talk-shows, newspapers, or public transportation for days, if not weeks. You could not avoid thinking of their (mixed) historical legacy and you could not avoid a pervasive sense of entering a new epoch. Read the rest of this entry »

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