Archive for category neighbourhood crises
When it comes to foreign policy, Russia is good at sprinting, while the West – and especially the EU – is better at marathons. The use of kinetic military force by Moscow is to a large extent a sign that other, long-term foreign policy means failed in Ukraine: Russian coercive diplomacy – based on sticks (embargoes and sanctions) and carrots (offers of cheaper gas and greater market access) – did not have the desired effect.
Moscow believes it can achieve its goals with rapid bursts of sprinting, and that the West will not quicken its pace in response. In Crimea, the territory was captured in a manner that was both quick and bloodless, with the weak state institutions of Ukraine simply crumbling in the face of Russian aggression. The problem is that other post-Soviet states are equally weak (or even weaker) and although they have successfully withstood periodic Russian embargoes over the last two decades, they are unlikely to be able to resist any form of military action. Worryingly, the option of sending armed, masked men to take over public buildings in a third state is very much on the table – particularly because this has proved not only easy, but also effective – and is therefore dangerously appealing. Read the rest of this entry »
With every new major international crisis – be it the Arab Spring, the 2008 Russian-Georgian war, recurrent emergencies in Africa, or the current Ukrainian-Russian tensions – it does not take long for diplomats and observers to start wondering ‘what does China think’. It is increasingly frequent during such crises for China to be put in the spotlight and expected to have a position on events and regions on which, until recently, Chinese opinions were barely worth a footnote. This is also true for the Crimean crisis. A few days into the crisis, the Russian foreign ministry announced that the Chinese and Russians shared “broadly coinciding points of view” on the situation.
Looking at China for comfort is driven by many factors. The rise of Chinese power is just one. In international public opinion China is often seen as a sort of ‘swing’ power, capable of tipping the political balance between entrenched political warriors whose preferences are already well known. On a crisis like the one in Crimea – which elicits completely different narratives from Russia, on the one hand, and the EU and US on the other – the Chinese are seen by some as a potentially less subjective or biased source of opinions. In this sense, China can offer surprises. After the 2008 Russia-Georgian war the Chinese maintained public politeness towards Russia but, in private, were clearly against the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia – thereby helping Central Asian countries resist alleged Russian pressures to recognise the independence of those entities.
Hence the rush by Russia to claim Chinese support for its actions in Ukraine – as an effort to claim greater legitimacy for its military invasion of a post-Soviet state. However, the claim that China is on Russia’s side is spurious. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
For the best part of the last two decades, EU-Russia summits have alternated between being upbeat events where new grand integration initiatives were launched – the creation of four common spaces in 2005, the partnership for modernisation in 2010 – and rather unfriendly encounters where success was seemingly measured on how impolite the partners could be to one another.
In recent years, summits turned less mercurial and became mainly box-ticking affairs. This is arguably a sign of the emergence of a more mature relationship based on ever higher levels of interaction in the fields of energy, tourism, business, and education. But it is also a sign of mutual disenchantment and reduced expectations, to the extent that the relationship is now practically stagnating. As a result, no grand projet is likely to help re-launch the partnership. The latest such initiative – the partnership for modernisation – is now being undermined by a conservative backlash in Russian domestic politics. Despite this relative gloom, however, the relationship can still move forward and there is progress to be made on specific initiatives.
Still trading a lot – but less
Although the EU-Russia economic partnership rests on solid foundations, it has lost its momentum. The EU is Russia’s single biggest trading partner, with 41% of Russia’s total external trade (and 45% of its exports) going to the EU in 2012, far ahead of China (9.8%) and Ukraine (3.7%), in second and third place respectively. In contrast, Russia is the EU’s third biggest trading partner – after the US and China – accounting for 9.7% of the EU’s external trade. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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 »
As the world awaits a possible military strike – led by the US – on Syria, the leaders of the G20 are gathering for their annual summit in St Petersburg. This time round, the issue of war is likely to overshadow discussions on the economy, finance and trade, with the meetings and media platforms of the summit being used to exchange arguments over Syria between advocates of military action and the dwindling group of friends of Bashar al-Assad.
Some Western leaders will no doubt try to persuade President Putin to alter his hitherto obstructive stance on Syria. In public, they are likely to make appeals on humanitarian grounds, arguing that the use of chemical weapons against a civilian population cannot go unpunished. In private, they will appeal directly to Russia’s rational self-interest and urge Moscow to come down on the right side of history in the eyes of the Arab world. In all likelihood, Russia will respond with lectures on the sanctity of international law, state sovereignty and non-interference in the domestic affairs of others. As a result of these two seemingly unbridgeable positions, it may well become another dialogue of the deaf.
The use of chemical weapons in Syria may have emboldened some countries in the West to take a more pro-active stance on Syria, but it does not seem to have had any real impact on the Russian standpoint. Despite frequent claims to the contrary, Russian support for Assad is not primarily motivated by the interests of arms dealers, the desire to hold on to its military base in Tartus or a cynical attempt to simply antagonise the West. Although driven by all of these concerns to varying degrees, Russian support for Syria is mainly rooted in the historical relationship of the two countries and in respective domestic political developments of the last few decades. Consequently, appeals to either humanitarian sympathies or naked interests are highly unlikely to change the Russian position. Read the rest of this entry »
This is a continuation of the previous post on Morocco’s political system.
The 20 February movement
Speaking at an Italian restaurant in Rabat some early-twenties activists from the ’20 February movement’ are saying that ‘We do not feel represented by the existing political parties. We want a monarchy like in Holland. For now we are asking for reforms, not regime change.’ The movement is not a typical youth movement modelled on the type of Otpor in Serbia, Pora in Ukraine or Kefaya in Egypt. Actually the early-20s activists of the Moroccan movement have not even heard of Kefaya. Their movement brings together or is supported by a ragtag of young urban middle class ‘spoiled kids’, the outlawed Islamist movement Al-Adl Wal Ihsane (Justice and Spirituality) and leftists disappointed with the left-wing parties. On 20 February they brought together a few hundred thousands people on the streets of several Moroccan cities to voice their demands for greater democracy. Now they organise such big marches once a month. In the meantime they organise smaller sit-ins, flash-mobs and days of giving flowers to the police, donating blood, or supporting Libya.
The protests are not likely to lead to a revolution, yet the mosaic of the movement is potentially hugely disruptive of the Moroccan political system as we know it. For decades the crown positioned itself between the secularists and the Islamists. But these forces are now united in contesting the existing political regime. This is also one of the lessons from Tunisia and Egypt, where much has been done about the Muslim Brotherhood protesting against Mubarak shoulder to shoulder with Facebookers and Coptic Christians. The Moroccans learned the lessons. The secularists and the Islamists are (for) now united in wanting a drastic curbing of the powers of the king and the creation of a parliamentary monarchy. Read the rest of this entry »
[the first part of some of my notes from a recent research trip to Morocco]
The ‘Arab spring’ has not left Kingdom of Morocco untouched. Protesters across the country demand more limits on royal power and less corruption and clientelism around the palace. Few challenge the monarchy itself, but a wide range of forces demand a system where the king ‘reigns, but does not govern’. King Mohammed VI launched a process of constitutional reforms in an attempt to shore up the monarchy’s legitimacy and be seen as responding to the demands of the ‘Arab spring’. Morocco might not face a revolution, but the road ahead for Morocco might still be quite bumpy.
The political system
Morocco’s political system is a strange-ish hybrid. One the one hand it has a dominant monarchy with strong executive powers. The monarchy dominates political and economic life. The king reigns and governs. Yet, Morocco also has a multi-party system, holds regular elections which are judged as relatively free and fair, and has alternating governments. The parties that win most votes at the election are invited to head the government. But while elections lead to changes of government, the winning parties do not really govern. They might be in government, but they don’t govern; and whereas the political pendulum is swinging once in a while, political power did not. Read the rest of this entry »
The revolutionary upheaval in the Southern neighbourhood and the failures of reforms in most of the Eastern neighbourhood are begging for a revised EU approach to the neighbourhood policy (ENP). In March the EU presented some ideas on ‘a partnership for democracy and shared prosperity’ with the Southern Mediterranean. Some time in May the EU will present also a full review of the ENP. A central concept of the updated ENP is the idea of ‘more for more’ – the EU should give more political and financial support to those neighbourhood countries that implement more reforms and are more democratic.
‘More for more’ stands for a more meritocratic ENP. It should lay the basis for proper differentiation between neighbours, not based on geographic criteria, but based on their performance. The concept is also supposed to change the way the EU is spending its money. Currently the EU pre-allocates most of its assistance to specific neighbourhood states (almost irrespective of their reform performance) in 7-years budgetary cycles. ‘More for more’ is supposed to make it easier to shift its more EU assistance from one neighbourhood state to another depending on their reform performance. Overall, the concept the concept of ‘more for more’ is laudable and fair, but also quite slippery. Read the rest of this entry »