Archive for category Russia
I just co-authored a new ECFR report on Dealing with a post-BRIC Russia, some kind of a follow-up to the 2007 Power Audit of EU-Russia Relations. This new report deals with the impact of the economic crisis on Russian foreign policy and Moscow’s relations with China, US, the post-Soviet space and the EU. Among many other things the report argues that the EU is more united on Russia than it was a few years ago, less vulnerable to potential energy pressures, but that the EU is still underachieving in relations with Russia. The EU should stop treating Russia like a ‘small China’ and aim at more than trade-related objectives. The EU member states should better coordinate their bilateral Partnerships for Modernisation, and should also move as quickly as possible towards a visa-free regime with Russia (and EaP states), but even before, the EU that can drastically improve travel conditions through the adoption of an electronic visa system that would allow travellers who have already had a Schengen visa to get print-at-home visas.
The report has been endorsed by several foreign policy personalities in Europe. Here are some of the endorsements:
“This report is an important analysis of where Russia stands today and what opportunities this brings for the EU. It will open a much-needed and interesting debate.”
Javier Solana, former EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy; former Secretary General of NATO
“This report is extremely insightful both for its great analysis as well as policy recommendations proposed which touch upon both foreign, economic and energy policies. The report is indeed a real working agenda for the European Union.”
Massimo D’Alema, President, Italianieuropei Foundation; President, Foundation for European Progressive Studies; former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister
This is a continuation of Part 1
EU member states differ widely not just in the application of visa procedures, but also on how fast the EU should move towards a visa-free regime withRussia. Russia and the EU apparently agreed on a set of common steps to undertake towards the visa free regime and should make the agreement public at their next summit in December. The ‘common steps’ are presumably supposed to be quite similar to the EU action plans on visa free travel offered to Moldova and Ukraine.
From an EU perspective there are two possible approaches to the issue of liberalising visas for Russia. One approach is to set the bar high (as the EU did in the Western Balkans), and demand not just improvement of border-management and security of documents, including biometric passports, but also wider and deeper reforms of the law-enforcement agencies, fight against corruption and improvements in the human rights record. Some officials in several EU member states, including Germany, suggest that the EU should link the EU offer of a visa-free regime to Russia to some political or security issues where the EU wants to see some progress. In such a case the EU would treat the offer of a visa-free regime to Russia as the highest possible prize for which Russia should sweat a lot. Under such an approach fighting corruption would minimize the dangers that the Russian passports might be acquired/bought by potential third country illegal migrants as a one-way ticket to the EU; and improving the human rights record and fighting torture would dry up the legitimate reasons for Russian to claim asylum status in the EU (data in Part 1). Finally, the EU then has to inspect and monitor Russian compliance with EU demands.
The problem is that such a strongly conditional approach has worked on Serbia, might work on Moldova, but is unlikely to work on Russia. Read the rest of this entry »
A visa-free regime with the EU is perhaps the one thing that most Russians want most from the EU and is a key priority for Russia’s EU policy. The EU and Russia have agreed on a set of ‘joint steps’ towards a visa-free regime. The issue of visa is hugely important for the EU as well. It resonates with domestic debates on immigration. It also poses huge logistical challenges for EU member states. The highest number of EU visas in the world is issued in Russia and in the top ten EU consulates worldwide judged by the number of visas issued, nine are in Russia. So, here are two blog posts looking into some of the issues related to the perspective of EU-Russia visa-free travel. The first deals with the state of play in EU and Russian visa policies, and the second will deal with the perspectives for visa-free travel in the future. Read the rest of this entry »
On a recent trip to China, I asked Chinese thinkers and researchers how do they see Europe, Russia, the Putin-Medvedev dynamic and the post-Soviet space. Virtually all were very positive about Russia. Despite a lack of trust between Beijing and Moscow, the relationship seems to be better than almost any time in modern history – economic exchanges are booming (increased by 43% in 2010 reaching USD 55 bn), and China’s border with Russia is one of China’s most stable. But scratching a bit deeper beyond the surface the picture is unsurprisingly more mixed. And not necessarily reassuring for Russia. As a Chinese put it, the relationship is good because ‘we know that when two tigers fight, both are likely to be wounded, and we want to avoid it’. This is hardly a positive way to start a partnership.
China and the break-up of USSR
A colleague of mine and I asked the Chinese how do they see the break-up of USSR. Here is the answer we got:
‘We had a big debate about whether this is good or bad for China. Some ideological people were saying this is bad because it undermines the attractiveness of Communism. But the pragmatists were saying this is good for China. And it is true, after the break-up of USSR we have very good relations with Russia. Better than ever before.’
The untold part of the answer is of course the fact these ‘better than ever’ relations are build on a very different balance of power and a Russia that is much weaker than USSR. As I wrote previously, Chinese views on the post-Soviet space do not differ much from those in Europe or the US. They differ in style (China is more deferential to Russia), but not in substance. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the main stories of the 2000-2005 wave of revolutions – successful in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, and failed in Belarus, Azerbaijan and Egypt – were the existence of organised youth movements with names which were variations on the idea ‘enough is enough’. Otpor in Serbia, Pora in Ukraine, Kmara in Georgia, Kefaya in Egypt, Zubr in Belarus), and Mjaft in Albania became almost household names. However, I have not heard of anything ressembling Kefaya in the recent Egyptian or Tunisian revolutions. These recent revolutions were conspicuous by the absence of well-organised and well-branded youth movements. The revolutions seem to have done well enough without them.
Certainly, it is not youth movements, but authoritarian regimes and ‘ripe contexts’ that are the causes of revolutions. This sounds self-evident, but both revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries seem to often miss it (though it is impossible to know whether a revolutionary situation is ‘ripe’ before it actually happens). I still remember the avalanches of venom deployed against youth movements as ‘fifth columns of foreign powers’, not just in Russian, Azeri or Serbian media, but also in plenty of (leftish) European newspapers (the Guardian seemed to excell at that). Many of them implied that youth movements, not authoritarian mismanagement were the causes of revolutions. But it is also indicative how Kefaya failed to lead to anything meaningful in Egypt in 2005, whereas the 2011 protests toppled Mubarak without any Kefaya-like organisation. Read the rest of this entry »
(with updates)… I have just returned from Germany from a joint ECFR-Bertelsman event on the “Eastern partnership or Partnership with Russia”. Of course, the answer is with both. No need to spend time on this. But I got a certain sense that the German debate on Russia and the Eastern neighbourhood might be changing. Of course this is only a snapshot and such trends are far from consolidated. And they have yet to trickle down through the German foreign policy machinery, not least in the Brussels committees. But here are some of the interesting nuances I have heard in my convesrsations with a few experts as well as FDP and CDU (the new coalition partners) voices.
There might be an increasing sense that Ukraine, Moldova, and perhaps Belarus will “of course” join the EU. Though with two caveats: 1) in the long run (defined as 20-30 years), and 2) “this should happen at our own pace, not due to geopolitical considerations”. The language is still more positive than I ever heard in Germany.
Much has been made about the fact that FDP’s election manifesto mentions an EU accession perspective for Ukraine. The Ukrainian foreign minister Poroshenko even says the new German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle (and FDP leader) gave him such a manifesto with the word “Ukraine” underlined and Westerwelle’s signature next to it. I tended not to overdo the importance of this point in the manfesto. But my FDP interlocutor stressed that the Ukraine point in the manifesto was thought through, discussed and “voted twice in an electoral year by the party convention, and this is not a backdoor policy paper, but a key document”. Read the rest of this entry »
I recently spoke at the Sino-European forum co-organised by ECFR/Centre Asie and CICIR about the EU-Russia-China triangle. While thinking about the non-existent triangle I ran into the proceedings of another ‘strategic dialogue’ – between Russia and China. And the following exchange of views on Russia’s desire for a sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space caught my eye. One of the Russian participants (Alexey Arbatov) asked the following question (page 19):
“A certain part of Russian political elite thinks that our central objective should be the re-establishment of the Soviet Union in this or that form, the establishment of uncontested Russian domination in the post-Soviet space. This is not what the leadership thinks, but in political circles, the media, in political parties, and the parliament such a desire is very strong… My question is what is [your country’s] attitude to such a policy line? Would your attitude towards such a foreign policy direction be positive of negative?
The reply: “We understand that Russia has special interests in this space, and that Russia tries to preserve its influence, but only if this takes the form of a civilisational community, because these states are still independent states… Russia should treat these states as independent states from a legal point of view, and from the point of view of international norms.” Read the rest of this entry »
(MORE updates…) Here is an interesting opinion poll (Eurasia Monitor) where post-Soviet publics are asked whether they prefer integration into the EU, union of Russia/Belarus/Ukraine/Kazakhstan or independence without integration with any such entities. The results broadly confirm some of the findings from our recent ECFR report on Russian and European neighbourhood policies which argues that EU soft power in the region is not uncotested.
Among the more interesting results are (see page 35 of this opinion poll):
- Georgia comes first in pro-EU sentiment with 36% being in favour of integration with the EU. But it also comes first in pro-independence sentiment with 48% (not willing to join any integrationist blocks). Unsurprisingly only 3% want integration into a Russian-led Union. Read the rest of this entry »
(with updates)… I started this blog a few months ago with a post on “Is the EU a mistake of history?” where I argued that many, if not most, EU-watchers and policy makers in Russia think the EU is a temporary phenomenon after which Europe will return to power-politics among nations-states and ‘Concert of Europe’-style diplomacy. It is always useful to know what others think of the EU, and I will make sure to post views of the EU from the neighbourhood as well. Here is one more opinion from Russia (copy-pasted without changes):
- “The European Union (EU) is growing weaker as an actor in foreign politics. The EU common foreign and security policy is still at its infancy because of the diverging interests of the European Union member states, and their reluctance to increase defense spending and shoulder responsibility for keeping up international peace and security. For this reason, the EU cannot be viewed as significant player in the world’s political and especially military-political arena”. Read the rest of this entry »
The Swedish EU presidency, which starts on 1 July 2009, is getting a lot of advice on what to do during its presidency. But here is one idea more idea for the Swedish EU presidency (contained in our recent ECFR report on the Eastern neighbourhood). The Swedish Presidency should convene a “listening tour” of the Eastern neighbourhood – a Troika visit by the Swedish foreign minister, Javier Solana, the Commissioner for External Relations, and the future Spanish EU presidency to each of the six Eastern neighbours of the EU: Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia). Here is why such a tour is needed and why the Swedish presidency is the best actor to initiate it.
To begin with, the Eastern Partnership summit in Prague, judged by its attendance list, was a near-failure. If the objective of the Eastern partnership was to relaunch the neighbourhood policy and raise its political profile, its start was not impressive. The Swedish presidency-led “listening tour” would help relaunch politically the neighbourhood policy in the East. It would repair some of the political damage done by the unimpressive Eastern partnership summit in May 2009. But the purpose of such a tour should not only be symbolic. Read the rest of this entry »