Archive for category trips

Germany’s new Ostpolitik (again)?

(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.

On Ukraine

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 »

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Ikea and the Abkhaz paradox

As promissed, more impressions from my recent trip to Sukhumi. In Abkhazia, the economic imperative of rebuilding the region and attracting investments (predominantly Russian) clashes with its political project of staying more or less independent. Abkhazia might face the following paradox: until August 2008 Abkhazia was de facto independent but unrecognised; now it is recognised (by Russia and Nicaragua only), but not de facto independent anymore. The closure of the UNOMIG mission (anounced today) will also leave Abkhazia more internationally isolated than ever before.


Compared to my previous visit there in March 2006, now Sukhumi was livelier. There are more renovated buildings, more expensive cars, more people on the promenade by the sea, and the cafés are fuller. This is both a sign of some economic progress, but also the fact that summer is always livelier than the rest of the year (because of the tourists).

In the hotel I stayed (Ritsa) – very central and right by the sea – there were three wi-fi networks in the range of my laptop. The local GSM operator “Aquaphone” boasts with its 3G network. On one of the formerly abandoned piers in Sukhumi – a café was opened that serves sushi (and where the local authorities took Solana and Lavrov on their recent visits to Abkhazia). I even saw a yellow Hummer (!) (I also saw another one in Tbilisi –apparently that is trendy). A recent spat between the Georgian government and Benetton is also telling. Read the rest of this entry »

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On the meanings of “war”

Wars are defining moments in the life of states and nations. Throughout history wars often gave birth to nations, or caused the disappearance of states. Most nations had fought many wars, but almost every nation has one war to which they refer to as “the war”. For a German, Greek or Serb the term “before the war” means entirely different things and different periods.

I just spent a few days in Abkhazia and Tbilisi. I will write more about the trip in the following days. But it was interesting to see that the word “war” refers to different historical events. For the Georgians the phrase “after the war” means “after the August 2008 war”. Read the rest of this entry »

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Georgia-Ossetia: fragile frontline

I just returned from Georgia, where I managed to get to the Georgian-Ossetian/Russian frontline. Peace is incredibly fragile there. Nothing separates the Georgian military police from the Russian and Ossetian troops. No peacekeepers, no natural barriers, and no man-made fortifications. Just a  few checkpoints and small sandbag fortifications. The checkpoints of the two conflict parties in Ergneti are just a hundred meters from each other. And nothing else.


Tskhinvali today. Photo taken from Nikozi, some 300 metres south-west of Tskhinvali.

The relative calm rests almost exclusively on the lack of any (current) interest for renewed hostilities from either Russia or Georgia. Russia has a military victory in its pocket, and an economic crisis on its hands. Georgia is deterred by Russia’s military presence. The EU Monitoring Mission might have some psychologically restraining effects on the conflict sides. But here is little else that would prevent renewed hostilities should any of the parties become interested in stirring them. And they might be. If not now, then in the future. If not by Russia and Georgia, then by South Ossetia. Read the rest of this entry »

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