At the end of this month, the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius will host the summit of the Eastern Partnership, co-chaired by the president of the host state and the president of the European Commission. The 28 EU states and the 6 members of the Eastern Partnership will be represented at the highest level. The event will be an opportunity to review the state of the EU-Russia relation and equally the orientation of the six post-Soviet states, their preference for either the values of the EU or the geopolitical paradigm of a former imperial entity, that has been dominated by Russia for over the three centuries. Obviously, the decisions that will be made by the respective states on this occasion will define the road they will move along for many years from now. Among these states – Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan – the decision to be made by Kiev appears as having a signification that also has a particular political importance.
How important this decision is for the other involved countries, as well, has been more than obviously revealed by the grand national assembly of Chisinau, held Sunday, November 3, when approximately 100,000 inhabitants of the Republic of Moldova demonstrated the people’s will to join the EU.
As it is known, at the beginning of September this year, to the surprise of the international media and of the local public opinion, Armenia decided, through the voice of her president who was paid a flash-visit to Moscow, to enter the customs union under the patronage of Russia, which includes Kazakhstan and Belarus, and antechamber of the future Eurasian Union. The decision made by Yerevan makes it legally impossible to ratify the treaty of association with the EU, already negotiated this summer and due to be initialled in Vilnius. In its turn, Moldova was repeatedly warned by Moscow, through hostile/threatening statements made by officials or through harsh customs measures (such as banning the imports of Moldovan wine), that signing a similar treaty with the EU will endanger the economic and commercial relations with Russia. In other words, during the months that preceded this summit, Moscow used a diversified arsenal of actions in order to discourage the member states of the Eastern Partnership willing to move closer to the EU, as it saw this Vilnius meeting as a real threat for its vital interests. It is worth mentioning that Belarus, part of the EP, as well as Azerbaijan do not show, out of various motives, a similar will to connect themselves to the EU through the instruments made available by Europe, as is the case with Moldova, Ukraine or Georgia.
It deserves being said that, confronted with this Russian geopolitical offensive pressed by Russia these last months, the European Union had a moderate reaction that consisted in stating its surprise to this behaviour of Moscow, designating it as “unacceptable” and proclaiming its support for the states that want to have a closer relation with the European block. In its statements, the EU mentioned that Russia is not excluded from the benefits which a stronger tie with the European organisation would bring to its direct neighbours. Anyway, with the summit drawing by, the situation seems to be shaped by Russia’s vigorous opposition to the closer relation between the respective states and the EU, which becomes a geopolitical bone of contention between Brussels and Moscow. Either on one hand, when this perception appeared, there was a huge gap between the intentions and instruments used by the EU to secure a peaceful and predictable eastern neighbourhood (closer to the pressures of geopolitical nature), or on the other, the difficulties which lay ahead of Brussels consume its resources of initiative, energy and will to increase its visibility as global actor, which encouraged Russia to act the way it did. But this is a purely academic matter of debate. The reality in the field is as mentioned above: Russia puts pressure and tries to force the states that belonged to its former imperial space into giving up their European option, suspecting the EU of an intrusion in the sphere of its traditional interests.
Indisputably, Ukraine’s decision has the biggest significance, which is also hinted by the Russian reaction. Recently, an aide of President Putin, S. Glazyev, said that Russia envisages even supporting the separatist tendencies of the Russian-speaking minority of Ukraine, if it signs the accord of association to the EU at the end of this month. Certainly, the decision made by Ukraine is very important for its future, no less for that of Europe, but it might be too far-fetched affirming – as a Russian (L. Shevtsova) recently did in an article written for an American magazine (‘The American Interest’) – that “Some events rise to the level of civilizational challenges, given just the right historical circumstances. Ukraine’s trajectory in the coming months and years will prove to be one such event, for the path it chooses will determine more than just its own fate.” Equally, what a well-known American expert (Walter Russell Mead) posted on his blog is too much, from a historic perspective: “If it/Ukraine/ moves toward the EU, the old Russia of the tsars and the commissars is dead, and what Putin called ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century’ starts to look permanent. Germany will have replaced Russia as the dominant power in Europe, Poland will shift from the frontier of Europe toward its heart, and Putin will go down in Russian history as the man who lost Ukraine”.
Things must be seen in a much calmer note, and this is precisely what the European Union is doing now. Naturally, the decision Ukraine will make in Vilnius is very important, but this act does not seal the fate of Europe – one way or another – for the long-term future, not even that of Ukraine. The acceleration of history these years and the vast explosion of globalisation already got us used to large-scale systemic shifts, deriving precisely from this unprecedented speed of the historic evolution. In the years that followed the orange revolution of 2004, Ukraine had made a huge leap towards the West and Russia seemed to have resigned itself and stopped opposing, because of its weakness. But just a small hesitation of the West was enough, during the NATO summit of Bucharest – the refusal of granting the MAP to Kiev, at the pressure of Germany – and history took a different course. The Georgian war occurred, a mini Cold War of Russia with Europe and the USA, with implications upon the situation in the East of the continent. Today, we somehow reached a moment similar to that of the summer of 2008, only the situation is different, and not just in geopolitical terms. The aforementioned expert W. Mead is right with this respect: “With Russia crippled by the failure of Putin’s state building project, France in sharp decline, Britain divided against itself and unable to develop a serious European policy, Germany’s position in Europe is startlingly strong. After a decade in which the geopolitical chat industry obsessed over the BRICS, it is interesting, to say the least, that Germany, more than Brazil, Russia, India or even China, is the country that is having the most success at affecting developments in its neighborhood.“
In a truly practical manner, if Russia continues the same game of geopolitical pressure upon EU’s partners of the Eastern Partnership it will get on collision course with Germany. And this meeting will be favourable for it if it complies with the European political rules, which are indisputably defined by Berlin today.
We should, thus, look with calm and optimism towards the Vilnius summit and also trust the discouraging effect of EU’s plan B, as it is already drafted by Brussels and IMF, to support Ukraine in the situation of Russia restarting a new ‘gas war’ if this country signs the treaty of association to the EU.