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Andrey Ganzha: Ukraine in Central European turmoil

This has already become a traditional European approach: Central Europe is the wall that protects the quiet and satisfied Western Europe from the destructive winds from the East.

Since the Spring of Nations in 1848, there have been lots of projects to form a geopolitical and supra-national state between the Baltic and Black seas: Benes’s Little Entente, Pilsudski’s Poland from Sea to Sea and many other sanitarian cordons.

But new confederations need time and effort to be formed and are very unstable. It is much easier to classify states, bind them with common obligations, tempt them with financial assistance, and here you are, the wall is ready! And this is exactly what the Europeans did.

The barn of Eastern Partnership

The Eastern Partnership project was inaugurated in the Prague in spring 2009. The declarations of the five Eastern Partnership summits are full of ideas about democracy, integration, energy security and human contacts. But what they really mean is that 28 European states have undertaken political and economic patronage over 6 former Soviet republics: Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and Belarus. Belarus is the hardest nut to crack: its President Alexander Lukashenko keeps teasing Europe - now he agrees to be partner, then he takes his words back. The five other partners are much more disciplined and have accepted the rules.

And those rules are quite tough: the first Prague Declaration says that Eastern Partnership is based on shared responsibility. But the past years have shown that de facto this project is based on the individualistic approach of “conditionality:” assistance is provided only to those who have achieved a certain “condition,” that is, who have fulfilled the EU’s requirements. The declaration of the last Brussels Summit is more like an ultimatum: “EU financial support to its partners will be conditioned by concrete reform steps. The EU's incentive-based approach ("more-for-more") will continue to benefit those partners most engaged in reforms.” (article 12).

But should any of the six partners appear with its own ambitions, the EU will give it the following response: we “reaffirm the sovereign right of each partner to choose the level of ambition and the goals to which it aspires in its relations with the European Union” (article 7). If we translate this into human language, we will get the following: “You are free to have your own ambitions, but the money is ours, so, it is WE who decide!”

Ukraine was the first to face that “WE” during the last summit. Before the summit, the press had specified three expectations Ukraine had from the EU:

- to specify its EU membership perspectives;

- not to mention the decision of the Dec 2016 EU Summit;

- not to approve Hungary’s amendment concerning the respect of the rights of ethnic minorities.

And what happened as a result?

Yes, Petro Poroshenko hugged Juncker and Tusk during the summit but:

Concerning the first expectation: “…the Summit participants acknowledge the European aspirations and European choice of the partners concerned, as stated in the Association Agreements.” (article 10). And no single word said about membership perspectives.

Regarding the second expectation: “The Summit participants commend the full entry into force of the Association Agreements and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas with Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and most recently with Ukraine following the December 2016 decision by the EU Heads of State or Government.” (article 9). In this context, we would like to recap the Dec 2016 decisions, adopted under the Netherlands’ pressure:

- the Association Agreement does not confer on Ukraine the status of a candidate country for accession to the Union, nor does it constitute a commitment to confer such status to Ukraine in the future;

- it does not contain an obligation for the Union or its Member States to provide collective security guarantees or other military aid or assistance to Ukraine;

- the Agreement does not grant to Ukrainian nationals or Union citizens, respectively, the right to reside and work freely within the territory of the Member States or Ukraine;

- it does not require additional financial support by the Member States to Ukraine, nor does it change each Member State’s exclusive right to determine the nature and volume of its bilateral financial support.

And finally, apropos the third expectation:

“The participants look forward to stronger engagement with all partners in modernizing education, research and innovation systems, and improving their quality performance and competitiveness, ensuring respect for rights already exercised of persons belonging to national minorities as enshrined in UN and Council of Europe Conventions and related protocols, non-discrimination of persons belonging to minorities and respect for diversity and fully taking into account the expertise of Council of Europe bodies when reforming these systems.” (article 18). The Hungarians should be happy!

Whelp, VIVAT POLSKA! It was exactly Poland (more specifically, its former foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski) who suggested Eastern Partnership and it is the selfsame Poland who now supervises this project on behalf of the EU. And it is not the first time that Poland ignores the wishes and expectations of Ukraine.

The sledge-hummer of the Three Seas Initiative

But Eastern Partnership is not the only project in Central and Eastern Europe. The United States is not the EU’s friend, there are no friends in politics, there are only interests! The Americans’ interest is to control Europe and to confront the EU as a geopolitical and economic rival.

The EU is a strong but also quite loose platform, with distinct tectonic faults existing between the “founders” (Germany, France, Italy and Benelux), the “old-timers” (there were nine of them, but the UK has broken away) and the “newcomers” (thirteen states admitted in 2004-2013). And the Americans are trying to use those faults.

Everything started quite respectably and inoffensively. In late summer 2016, twelve EU members located in the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Sea triangle gathered in Dubrovnik (Croatia) to coordinate the work of their gas pipelines and to consider the construction of Via Carpatia trans-European route from Klaipeda in Lithuania to Constanta in Romania. Ukraine was also invited but refused to take part in the project.

The project was called BABS (Baltic, Adriatic, Black Sea Initiative), which was politicized by the Americans this year, when Donald Trump visited Warsaw and set the Poles on fire with two simply matches – anti-Communism and Russophobia. His trick worked out and now BABS is the Americans’ military-political and emotion trump in Europe.

As a result, the industrial confederation of Austria, Poland, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Slovenia is turning into the Americans’ emotional tool for imprinting their brigades into the Polish territory. “U.S. troops have been here for a long time, we have quite a few troops here, up to 5,000, and we will continue to do that and we will continue to work with Poland,” Trump said during his July visit to Poland. In Romania and the Balkans, the Americans already have air defense systems and military bases.

Now the question is who this all is aimed against besides the Russians, whose only foothold in Europe is Serbia and who have nothing but interests left there.

And what is the net result? A group of twelve EU members, where eleven states are newcomers and one state, Austria, is an old-timer and obviously the boss of the alliance. And all of them suddenly fall under the control of the United States. Metaphorically speaking, the Americans are taking young stallions out of the EU’s stable and also one old horse, Austria, who once (in the times of the Habsburg Monarchy) was the owner of all that herd.

And the one who will control BABS will also control Eastern Partnership.

As a historian, I would like to note that the greater part of Ukraine gravitates toward BABS and could become an organic component of that “sanitarian cordon."

But the Kiev leaders have missed this chance: when they woke up and asked for an invitation to the Warsaw BABS summit, they were shown the door: they in Brussels said that the summit was meant for EU members only. Now we can only guess who provoked the “season of political folly” in Ukraine – a process that has led the country to conflicts with Poland, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria (all of them are BABS members) – the Ukrainian leaders or Western Europe. The only thing I can say for sure is that the latter would like to see more problems in this U.S.-sponsored region.

Or was it Moscow?

Eastern Partnership and BABS are two soft geo-strategic rivals. But while the civilized West is deciding who will pass the “white man’s torch” to the eastern barbarians, there is one more player looking at the region with its squinty eyes. "We must admit that the only new thing that appeared in the Balkans and South-East Europe at the beginning of this Millennium was China. I would say even in Europe and in the wider world, it is acting as a new proactive socio-economic and political player. Especially for us in the Balkans and South-East Europe, this will lead to deep cultural, economic as well as geopolitical and geostrategic tectonic changes," says Ljubomir Kekenovski, professor at the Faculty of Economics of Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje (FYR Macedonia).

In Central Europe, this “new thing” is already taking quite specific shape. In 2012, it already had an institutional project entitled 16+1 or China — Central and Eastern European Countries. (CCEEC), with secretariat headquartered in Beijing. The goal of that initiative is not to teach how to live. Nor is it going to deploy troops in the region. The Chinese have come there with a large package of offers, like a 10bn credit line, FX swaps, 5,000 scholarships for students wishing to study in China and other alluring prospects.

All this is open for 16 local states (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, FYR Macedonia). When CCEEC was holding its first summit in Warsaw in 2012, nobody took it seriously – China was too far for Europe.

But a year later, China appeared with its New Silk Road initiative and it became clear that its major goal is to expand into the rich European market. And quite recently, it turned out that New Silk Road is the major infrastructural project of our age. And this means that the Chinese will continue expanding into Central Europe, whether the EU and the U.S. like it or not.

As regards Ukraine, it is offside again. And this is the reason: since the times of Confucius, the East has been ruled by the symbol. Today, China is a country ruled by a Communist Party and fighting corruption. So, the Chinese will hardly deal with a corrupt anti-Communist regime as they do car for own image.

Three independent competing projects in one small region is too much. But this offers the local nations wide room for maneuver. Too bad Ukraine is not among them. In Eastern Partnership, it is the underdog, in BABS and CCEEC, it is outside the door. It’s here that one understands Ostap Bender from Ilf and Petrov’s The Golden Calf, when he was sitting in bushes in a ditch, while “real life was flying past joyously blaring and flashing its lacquered wings.”

Andrey Ganzha (Kiev), specially for EADaily

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