West Plays Up to the Kremlin

By Alexander Kronin

The results of the last Summit of the “Eastern Partnership” member-states show that the struggle between Russia and West for a dominating influence over former Soviet republics has entered into a new stage. And it seems that Moscow captures greater initiative.

Secret dispatches of American diplomats to the State Department, published in the beginning of September by WikiLeaks show that primarily one of the main goals of the “Eastern Partnership” program was the weakening of influence of Moscow within post-soviet area.


It should have become “graceful, but strong reply on Russian aggression in Georgia” and a peculiar “punishment” to Russia, able not only to involve into its orbit the states established on the remains of the USSR, but also to force them to minimize cooperation with Moscow rapidly. Except for that to the mind of Charge d’Affaires of the US Embassy in Stockholm Robert Silverman, the program also should be directed at limitation of strategic options of the Russian Federation within the issue of security.

But also without these publications Russian authorities were aware of the real direction of this initiative and put all the efforts (soundly and silently) to create obstacles for its accomplishment. The last steps of the parties within this competition were: from West – the second Summit of the “Eastern Partnership” on September 29th – 30th, from Moscow – articles of Vladimir Putin devoted to the plans of the establishment of the Eurasian Union published on October 4th, 2011.

The “Eastern Partnership” participants from the number of former soviet republics (having felt the focus from the European Union as well as Russia) demonstrate desirable pragmatism and the further the more talks are switched from the discussion of general principles to clarification of real preferences, getting to the issue of integration vector choice, roughly speaking, from the view of “who gives more”.

Naturally, at first sight, technological and economic capacities of the united Europe at the moment are incomparably greater than of the Russian Federation. However, the last, in comparison with the European Union, doesn’t condition (at least evidently) provision of economic preferences to democratic changes of power system, reorientation of foreign policy. Which is especially topical for Azerbaijan, Armenia and of course Belarus. (claims in this aspect are also brought towards Ukraine.)

The fact that exactly the last circumstance can become decisive within the choice of integration direction was confirmed on October 7th, 2011 during the press-conference for Russian Mass Media no less a person but the President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko. According to his words no matter what would be the issue during the talks in the frameworks of the “Eastern Partnership” everything “always starts with political demands”. Here he concludes that “we shall never be good for them”. But Belarusian leader quite approvingly evaluated the suggestions of Vladimir Putin on the Eurasian Union and expressed readiness to participate in this project.

Meanwhile, the initiators of the “Eastern Partnership” didn’t manage to estimate appropriately the efficiency of new Russian maneuver and to undertake adequate countermeasures timely. Dim feelings of observers, that the European Union risks to “lose” Belarus (occurred within first minutes of the meeting of the Mass Media representatives from the partner-states on September 26th, 2011 with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland Radoslaw Sikorski) rapidly turned into persistent assurance, in course of clarification of official line of Poland and the EU (which at the moment it chairs) towards official Minsk.

The words of Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs concluded that the European Union shall have principle stance and intends to insist on full rehabilitation of all political prisoners in Belarus even before the start of any talks with official Minsk. In this respect at the oncoming Summit of the “Eastern Partnership” in Warsaw it shall be granted a special (as a matter of fact reduced) status. As several days before that the Prime Minister of Poland Donald Tusk declared, this was done to preserve at least simple contacts with the authorities of the country for the information about measures, which the European Union intends to undertake towards the Republic of Belarus, reach the top officials as fast as possible. And this in no way means the forgiveness of the regime.

Thus they have as if legalized the amazing situation established after December 19th 2010 within the relations between united Europe and Belarus: the EU maintains contacts with the representatives of civil society whom it sympathizes most (but to the sorrow of authorities from Brussels absolutely forceless) and absolutely doesn’t wish to maintain contacts with extremely unpleasant official power (which nevertheless possesses all main levers to control the country).

As generally top European politicians think, the only way out from this peculiar clench is unconditional accomplishment of the demands of the European Union by Alexander Lukashenko. As the EU Council President Herman van Rompuy declared on September 29th, 2011 in Warsaw during the meeting with the delegation of Belarusian opposition and relatives of prisoners – members of the events of December 19th 2010, till the demands would be accomplished “we are not able to soften attitude towards Belarusian regime”. On September 30th during the last day of the Summit, in the essence, this line was documented  in a special declaration on the situation in Belarus, adopted on behalf of the heads of states, governments and representatives of the European Union states.

However, during development of this document, its authors didn’t consider the circumstance that for the current Belarusian President the concession to the EU demands would be the loss of political image (and state post together with it). For such regimes, it’s much better to look too brutal than to seem too weak. As this is still the picture in minds of the most part of population of post-soviet countries of which mighty and capable political power should be.

Moreover, in order to keep his powerful authority in full scope it is beneficial for Lukashenko to isolate his country from West with the help of Europeans themselves and then to blame them in reduction of cooperation. Such super-centralized regimes like Belarusian one in the situation of permanent emergency situation, permanent outside (evident or supposed) threat, chronic complication of relations with neighbors feel themselves like a duck to water. Current Belarusian President has proved himself to be a pretty experienced crisis-manager, but in order to realize his specific abilities he needs real or (which is preferred) staged crisis. So further freezing of political contacts with the European Union shall hardly fear the top power of Belarus.

Also considering economic preferences at the moment Minsk has almost nothing to lose. As on September 27th 2011 Maja Kocijancic, press-secretary of the EU Superior Representative on Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, among 6 states of the Eastern Partnership Belarus is least involved in this program and has the least number of advantages from participation in it.

At this background, benefits from participation of integration forced under the aegis of Russia (Customs Union, Common Economic Space and now Eurasian Union) look pretty significant. There is real Russian market, there are real Russian energy carriers and raw materials, which assure existence of industrial giants of Soviet epoch at which works a sufficient part of employable citizens of the Republic of Belarus. Against this - 9 billion dollars (reality of which is doubted by many experts) and suggestion for Alexander Lukashenko to make himself political harakiri.

It’s worth to say that ex-President of Poland Lech Wałęsa more or less adequately estimates current state and prospects of relations within the line Belarus - Europe. During the meeting in Gdansk with the representatives of Mass media of the “Eastern Partnership” he declared: "Belarusian President is like a fox, tricky, he is aware that he depends on Russia, and Europe is not able to help him now because of complicated relations...". And although now, as Wałęsa says, Europe leads rigid policy towards Minsk, within long-term prospect it shall negotiate.

But wouldn’t that be too late then? As again, just as in the first half of 90-s the state of Belarus is on the crossroad and again, due to inertia of West, the choice shall most likely be made in favor of Russia. But the same choice, it seems, shall soon reach other partner-states. Evidently, exactly this forced the representatives of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine to refuse of signing the declaration accusing Belarusian authorities.
As the Chairman of Georgian Parliament David Bakradze stated in relation towards Minsk they should lead the policy of interaction, anticipating bilateral cooperation. Otherwise to his mind, the situation in Belarus shall get worse or the country shall choose East. And the events of last days (first of all, announcement of the Eurasian Union establishment and the reaction of Alexandr Lukashenko on that) demonstrate fairness of this point of view. Without bias, it turns out that West played up Vladimir Putin. And there are no guarantees that the suggestions of the last one shall not involve another member-state of the “Eastern Partnership”.