Original by Nikolai Ustimenko published by Ritm Evrazii; translation and analysis by J.Hawk
EU’s program of cooperation with post-Soviet republics titled Eastern Partnership (EP) has ended with a catastrophe. This is what Poland’s Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said in a Radio Poland interview. He referred to the belief that good-neighborly policies could be established through common European institutions as a myth, and called EP a German concept which Poland rejected as “incorrect.” EP’s outcomes speak for themselves: The most stable participants turned out to be those which refused to orient themselves toward Brussels.
EP was launched in 2009 on Poland’s and Sweden’s initiative as a program to strengthen cooperation between EU and six post-Soviet states of E. Europe and Trans-Caucasus. In plain English, the goal was to create a buffer zone between EU and Russia. The EU’s “carrot” was an offer of a free trade zone (FTZ) and visa-free travel. EU also simply gave them cash. In 2010-2013, Brussels spent 1.9 billion euro for “developing cooperation with eastern neighbors,” and EP dropped another 350 million. Most of that money went to Ukraine. In addition, once it joined the program, Kiev received an average annual credit from Brussels totaling 1.8 billion euro.
Using this straightforward and inexpensive method, EU tried to drive a wedge between Russia and six post-Soviet countries. Even though EU officials never stopped protesting that the initiative is not anti-Russian, Moscow preferred to trust its own eyes. Right before the last EP summit, Russian MFA representative Aleksandr Lukashevich said that the program has a “strongly pronounced anti-Russian orientation.” Russia promised to react to unfriendly actions by other countries in a principled and unswerving manner, “since we see the direction this partnership is moving and what coloring it is acquiring from its participants.”
Furthermore, for some members the project created an illusion of the first step toward joining the EU which Brussels did not want to shatter. In the end, before the final Riga EP summit Angela Merkel clearly stated that the existing cooperation mechanism “is not an instrument for EU expansion.” These words have played an ugly trick on Ukrainian elites which destroyed their own country, started a civil war, and plunged their citizens into poverty for the sake of “European prospects.” Incidentally, Kiev as usual preferred not to notice inconvenient statements by EU politicians. But that doesn’t change anything.
EP’s “star pupil” was Moldova. On June 27, 2014, its leadership signed an EU association agreement in a grandiose ceremony. Moldovans received the ability to travel to the Schengen Zone countries without visas already on the next day. The agreement also contained an expanded and comprehensive FTZ with the EU, which went into effect on September 1, 2014. Moldova did everything that was demanded of it and got the most EU could offer it. The outcome, as they say, is there for all to see.
Moldova naturally was ejected from the CIS FTZ and its trade volume sharply fell in the space of one year. Granted, Brussels did some damage too by exploiting Moldova’s raw materials exports and squeezing out local agrarians from Moldova’s market. In the meantime Moldova had three changes of government, and in September 2015 the country started experiencing massive unrest. Brussels prescriptions only made corruption worse, brought the economy to a dead stop, impoverished the citizenry, and bankrupted the political elite. Moldova is in a state of fever, and the country will only get better if it radically rethinks its pro-European course.
Similar symptoms can be observed in Ukraine. It’s been two years since the start of EU association agreement implementation, and Ukraine has enjoyed all FTZ advantages since January 1, 2015. While it was actively “eurointegrating,” the country’s economy rapidly deteriorated, foreign trade withered away like a rubber blanket in the sun, and individual incomes fell to the level of poorest African countries. Entire regions started to drift away from Ukraine, and the inhabitants of those parts which are still under Kiev’s control are actively emigrating. Ukraine’s leaders have plunged the country into a debt trap and are hoping for visa-free travel with the EU in order to push their citizens out to do seasonal work. Brussels is making promises not has not pulled the trigger. And Moldova’s example shows that even if Ukrainians are allowed to travel to the Schengen Zone without visas, the country won’t suddenly turn itself around.
Minsk was Brussels’ most disobedient pupil. Its participation was limited to discussing EU-Belarus relations and joint declarations. In the last Riga EP summit, Minsk delegation refused to sign the joint statement condemning Crimea’s return to Russia, which led to EU talk of EP’s collapse. In comparison to Moldova which is eurointegrated up to its ears, Belarus looks like an enclave of stability and prosperity. On the other hand, Minsk multi-vector games have not made anyone happy. The leaders of Eurasian Belarus can see for themselves how such games end from the example of Viktor Yanukovych.
Georgia is the EP leader there. Having signed the association agreement in June 2014 and launched the FTZ in September, at the same time as Moldova, Georgia’s leaders are awaiting the promised visa-free travel. After a year of duty-free trade with the EU, Georgia’s imports shrank by 23% due to losing CIS markets. GDP growth has nearly halved, to only 2.8% in 2015. Political elites are still in a better shape than Moldova’s, but in December the government was forced to resign. “There is a sense of instability in the country,” the leader of Georgia’s Democratic Movement Nino Burdzhanadze believes.
Armenia proved a real disappointment for Brussels. Two months prior to the Vilnyus summit where the association agreement was to be signed, Erevan announced it was joining the Eurasian Union. Its government managed to deal with the “electro-Maidan,” improve trade balance, maintain national debt at an acceptable level (50%). Erevan also succeded, unlike Tbilisi, to preserve its export at the 2014 levels. In spite of negative IMF, World Bank, and EBRD forecasts, Armenia’s economy is continuing to grow.
Azerbaijan was also not eager to “go Europe.” Right before the Vilnius summit, the head of the presidential administration Novruz Mamedov announced there can be no FTZ with the EU. “We told them that we cannot, will not be able to, enter into an association agreement,” Mamedov admitted. Brussels was instead offered a partnership agreement. But it misfired too. After a harsh EU resolution on human rights, Azerbaijan opted out of EP altogether. The question of whether it was advantageous for Azerbaijan to integrate with the EU given its growing problems was raised by President Ilkham Aliev.
The results of the crash
Not quite seven years later, one can sum up the EP’s aftermath. “Out of six post-Soviet republics, three–Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine–signed association agreements with the EU. And? They now all have problems,” State Duma Committee for CIS Affairs chair Leonid Slutskiy concludes. The participation of Eastern European and Trans-Caucasus countries in the EP has only led to their citizens growing sick and tired of EU’s promises.
Moldova shows the strongest drive toward Eurasia. Having experienced all the joys of eurointegration on their own skins, Moldovans now prefer to join the Eurasian Economic Union rather than the EU. We see a similar tendency in Georgia where the number of “European dream” acolytes is shrinking. Ukraine is still an exception, but that story has not reached its final phase yet. Since Brussels is nto about to officially acknowledge EP’s death, we can expect many interested changes in the post-Soviet space in the future.
J.Hawk’s Comment: To add briefly to the above, one has to note that while Waszczykowski criticized EP, it was for not allowing these countries to join the EU–or NATO. It’s not yet obvious what the EU will do once EP is acknowledged to have failed (and it’s doubtful many EU leaders have illusions on that score). The staunchly anti-Russian governments in some Eastern European EU members, like Poland, want Ukraine, Georgia, and others to be granted full EU and NATO membership. However, since Poland is currently out of step with the EU “core”, there is also the possibility that the countries of the region, for example Poland and Ukraine and perhaps Lithuania, will attempt to create their own political and military alliance under US (not EU or NATO) tutelage.