The echoes of November 2013's Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius may have long since faded but, with Ukraine on the brink, the results of this meeting continue to reverberate throughout Europe especially its eastern part.
With EU diplomats meeting on 28 April to agree a broadening of sanctions over links to separatist actions in Ukraine, the debate on the future of the EU´s Eastern Partnership policy (ENP) has tended to be overshadowed in the unfolding crisis.
It is worth recalling that the ENP is a flagship EU multilateral programme aimed at development of regional cooperation with six former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
The whole policy was thrown into confusion after ex-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign a treaty on association and free trade with the EU at the EU summit in Vilnius in November 2013 and the subsequent dramatic events in Ukraine.
The alleged "illegitimate" regime in Kiev has been used by Russia as a defence of its current actions and, while presidential elections in Ukraine on 25 May offer fresh hope of a peaceful resolution, the crisis currently shows no signs of abating.
Observers say that, six months later, the fall-out from Vilnius is still being felt and that lessons must be learned from the perceived failure of Lithuania, which as holder of the EU presidency in the second half of 2013 was charged with the task of overseeing the signing of the trade deal with Ukraine.
Some even argue that Lithuania brought Europe to confrontation with Russia and also brought Ukraine to the precipice.
Moscow-based Justinas Valutis, an experienced commentator on EU-Russia affairs, agrees, saying, "There is no doubt that Ukraine's refusal to sign the free trade treaty with the EU in Vilnius was a major blow to EU's prestige. The event itself and its immediate aftermath also unmasked the sickening arrogance, the double standards and the limited political influence of the Brussels elite.
"During the run-up to the summit, the EU went to great lengths in order to swing public opinion in its favour, stating how good and generous this supranational organization will be for Ukraine and its people. But there was a problem of communication from the beginning. All those promised `good things to come´ were defined in a very abstract way, while Ukraine on the other hand was required to carry out very concrete steps if it sought to rub shoulders with the 'Brussels club'.
"But to tie the second largest country in the old continent to the EU with the help of discriminatory association treaty was never going to be an easy task."
Valutis is particularly scathing of Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite, a former MEP, who chaired the Vilnius summit and who, he says "released a tirade of bitter words as she joined the common condemnation of Yanukovich's decision not to sign the treaty.
"But the head of Lithuania, who likes to present her country as a role model to its Eastern neighbours should be the last person to lecture others on missed opportunities as she herself rules a republic with ballooning government debt, a stagnant economy and mass emigration on such a scale that it´s become a threat to national security. Instead of using is unlimited energy and scarce resources to please the powerful ones in Brussels and stir emotions elsewhere, Lithuania should clean up the mess and revatalise the economy at home, just as its northern neighbours in Finland and Estonia successfully do."
Another keen Kremlin-watcher, author Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey, asks: "Who are the ones who have destabilized Ukraine? It was not Russia, it was those behind the putsch in Kiev in February. They forget that Yanukovich was democratically elected in 2010; they forget to mention the record of Yulia Timoshenko (who allegedly called for the murder of Russians in a recent telephone call) when she was Prime Minister; they forget that after the putsch the first draft law passed by the Ukrainian Rada (Parliament) was anti-Russian legislation.
"They forget that the call 'Death to Muscovite' rang round Maidan during the anti-Government protests orchestrated by political opportunists.They forget that the Jewish community was advised to leave Kiev during the disturbances because of calls to murder Russians and Jews. "They forget that half the population in Ukraine speaks Russian as a mother language and forget that one third of Ukrainians consider themselves ethnically Russian."
Bancroft-Hinchey adds: "So let us not blame Russia, which was sitting back minding its own business. Let us not blame the Crimeans, who risked being the victims of allegedly planned legislation declaring all Russia supporters "non-citizens" and rendering them to the status of foreigners inside their own homes. This is what it is all about.
"Let us blame an EU association agreement which would have seen EU goods flood Ukraine but hindered the flow of Ukrainian goods the other way (Yanukovich was fighting against this) and which in turn would´ve seen Ukraine's industry, agriculture, fisheries and jobs all destroyed along with the future of its youth."
Concern about the role of extremists in the current unrest has been voiced by Human Rights Watch which has urged the EU and the US to "press the interim government in Kiev to ensure that efforts to disarm members of paramilitary groups holding illegal weapons include the extreme nationalist paramilitary group Right Sector."
Human Rights Watch Europe and Central Asia Director Hugh Williamson said: "The government should hold Right Sector to account for all criminal acts attributable to its members."
UK Socialist MEP Richard Howitt, his party's foreign affairs spokesman in Brussels, said: "First and foremost, responsibility for what is happening in Ukraine is with the country's own former leadership, its levels of corruption, and the lack of conciliation between groups within its own population."
UKIP MEP Roger Helmer said:“The EU is starting to understand its folly in seeking to offer funding and EU membership to a country which is certainly regarded by Russia as its 'near abroad', and in some ways almost as part of Russia itself. Now that Russia has responded, the EU finds itself acutely embarrassed, and unable to formulate an effective response. It is even chided by President Obama for its pusillanimous reaction. President Roosevelt’s advice was “to tread softly and carry a big stick”. The EU failed to tread softly, and then found it had no stick at all.
"This is a lesson and a wake-up call to those who still pretend that the UK gains 'influence' by its membership of the EU. In this situation, the EU has no influence at all."
Igor Ivanov, Russia's foreign minister from 1998 to 2004 and president of the Russian International Affairs Council, said: "Unfortunately, it is obvious that Ukraine is now a tinderbox ready to explode, and the consequences will be serious for everyone."
Further comment came from the Brussels-based Michael Emerson, an associate senior research fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies. The highly respected commentator says the EU should accept some responsibility for the Vilnius "fiasco" for having drafted agreements with an "inadequate balance between incentives and obligations". "It will require a major recalibration of policies to get the unstable new status quo back onto sound strategic lines."
This, he suggests, must include a "rebuilding the remnants of the EU’s neighbourhood policy" and "promoting a Greater Eurasia concept fit for the 21st century that would embrace the whole of the European and Asian landmass".
Emerson says the crisis may in fact have sounded the death knell for the ENP, adding: "From beginning of ENP in 2004, almost a decade ago, criticisms were made by many independent observers that the proposed ‘action plans’ saw an inadequate matching of incentives from the EU alongside the reform-oriented obligations that the partner states were expected to follow. This did not change as the years went by.
"The huge loading of EU legislation in the AA/DCFTA with Ukraine, which was the first text to be negotiated and served as template for the Armenian, Georgian and Moldovan texts, seems to be only a lightened version of what Norway accepts as part of its European Economic Area (EEA).
"The blame has to be shared by the political leaders of EU member states and the technocrats in the European Commission. The politicians are primarily to blame for being unable to overcome disagreement over whether the East Europeans should be granted ‘membership perspective’."
So, what of the future? While he does not absolve Russia of criticism, Emerson says the EU and Ukraine have created a "new strategic status quo which is a big mess".
He added: "The EU’s neighbourhood policy is in tatters. Ukraine is in a state of deep political and economic crisis, as well as having surrendered its independence.
"Relations between the EU and Russia descend to the most serious confrontation and distrust since the end of the Cold War, with the possible exception of the 2008 war in Georgia."
He went on: "But out of this ugly situation there should constructed a fresh start, and fresh strategic thinking on the side of the EU in particular. The general political context in the EU makes this opportune.
"With the economy recovering from the euro crisis, and a new political period about to begin with renewal of the European Parliament and the leadership of the Commission and European Council, with the drift towards Eurosceptic populism widespread, there is a political market for ideas for a major advance in EU foreign policy."
When truth hurts: How US and British taxpayers ensured Soviet victory in the 'Great Patriotic War'
The tweet attracted notable criticism from Russian officials who were infuriated that the US had the audacity to believe it had somehow helped achieve the victory, ignoring Russia as the main – or even the only – victor in the war it itself had caused. According to Russian officials, this is the US attempting to rewrite WWII history.
Interestingly, this sentiment was also backed by anti-Kremlin opposition activist Aleksandr Navalny who also criticized Washington for “wrongly interpreting history”, adding that 27 million Russians (!) lost their lives in the war – not Soviet citizens of different nationalities.
Neither the official Moscow, nor Navalny, who is quite respected in the West, attempted to provide any real facts for their arguments that would refute what the official White House twitter account had stated. In American words, Russia’s arguments over the history of WWII is nothing more than a pile of bullshit.
What is more, such an attitude from Russian officials and politicians is completely natural, because modern Moscow still sees WWII exclusively through a prism of historical myths made up during the Soviet era. This has resulted in Moscow (and others) refusing to open their eyes to a multitude of facts – facts Moscow is so very afraid of.
In this article, I will provide four facts about the history of World War II that make Russia uncomfortable and scared of the truth.
Fact #1: WWII would not have taken place if the USSR had not signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact with Nazi Germany.
Despite Moscow’s attempts to cover this up, nowadays practically everyone is well aware that on 23 August 1939 the USSR signed a non-aggression treaty with NAZI Germany. The treaty contained a secret protocol defining the borders of Soviet and German spheres of influence in Eastern Europe.
Hitler’s main concern before attacking Poland was to find itself fighting in the Western and Eastern fronts simultaneously. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact ensured that after attacking Poland, there will be no need to fight the USSR. As a result, the USSR is directly responsible for causing WWII, in which it actually fought on the side of Nazis, which Moscow now so strongly despises.
Fact #2: The unimaginable number of casualties on the USSR side was not a sign of heroism or decisiveness, but the consequences of neglect from Soviet authorities.
Speaking of the USSR’s decisive role in WWII, Russian representatives usually stress the huge number of casualties (up to 27 million soldiers and civilians died) as proof of heroism of the Soviet nation.
In reality, the casualties do not represent heroism or the willingness of people to defend their motherland whatever the cost, as often argued by Moscow’s propaganda mouthpieces. The truth is that this unimaginable number was only because the Soviet leadership was indifferent towards the lives of its citizens, as well as the fact the strategies chosen by the Soviets were thoughtless.
The Soviet army was utterly unprepared for war, because up until the last moment Stalin believed that Hitler will not attack the USSR. The army, which required developed defensive capabilities, instead continued preparing for an offensive war (perhaps hoping that together with Germany it will be able to divide not only Eastern Europe, but Western Europe as well). Additionally, during the Great Purge of 1936-1938 the USSR intentionally eliminated most the Red Army’s most capable military leaders, because Stalin simply did not trust them. This resulted in the Soviet leadership being so detached from reality that it couldn’t perceive the threat posed to it by Nazi Germany.
A great example of this is the utter failure of the Red Army in the Winter War. Soviet intelligence was so afraid from Stalin’s political requirement to attack Finland that it deliberately lied about its weak defenses and alleged pro-Kremlin and pro-Bolshevik sentiments shared by the Finnish people. USSR leadership was certain it would crush the small Finland, but the reality turned out to be one of 20th century’s most disgraceful military campaigns.
After all, we cannot forget that the system of the USSR did not care whatsoever for its people. Because of being so far behind technologically and strategically, the USSR could only fight Germany by throwing the bodies its soldiers at the Nazis. Even in the final days of the war, when the Red Army was approaching Berlin, Marshal Zhukov, instead of waiting for the enemy to surrender, kept sending thousands of Soviet soldiers to a meaningless death on German minefields.
Therefore, it is almost not too late for Russian officials to understand that the fact that the US and UK had much less casualties than the USSR does not mean that they contributed less to the outcome of the war. It actually means that these countries treated their soldiers with respect and fought more skillfully than the USSR.
Fact #3: Soviet victory in WWII would not have been possible without material assistance from the US, known as the Lend-Lease policy.
If on 11 March 1941 the US Congress had not decided to provide material assistance to the USSR, the Soviet Union would have suffered even greater territorial losses and human casualties, even as far as losing control over Moscow.
In order to understand the extent of this assistance, I will provide some figures. American taxpayer money provided the USSR with 11,000 airplanes, 6,000 tanks 300,000 military vehicles and 350 locomotives. In addition, the USSR also received phones and cables to ensure communication on the battlefield, ammunition and explosives, as well as raw materials and tools to help the USSR’s military production and some 3,000,000 tons of foodstuffs.
Other than the USSR, the US provided material assistance to a total of 38 countries that fought against Nazi Germany. Adjusting for modern times, Washington spent 565 billion dollars to do this, out of which 127 billion were received by the USSR. I think no one will be surprised knowing that Moscow never repaid any of the money.
What is more, Moscow also cannot admit that it was not only the US, but also the UK that provided assistance to the USSR. During WWII, the Brits delivered to the USSR more than 7,000 airplanes, 27 warships, 5,218 tanks, 5,000 anti-tank weapons, 4,020 medical and cargo trucks and more than 1,500 military vehicles, as well as several thousand radios and radar equipment pieces and 15,000,000 boots that the Red Army soldiers so desperately lacked.
Fact #4: Without the campaigns of the US and UK in the Pacific Ocean, Africa and Western Europe the USSR would have capitulated to the Axis powers.
Considering the aforementioned facts proving how weak and pathetic the USSR was during WWII, it is more than clear that it wouldn’t have been able to stand against the Nazi war machine without both material assistance from the US and UK and also their military support.
US engagement in WWII and the beginning of its Pacific campaign against Japan on 7 December 1941 was the prerequisite for the USSR to defend its Far East borders. If Japan would not have been forced to focus on fighting US forces in the Pacific Ocean, it would most likely be able to seize the larger Soviet cities located in the border area, thus acquiring control over a considerable part of the USSR’s territory. Taking into account the great size of the USSR, its badly developed infrastructure and the overall unpreparedness of its army, Moscow would not have lasted even a couple of months if it was forced to war on two fronts simultaneously.
It should also be stressed that Germany’s assault on the USSR was also hindered by British activity in North Africa. If the UK had not spent huge resources to fight Germany in this region, the Nazis would be able to concentrate their forces on seizing Moscow and would most likely have succeeded.
We cannot forget that WWII concluded with the Normandy landings that finally fully opened the Western front, which was Hitler’s greatest nightmare and the reason for signing the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. If the Allies had not began their assault from French territory, Germany would have been able to focus its remaining forces in the east to hold back Soviet forces and not let them further into Central Europe. As a result, the WWII could have ended without total capitulation on the side of Berlin.
It is obvious that without assistance from the US and UK, Soviet victory in WWII would not have been possible. Everything suggested that Moscow is about to lose the war, and only because of enormous material and financial resources provided by the Americans and the Brits was the USSR able to recover from the shock of summer of 1941, recover its territories and finally seize Berlin, which was weakened by the Allies.
Politicians in modern Russia pretend to not see this, and – instead of at least admitting that the victory was possible because of the engagement of the entire Europe (including Eastern European nations that were not mentioned here – ones that Moscow now often accuses of glorifying Nazism) – they continue standing by the now ridiculed myths about WWII created way back by Soviet propaganda.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's alone.
Regardless of the pandemic, Russians will celebrate #V-Day
The Soviet Union lost 27 million soldiers and civilians in a horrible war for its independence. The Red Army not only liberated the country’s territory but also played the crucial and decisive role in exterminating the Nazi regime in Europe.
It seems that the current state of emergency related to coronavirus general lockdown will change very little in a real popular endeavor. President Putin had no choice but to postpone (not cancel) the official Victory Day celebrations in the country, including a traditional military parade at the Moscow’s most remarkable venue - the Red Square.
The mentioned event had to take place in presence of many world leaders as well as former Soviet Republics heads of states. Instead, in Moscow and 47 other regional centers people will see Air Force parade that will include display of modern military aircrafts and helicopters. The same day after sunset people across Russia will watch fireworks. President Putin will lay flowers to the Unknown Soldier tomb in Moscow together with few high ranking Russian officials. Similar events will take place in major Russian cities. This year the very impressive Immortal Regiment procession will be organized online due strict quarantine measures in Russia.
Of course, the terrible COVID-19 pandemic in the world left no choice but to stay home. At the same time on this sacred day of 9 May, Russian citizens feel special unity of minds, souls and hearts, recollecting their grandfathers and grandmothers, relatives who payed the highest price and sacrificed their lives to let their children live in a world free of Nazism.
75 years later: The world at a crossroads...again #Coronavirus
Today (8 May), the commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War will go almost unnoticed, overshadowed by the COVID-19 crisis and the progressive and problematic ending of the quarantine in Europe, writes Jean-Christophe Bas.
The year 2020 should also be an opportunity for the international community to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Hiroshima and the creation of the United Nations. Its Secretary-General Antonio Guterres launched a few months ago a major "global conversation" to reflect on the future of the United Nations and international cooperation. As we gradually emerge from the first stage of the COVID-19 crisis, this return to 75 years ago, when humanity experienced the worst and the best, is not without interest.
As Hubert Védrine remarked during a webinar organized last week by the Aspen Institute, for the first time in its history, the whole of humanity is facing the same threat. Global threat, disordered, dispersed national responses. And behind the foreseeable economic cataclysm is already emerging the geopolitical impact on an already unstable and precarious world order.
For some people like Joseph Nye, it will be negligible; for others like Jean-Yves Le Drian, the world of tomorrow will be like the one before, but worse! It is difficult today to place the cursor on this, but certainly, as Richard Haass, the head of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, says, the pandemic will accelerate history rather than reshape it. In other words, the "battle of the giants" between the United States and China that was to take place over the next few decades will take place over the next few years.
Between two countries and two leaders, one flayed by its calamitous management of the crisis and its economic consequences, the other for its possible responsibility for the crisis and its lack of transparency. Last February, at the Munich Security Conference, even though the United States thought it was protected from the virus, the tone had already risen several notches against China.
Do we, Europeans, do you, Indians, Russians, Turks, Africans, want to go back to a world polarized to the extreme, and become the adjustment variable of one of the two camps? In view of our history, our culture, don't we have a role to play to avoid this disastrous escalation and to put pressure to choose "the other road", that of a multipolar world that is just, stable and balanced, respectful of cultures and civilizations, and driven by the promotion of reasonable and sustainable development? Do we want to go against what 20th century history has taught us?
Seventy-five years ago, when the world was at a crossroads, a handful of visionary leaders were able to put in place a framework for international co-operation which, although imperfect, made it possible to preserve peace and development within a few decades.
At a time when the whole of humanity faces the same threat, we must seize this unique moment to develop a sense of common belonging, shared responsibility and shared destiny, "one humanity, many cultures". And to do so without compromise or candour.
It means being able all together to finally open this global conversation and ask ourselves what binds us to the 21st century, the shared values we are ready to commit ourselves to, the new contract we can agree on. And to reinvent a fair and effective model of international cooperation, in particular by breaking the lock of supremacy, of the absolute monopoly of representation and decision-making by Governments.
Everyone knows that if the World Health Organization had been free to alert the public and the media, what was still a local epidemic last December would never have become a global pandemic. It is well known that the complexity of global challenges requires collective intelligence to ensure their resolution, and not exclusive reliance on the promotion or defence of national interests.
The governance of the Internet by ICANN, the regulation of the diamond trade with the Kimberley Process and the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria are illustrations of the success and effectiveness of multi-stakeholder mechanisms from which we must draw inspiration and lessons learned in rethinking appropriate international cooperation mechanisms. The choice is clear. The world is at a crossroads, and it is up to everyone to mobilize to ensure that the spirit of the San Francisco conference that laid the foundations of the UN prevails, and to give birth to a new internationalism adapted to the challenges of global threats.
The Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute has taken the initiative to launch a global consultation with a view to rethink in depth the functioning and nature of the United Nations and international co-operation, which will culminate next October at its annual Rhodes Forum with concrete proposals from all the actors and countries of the international community.
Jean-Christophe Bas is the CEO of the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute in Berlin.
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