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Nikolai Mezhevich on the Riga Summit: “And yet, it failed”

Источник изображения: nahnews.org

On 21-22 May, all of Europe was watching Riga as the Eastern Partnership Summit took place. The Joint Statement didn’t surprise anyone, and outright disappointed many. Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry called it “the same old tune”, noting that the decision just confirmed previous ideas. Regardless, the organizers stuck to what they knew: the Latvian establishment is sure that everything went splendidly. Who is wrong? RuBaltic.ru asked professor of the European Studies Department of the International Relations Faculty of the Saint Petersburg State University Nikolai Mezhevich:

- Mr. Mezhevich, on Friday the Eastern Partnership Riga Summit concluded its work, with Joint Statement signed by 28 EU countries and the six Eastern Partnership countries. What conclusions can be made from this event?

- I wouldn’t like to just draw conclusions on the event. It is not entirely right to do so. At least from the point of view of our European partners, this was just another meeting in a long line of similar ones, this line may continue, or it may stop. And, in this sense, we should look at what was considered the initial intent? What goals were set? If we look at the project’s history, which started in 2010 de jure and de facto a lot earlier, then we can draw some interesting conclusions and give a proper assessment of what happened in Riga.

The story started back when no one even assumed that Europe, as well as the world economy, will fall into a global crisis. On the contrary, there was a lot of optimistic forecasts. And Europe was used to being the locomotive of world economy with few singular problems, who didn’t effect the big picture. Those were the latest years, around 2007. Back then Europe thought that the economic growth rates would be the same. And Europe’s role in world economy, and thus – world politics, was rock solid.

However, you and me both know that this question is now closed. European economy is not growing at a rate higher than 1.5% and the won’t be any higher. In this context, the ambitious idea of integrating a huge space with lots of population, implementing European norms into economy, politics… this idea turned out too ambitious to be realistic.

Moreover, from the Prague Summit it was already obvious that the European countries want to instantly expand their political, and economic, influence on new markets. And post-Soviet countries: Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia wanted financial support for their structural reforms above all else. European values were recognized by some, ignored by some, this was not the priority. In the end, it was a peculiar situation. The desire of the sides coincided at glance, and in front of the TV cameras: we want Europe and Europe wants us. But behind these words the sides had completely different understanding of the goals.

Theoretically, if you Europe was growing like in was in the late 70s and early 80s, then maybe a few dozens or a hundred billions could have been given out for ambitious programs. But we remember that Europe found some unsolvable problems behind her own lines. Greece, Cyprus, Spain and Portugal, the refugees and many other things.

And this is why today, in the big picture, Europe promises the Eastern Partnership nothing or close to nothing.

But even that what they can promise – no-visa entry, which they love to discuss on these summits, what is that exactly? It is a no-visa entry for tourist purposes or scientific exchange, but not work visas. People would not be able to work there. Europe is already drowning in emigrants from the South and the East. For example, Romania and Bulgaria are full-fledged EU members. So Europe doesn’t need dozens of millions more from Ukraine and Moldova.

EU is showing that this is matter of principle. Brussels understands that millions will go over the border and spread across Europe without visas and take unqualified work slots, but still provoke unemployment. For those who came before and for the native population this will be a problem. Throughout its history, Europe was faced with this problem more than once. And the current generation doesn’t want this problem.

And the structural reforms, well, they don’t exist and in Riga they avoided mentioning that. Just like on a funeral you don’t mention the deceased’s flaws. The problem of corruption is not solved. Political stability is less than it ever was in all of Ukrainian history for the past hundred years. And in these times Riga had people exchanging smiles and promises. We saw the Joint Statement, it has nothing concrete. It is a declaration.

There was once this Soviet cartoon about a cat named Leopold, who always said, “Let’s all be friendly”. Well that’s what we kind of saw in the Riga Joint Statement. And the cat was absolutely right – we need to all be friendly. But the question of “on what terms and with which responsivities” went unanswered in this declaration. That is the conclusion – nothing of what was promised was delivered to Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.

Moldova had a no-visa entry mode with certain restrictions. And it is understandable why Moldova got the go-ahead, while Ukraine didn’t: Moldova is ten times smaller. But, this intermediate decision is contested by a whole group of countries within the European Union. So the results of the Riga Summit are convincing in that they prove the skeptics position among the experts, who said that it would amount to nothing. And it failed.

- Judging by the comments by politicians, there were debates with representatives of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Belarus. What was the cause of that? Can it lead to a chill in relations between these three republics on one side and Ukraine on the other?

- There certainly exist nuances on positions concerning Russia, Crimea and Russia-Ukraine relations. This became the problem that you mentioned.

The point is that in Minsk they use a selective approach. Minsk is ready to accept some ideas of the program. And some, not without reasons, think that this is a problem, a threat, a challenge and doesn’t with to accept. And the European integrational product, European values in Brussels understanding look like an undividable whole: either you agree to the terms or you can’t discuss issues of European integration.

Kiev chose a different path: tell us what we need to do and we will try to do it. Or we will declare that we have done it. And Minsk is not ready to choose that path yet. Baku also considers itself an important player in its region. A country with good economic and great resource potential. And they are looking a lot more calmly at the demands of European assimilation.

And concerning Armenia, then on the post-Soviet space it is the least lucky. It is in a unique situation of geopolitical isolation and considers Russia its only ally, and not without reasons. In these conditions, a demonstration of unfriendliness towards Russia is not in its plans.

- Armenia and Belarus refused to support the “Crimea annexation” clause in the Joint Statement, but they supported the UN resolution on Ukraine’s “territorial integrity”. Are there any contradictions there? What does this position mean? Is this an important political issue or just symbolic?

- There is no contradiction here. The Russia position is that Ukraine’s territorial integrity was not violated. We are dealing with an expression of will, a plebiscite of the Autonomous Republic Crimea population. And in accordance with the results of the plebiscite they appealed the Russian government. And the Russian state officials are authorized to handle these issues, in accordance with the Constitution. There is no question on Crimea.

The problem with the Joint Statement text is rather the South-East problem. As we know, the South-East of Ukraine is not officially recognized by Russia. So Russia and Ukraine kind of share the same outlook – there is a need for decentralization. But we call to begin the work, so much time has passed, and Kiev is content with just discussing decentralization.

It is impossible to compare Crimea and the South-East. Aside from the fact that up until a certain point these territories belonged to one state de jure and de facto. And now Crimea is de jure and de facto not part of that state, the South-East of Ukraine is de facto not part of it, but still part of it de jure.

- The Joint Statement talks of the Eastern European countries’ right to independently define their geopolitical choice. This is a signal to Russia that now only the EU is allowed to influence the politics of the Eastern Partnership countries?

- The concept of a sovereign country being able to decide for itself on who to be friends with makes perfect sense. In this regard we, as politicians and Russian experts, do not cast aside Chișinău: you’ve made the choice, but you are obligated to your voters. Moldova does not have territorial integrity. The voting on this issue, when conducted in Moldova, showed an ambiguous result.

And in these conditions there is straightforward choice: forward, to the West. Good, this is your decision. But leave that right to choose to Minsk. I was recently there, talked to the people. I can say that they are not too rich there. But in most cases the people are sure that geopolitically and geo-economically the choice has been made. The choice is right and they will not change it.

- The Joint Statement almost doesn’t mention Russia directly. It turns out that the ideas of Eastern European hawks, especially the Lithuanian establishment, on the Russian threat to the Eastern Europe did not make into the Summit’s main document?

- The EaP program does not encompass Russia. That is why it is not mentioned. You can avoid mentioning something or a problem, not write about and not think it, but that doesn’t mean that the problem will disappear. The fact that Russia, the Russian approach to economic and political reforms, Russian practices have been receiving a lot of attention in the Caucasus region and the Western perimeter of the former USSR, as well as other regions (say Central Asia) that is a fact. You can’t deny it.

And the beautiful candy promised from Brussels to the post-Soviet countries, had a sour center is another fact.

So whether they mention it, or don’t mention it is unimportant. Everybody admits that Russia is a real participant of the political process, but the paper will take it all. That is why it is paper.

- EU and the Eastern Partnership countries approved the idea of another monetary donation for Ukraine, 1.8 billion euro. How adequate is that sum to Ukraine’s economic problems? Will this sum be enough to help Ukraine (if we assume that it won’t be stolen or embezzled)?

- Let’s assume that it won’t be picked apart and everything, up to the very last hryvnia, will be in place. And even then the sum doesn’t solve the problem.

Let’s remember the sums donated to Greece and Cyprus. But Cyprus and Ukraine don’t measure up in terms of geography or population. This money will go to the reissue of the previous loans. The situation where a man takes a loan, and when the deadline comes, he take another loan in order to pay the first one… I am sure we all know how this kind of stories end.

- In conclusion, did the Summit bring the Eastern Partners closer to EU membership?

- Absolutely not. The summit was announced a while back. They couldn’t say no. It was like a suitcase without a handle – can’t carry it, but can’t leave it either.

- Does the Eastern Partnership program have a future?

- Not in its current form.

The words Eastern Partnership can include anything, right down to Mongolia cooperating with Norway. For Norway that would also be EaP. And for the successful existence of the program, in my opinion they need a few things. For a start, they should decide on the EaP goal, think on cooperating with Russia, maybe work out a mechanism of coming to joint decisions.

Translated by Pavel Shamshiev.

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