EU enlargement, Russia and U.S. policy

The Vilnius EU summit will gather the six countries of the “Eastern Partnership,” Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan, and will begin firm negotiations for their future integration. Yet, Moscow is intent on blocking the process.

By Nicholas Dima | August 12, 2013

President Timofti of Moldova, left, and President Basescu of Romania inspect the Moldovan military
guard. Photo from Romania Libera of 17 July, 2013.

On November 27 and 28 representatives of the European Union will meet in Vilnius, Lithuania, to discuss the prospects of expanding its borders eastward. The enlargement will also bring with it the expansion of NATO, which makes Russia jittery and compels the United States to take a stand. On the one hand, Moscow is trying to neutralize Western Europe with beneficial economic deals, and on the other, it opposes strongly NATO’s expansion into its former area of influence. This trend places Russia and America in opposing camps once again. Currently, however, Russia has become increasingly assertive, while under the Obama administration the United States has become soft and accommodating. What should be expected?

The new Russia under President Vladimir Putin resembles the old Soviet Union. Domestically, the Russian press has been muffled and the democratic process has been very much halted. Economically, Putin’s Russia resembles again the former USSR. According to the July 13 Economist in “Castles in the Sand” the site of Moscow’s Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics looks like a giant Soviet project which is costing the exhorbatant amount of $50 billion. A big part of this huge expenditure at the Black Sea resort of Sochi is going into the pockets of various Russian oligarchs connected to Putin. No one dares oppose it, writes the Economist; it is Putin’s pet project and his regime’s way to legitimize itself. And geopolitically, Russia is engaged in a deadly struggle to retain control over its former republics referred to as their “near abroad” and to prevent the EU expansion into those areas.

The European Union, however, has an open policy of eastward enlargement, and after the integration of Croatia this summer, it made clear that the door remains open. “For all its trouble,” wrote the Economist on June 29, 2013, the “EU is still a family that others want to join. And the lure of membership remains a powerful incentive for economic and political reforms among its neighbors, including in countries in the former Soviet Union.” In this regard, the Vilnius EU summit will gather the six countries of the “Eastern Partnership,” Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan, and will begin firm negotiations for their future integration. Yet, Moscow is intent on blocking the process.

For the time being, Belarus is solidly in the hands of President Lukashenka, an unreformed pro-Moscow communist. Ukraine is also under a pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, but with many Ukrainians preferring to join the EU, the country is split. Moldova is under tremendous Russian pressure. As for the republics of the south Caucasus, Armenia has no choice but to stay aligned with Russia, Georgia is occupied (South Ossetia and Abkhazia) and therefore territorially mutilated and incapable of maintaining its sovereignty following the 2008 invasion, while Azerbaijan is isolated and feels virtually abandoned by the West. As of now, we do not know what changes the Vilnius summit will bring to the region, but Russia is already using all its persuasive powers to retain its dominant positions on the geopolitical chessboard. And Moldova is a good case on point.

As a former Romanian territory and with most of its people being ethnic Romanians, Moldova is split between its European aspirations and the local communist minority that prefers Russia. This split has been Moldova’s problem ever since its 1989 independence. To compound the local geopolitical scene, Moscow instigated Transnistria, a multi-ethnic region of Moldova, to break away from Chisinau. And to further punish Moldova’s pro-Romanian aspirations, it also instigated the minuscule Gagauzi minority, to declare its autonomy. (The Gagauzi live in southern Moldova, are of Turkish descent, but are Christians.) Economically, Moldova is the poorest European country with neither prospects of self-development nor advancement. Politically, since independence, Moldova was led by Western-oriented governments at the beginning, by leftist-oriented agrarians later, by unreformed communists a few years ago, and again by pro-Western leaders presently. The current leaders, President Nicolae Timofte and Prime Minister Iurie Leanca, seek to draw Moldova closer to Romania and into the European Union.

Making himself an emissary of the EU, President Traian Basescu of Romania visited Moldova in July and again encouraged it to join the EU. According to Romania Libera of 17 and 18 July, he was received warmly and with full military honors by the president of Moldova and he also met with many opposition leaders. While meeting the local people, a young woman stressed that the road to the EU is long and bumpy and asked: why not reunify first Moldova with Romania? Mr. Basescu answered simply: “Demand it and we will do it.” Otherwise, the Romanian president had a conciliatory tone toward Moscow. Nevertheless, under a cool façade, Russia is working hard behind the scenes in contravention to the independent republics to strengthen and enlarge its own Eurasian Customs Union.

As for Russia, it continues its unpublished agenda. As reported by the Romanian Global News of July 17-18, and the Romanian Breaking News of July 16, Moscow even claimed that Romania itself could join this community and in the process it would reunite with Moldova. Nevertheless, during his visit President Basescu said that the Moldovans are part of the Romanian nation, they share the same culture and history, and the land should join the EU, not the Eurasian Customs Union. And, he even added sarcastically that “he did not meet any Moldovans with slanted eyes.”

Yet, as reported by Moldova Weekly News Buletin, of July 24, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Moldova that it would suffer consequences if it decides to join the EU. All this time, Moscow’s foreign policy… “stays its course;” by consolidating the “near abroad” and projecting power internationally. For example, according to the Russian magazine Kommersant and as reported by Romania Libera of July 25, President Putin will visit Iran in mid-August and the visit is expected to consolidate the Russo-Iranian relations. Among other things, Russia may increase its assistance to Iran’s nuclear research and may even deliver to Tehran the dreaded S-300 rocket system. Then it will be interesting to see how President Obama will or won’t respond to this provocation.

Nicholas Dima, Ph.D., is a former professor and author of numerous books and articles including the autobiographical memoir, Journey to Freedom, a description of the effects of communist dictatorship on a nation, a family and an individual. He currently lectures and is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.