Blog AnalysisRussia Caucasus Ukraine

Shouldn't the EU review its strategy in the East?

Between Moldova and Ukraine… (© NGV / Bruxelles2)

(BRUXELLES2) The Vilnius summit scheduled for November 28 and 29 on the Eastern Partnership will seem a little pale. The European Union, which intended to sign with four countries in Vilnius, will have to settle for much less ambitious content. Armenia had already chosen to remain in the Russian camp. Ukraine has just joined. So only Georgia and Moldova remain, with which the “28” should initial an association agreement. A failure ? Or too much self-confidence.

Objective: anchor the Russian marches in Brussels

Launched by the European Union at the Prague Summit in May 2009, the Eastern Partnership initially concerned six countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The goal was generous: “ consolidate democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and an open market economy ". The Europeans promised the Six: a strengthening of political ties, a gradual integration into the European economy and greater mobility for citizens” (liberalization of visas). All this, accompanied by financial support. From 2010 to 2013, 1,9 billion euros were allocated to these countries. To consolidate this change in dimension, association agreements, intended to replace the partnership and cooperation agreements in force, and including a more “free trade” component. thorough and comprehensive should be signed. In other words, we anchor them firmly to Europe. And we detach them just as much from Russia, which has always refused this dynamic of the Eastern Partnership of the European Union.

Moscow surrounded

The Kremlin feels under siege. Its sphere of influence, its area of ​​economic attraction, has been steadily shrinking for 20 years. If some have lost the memory of this moment, it is useful to recall the terms of the exchange. When, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989, Michael Gorbachev agreed to withdraw his troops from Germany and satellite countries, the condition set for this withdrawal of Russian troops by 2000 km was the countries' non-membership of NATO. thus freed from Soviet influence. We know what will happen to this promise. Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia in 1999, then Bulgaria, Romania and the Baltic States in 2004 joined the Alliance. In 1991, the USSR broke up. New renunciation: the Baltic States found their independence and detach themselves definitively from the Russian orbit, with relative ease. Elsewhere, in Moldova and Georgia, the unrest is bloody. Several thousand dead in the wars of autonomy in Transnistria and Abkhazia in 1992.

A paradigm shift

As long as they were satellite countries for Moscow or fairly small but not strategic countries, Russia let it happen. The coup in Georgia in 2008, when tanks rolled into Georgia to “protect” Ossetians and Abkhazians against “aggression” from Tbilisi sounds like a warning. It should have made you think. The Russia of Putin and Medvedev is no longer that of Yeltsin. The people of Petersburg - where Vladimir Putin and Medvedev come from - no longer intend to retreat indefinitely. This is the case at European level. Its determined refusal of the American anti-missile shield forced Washington to review its prohibitive system. The gas giant Gazprom has successfully developed alternatives to the European Nabucco project, even managing to attract Europeans into its orbit: Germans and French in the north, Greeks and Bulgarians in the south. The Kremlin also wants to regain its place on the international scene. Its unfailing support for the Damascus regime and its masterstroke in the dismantling of chemical weapons prove it. Its place in the Iranian nuclear negotiations confirms this.

An overestimated power of attraction

It is all this fact that the Europeans have undoubtedly underestimated. Boasting strategic partnership and a “comprehensive approach”, based on a policy of enlargement – ​​or absorption depending on which angle you take – which has been a success so far. the European Union doubtless overestimated its power of attraction and underestimated the Russian reaction. By targeting Ukraine, the Europeans knew, however, that they were setting foot almost at the heart of Russian power. " Everyone is well aware of the geostrategic importance of securing Ukraine and that it is a question of pushing back the European borders to 2000 km (further to the east) recognizes a Minister participating in the negotiations. Opposite, the Kremlin has "negotiated" global. All the means at its disposal, political and economic, have been used. Threats to Georgian or Moldavian wine, the Ukrainian gas bill recall, or the discovery of a hygiene problem in Lithuanian milk, strained relations with Dutch diplomacy were only the tip of the iceberg. The various Russian officials have constantly made the trip to Kiev to bring them back into the Russian fold, using carrots and sticks.

Trapped all alone

The Europeans have, in fact, trapped themselves. By making Yulia Tymoshenko their banner of freedom, without whom they would not sign any agreement, they gave Ukraine an excellent argument for not really breaking with Europe, not getting angry with Russia, and not signing anything. By insisting on her release when the former Ukrainian Prime Minister is not a “paragon of freedom” to use the formula of an official from a Member State, the Europeans wanted to force fate. The Ukrainian president only had to leave his rival in prison to bring down the European pawn, leaving the European Union speechless. The surprise was harsh. The Commissioner for Enlargement, Stefan Füle, who was going to go to Kiev, has turned around. And it took a good 8 hours to get a reaction. Checkmate !

Redefining policy with Russia

The European Union will no doubt have to review its strategy vis-à-vis Moscow. It must first adopt a more thoughtful and united position. No need to hide it. The 28 European states do not have the same approach on the attitude to have with Russia, in general, and to the east of its borders in particular. For the closest countries, it is a first step towards European integration, towards accession, as the Slovenian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Karl Erjavec, recalled at the ministers' table on 18 November last, in Brussels. For others – notably the founding countries – no enlargement is currently possible and this is not the time to make promises. " It's a red line » do we thus assure on the French side. " We will not sign a document which mentions a European perspective for these countries ". The EU can no longer consider today's Russia the same as yesterday's. A country whose opinion we kindly take into account on the international scene but which we do without when it comes to the European scene. It is with Moscow that it will be able to build a new European policy in its “marches” and not by systematically confronting it. This is also what is at stake in Vilnius…

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Article published in partnership with

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).