EU Eastern Partnership: Striking inconsistencies

Photo: EU Eastern Partnership: Striking inconsistencies / Azerbaijan

By Colin Stevens, eureporter

The grim perspective of recession for the EU brought to an end the debate on the possibility of economic sanctions against Russia. Commissioner Siim Kallas did not mince his words, while pointing out that any further wrestling would cause considerable damage to the EU states, moreover that some of them, such as Cyprus or Finland, would be more vulnerable than others.

These meticulous calculations tempered the 'restrictive measures' against Russia within the so-called second stage, targeting individuals "responsible for the destabilization" of Ukraine. On the eve of the council of foreign ministers on 12 May, diplomats intensified their efforts to raise the effectiveness of already existing restrictions.

According to European Council President Herman van Rompuy, the individual measures were minimal, but they delivered an "excellent result", remaining in a European classical style of 'soft power' on the one hand, but implying considerable pressure on decision-makers on the other.

However, the eulogies as to the wisdom of the EU strategies are not universally shared: the EU's zeal in attempting to resolve the Ukrainian conflict makes the Eastern Partnership initiative appear increasingly confused. Launched in 2009, it aimed to enhance closer co-operation with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, progressing towards stability, security and prosperity. But moves towards prosperity remain hindered by the integral security problems of the Eastern neighbours.

Since the collapse of the USSR, Europe has witnessed further protracted armed conflicts on ethnic and territorial grounds that have been harnessed to some extent, but not resolved. The countries concerned remain handicapped by the diminishing potential of economic development for obvious reasons - without peace treaties, the sword of Damocles is always there.

Although all the conflicts in post-Soviet republics have a lot in common, rooted as they are in the failure of the Communist regime, they are treated almost individually by the EU - there has been no clear 'frozen conflict' policy, strategy, or even framework to exercise European influence to find equitable solutions.

The break-away territories, held by separatist movements in Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Southern Ossetia and Transnistria have undermined the territorial integrity of the countries in their internationally recognized borders, but these conflicts have been treated differently, even on a case-by-case basis within one Partnership project.

In some cases, such as Nagorno-Karabakh, the EU largely relied on the activities of the Minsk group - in others, in the same geographic area of Caucasus, the conflicts of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the EU exercised a direct influence during the French presidency.

However, the recent events in Ukraine overwhelmed the whole landscape of the EU Eastern partnership policy, as no other conflict in the post-Soviet space evoked a similar level of EU involvement - the 'blacklist' of top officials, politicians and journalists banned from entering the EU for actions that "undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine", the assets freeze and keeping the situation under constant monitoring - these have not previously been exercised in any of the 'frozen conflicts' in the post-Soviet arena thus far.

This EU vigour for Ukrainian conflict resolution leaves a clear imprint on the Eastern Partnership policy, as it is becoming increasingly haphazard, leaving the Eastern neighbour countries confused. The amplitude of the strategies dealing with the conflicts in post-Soviet space are becoming truly immense, coloured in different shades, intensity and modalities, resulting in the accumulation of nothing but remorse from the Eastern neighbours that have been suffering from 'frozen conflicts' for decades.

A division of energy invested in crisis resolution in Ukraine, applied to the resolution of the 'frozen conflicts', could open a totally new future for the healing of the old post-Soviet wounds.

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