Saturday

7th Dec 2019

Opinion

A United Eurasia from Lisbon to Vladivostok?

  • Lisbon: the Western edge of Europe (Photo: Marco Fedele)

As I listened, earlier this year, to the final speech by Stefan Fuele, the former commissioner for neighbourhood policy, in which he mentioned the necessity of building a free-trade zone from Vancouver to Vladivostok, I thought to myself: “These must be merely personal considerations by an outgoing commissioner”.

However, at this week’s meetings in Brussels of members of the European Parliament and national parliaments with Federica Mogherini, the high representative for foreign policy, and with Johannes Hahn, Fuele’s successor, I saw that this idea really does haunt the corridors of Brussels.

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Based on the increasingly popular theory, we have to give Russia a European free-trade zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok and a visa-free regime, in return for it ceasing to interfere in the internal affairs of Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and other post-Soviet countries.

I would only smile at such unrealistic suggestions, if the naivety of their proponents was not so dangerous.

Led by the same kind of naivety, the West in recent years engaged Russia in the G8 club and helped it to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

In return we got: Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and Georgia; open violation of WTO principles; and artificial escalation of military tension on the borders of Western countries.

The fact that we are still unable to learn a lesson from these precedents only proves that Russia’s tactics are working.

The invader takes a bite of territory, then it asks for various undeserved concessions to let go its teeth, but it swallows the morsel before anything else is done.

Competing economic units

Today, as we discuss the need to integrate the European Union and Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union, we must understand that they are not just competing economic blocs.

They are, first and foremost, two opposite value and political systems.

By ignoring this and granting free trade privileges to Russia, we will not eliminate the dividing lines.

Instead, we will only mislead our Eastern Partners by creating the impression that their best way to Europe is through Moscow and with Moscow.

Is this what we want?

If No, then the European Union must not stall the Europeanisation of post-Soviet countries in the name of a trade pact with Moscow.

On the contrary, it has to encourage and speed up the reforms without denying EU membership perspectives to any of these six states.

Otherwise, we will leave a geopolitical vacuum to be soon filled by a system which is fundamentally hostile to the European project.

We will bring the emerging Eurasian regime closer to our borders, giving Moscow on a silver platter what it is trying to do by military force in Ukraine.

The price of soft politics

At the moment, Russia does not have the capacity to occupy Ukraine.

But, by means of its hybrid aggression, it is managing to keep the Western democratic community in a state of constant tension.

It is forcing Nato and EU capitals to wonder what Russian leader Vladimir Putin - deluded, but in control of a nuclear aresenal - will come up with next.

Western fear, confusion are the main goals of Russia’s provocations.

Repeated invasions followed by retreats on the territory of Ukraine; ambiguous remarks about its nuclear capabilities; 1960s and 1970s-era military aircraft taking to the air for risky manouevres on the edge of Nato or EU airspace; the abduction of a Lithuanian fishing boat, of an Estonian intelligence officer: Putin is trying to wear us out.

Its a campaign which has cowed a Western alliance which has overwhelming superiority in military and economic terms, but which lacks backbone.

Betting on our softness, Putin will continue to escalate the conflict until he reaches a moment of direct confrontation with the Western powers.

If he’s betting right, the powers will shy away from military action.

They will invite Putin back to the negotiating table and give him concessions in return for putting his fangs back in his mouth.

EU strategy for Russia relations

The idea of awarding Russia visa-free travel and free trade amounts to an attempt to stop him by appeasement, by almost any price to avoid war in Europe.

It was recently acknowledged by Mogherini at a meeting with members of the European Parliament and national parliaments, where she repeatedly said the European Union needs a new strategy for better relations with Russia.

I am convinced the problem lies not in the strategy.

We already have a strategy, but there are too many EU members which don’t to follow it.

Let’s face it: based on the core principles of the EU, the possibilities for a political dialogue in the face of war have already been exhausted.

The only means to force the Kremlin to wake up is strong and united pressure through sanctions valid until the very moment when the invader packs his bags and leaves Ukraine.

Audronius Azubalis is a member of Lithuanian Parliament and a former minister of foreign affairs

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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