Thursday

19th Sep 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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

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.

Interview

Kasparov: Stop Putin now or pay the price later

Twenty five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Kasparov, a former Soviet chess icon, tells EUobserver that Europe risks entering a dark new chapter in history.

Europe's refugee policy is test of its true 'way of life'

As ex-national leaders, we know it's not easy to withstand public pressures and put collective interests ahead of domestic concerns. But without strong institutional leadership, EU values themselves risk ringing hollow, not least to those seeking protection on Europe's shores.

A new Commission for the one percent

We are only baffled by how nakedly Ursula von der Leyen's commission represents the very crisis affecting the EU. These commission nominees can expect their toughest questioning yet, they must be held accountable to those they should be representing.

How EU trains discriminate against the disabled

EU law requires us to give two days' notice to get the assistance we need, even for our daily commutes. We can't travel like everyone else. It is frustrating, annoying and time-consuming. In short, it is unacceptable.

Column

These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission

These developments will largely determine who will be running the world in the coming decades and perhaps generations. If the Europeans can't find an answer over the five years, they will be toast. And we haven't even mentioned climate change.

News in Brief

  1. EU adds €100m to research and Erasmus budgets
  2. Ambassador: UK Poles should 'seriously consider' leaving
  3. Trump's UK ambassador stirs up anti-EU feeling
  4. Brexit chaos is lesson to other EU states, ECB governor says
  5. EU condemns Israel's latest land grab
  6. Scotland to keep some laws aligned with EU after Brexit
  7. Spain to hold fresh election in November
  8. Turkey ups pressure on visa-free entry into EU

Defending the defenders: ombudsmen need support

Ombudsmen are often coming under attack or facing different kinds of challenges. These can include threats, legal action, reprisals, budget cuts or a limitation of their mandate.

Column

The benefits of being unpopular

Paradoxically, the lack of popularity may be part of the strength of the European project. Citizens may not be super-enthusiastic about the EU, but when emotions run too high in politics, hotheads may take over.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Europe's refugee policy is test of its true 'way of life'
  2. A new Commission for the one percent
  3. Juncker: No-deal Brexit 'palpable'
  4. Germany adopts blockchain strategy and says no to Libra
  5. Revanchist Russia continues to rewrite European history
  6. How EU trains discriminate against the disabled
  7. These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission
  8. Defending the 'European way of life' name splits MEPs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us