Saturday

28th Jan 2023

Opinion

Faced with Russian imperialist creep, EU has to get geopolitical

  • Yet was the aviation hijacking really only Lukashenko's doing? We still don't have enough information on who has been involved in the incident, the investigation is still ongoing (Photo: Twitter)

When a plane from Athens to Vilnius was forced to land in Minsk with threats of explosion and the scrambling of a military fighter jet, this was met with an uproar of shock and anger from the European capitals.

It seemed, at the time, like the vindication of Jean Monnet's famous words, "Europe will be forged in crises".

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  • Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis. 'Otherwise, our neighbourhood programmes will be just an expensive exercise in buying time from resurgent imperialist regimes' (Photo: Lithuania foreign ministry)

Speedily and unanimously, Europe decided on crisis response and on the sanctions vis-à-vis president Alexander Lukashenko's regime that keeps Belarusian people captive. Europe was magnificent .

There is a danger of complacency creeping in, however, as we congratulate ourselves for our fine performance. Let's take a step back and take stock of the larger perspective – what is happening here, precisely?

Heretofore, weaponisation of civil institutions such as flight controls was not thought of as an option. Now it is. What next?

Difficult to say when one is dealing with the regime that is bordering on insanity. Lukashenko's Belarus is increasingly reminiscent of North Korea in its mix of capricious unpredictability and unbridled aggression born out of paranoia.

Yet is it really only Lukashenko's doing? We still don't have enough information on who has been involved in the incident, the investigation is still ongoing. However, one thing is clear – Russia was aware of it, their reactions were ready and came out before western shock reached Twitter.

Moreover, like in old Soviet days, Lukashenko immediately flew to report to his Russian patron. Since last year's stolen election, Russia was involved in Belarussian affairs more than ever with political consultants, military advisors, and propaganda aid.

The question I would like to raise is - what is the end goal of current Russian regime apart from ensuring its own survival?

Exporting instability across the border was Russia's go-to mode for the last couple of decades, from Transnistria to East Ukraine, from Abkhazia to Nagorno Karabakh. But that instrument has become increasingly costly.

What we see happening now is Putin's attempt to fix "the biggest geopolitical mistake of 20th century" – the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether Kremlin does it to reduce the costs of ineffectiveness, in order to create a personal legacy, or because it is unable to de-escalate the situation around the Russian borders.

Belarus is close to being taken over by Russia.

Now is the time we should ask ourselves - what happens if Lukashenko signs a common state agreement with Putin? Shouldn't we call it annexation, as we did with Crimea? If this, the Belarus should become an absolute no-go zone for western businesses, just as Crimea is today.

Georgia, Crimea, Azerbaijan, Abkhazia, South Ossetia...

However, it's not just Belarus. Armenia is getting more and more dependent on the security guarantees from Russia and has a growing Russian military presence. Azerbaijan won the war against Armenia, but now has 5,000 Russian troops inside the country.

Georgia lost territory during 2008 war and is witnessing continuous borderisation and militarisation of the occupied territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Recent Russian military escalation in occupied Crimea and along the Ukrainian border is a de facto permanent war situation.

Same goes for Transnistria – the semi-criminal territory snatched away from Moldova, the country which up until recently held the best record of pro-European reforms.

What is the difference, however, between Kaliningrad, Russian military base in the middle of Europe, and South Ossetia? The latter also has Russian troops; it has also become a threat to the neighbour countries. (And not only neighbour – Russian radars from South Ossetia can reach as far as Turkey, a Nato country.)

The only difference is that South Ossetia and other similar "territories" are not yet Russia; they can make at least some autonomous decisions.

Putin, in starting the project of New Russia which would incorporate Belarus, Armenia, Donbas, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, seeks to resolve that last hindrance.

Slow annexation

This slow annexation is happening right on the EU borders. If unchecked, it will create instabilities for the next hundred years. Countries with disputed territories will be reluctant to pursue pro-European reforms, so as not to provoke Russia, remaining de facto geopolitical hostages of the New Russian Empire.

The EU is right to worry about its strategic communication. However, now is the time to focus on the EU strategic presence in Eastern Partnership. If we loiter for too long, the communication will no longer be relevant, since we will no longer be considered as present in the region.

Will the EU remain a deeply-concerned bystander, watching the EU neighbourhoods 'engulfed in flames' – or choose to act as a geopolitical union?

The time is ripe for the latter.

The first good signs are here.

The EU Council president took active part in solving the political crisis in Georgia and the result was admirable: the opposition in Georgia is back in the Parliament, which is finally able to promulgate laws and amend Constitution in order for Georgia to continue on its European path.

Europe is also direly-needed in Belarus. EU needs to maximise pressure on the mad and criminal dictator Lukashenko and help Belarusian people to hold the free election they deserve.

Europe is badly needed in Azerbaijan and Armenia – to guide the peace process, since Europe is the only party without a self-serving interest. Our only interest there is the interest in stability, rule of law, and respect for human lives and rights.

Europe is needed in Moldova and Ukraine, the most EU-oriented countries. Ukrainian people have already paid the ultimate price for their European aspiration – from the Heavenly Hundred murdered in Euromaidan to the brave soldiers that continue to be killed in the war in Eastern Ukraine.

Europe has to become geopolitical or face the increasingly uncertain, even dangerous times, as China, Russia, and even erstwhile EU aspirant Turkey will start deciding, between themselves, on the fates of countries not only to Europe's East, but South as well.

EU ministers need to discuss these matters in greater depth and take more far-sighted decisions. EU leaders also need to start seeing the region as a political priority. The EU security is inextricably bound with the peace, stability, and democratic progress in its neighbourhood.

Only safe and secure EU can deliver on its original mission – to be the beacon of peace, human rights, freedom, and prosperity. The path to Europe's future goes through European future for its Eastern neighbours.

Otherwise, our neighbourhood programmes will be just an expensive exercise in buying time from resurgent imperialist regimes.

Author bio

Gabrielius Landsbergis is minister of foreign affairs of Lithuania.

Disclaimer

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

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