While my special interests are laying in Balkans I keep an eye on Northern Black Sea – Caucasus, Ukraine and Bessarabia. Events there sure have their impact also in Balkans – if not direct so at least through their geopolitical, security or economical consequences. Today’s Caucasus with its surrounding regions is a frontline of power politics where U.S. and Russia are searching the limits of their sphere of influence. EU – without vision, strategy nor independent will and muscle – is trying preserve some foothold there as well its member states more or less depending their history, interests and priorities.
Last year was highlighted by conflict in Georgia. Separatist regions around the globe had waited Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence (UDI). Throwing international law to garbage western powers showed that independence gained by violence could be possible and even acceptable; South Ossetia and Abkhazia implemented their project first with help of Russia who following U.S. example could get rid rebuff of UNSC.
An other battlefield was and still is energy. Last year’s highlight was Gas crisis which had its effect also in most parts in Europe. Few months ago an agreement was made between Russia and Ukraine; my estimation is that if not even this weekend then later this year conflict is back.
What’s up 2009
Since Georgia is now parcelled up as frozen conflict I expect this year some interesting developments especially in Moldova and Ukraine if we speak about states. Speaking about issues related to the whole Caucasus – energy is the top one and it includes much more than only gas transit via Ukraina. Besides energy giants also U.S. military-industrial complex has some interests in region and with Nato’s helping hand some tensions could be provided to secure company profits also during recession period.
In 1992 Moldova and Transdnistria aka Pridnestrovie fought a brief, bitter war which the separatists won, with the assistance of a contingent of locally-based Russian troops left over from the Soviet Red Army. Cease fire left Russian troops in place as peacekeepers and Transdnistria has since then acted de facto as independent – although not recognized – state. Conflict was frozen nearly ten years, then started first serious try to find sustainable solution. In the Spring 2003 Dimitry Kozakin – a special envoy of Russian President Putin – started to broke deal between local stakeholders. His plan known as “Kozak plan” was ready and preliminary agreed to sign on November 2003 but western powers put some pressure towards Moldova and everything was cancelled by President Voronin’s rejection.
2004-2008 “outsiders” like U.S., EU, OSCE as well Ukraine and Russia made some attempts to launch new negotiation process but without success. (More in my article “Transdnistrian numbergame”)
It will be seen this year if the “Kozak plan” still is valid for further examination, if yes, it will consolidate Moldova’s neutral position as the plan included the change of the Moldovan state’s structure – creation of the federation where Transdnistria and Gagauzia would be granted extensive rights including the right to block the undesirable bills. Moldova will have general elections on Spring 2009 so of course it is possible that the state can take new course e.g. towards Western Powers. In that case Russia might be more inclined to formally recognize Pridnestrovie’s separation from Moldova.
On October 25th 2008, in Mukachevo, the 2nd European Congress of Transcarpathian Rusyns took place; decision on declaration of “Rusyn statehood” and “reconstruction of republic of Subcarpathian Rus”, proclaimed in 1938, was accepted there. A meeting demanding to recognize this republic was held at the building of Mukachevo City Council. (AXIS 30.10.2008) The Office of Public Prosecutor of the Transcarpathian area has brought a case against leaders of Rusyns organizations on suspicion in attempt against territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine.
Besides such a criminal case has been brought in the Crimea regarding ” The Popular front Sevastopol-Crimea-Russia” which was created in August, 2005, and unites 12 public associations of the peninsula. Investigation is going on of its activity in connection with the “appeals to revision of territorial integrity of Ukraine” and similar case will be also in Donetsk republic.
SBU also considers necessary to expand powers of law enforcement bodies to more efficiently counteract to distribution of radical Muslim religious currents in the Crimea, Ukraine’s security services have also detained some mujahedeen who were going to Russia with an aim of recruitment of group of radical Islam fighters.
According the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), separatist organizations in Ukraine do not possess serious threat for security of the country. As concerns the scale of the threat – these organizations are small and moreover, as a matter of fact, they are established from abroad and with external financing.
SBU’s estimation about importance of separatist movements is probably right, but I see the big divide between NW Ukraine – dominated by sc. Orange revolution parties and SE Ukraine – dominated by pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovich’s the Party of Regions. While ruling “Orange” coalition is seriously divided the pro-Russian opposition can win or lead ruling alliance in future, reconstruct better relations with Russia and minimize the impact of old parties of Orange revolution. So coming elections in Ukraine will decide if this huge country is seeking alliance more from Nato/EU or Russia and will the divine be so big that the whole country will split.
According economic terms Ukraine is already practically bankrupt. Grimly forecast is that Kiev will not be able to pay its next instalment for Russian gas deliveries in coming days so triggering a new cut-off. Even if this particular payment is averted, there is still next one coming on April.
After “Cold War” US has all the while expanded its influence post-Soviet territory with aim to guide those region’s natural resources under US companies. As stakes have been control over the oil and gas of the Caspian Sea/Black Sea/Caucasus basin, and the control of multiple key energy pipelines criss-crossing the region. Economical interests have been linked to political game e.g. Nato enlargement. While EU has been more bystander Russia has during last couple of years weight down the scale in favour of its own interests by series of successful operations.
GUUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova) Group was founded 1999 with help of US to foster favourable conditions conducive to economic growth through development of an Europe-Caucasus-Asia transport corridor. GUUAM was dominated by Anglo-American oil interests, ultimately purports to exclude Russia from oil and gas deposits in the Caspian area, as well as isolating Moscow politically. From its part GUUAM was designed to support sc. Silk Road Strategy Act – adopted by US Congress March 1999 – which outlines a framework for the development of America’s business empire through development of an Europe-Caucasus-Asia transport corridor.
Now GUUAM is coming to end of its short road. Already earlier Uzbekistan withdraws from it leaving behind a stump GUAM. Then Georgia started its aggressions with false idea of western support leading today’s situation. Moldova was aiming towards Nato and EU but after conflict in Georgia it started to look other alternatives. Political attitudes of Azerbaijan and Russia have approached each other. Russia again took the initiative acting as a mediator between Armenia and Azerbaijan to solve long term conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh. The last piece of GUUAM is Ukraine and also this last fortress has degenerated to stagnation.
The latest gas dispute made it clear that Ukraine is not reliable transmitter of Russian gas to Europe. This boosts EU’s Nabucco –plan to new level. The same is true also with Russia’s South Stream, Nord Pipe and plans to increase more Liquefied natural gas (LNG) production and transport facilities. When impleneted – probably until 2015 – the new line(s) are invalidating the significance of Ukraine as transit route of energy.
Individual countries in Balkans and central Europe are considering their positions between those two projects; some have already made their selection like Serbia who allied with South Stream. Romania is open to investing in the Gazprom pipeline South Stream, not just the EU Nabucco project, designed to reduce energy dependency on Russia, Romanian minister of economy Varujan Vosganian said on October 2008, contrary to the president’s statements. “Romania is ready to support any EU project, both Nabucco and South Stream,” the liberal minister, whose party is at odds with the country’s conservative President Traian Basescu, said, newswires report.
The EU Commission has called on EU nations to provide more aid for Ukraine and four other ex-Soviet states as part of a proposed “Eastern Partnership” program aimed at making the bloc’s Eastern doorstep more stable. The new policy, to be launched at an EU summit in Prague in May, is designed to help Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan come closer to the EU. Belarus may also be involved, if it resists Russian pressure to recognise Georgian rebels in Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.
EU has said to have a “crucial strategic interest” in Northern Black Sea region. Unveiled by the European Commission last December, the “Eastern Partnership” foresees granting some 350 million euros ($448 million) in extra help between now and 2013 to the EU’s ex-Soviet neighbors. Negotiations about implementation of plan are still ongoing. Some EU member states have expressed reservations about the proposal.France, which pushed the EU’s Mediterranean Union project last year, is reported to fear that increasing funding to the bloc’s eastern neighbors would shift the EU’s strategic focus away from North Africa and the Middle East.
The plan aims to promote economic and political stability in the countries and reduce Russia’s influence in the region. It includes free trade agreements, visa waivers, financial aid and economic integration with the EU.In return, the eastern neighbors are expected to step up progress toward economic modernization, democracy, the rule of law and human rights. The “Eastern partnership” scheme is planned to be approved this Spring and launched in May if everything goes without further delay.
Eastern Partnership is interesting also from an othet reason. With EPp its possible to test sc „Third Way“ for EU allies those are not coming EU member-states in near future. If the outcome is promising so it could be applied with Turkey to avoid its membership.
With new leadership in U.S. it is of course possible that the new “Détente” starts between Russia and U.S. This probably would increase the possibilities to find some kind of peaceful cooperation between Iran and western block to avoid bombing this old civilization back to stone age. Elections in Iran can support this outcome.
The Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF), organization of world`s leading gas producers, was established in Tehran in 2001 to foster the concept of a gas cartel. Yet it does not have same organizational level as OPEC but some developments can take place. Last Autumn Russia, Iran and Qatar have taken the decision to form a “big gas troika”. …The idea is that the three countries will work on joint projects across the entire gas chain from geological exploration and production to distribution and marketing of gas. This cooperation combination could come remarkable player in Middle East politics too.