January 29, 2014

“Eastern Partnership” after Vilnius

Russia's Strategy for Further Implementation of Its Interests at Post-Soviet Territories

Results of Vilnius (November 2013) summit “Eastern Partnership” of the EU once again demonstrated the complexity, sometimes even contradictory nature of the events developing around countries of the CIS, relating to their European choice. This is due, primarily, to Russia's intensification of measures to resume its control over the post-Soviet territories in the form of so-called Eurasian Union. In particular, such activation was observed in the last year.

States participating in the EU program "Eastern Partnership"
States participating in the EU program "Eastern Partnership"

The reason for such actions can be explained by Russian oligarchs' intention to seize the economic assets of the CIS countries. A certain role at this is played by the regime, established by the Russian President Vladimir Putin, which, realizing the interests of Russian oligarchs is not able at the same time to offer the Russian population any unifying idea, apart from the so-called revival of the Russian Empire and opposing the West. By the way, these goals coincide with personal ambitions of Vladimir Putin as “re-integrator of the Russian world.”

In general, in 2013 Russia managed to record into its active a number of achievements relating to the implementation of its plans. This was the specific ground for its next steps towards achieving its geopolitical goals. The main achievements include Ukraine and Armenia's failure to sign Association Agreements with the EU, and Armenia and Kyrgyzstan's forced joining the Customs Union (CU). Besides, has been actually developed and adopted the legal base for the CU, which allowed Russia to immediately proceed with the creation of the Eurasian Union (signing of the conforming agreement is planned for 2015).

However, despite this success, Russia failed to implement its plans to the full. And as a consequence, it did not create complete Customs and Eurasian Unions. First and foremost, this concerns Ukraine, which, although suspended the process of preparing to sign an Association Agreement with the EU, did not completely abandon the idea of ​​its European integration. It did not agree to join the Customs Union. Besides, from the Russian sphere of influence fell out Moldova and Georgia, which, despite increasing pressure from the Russian Federation, initialed their Association Agreements with the EU. Note that, contrary to the expectations of Moscow, the ruling “pro-European coalition” of Moldova remained in power, and the new leadership of Georgia confirmed the previously chosen course of European and Euro-Atlantic integration.

Taking into consideration the strategic nature of the above-mentioned ambitions of the Russian Federation at post-Soviet territories, which, by the way, are of fundamental importance personally to Putin, so we may expect the continuation of active actions of Russia in the above-mentioned direction. First of all, it tries to force Ukraine to give up forever the European integration and to join the Customs Union. As well as to prevent signing of Association Agreements between Moldova, Georgia and the EU. However, this Russia's step will be strictly selective and depend on how the situation develops in each of the “Eastern Partnership” countries and around them.

Ukraine and the EU: the pros and cons of integration
Ukraine and the EU: the pros and cons of integration

To Ukraine Russia will use the so-called “Belarusian” scenario, when gas prices are reviewed on a quarterly basis and loans are allocated in phases in order to control our foreign policy. Thus, any Ukraine's steps that do not answer the Russian Federation's interests, including the resumption of negotiations on signing of an Association Agreement with the EU, will, no doubt, be accompanied by raising Russian gas prices for Ukrainian consumers, resumption of the large-scale trade war against the Ukrainian state, as well as by delays in the regular funding tranches. The same mechanisms of influence will be used by Moscow to force Ukraine to join the Customs Union, and in the future — the Eurasian Union and CSTO.

Increase of Ukraine's dependence on Russia as a result of signing agreements to expand cooperation in energy and high-tech industries of the Ukrainian industry, will provide significant opportunities for the Russian side to establish control over them. The main Moscow's attention will be paid to the Ukrainian gas transportation system, as well as shipbuilding, aerospace, chemical and electronic industries.

Based on the experience of Belarus and other CIS countries, we may say that Russia during the implementation of its economic interests in Ukraine will seek to acquire Ukrainian enterprises or to create joint ventures with further buying their Ukrainian parts (as compensation for Ukraine's debts for given loans included). At this, in some cases Ukrainian enterprises (in particular, those competing Russian production) may be deliberately, ignoring the interests of Ukraine, brought by the Russians to bankruptcy and liquidated or, at best, redeveloped.

As for the Moldovan direction, the main efforts will be directed by Russia to demonstrate “negative effects” of Moldova's signing an Association Agreement with the EU, as opposed to the achievements of joining the Customs Union. To do this, Russia will again limit the access of Moldovan goods to its market; possibly it will complicate the employment of Moldovan citizens in the Russian Federation. Besides, Russia will activate its measures to split the ruling “pro-European coalition” of Moldova (for example, will try to bribe some of its leaders), will support the left and pro-Russian parties/movements of the country in order to unite them into one powerful political force, opposed to European integration of the Moldovan state and its reorientation towards Moscow.

The ruling pro-European coalition in Moldova intends to abandon the country's neutral status and provides NATO with infrastructure of the national air forces
The ruling pro-European coalition in Moldova intends to abandon the country's neutral status and provides NATO with infrastructure of the national air forces


A separate direction of ​​pressure on Moldova will remain Russia's support for Trans-Dniester Moldavian Republic and separatist movements in other regions of Moldova, first of all, Gagauzia and Taraklia (district heavily populated by ethnic Bulgarians). The Trans-Dniester conflict will remain “frozen”. This question can even be put in direct dependence on foreign policy position of Moldova. The Russian side will initiate a referendum in Gagauzia on questions of the so-called “deferred status” of the region (provides for the autonomy's exit from Moldova) and its focus on Russia and the Customs Union. Similar attempts to hold a referendum can be made in Taraklia where all the local power is concentrated in the hands of Communists.

Different tactics will be used by Moscow to Georgia, not dependent on Russian gas and having actually no trade and economic relations with Russia (broken in 2008 after the Russian-Georgian conflict), but constantly reminding about its interest in resuming relations with the Russian Federation. With this in mind, trying to put pressure on Georgia, Russia will manipulate the development of bilateral relations; namely, will demonstrate its willingness to resume full cooperation with Georgia under the condition that Georgia refuses to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union.

The Russian side will try to provoke tension in other regions of Georgia
The Russian side will try to provoke tension in other regions of Georgia

Will be getting activated Moscow's measures for provoking tension in the Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian- Ossetian conflicts, both, by strengthening military activities on the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as by continuation of unilateral actions to change the line of the border of breakaway republics with transferring it into Georgian territory. We should also expect that the Russian side will try to provoke tension in other regions of Georgia, encouraging separatist sentiment among the population of Adjara (near Batumi) and Samtskhe-Javakheti (district heavily populated by ethnic Armenians). In particular, today the manifestation of such actions is the initiated by the leadership of South Ossetia (which is completely controlled by Moscow) referendum on unification of the breakaway republic with North Ossetia, and in fact — its integration into the Russian Federation.

Russia's actions in those areas, will significantly get more intensified already from the spring of this year on, after the Olympic Games in Sochi. Then there will be no need to demonstrate the RF’s “positive image” to the West, and it will dare to aggravate relations with the European Union and the United States.

However, a significant problem in Russia's achieving its goals will remain the deterioration of the economy, because it will affect Moscow's ability to influence other countries. During 2014, this problem can be exacerbated due to the EU policy to reduce dependence on Russian gas, as well as the reduction in the volume of foreign investments into the Russian economy.

Intensification of subversive and terrorist activities of Islamic extremists
Intensification of subversive and terrorist activities of Islamic extremists

Another problem for Russia may be to intensification of subversive and terrorist activities of Islamic extremists in Muslim areas of Russia (primarily in the North Caucasus and the Volga region), and in other Russian regions and cities. The reason is the increased support to Russian Islamist organizations by Sunni countries and individual movements that are dissatisfied with Moscow's actions in Syria. Thus, according to Russian media reports, those were influential Sunni sheiks who ordered terrorist acts in Volgograd at the end of 2013.

In such circumstances, apart from political, economic and informational pressure on CIS countries, Russia may resort to more drastic measures to achieve its goals. In particular, it can again begin gas wars with Ukraine, will block the operation of controlled by Russia Ukrainian and Moldovan enterprises, which can cause an economic crisis in Ukraine and Moldova.

It is possible that Moscow might dare to take extreme measures — military actions. For this purpose, can be provoked a violent confrontation in the Crimea (between the Crimean Tatars and Russian-speaking population or pro-Russian forces and Ukrainian authorities), as well as an increase in tension in the zones of Trans-Dniester, Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-Ossetian conflicts and in other regions of Moldova and Georgia.

This way, Russia will assume that it has a good reason for military intervention into the situation in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia under the pretext of “protecting Russian compatriots in their territory” (today the possibility of such actions is defined in the Military Doctrine of Russia and other conceptual documents of the security sphere). Having done so, the Russian Federation will not only make impossible European integration of the participating countries of “Eastern Partnership” of the EU, but will finally establish its control over them.

Of course, the above-mentioned scenario is hypothetical in nature and is unlikely to be realized. However, taking into account the increased aggressiveness of Russian foreign policy and Russia's reluctance to respect interests of other countries, such a development is possible. To this may justify the Russian-Georgian conflict in 2008, when Russia disrupted Georgia's integration into NATO (under the intentions of signing the Action Plan to prepare for membership in the Alliance) and occupied not less than one third of Georgian territories.

Russia's readiness to use force at post-Soviet territories can be confirmed by unprecedented building up of Russian troops in the North Caucasus Military District, and equipping them with the latest weapons and equipment, the increased Russian military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as Moscow's plans to re-arm the Black Sea Fleet in the Crimea and the Operational group of Russian Forces in the Trans-Dniester region of Moldova.