On the night of 11 March 2000, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie attended a performance in Moscow of the Prokofiev opera ‘War and Peace’, in the company of acting Russian president Vladimir Putin and his wife Lyudmila. This was part of a high-profile intervention in support of Putin’s presidential election bid that month. ‘He was highly intelligent and with a focused view of what he wants to achieve in Russia’, Blair gushed at the time. Meanwhile, Russia’s campaign of killing and destruction in Chechnya was in full swing. The contrast with Blair’s resolute opposition to the similar assault on the Albanian population of Kosovo by Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia the previous year was glaring.
Those who have demonised Blair as a ‘warmonger’ over NATO’s Kosovo intervention, and particularly over his support for the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, have been mostly silent over his Russian blunder. This is strange, for whereas the Kosovo war ended forever Milosevic’s military adventures, the West’s Russian strategy since the 1990s has been much more damaging to the cause of world peace. Putin claims his actions over Ukraine have been a response to longstanding Western mistreatment of Russia, but the truth is the opposite: the threat of war hanging today over Ukraine is the ugly offspring of the West’s longstanding enabling of Russian imperialism, of which Blair’s Moscow misadventure was merely an episode.
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It’s official – Serbs are the agents of Western imperialism ! This, at least, is what the xenophobic Communist dinosaur Vladimir Voronin, President of Moldova, seems to believe; he has claimed that nine Serb nationals, working for the US, were responsible for organising protests in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau. Indeed, just as the Poles and other Central Europeans spearheaded the revolution against Communist tyranny that swept across the Eastern Europe and the Balkans in 1989 and the former Soviet Union in 1989-91, so it was the spectacular popular revolution against the Milosevic regime in 2000 that presaged the subsequent ‘colour revolutions’ in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. As democratisation spreads eastwards, so nations that were yesterday in the firm grip of tyranny are today viewed as sources of the democratic contagion by the tyrants and xenophobes who remain.
Moldova is not a one-party dictatorship and Voronin’s regime may enjoy the support of a majority of Moldova’s citizens. Yet the regime’s reaction to the popular protests against the Communists’ disputed electoral victory earlier this month shows that Voronin and his clique are anything but democrats. While the activists of Moldova’s ‘Twitter Revolution’ carried US flags and demanded EU integration, Voronin resorted to the familiar demagogue’s tactic of blaming evil foreign influences for the resistance to his regime. In addition to Serbs, he has singled out ‘imperialist’ Romania as the instigator of the protests – the former land of Ceausescu is apparently now a dangerous source of democracy. The Romanian ambassador to Moldova has been ordered out of the country and the Moldovan envoy from Bucharest recalled, while a visa regime for Romanian visitors is being reintroduced.
Natalia Morar, the supposed architect of the Twitter Revolution, has been placed under house arrest and may be charged with ‘inciting mass disorder’. A UN investigation has found evidence of the beating in prison of detained Moldovan protesters. Three people in total may have been killed in custody; the corpse of one, twenty-three-year-old Valeriu Boboc, was returned to his parents covered in bruises. Indeed, the torture meted out to prisoners has echoes of Serb concentration camps in wartime Bosnia. According to one victim, Ion Butmalai, ‘We were made to stand with our hands up facing a wall… They beat us with truncheons, and with their fists, and kicked us. They also hit us with rifles, on different parts of our bodies, in the head, in the back, in the legs.’ After being made to spend three or four hours outside in the cold, Butmalai says they were taken inside and forced to strip naked, then beaten again: ‘We were beaten until some of us were covered in blood, falling over. After that we were taken to the cells, 15 or 16 people to a cell.’
Police brutality, persecution of dissidents, extra-judicial killings and raging xenophobia are precisely what one would expect in response to popular protests from the regime of a president who, after being elected in 2001, pledged at a rally celebrating Lenin’s birthday: ‘Moldova must hold out in Europe as Cuba is holding out on the American continent… We will hold out to the end as Cuba is holding out among imperialist predators.’ You can take the apparatchik out of the Communist dictatorship, but you can’t take the Communist dictatorship out of the apparatchik. Yet Voronin’s tyranny does not exist in a vacuum: he is simply one of the clients of the Russian despot Vladimir Putin’s neo-Soviet empire. For Moldova never fully achieved independence following the break-up of the Soviet Union, as Moscow responded to Moldovan independence by providing decisive military support to separatists in Moldova’s Transnistria region, ensuring that this considerable slice of Moldovan territory would remain a Russian imperial outpost. Voronin has pursued a pro-Russian and anti-NATO foreign policy and soft-pedalled Moldova’s pursuit of the reintegration of Transnistria in return for the Kremlin’s backing. Moscow has ‘rewarded’ its Moldovan client by not formally recognising the ‘independence’ of Igor Smirnov’s grotesque neo-Soviet puppet-regime in Tiraspol, as it has with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which it similarly hacked out of Georgia.
Voronin may be aspiring to be a Moldovan Putin and retain power behind the scenes after he steps down to make way for his presidential successor, but he is far from the worst of the Kremlin’s clients. That honour probably goes to the Russian-installed tyrant of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. Although Moscow justified its murderous and destructive reoccupation of Chechnya with the claim that it was fighting Islamist terrorists, it is Moscow’s own protege, Kadyrov, who has introduced an exceptionally crude and brutal Islamic regime in the country. He was recently reported as justifying the murder of seven young Chechen women in honour killings on the grounds that they had ‘loose morals’ and deserved to die. In the words of the New York Times: ‘Kadyrov describes women as the property of their husbands and says their main role is to bear children. He encourages men to take more than one wife, even though polygamy is illegal in Russia. Women and girls are now required to wear head scarves in schools, universities and government offices.’ Meanwhile, Kadyrov has shown himself to be an adept instigator of international terrorism, systematically assassinating his exiled Chechen opponents from Vienna to Dubai. With Russia this month declaring its military operations in Chechnya over, the results of its Pyrrhic victory are all too clear: the creation of a Islamist, terrorist Frankenstein’s monster enjoying arguably as much real independence as the rebel Chechen regime of the 1990s ever did, but exercising it with a great deal more brutality.
The nature of the regime in Moscow is such that it works ceaselessly to prevent democratisation and stabilisation in the region. Following his energy dispute with Russia in 2007, Belarus’s Alyaksandr Lukashenka has moved closer to the EU and relaxed the reins of his dictatorship. Yet Russian pressure on him to recognise the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia may, in the entirely possible event that he succumbs to it, drive a new wedge between Belarus and the EU and derail the country’s reform.
In Georgia, meanwhile, pro-Western president Mikheil Saakashvili is far from being a model democrat. Yet as the Economist notes, he is showing a willingness to reform: following a heavy-handed crackdown against protesters in November 2007 and resulting international disapproval, Saakashvili has responded with restraint to recent demonstrations against his rule, in a manner that contrasts favourably with Voronin’s behaviour. Even Eric Fournier, the French ambassador in Tbilisi, recently praised the Georgian government’s reaction to the protests as proof that ‘Georgia is developing as a democratic country.’ Yet the democratisation of Georgia, too, is being sabotaged by Moscow. In a manner reminiscent of Slobodan Milosevic’s use of Kosovo Serb demonstrators to threatend and destabilise other Yugoslav republics, Moscow recently attempted to send a convoy of vehicles carrying activists of ‘Nashi’, the Kremlin’s youth movement, into Georgia. The aim was to join the anti-government protests in Tbilisi, or failing that, to stage an incident at the demarcation line between Russian-held South Ossetia and government-held Georgia.
The Nashi foray was a continuation by other means of the Kremlin’s brutal assault on Georgia last year; an attempt to prevent the country’s transition into a functioning, economically successful Western-style democracy, and keep it within the Russian imperial sphere. Hardly surprising, then, that Saakashvili should be apprehensive about the possibility of a US detente with Russia in which Georgia would be sacrificed in return for Russian support for the US in other parts of the world: ‘I used to idealize America under Bush, when ideas were above pragmatic politics. Now it is a new time, when pragmatic politics are in charge of ideas. That might spoil the America I know.’
There are worrying signs that the Obama Administration may be seeking an entente with Russia at the expense of the US’s alliance with Central and East European states – Poland, the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Georgia – in the hope that Moscow will prove cooperative over Iran, Afghanistan and other areas. Such a policy would be disastrous. For quite apart from ethical objections to sacrificing relations with allies to appease an enemy, it simply will not work. The Russia of Putin and Dmitri Medvedev sees itself as a great power with the right to its own imperial sphere of influence in eastern and southeastern Europe, one that it sees as rightfully extending over countries that aspire to join NATO and the EU. Organised as it is along fundamentally authoritarian and populist-nationalist lines, the Putin regime is aware that maintenance or extension of this sphere is fundamentally irreconcilable with democratisation of the countries that lie within it, and with acceptance of the same set of international legal norms employed by the European democratic family. The present Russian regime is, in other words, structurally incapable of playing by the rules and of being a good neighbour.
To counter this Moscow-inspired corrosion of the eastern flank of democratic Europe, the Western alliance must insist loudly on respect for democracy, law and human rights. Flawed democratic allies such as Georgia must be firmly pressed to reform, but equally, we must take a very hard and vocal line against abuses of the democratic process in Moldova; against violations of international law by Belarus; and against acts of international terrorism and persecution of women by Chechnya. States whose police beat up and kill peaceful protesters or imprison pro-democracy activists, or that collude in the territorial dismemberment of other states, or that assassinate their dissidents abroad, must learn that they will pay a very heavy price in terms of their relations with NATO and the EU. In the case of Chechnya, which is not an independent state, Russia should be named and shamed for promoting an Islamist-terrorist regime within its own borders.
Romania has responded to the Moldovan regime’s behaviour by proposing that up to one million Moldovan citizens be granted Romanian citizenship. As Paul Bisca notes in the Washington Post, it is indicative of the EU’s pusillanimity in its reaction to the Moldovan events, that it has been more upset by the supposed danger to regional stability represented by the Romanian plan than by the behaviour of the Voronin regime in the first place. In fact, if the Romanian plan helps to destabilise the order represented by Putin, Medvedev, Lukashenka and Voronin, it should be welcomed, not feared. There can ultimately be no modus vivendi in Europe between democracy and neo-Soviet tyranny. The other side appreciates that; it is time we did as well.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
A no-brainer: NATO and the EU should not facilitate aggression and expansionism in South East Europe
One of the biggest arguments in favour of the European Union is that it has, along with its precursors, helped to keep the peace in Europe for nearly sixty years, turning previously hostile neighbours into partners in a common supranational, democratic European project. Meanwhile, NATO defended democratic Europe from Soviet expansionism. Today in the Balkans, however, both institutions are playing the opposite role: they are aiding and abetting regional predators in the pursuit of aggressive policies against neighbouring states. This is happening despite the fact that these aggressive policies are undermining both Western security and regional stability, and are contrary to the common interests of the EU and NATO member states. It is happening because existing members of both organisations enjoy the right to veto the accession of new members. Such a veto would be somewhat less problematic if all existing members were genuinely democratic states with no aggressive or expansionist ambitions. But unfortunately, this simply is not the case.
Last April, Greece vetoed Macedonia’s entry into NATO’s Membership Action Plan, because of the unresolved ‘name dispute’ between the two countries. Greece objects to Macedonia’s constitutional name, ‘The Republic of Macedonia’, and demands that Macedonia change it. The reason is that Greece does not recognise the existence of a Macedonian nation. In 1912-13, Greece conquered the portion of the Ottoman territory of Macedonia that today comprises Greek Macedonia. Since then it has pursued a policy of forced Hellenisation of the territory, involving varying policies of extermination, expulsion and forced assimilation of the non-Greek population. Thanks to these measures, a territory that was barely over two-fifths ethnic Greek in 1912 is today almost ethnically pure. This policy of enforced ethnic homogenisation has involved denying the existence of an ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece. When Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s, Greece expanded this policy to try to wipe the newly independent Macedonian nation-state, which had emerged from the former Yugoslavia, off the map, by forcing it to change its name, a policy whose pettiness was noted by David Cameron, currently leader of Britain’s Conservative Party, in a defence of Macedonia he wrote back in 2003. Consequently, Greece is blocking Macedonia’s entry into NATO.
Greece is a regional troublemaker of long standing that has repeatedly acted against Western interests in South East Europe. Its veto of Macedonia’s NATO bid was a violation of an international agreement, the Interim Accord of 1995, whereby Greece had undertaken not to block Macedonia’s entry into international organisations under the provisional name ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’. Macedonia has proven a better ally of the democratic world than Greece, contributing the same number of troops to the allied forces in Afghanistan as Greece, despite being a non-NATO country with a fifth of Greece’s population. The exclusion of Macedonia from Euro-Atlantic structures threatens to destabilise this fragile state, with potentially catastrophic consequences for Balkan regional stability. Yet by meekly acquiescing in Greece’s misuse of its veto, NATO effectively endorsed an act of petty Balkan nationalist aggression.
With Greece threatening to exclude Macedonia from the EU as well, the lesson had not been lost on other regional bullies. Slovenia is now threatening to keep Croatia out of the EU unless Zagreb cedes it territory on both land and sea. Because there is no actual legal validity to Slovenia’s territorial claims against Croatia, Slovenia is rejecting the idea that the case be resolved by the International Court of Justice, unless the latter’s decision is based on factors other than international law. As Xinhua News Agency diplomatically put it: ‘Slovenia has opposed taking the border issue to the ICJ unless the court uses the equity principle (ex equo et bono) in coming to a decision. This means the court can include any kind of circumstances, even if the valid international law does not [sic] (like historical facts), in order to reach a fairer verdict.’ Put simply, the Slovenes feel that because they don’t have much of a coastline, and Croatia has a long one, the Croats should give them some of theirs. Rather like demanding, on the principle of ‘fairness’, that someone who is richer than you are should hand over to you part of their savings. Since its territorial claim is political rather than legal, Ljubljana naturally prefers the idea of EU mediation to an ICJ legal ruling. Although not on an equivalent scale, this has disturbing echoes of the way in which Slobodan Milosevic successfully enlisted EU mediators such as David Owen and Carl Bildt to pressurise Bosnia’s leaders to accept an unprincipled settlement to the war of the 1990s. Great Serbia and Great Croatia have failed to come into being, but we may yet see the establishment of a Great Slovenia – thanks to the fact that Slovenia, unlike the expansionist Serbia and Croatia of the 1990s, is in the EU.
Thus, by colluding in Greece’s blackmail of Macedonia, Western leaders have given a green light to Slovenia’s blackmail of Croatia. Indeed, the far-right Party of the Slovenian People’ has been campaigning for Slovenia to veto Croatia’s entry into NATO as well, though so far without success. The Slovenian leadership has retreated from its own threat to obstruct Croatia’s entry into NATO under pressure from the US, which has, on this occasion, stood up to the local troublemaker for the sake of the Western alliance. This shows that, where there is a will on the part of the major NATO and EU states, a rogue member of the alliance can be pressurised to desist from its bullying of an aspirant member.
The unwillingness of the NATO and EU states, therefore, to exert enough pressure on Athens and Ljubljana to end their obstruction of Macedonia’s and Croatia’s Euro-Atlantic integration stems from a lack of will. In the case of Greece, its determination to keep Macedonia out of NATO and the EU has been bolstered by the opportunistic support of French President Nicolas Sarkozy - presumably an expression of his Mediterranean ambitions and of a residual Gaullism that conflicts with Washington’s support for Macedonia. Yet there has been no contrary support for Macedonia from within EU ranks. A sign of the unprincipled, pessimistic times is that even the International Crisis Group, once a voice of principled moderation, has advocated a Macedonian surrender in the name dispute in return for a Greek recognition of the Macedonian national identity.
It is, of course, easier for Western leaders simply to go with the flow, and appease the unprincipled nationalist demands of rogue NATO and EU states. Yet the more such appeasement occurs, the more problems are generated for the Western alliance. Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader has taken the principled position, that Croatia will not obstruct Serbia’s entry into the EU as Slovenia’s has obstructed Croatia’s: ‘Croatia will not be to Serbia what Slovenia is to us’. Yet if EU diplomacy does result in a Croatian cession of territory to Slovenia, there is nothing to prevent an embittered Croatia from reversing Sanader’s position, and imposing territorial or other unreasonable demands on Serbia, Montenegro or Bosnia – all of which possess territories that Croat nationalists have traditionally claimed. With Albania set to join NATO and significant ethnic-Albanian minorities present in Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, Tirana could, if it so wished, create a veritable nightmare for the Western alliance by making issues out of the latter. There are already enough obstacles in the way of the smooth Euro-Atlantic integration of the remaining Balkan states, without us encouraging those who might wish to create more of them. Then there are Cypriot objections to Turkey’s EU membership; potential Ukrainian and Moldovan differences over Transnistria; differences between Turkey and Armenia and between the Transcaucasian states. The national – or to be more accurate, nationalist – veto of new NATO and EU members by local rivals that are already members represents a very dangerous barrier to European unity and handicap for the Western alliance. If we ignore the problem, it will only get worse. NATO and the EU, which are supposed to act – and in the past have acted – as solvents of nationalist conflicts, will increasingly threaten the stability of the wider European world, by providing one side in a nationalist dispute - usually the side that’s in the wrong - with an unassailable advantage over its victim.
The Western democratic world faces serious opponents and enemies, from the regimes in Moscow, Tehran and Pyongyang to the Taliban and al-Qa’ida. We are faced with serious questions of how to organise our defence against these threats; how to reconcile the demands of security with the principle of civil liberties; how far to proceed with European integration; how to assimilate diverse religious and ethnic minorities to ensure the functioning of our multiethnic nation-states; how to protect the environment; and so forth. It beggars belief that our ability to respond to these challenges should be hampered by selfish members of our alliance that do not appear to understand the meaning of post-nationalist democracy upon which our Euro-Atlantic institutions rest.
Britain, the US and their friends should exert sufficient pressure – be it diplomatic, political or other – on Athens, Ljubljana or any other rogue member of our alliance, to desist from their unreasonable nationalist demands. We should furthermore be working, as the Henry Jackson Society has advocated, to abolish the right of individual NATO and EU states unilaterally to veto the membership of aspiring members. The dog should wag the tail, not vice versa.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
Update: The image below shows how Slovenia would like to redraw its maritime border with Croatia:
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