CER/demosEUROPA forum on 'Europe's foreign policy agenda'

CER/demosEUROPA forum on 'Europe's foreign policy agenda'

CER/demosEUROPA forum on 'Europe's foreign policy agenda'

05 December 2013 - 06 December 2013

Speakers included: Hans Binnendijk, Peter Hill, Michel Reveyrand-de Menthon, Katarzyna Pelcyznska-Nalecz and Radek Sikorski.

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Foreign investors wary as Ukraine plumps for Russia

Foreign investors wary as Ukraine plumps for Russia

Foreign investors wary as Ukraine plumps for Russia

By Ian Bond, 18 December 2013
From Financial Times

The Eastern Partnership: The road from Vilnius leads to ...?

The Eastern Partnership: The road from Vilnius leads to ...?

The Eastern Partnership: The road from Vilnius leads to ...?

Written by Ian Bond, 09 December 2013

The EU’s Eastern Partnership has run out of steam. It was launched in 2009 with the stated goal of creating "the necessary conditions to accelerate political association and further economic integration” between the EU and its partners. But of the six partners, one (Belarus) was already under EU sanctions in 2009; and one (Azerbaijan) has shown little interest in the partnership – particularly those aspects which would require it to improve its governance and human rights record.

Approaching the Vilnius Eastern Partnership Summit on November 28th-29th, Armenia, which was on the point of initialling an Association Agreement with the EU, succumbed to Russian pressure, put the relationship with the EU on hold and agreed to join the Russian-led Customs Union; and Ukraine announced that it would not sign the Association Agreement which it had initialled in March 2012. Thus only Georgia and Moldova continue to subscribe wholeheartedly to the Eastern Partnership.

Rather than trying to keep all six partner countries in a single framework as they increasingly choose divergent paths, the EU should accept reality and not pretend (as it did in the Vilnius summit declaration) that there has been “considerable progress made in … bringing Eastern European partners closer to the EU”.

Azerbaijan and Belarus show no sign of changing course, so Europe should continue to support hard-pressed civil society organisations there, and regional or cross-border projects which benefit their more democratic neighbours, but nothing else. Armenia, dependent on Russia for gas, support for its ageing nuclear power plant and security against Azerbaijan, has for the moment no alternative to doing Moscow’s bidding, though the EU should do what it can to keep Armenia’s long-term options open.

Ukraine, larger in population than the other five partners combined, has a poor record of reform, but is too important for the EU to turn its back on. The country in its current state may not be much of a geopolitical prize for the EU, but a permanently impoverished and unstable Ukraine on Europe’s borders would be worse.

At the time of writing, large pro-EU demonstrations are continuing in Kyiv, while the authorities are still trying to see whether they can squeeze more attractive terms out of Moscow or Brussels. The ball is now in Yanukovych’s court, but the EU can influence where he hits it. Rightly, the EU has made clear that it is still ready to sign the Association Agreement once Ukraine meets the necessary conditions, including an end to politically motivated prosecutions of opposition leaders. But the EU has done a poor job of explaining the impact and implications of the Association Agreement to Ukrainians, particularly in the Russian-speaking east and south of the country. Commission President Barroso told the media after the Vilnius Summit that the agreement would save Ukrainian exporters 500 million euros per year through cuts in EU import duties and add 6 per cent to its GDP in the longer term, but the EU has done little to publicise this, particularly in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine. An easy win for the EU delegation in Kyiv would be providing more information in Russian: a handy brochure explaining the main points of the Association Agreement is currently available on the delegation’s website, but only in Ukrainian.

Without such information, many Ukrainians will be left to rely on misleading scare stories from the Russian media about the terrible impact the agreement will have. The EU should at least ensure that Ukrainians know the facts, so that they can make up their own minds about whether their leadership is taking the right decisions for the country.

Tempting though it is for EU leaders to write off the current Ukrainian government and its oligarchic backers, they should step up their political engagement, rather than giving the Russians free rein to threaten, flatter and bribe the Ukrainian elite. Former Polish President Kwasniewski and former European Parliament President Cox visited Kyiv 27 times before the Vilnius Summit with a mandate to secure the release of former Prime Minister and Yanukovych’s rival Yulia Tymoshenko. Though they were ultimately unsuccessful, they should be given an enlarged mandate to use their relationships with government and opposition to move Ukraine towards signature of the Association Agreement. 

Cox and Kwasniewski should not be alone in this effort. Those EU Foreign Ministers who went to Kyiv for the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting on December 5th-6th were right to do so; those who made time to see the opposition as well as the government deserve even more praise. Senior Western visits to Kyiv should continue; the fact that Yanukovych agreed with Barroso to host EU High Representative Catherine Ashton in the week of December 9th is a positive step.

Now that Georgia and Moldova have become the EU’s closest partners in the region, they are likely to face the wrath of Russia, particularly once the Sochi Winter Olympics are out of the way and the Russian authorities no longer have to worry about international protests or boycotts. Tbilisi and Chisinau will need European support. The EU should move as quickly as possible from initialling to signature of the Association Agreements with the two countries (neither is likely to be subject to the kind of political delays which affected Ukraine, whose agreement was initialled in March 2012). Thereafter, it should be generous in provisionally applying the agreements before EU member-states have ratified them, to ensure that Georgia and Moldova can feel the earliest possible benefit from their association.

That may not be enough, however. Moldova in particular looks vulnerable to Russian pressure. It relies on Russian gas and has an unresolved conflict with the separatist Transnistrian region (where Russian troops are stationed). Remittances from Moldovans working in Russia make up almost 10 per cent of GDP. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has already warned Moldova that it might freeze this winter, and compared the country to a locomotive on a twisty track, which might “lose some of its carriages” (ie Transnistria) on the way to Brussels. In October the Russian Federal Migration Service threatened to expel 190,000 Moldovans working illegally in Russia. In September, Russia banned imports of Moldovan wine on “health grounds” – a serious blow, given that annual wine sales to Russia amount to about 2 per cent of Moldova’s GDP. The fragile coalition government of pro-EU parties faces an election next year; an economic crisis which could be blamed on the current government turning its back on Moscow might help the pro-Russian Communist Party back into power.

The European Commission has already proposed increasing export quotas for Moldovan wine to compensate for the loss of the Russian market. A gas pipeline is being built from Romania to Moldova (but will not be ready this winter). The Commission is proposing to give visa-free access to the Schengen area to Moldovan citizens with biometric passports. But Moldova, already the poorest country in Europe, will need financial and political support for the foreseeable future to buttress its European choice. US Secretary of State John Kerry sent a positive signal by visiting Chisinau on December 4th; EU leaders should follow his example.

Georgia is a little less vulnerable, in part because it re-oriented its economic relations away from Russia after their 2008 war. Even so, remittances from Georgian workers in Russia made up 4 per cent of GDP in 2012. Georgia needs three things from the EU: continued technical and financial assistance; diplomatic support in its unresolved conflict with Russia over the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; and, above all, consistent political engagement.

After ten years of the mercurial pro-Western Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia now has the politically inexperienced Giorgi Margvelashvili as President. Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili has resigned in favour of his loyal lieutenant, 31 year-old Irakli Garibashvili (who as Interior Minister was responsible for arresting former senior figures in the administration of then-President Saakashvili). Though the new government has restated its commitment to European integration, there have also been hints that it might continue settling scores with its political opponents. Western visitors need to encourage continued political and economic reform, while reminding the new leadership of the effect political prosecutions have had on Ukraine’s European integration prospects and its internal stability.

Not only does the EU need to take a fresh look at its eastern partners; it also needs a comprehensive and clear-sighted review of its approach to Russia. There should be no more illusions that the EU needs only to explain the Eastern Partnership better for Russia to see it as beneficial. It should be clear by now that President Putin and his government have decided that their interests are better served by having weak and dependent autocracies as neighbours than prosperous and independent democracies.

The EU should defend its own interests in stability and prosperity on its borders, not least by action to uphold international trading rules. Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine are all WTO members (as is Russia). Russian actions to block the export of Ukrainian and Moldovan goods to Russia are almost certainly contrary to WTO rules, so either country could invoke the WTO dispute settlement system. The EU would have the right to declare itself a third party to such a dispute, and make submissions to WTO dispute settlement panels in support of its neighbours. If the Eastern Partnership can no longer be “win-win-win” for the EU, its partners and Russia, then at least it should be “win-win” for the EU, Georgia, Moldova and (hopefully) Ukraine.

In the long run, the best way to anchor in Europe those countries that are serious about reform is to look again at offering them an explicit membership perspective, however distant. In present circumstances, there would be no sense in making this offer to all six members of the Eastern Partnership. But Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union states that any European state which respects the principles of liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law may apply to become a member of the Union. The Vilnius Summit Declaration avoided referring to this article or describing the eastern partners as European states, merely acknowledging “the European aspirations and the European choice of some partners”. If the EU treats even its most reform-minded and pro-EU neighbours as less than fully European, then it is little surprise if Russia does the same.

Ian Bond is director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform.

Roundtable on 'America, Asia and Europe: Pivot or spin?'

Asia Pivot

Roundtable on 'America, Asia and Europe: Pivot or spin?'

17 December 2013

With Michael Auslin

Location info


Roundtable on 'Can Russia reform?'

Russia roundtable

Roundtable on 'Can Russia reform?'

02 December 2013

With Sergey Aleksashenko

Location info


China risks turning into 'giant North Korea' says panda pundit

China risks turning into 'giant North Korea' says panda pundit spotlight image

China risks turning into 'giant North Korea' says panda pundit

25 October 2013
From The Independent

External Author(s)
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

Video interview on 'China 2025: Regime transition in China?'

Video interview on 'China 2025: Regime transition in China?'

By Charles Grant, 22 October 2013

Ukraine: Edging towards the EU?

Ukraine: Edging towards the EU?

Ukraine: Edging towards the EU?

Written by Ian Bond, 24 October 2013

Ukraine, to its sorrow, has always been on the frontier between Russia and the rest of Europe. Its name even means “Borderlands”. For centuries it was partitioned between its neighbours. When it gained its independence from the collapsing Soviet Union it was politically and linguistically divided between the Ukrainian-speaking West and the Russian-speaking East. Many observers in the early 1990s expected it to fall apart sooner or later. The first line of its national anthem seemed grimly appropriate: "Ukraine has not yet died".

Twenty years on, its independence and national identity seem more solid, even if many Russian politicians, from President Vladimir Putin to his arch-opponent Aleksey Navalniy, still talk of Russians and Ukrainians as “one people”. But Ukraine, and the European Union, now face a moment of decision: will Ukraine be the Russosphere's border with the EU, or the Eurosphere's border with Russia?

Ukraine seemed for a long time to be dodging this choice: President Viktor Yanukovych tacked between Brussels and Moscow after his inauguration in 2010. Now, however, with the Vilnius Eastern Partnership Summit a month away, Ukraine seems to be turning decisively towards the EU – ironically, partly because of Moscow’s pressure on it (described in Charles Grant’s recent CER Insight 'Is Putin going soft?') to join the Russian-led Customs Union instead of signing an Association Agreement with the EU. Both government and opposition in Ukraine support closer integration with the EU, and opinion polls show that even in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine there is a majority in favour of EU membership (though this is not on offer at this stage).

The deal is not yet done: the EU set a series of conditions for Ukraine to meet before the agreement could be signed. It has made some progress, for example on electoral reform, following EU criticism of the conduct of parliamentary elections in October 2012. The biggest obstacle remains, however: ending ‘selective justice’, and in particular pardoning former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, currently serving a seven-year sentence for abuse of office. Former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and former European Parliament President Pat Cox have been working persistently on behalf of the European Parliament (where Tymoshenko has many supporters) to achieve this.

Up to now, this has remained too much for President Yanukovych to swallow. The Ukrainian government has a draft law prepared which would release her on humanitarian grounds and allow her to travel abroad for medical treatment; but it would not void her conviction. Yanukovych evidently still considers her a political threat, and hopes that his compromise offer will be enough for the EU. 

So far the EU has not blinked: Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and EP Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Elmar Brok all delivered the EU message to Yanukovych at the Yalta European Strategy meeting in September. The EP has extended the mandate of Kwasniewski and Cox for a few more weeks in the hope that they can still clear the way for Ukraine to sign the Association Agreement, which includes a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), in Vilnius. As an incentive, both the Parliament and the Council have supported provisional application of the trade aspects of the agreement as soon as possible after signature, prior to ratification.

Assuming that a solution is found, both Ukraine and the EU will face challenges in implementing the agreement and benefitting from it. For Ukraine, the immediate threat is that Russia will punish it for rejecting the Customs Union. Russia has repeatedly used gas deliveries to Ukraine and other neighbours as instruments of political pressure. When Deputy Prime Minister Dmitriy Rogozin recently warned the Moldovans against initialing their own Association Agreement with the EU, telling them that he hoped they would not freeze, Ukraine will have got the message.

Overall, Ukraine's trade is quite well balanced between Russia and the EU: in 2011, the last year for which WTO figures are available, 29 per cent of its exports went to Russia and 26 per cent to the EU; 35 per cent of its imports came from Russia and 31 per cent from the EU. But Ukraine is vulnerable to a Russian squeeze on its energy imports. Despite some domestic production, Ukraine relies on Russia for about 60 per cent of its gas; imports from other sources have historically been negligible. This year it has cut imports from Russia by about 30 per cent, and increased imports from Western and Central Europe (saving money in the process). Ukraine hopes to exploit its shale gas reserves (though international oil and gas majors have been slow to invest, deterred by the poor business climate). But in the short term, Russia can make life uncomfortable economically. It can also step up political pressure: Putin’s adviser Sergei Glazyev warned in September that Russia could no longer guarantee “Ukraine’s status as a state” if it signed the Association Agreement.

Russia's claim that it would need to take "defensive measures" against Ukrainian imports if Ukraine signed the Association Agreement is questionable. Suggestions either that EU goods will replace domestic production on the Ukrainian market, forcing Ukrainian goods onto Russia, or that EU agricultural products of dubious quality will reach Russia via Ukraine, seem fanciful. There is no reason why Russia could not continue to trade normally with neighbours who sign EU Association Agreements, rather than trying to force them inside the high and economically distorting tariff wall of the Customs Union. But Russia has so far paid more attention to geopolitics than economics in building its Customs Union. Ukrainian heavy industry might struggle to replace its markets in the former Soviet Union if Russia closed the door, but Russian customers would also suffer from the loss of familiar suppliers.

Whatever Russia does, Ukraine will have to accelerate its own reforms in order to benefit from the DCFTA. Research by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) shows that among Eastern European states, Ukraine has made the least progress since 1989 in converging with the EU-15 in terms of GDP per capita. In the 33 countries in which the EBRD operates, real GDP has grown since 1989 by about 40 per cent; in Ukraine it is still almost 40 per cent below its 1989 level. The main reasons for this are weak institutions and rule of law; poor governance and high levels of corruption (in Transparency International's 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index, Ukraine was 144th - worse than Russia, Azerbaijan or Kazakhstan, among others); and a lack of modernisation in key sectors (for example steel and agricultural production). With or without an Association Agreement, Ukraine will have to tackle these problems if it wants to close the prosperity gap with the rest of Europe.

In addition, the Association Agreement will require Ukraine to incorporate several hundred EU directives into its domestic legislation, in areas from agriculture to transport. There are transitional periods of up to eight years for Kyiv to come fully into line with EU standards and regulations, but even so the capacity of Ukraine's public administration is likely to be stretched to its limit.

In the long run, meeting European standards will enable Ukraine to compete more effectively not only in EU markets but (perhaps even more importantly) in third countries. With some of the most fertile soil in Europe, for example, it should be well-placed to increase agricultural exports.

In the short term, however, there may be more pain than gain, even if the Russians refrain from imposing trade sanctions on Ukraine. Other countries in central Europe and the western Balkans going through a similar process of adjustment have had the incentive of eventual EU membership. This has spurred them to accept increased competition from the EU, and to invest political and economic resources in coming up to EU standards. But against a background of general enlargement fatigue and specific concern about Ukraine's size, poverty and institutional backwardness, and about the likely Russian response, support for offering Ukraine a membership perspective has been limited to a few central European countries. It may be objectively true, as the EU has often argued, that all the reforms sought by the EU are also in Ukraine's own long-term interest. But the political reality is that the downsides will be apparent sooner than the advantages. 

How much does it matter to the EU whether Ukraine leans west or east, or stays uncomfortably balanced between the two? It is the largest country with its territory wholly in Europe. But it lacks the hydrocarbons that have lured foreign investors to Azerbaijan, and the leaders of the Orange Revolution squandered the chance to join Georgia as darlings of the West with their dysfunctional, bickering rule. If Russia cares enough to want Ukraine in its camp, why not let it have it?

The EU could look at Ukraine in grand, geopolitical terms. The American statesman Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in the early 1990s that "Russia can be either an empire or a democracy, but it cannot be both. ...Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire". But it would be a mistake for the EU to see Ukraine only through the prism of Russia.

Looked at in its own right, a prosperous Ukraine with functioning institutions and a modern economy would be a more attractive neighbour and partner than anything likely to emerge if it is left to its own devices, either joining the Customs Union or remaining in a no-man's land. 

Europe should therefore increase both its pressure on the Ukrainian government to reform and its practical support for the changes it seeks. Whatever their reservations about Yanukovych as an individual, European leaders should step up their engagement with him and his government. They should encourage Ukraine to make even more use of twinning arrangements and other forms of technical assistance offered by the European Commission to enable Ukraine to implement the necessary EU directives. They should maintain the Kwasniewski/Cox mission, which has proved its value over the last year as a means of strengthening the rule of law in Ukraine. Above all, they should offer Ukraine a membership perspective – certainly not in the short term, and with a list of reforms attached, but reflecting the fact that, for all its shortcomings in media freedom and rule of law, Ukraine has managed to remain a more or less democratic state for two decades. 

As they head for Vilnius, European leaders should remember that Tymoshenko and Yanukovych are not the only people in Ukraine who matter. And as he ponders how to respond to Kwasniewski and Cox, Yanukovych should remember it too. Forty-five million Ukrainians also have a stake in getting closer to the EU.

 Ian Bond is director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform.

The Kremlin uses bully-boy tactics to keep other countries in the fold

The Kremlin uses bully-boy tactics to keep other countries in the fold

The Kremlin uses bully-boy tactics to keep other countries in the fold

Written by Charles Grant, 17 October 2013
From The New Statesman

Is Putin going soft?

Is Putin going soft?

Is Putin going soft?

Written by Charles Grant, 16 October 2013

'The Valdai Club' is an annual public relations exercise for the Russian leadership. A group of international think-tankers, academics and journalists gathers in a Russian region and then meets President Vladimir Putin and his senior ministers. This forum has not been particularly successful PR: in recent years much of the world’s press has written critically about the Kremlin. Last month, however, when the club gathered for the tenth time, by the shores of Lake Valdai in Northern Russia, some of the discussions were positive for Russia’s image.

Putin had a clear message for the outside world: Russia’s political system is starting to open up, at least at the local level. He also spoke gently about the US. Only on the fraught question of Russia’s relations with neighbouring Ukraine and Moldova did Putin appear – to a western audience – somewhat harsh.

What accounts for Putin’s softer approach to domestic politics and to Washington? Russia’s mounting economic problems, the opposition’s surprisingly strong showing in September’s local elections and the emerging US-Russian consensus over Syria’s chemical weapons are probably relevant.

In the final session of the Valdai Club, broadcast live on Russian TV, a relaxed and confident Putin sat on a panel with three European grandees: François Fillon (former French prime minister), Romano Prodi (former Italian prime minister) and Volker Rühe (former German defence minister). They urged him to listen to young Russian protestors and to take seriously ‘the responsibility to protect’ Syrians. In the audience were opposition leaders who questioned Putin on electoral fraud and the imprisonment of activists. He answered calmly that Russia was “on the way to democracy” and reminded everyone that the recent elections in Moscow, where Alexei Navalny scored 27 per cent, and in Yekaterinburg, where Yevgeny Roizman (another opposition politician) became mayor, had been free and fair.

Given Putin’s track record, one should treat his words with scepticism. But an earlier session with one of his chief advisers had surprised participants. “The trend for fair elections will be more pronounced; there will be more political competition in future”, said the adviser. “Yekaterinburg and Moscow were successes that should be repeated elsewhere.” The adviser urged opposition parties to focus on municipalities, hinting that it was too soon for them to win regional governorships or national elections. I asked opposition politicians what they made of all this. Vladimir Ryzhkov (a liberal) and Ilya Ponamarev (a leftist) told me that the Kremlin really had taken a new approach – though it could still use the courts to clobber anyone considered a threat.

One reason for this modest political opening may be the economic slowdown, which is likely to fuel unrest. Perhaps Putin and his advisers want to create channels for peaceful protest that they can control. Having grown at about 4 per cent a year in the previous three years, the Russian economy may not achieve 2 per cent growth in 2013, despite a favourable oil price. Foreigners and Russians are investing less. The brain drain and capital flight continue. The technocrats running the economy know that politics is holding it back. One former minister told the Valdai Club that “the keys to improving the economy are independent courts and the protection of property.” Investment would suffer so long as the courts remained subject to the whim of the executive, he said.

Putin and his ministers were uncharacteristically polite about Obama, welcoming co-operation with him over Syria’s chemical weapons. Yet very recently their relations with Washington had been toxic, with rows over the Syrian civil war, Russia’s granting of asylum to Edward Snowden and US plans for missile defence. Obama cancelled a summit that had been due in September.

The reasons for the Kremlin’s shift of tone towards the US are unclear. The Russians worry a lot about their citizens fighting in Syria and Afghanistan, and then returning to infect Russia’s Muslim regions with Islamic extremism. They want the Americans to help to manage the situation in both war-zones. Perhaps the Russians think they can be magnanimous to those who misread the Middle East: they always said that the Western response to the Arab spring was naïve, that Arab countries were incapable of democracy and that it would all end in tears. They feel vindicated by events in Egypt, Libya and Syria.

Notwithstanding the politeness, Putin’s entourage can still be hostile, if not paranoid towards the US. I asked one minister if NATO remained a threat to Russia’s security. “Of course, why else does it try to creep as close as possible to our borders?” he answered. “It has punished regimes it dislikes – Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya – without any regard to the UN Security Council.” He accused NATO of deceiving Russia by enlarging after promising it would not (which is partly true) and said that Russia could not be a friend of NATO unless it renounced further enlargement.

Most Russians share this suspicion of NATO. And they believe that NATO wants to absorb Ukraine – though in fact that idea that has virtually no support in Kiev or the major western capitals. It is true that the EU hopes Ukraine will sign both a ‘deep and comprehensive free trade agreement’ and an ‘association agreement’ in Vilnius in November, as part of its ‘Eastern Partnership’. The EU also hopes that Moldova, Georgia and Armenia will sign similar deals. Putin wants to stop these countries signing as they could then not join the Customs Union established by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Putin is keen for the Customs Union to expand into much of the former Soviet Union and to evolve into a more powerful ‘Eurasian Union’.

Russia is using bully-boy tactics to prise countries away from the Eastern Partnership. In August it blocked imports from Ukraine for several days, saying this was a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the measures it would have to take if Kiev went with the EU. And it told the Moldovans that they would have their gas cut off, their exports blocked and their migrant workers expelled from Russia (Moldovan exports of wine to Russia were stopped in September, but the EU, to its credit, said that it would import an equivalent number of bottles). What the Russians told Armenia is unclear, but in September it decided to join the Customs Union rather than the Eastern Partnership. Countries in the EU have also been targeted by Russia: earlier this month, Lithuania – presumably because it is hosting the Vilnius summit – found its dairy products excluded from the Russian market for a week.

The Russians have genuine concerns about the Eastern Partnership, since it will affect their trade with their neighbours. Putin told the Valdai Club that EU goods would flood into the countries of the Eastern Partnership; Ukraine and Moldova would therefore have to dump the goods that they produced on the Russian market; and then Moscow would be forced to take protective action. The Russians may have a point that the EU should have made more effort to talk to them about the impact of the Eastern Partnership. Nevertheless Ukrainian and Moldovan participants in the Valdai Club reported that Russian bullying is damaging the appeal of the Customs Union in their countries. Armenia is a special case: it dare not cross Moscow, since only Russian troops prevent Azerbaijan from invading the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, currently occupied by Armenian forces.

Besides Armenia, Russia cannot count any neighbour as a true friend. It has been slow to understand that ‘soft power’ – the appeal of a country’s social, economic and political system, and of its behaviour – may achieve as much as machismo. Russia’s leaders appear to see the value of treating the opposition, and possibly the Americans, with a little more courtesy. They should try the same with their neighbours.

Charles Grant is director of the CER. A different and shorter version of this article appeared in the print edition of the New Statesman of October 11th to 17th.


Added on 17 Oct 2013 at 10:28 by Brussels observer


Having just come from the annual meeting of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum in the Hague I doubt if there are any civil society activists who would even pose the question ‘Is Putin going soft?’ He has closed down Memorial and Golos, two of the most respected NGOs in Russia, and their leaders have had to flee Russia for fear of persecution. I could give you countless other examples of the crack-down on civil society eg Bellona being fined 20K euros for having only one instead of two fire extinguishers on its premises. The law on ‘foreign agents’ hangs over the head of any NGO seeking to develop ties with the West.

If you think Putin is heading for democracy you may have had one vodka too many. He is quite simply the boss of a Mafioso state where journalists and lawyers are killed with impunity.

Added on 17 Oct 2013 at 10:24 by Tony Brenton

... or is it you who is going soft? Putin has stamped on the demonstrators, controls the Duma, and is himself in power for another six years. He can afford to give Navalny a little (but only a little) slack, and risk the election of a couple of relatively independent mayors (it is worth recalling that no less than the mayor of Moscow was genuinely independent until three years ago). He is running a system which might be dubbed "adequate authoritarianism" in which you control only what you need to control; State TV but (mostly) not the newspapers, core parties but not the fringe, judicial decisions only when they have potential political implications, the internet only in extremis, and vote counts only when you really need to. And for this he gets encomia from nice Westerners such as (apparently) yourself.
Tony (Brenton)

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