Enter the Protagonist

RussianBearGasEU.jpgOne European policy wonk says the European Union has become “too technocratic and business-oriented” in its relations with Russia, demonstrating a “narrow, almost provincial understanding” of events like the recent Russia-Ukraine gas crisis, which severely disrupted gas flows to many European countries. (See this chart for an interesting analysis of the geopolitics of Europe’s heavily import-oriented energy supply.)

“The problems caused by [the gas dispute] are clearly problems of a European nature and they will not be solved until the EU itself becomes a protagonist,” said James Sherr of the UK’s Chatham House in an interview with EurActiv Slovakia. EU countries must realize that “it is impossible to separate the purely commercial factors in this relationship from the political and geopolitical factors…First, in this crisis, Russia consistently and conspicuously behaved like a country that is not part of the Euro-Atlantic community and has no wish to be a part of it. Second, Ukraine conspicuously failed to behave like a country that wishes to be part of the Euro-Atlantic community.” 

The Black Sea region is a “vital point of connection between Europe and the wider Middle East,” Sherr said, and since “Russia is struggling to remain a major Black Sea power” it has “invested all of its efforts and continues to invest its efforts into making sure that no project occurs or succeeds without Russian participation.”

Reinforcing Sherr’s argument, last week Ukrainian foreign minister Boris Tarasyuk said that “Europe is making a serious mistake by relying heavily on Russia as asource of gas,” since “if the EU becomes more dependent on Russia as a source, Russia willuse this as an instrument of foreign policy” to put pressure on Europe.

But being a so-called protagonist extends beyond the energy sector, into the domain of human rights. Targeting the Georgia question, Sherr, who advises the EU and NATO on Russia, says that while it would not be in Georgia’s interest to join NATO at present, Western countries must “strengthen Georgia’s security and itsself-confidence [and] demonstrate beyond doubt to Russia that itsdesire to use recent events to weaken or destroy the viability ofGeorgia has no chance of success.” To do so, “the West as a whole hasto establish far deeper influence on Georgia itself.”

This may become more challenging in the months ahead. Today, Reuters reports that Moscow is demanding that the Georgian separatist enclave of Abkhazia have the right to decide whether UN peace monitors stay in the region.

Reports Reuters:

“Under U.N. rules, Abkhazia — which is recognised only by Russia andNicaragua — has no formal influence on discussions over the mandatebut Russia could use its veto as a permanent member of the SecurityCouncil to back the separatists’ demands.”

Only days ago, Ukrainian foreign minister Tarasyuk suggested that Crimea might become the next Abkhazia.

“What happened in Georgia convinced many people in Ukraine, especiallythose in charge, to pay adequate attention to the quality of its armedforces and the necessity to allocate adequate funding for making thearmed forces modern, well-equipped and ready,” Mr. Tarasyuk told TheWashington Times.