"Moscow clearly has the advantage over the EU"
Interview with Balázs Jarábik, Visiting Scholar in the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
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Balázs Jarábik is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where his research focuses on Ukraine and Eastern Europe.
Jarábik worked with Pact, Inc. in Kyiv, Ukraine to build its presence as one of the largest international nongovernmental organizations in Eastern Europe. He currently serves as a project director for Pact, based in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Prior to joining Carnegie, Jarábik was an associate fellow at FRIDE in Madrid. He recently joined the Central European Policy Institute in Bratislava as a fellow. He was a civic activist in Slovakia in the 1990s, and he later co-founded the Bratislava-based Pontis Foundation’s international development projects in the Balkans and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
He also worked as an adviser for political parties and civil societies in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, with the Slovak parliament and ministry of foreign affairs, and with international institutions including the European Parliament, Freedom House, Council of Europe, United Nations Development Project, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Do you foresee a territorial split of Ukraine into two sovereign states?
With the Minsk peace plan from September 5 and the implementation protocol from September 19 it seems there will be a freeze in the military conflict at least. This is not a recognition of the two people`s republic or Novorussiya, but literally freezing the military conflict to a political one. The main question is the control of Russian-Ukrainian border though, the Minsk protocols only give a vague idea of OSCE monitoring while so far OSCE has a mere 221 observers at the border. The OSCE is neither equipped for such a job, nor it has the necessary capacity to control the border (it can of course monitor as it does even now). If Ukraine will follow up on its promises and will create a border around the rebel hold territory, there will be a de facto (even though not de jure) split of the Donbas. The so-called status law for Donbas also foreseen self-governance for Luhansk and Donetsk but yet to be seen how much the ceasefire will hold.
How do you assess the intention of NATO to broaden its military capacity and security in the Baltic States?
Such NATO`s intention has been backed up by increasing military exercises as well as creation of rapid reaction force (up to 10k) to protect the Baltics. Together with the common air space control this is not neglectable but compare to the Baltic and Polish request for permanent NATO basis may be considered as too little (but perhaps not too late) in the Baltics. At the same time it is telling that (minus Estonia) the Baltic states are among the worst NATO members when it comes to their commitments, particularly the military spending. Although they had been “crying (Russian) wolf” for a decade, it has spent far from the required 2% of GDP. Most of NATO member states do not share the Baltics assessment over Russian threat, although it is clear that Russia may want to provoke the Baltics as the incident with the kidnapped Estonian officer or the Lithuanian fishing boat shows. Division and the lack of political will within NATO members are obviously visible for Russia and along with very frequent NATO statements on Ukraine may lead to re-assess military doctrine and bring more confidence toward Russia`s own military capacity (what Russia is willing to use to ensure its own regional interests). One of the likely trend is the future should/will be to strengthen regional ties as the agreement to set up a common Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian battle group already shows.
Can bilateral relations between Russia and the EU get fully restored and come back to the status quo ante, which is before the crisis in Ukraine and the Crimea invasion?
Unlikely that we will see a return to the previous status quo, maximum on Russia`s term as Moscow clearly has the advantage over the EU. With the suspension of the DCFTA until the end of 2015 it has achieved its tactical goal and the Ukraine crisis essentially rendered the Eastern Partnership “dead”, at least in terms of a policy that brings the region closer to the EU integration. The Russians carried out a heavy blow and a message that they are willing to fight with weapons against (even just a notion and not the merit) of further expansion, even though the EaP was not created for further integration but basically to replace it - as Europeans are not willing to bear the costs of further expansion of the EU amidst economic hardship. But the trilateral format on the Association Agreement with Ukraine, Russia and the EU may be a new type of status quo. But much will depend on the energy (gas) developments during the winter, ie whether Russia will close off the pipe to Ukraine and subsequently for Europe as many expect. Last but not least, Ukraine`s further development will have also a continued large influence on EU-Russia relations, and given the tremendous economic and social challenge Kyiv faces, Ukraine will likely remain a hot topic for both the EU and Russia.
As a background, relations between the EU and Russia has been difficult and slowdown in the past – since 2008 the sides could not agree on a new agreement as the last PCA ended in 2008. Therefore, even the status quo meant a limited political relations with the EU's biggest neighbor, third biggest trading partner, with Russian supplies of oil and gas making up a large percentage of its exports to Europe
Could the case of Crimea annexation be the roadmap for similar endeavors in other regions, such as Transnistria for instance?
Does not seem so. TNS hold a referendum for joining Russia back in 2006, but for Russia its real value is being a frozen conflict and not even its independence not recognized. Until it remains a frozen conflict it serves the tactical purpose for the Russians who don’t have the resources to integrate TNS to Russia. Similar is the “value” of Donbas – Moscow unlikely want to pay for the reconstruction, integration of Donbas. It would much rather see the West pay for it as a ;price for its policies to push its boundaries closer to Moscow.
What is the degree of development of civil society in Ukraine?
Ukraine civil society is often defined as “vibrant” and indeed it is one of the best word to describe it. Nothing could describe better the creativity, the capacity of surprise and mobilize than the “Darth Vader” flash mob from Odessa last year where a civic activists in a Star wars mask went to the local government and ask for a plot of land for his star ship, in protest of wide scale corruption connected to land issuance. It shows the difference between Ukraine and, for example, Belarus. There Mr. Vader would be swiftly put into a jail for 15 days for “hooliganism”. Ukraine was, relatively, free land for all kind of civic initiatives as the authorities were busy with something else (corruption). Civil society has been working with Ukraine (mostly small and mid-size) businesses as this is where the civic biggest revenue is coming from.
The level of crowd-funding, mobilization and capacity from Ukraine civil society shows high commitment and also capacity – at the same time civil society can’t replace the central government/authority. The contrast that we can see in Ukraine now can’t be larger – on one side we have the “triumph” of civic engagement, on the other hand we have the tragedy of dysfunctional traditional institutions. The challenge is now how civil society can help the reform or re-build of those institutions in Ukraine and there is already various strategies in place among one of the strongest one for many civic activists to move directly in politics. It is yet to see whether such an infusion of new blood will push through reforms or such a role will discredit most prominent civic activists (and civil society by default).
What would be the impact for the Eastern Partnership after the decision of the President of the European Commission to abolish the portfolio of enlargement?
The question how the portfolio for enlargement and neighborhood will be called is not the main issue. As Radek Sikorski and Carl Bildt, the “owners” (with ideas from the Czechs) of EaP are leaving the foreign policy scene along with Stefan Fule, who was pushing the idea further as the Commissioner, there will be a new era for the EaP. With Russia`s heavy reaction on the Ukraine crisis the EaP`s focus will look differently and likely to switch back to a balancing than (a rhetorically) decisive one. What the EU – as well as Russia may – needs is balancing capacity from the region. That may actually reflect the reality on the ground that political elites are not ready to make painful reforms as sacrifice for European integration does not exists in short term, that Europeans are not willing to bear more costs for any further expansions and that Russia is willing to both act and pay the price to stop any (imagined or real) Western expansion.