• Bye-Bye, Abkhazia, Crimea, South Ossetia!

    2 Posted by: Judy Dempsey March 30, 2015

    South Ossetia has gone the same way as Abkhazia.

    On March 18, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, and Leonid Tibilov, the separatist leader of South Ossetia, a disputed region in the South Caucasus, met in Moscow. There, they signed a Russian–South Ossetian treaty of alliance and integration.

    The accord is similar to the one Russia signed with Abkhazia, another disputed territory, in November 2014. That deal meant that in practice, Moscow would be responsible for the customs, defense, and security of the self-declared republic.

    Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia first declared their independence from Georgia in the 1990s, and reaffirmed that autonomy soon after Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 and occupied these two regions. Russia now bankrolls both.

    Though neither of these two self-declared republics has been completely annexed by Moscow, it is clear that Georgia, at least for the foreseeable future, hasn’t the slightest possibility of regaining these territories.

    It is the same for the Ukrainian government. A year after Russia annexed Crimea, any chance that Kiev will be able to exercise jurisdiction over the Crimean Peninsula is highly remote.

    In short, the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, which set out the fundamental principles of sovereignty and the inviolability of borders, is all but in tatters. As the act’s fortieth anniversary approaches, it is hard to see how it can be rescued.

    The Helsinki Final Act established the rules of engagement between the West and the then Soviet Union. The document is divided into three sections—security, economic cooperation, and human rights—and gave birth to the Conference, later Organization, for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

    The act set out ten principles aimed at guiding relations between the participating states. Here they are:

    1. Sovereign equality, respect for the rights inherent in sovereignty
    2. Refraining from the threat or use of force
    3. Inviolability of frontiers
    4. Territorial integrity of states
    5. Peaceful settlement of disputes
    6. Nonintervention in internal affairs
    7. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion, or belief
    8. Equal rights and self-determination of peoples
    9. Cooperation among states
    10. Fulfillment in good faith of obligations under international law

    If the points above are applied to Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Crimea, then Russia’s involvement in all three shows how the West has been unable to uphold this landmark Cold War accord.

    But was the West really ever prepared to defend the Helsinki Final Act?

    Some could argue that precisely because the accord was signed during the Cold War, and precisely because it was a document aimed at fostering détente, it set out the West’s and the Kremlin’s respective spheres of influence.

    So when, for example, Poland’s Solidarity trade union movement challenged the ruling Communist Party in 1980, Western European governments, by and large, were rattled more about the broader implications of the unrest.

    Instead of supporting the bravery of Solidarity’s supporters, they fretted about the potential instability that the movement would have on the Cold War settlement—meaning the 1945 Yalta Conference, which established Europe’s borders after World War II. The West was willing to defend its spheres of influence through NATO, but it was not in any way prepared to expand its influence.

    Remarkably, the Helsinki Final Act remained intact after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the subsequence collapse of the Soviet Union two years later. Much credit is due to the U.S., German, and Russian leaders at the time. George H. W. Bush, Helmut Kohl, and Mikhail Gorbachev knew what was at stake had they botched up the reunification of Germany.

    Indeed, the violent breakup of Yugoslavia during the 1990s showed how German reunification, as well as Central and Eastern European countries’ rediscovery of sovereignty and independence, could have gone badly wrong. In the Baltic states, it was touch and go.

    A quarter of a century later, this part of Europe is now rooted in NATO and the European Union.

    From Russia’s perspective, the end of the Cold War meant that the Helsinki Final Act could not perpetuate (or guarantee) Cold War–era spheres of influence. If anything, the fall of Communism expanded the West’s presence, peacefully.

    It is this growing Western influence, especially in Ukraine and in other countries in Eastern Europe, that poses such a challenge to Putin.

    His annexation of Crimea was about reasserting Russia’s position in its backyard. His military pressure on Ukraine was and is about containing Europe’s influence, even though that influence is based on soft, not hard, power. In short, Europe and Russia are in competition with each other.

    This competition, fueled by a breakdown of trust, has fundamentally undermined the Helsinki Final Act. And it is fundamentally changing the security architecture of the post–Cold war era.

    This competition and lack of trust is highly dangerous. The clash is over a region of Europe whose citizens see the attractiveness of democracy and of the EU’s values. But they are also under immense pressure by Moscow that makes it difficult for them to choose their own direction.

    Resorting to spheres of influence is a recipe for instability, as confirmed by the crisis in Ukraine. But the 1975 Helsinki Final Act showed how spheres of influence are not permanent.


  • Letter From Vilnius

    Posted by: Vykintas Pugačiauskas Friday, March 27, 2015 1

    Lithuania puts more emphasis on upholding European values than some countries at the heart of the EU. This is not just idealism, it is a matter of hardheaded interests.

  • Remember Crimea? A Year Later

    Posted by: Gwendolyn Sasse Friday, March 27, 2015 2

    The first anniversary of Crimea’s annexation is an occasion to refocus on Ukraine’s central challenge: the need to implement domestic reforms and limit Russian leverage.

  • The Islamic State and Russia Should Be a Chance for Europe

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Thursday, March 26, 2015 2

    Islamic State terrorism and Russian belligerence should be catalysts for strengthening security, defense, and other forms of cooperation throughout Europe.

  • Judy Asks: Is the EU Too Soft on France’s Budget Deficit?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Wednesday, March 25, 2015

    Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.

  • TTIP’s Lack of Energy

    Posted by: David Livingston Tuesday, March 24, 2015 1

    The EU and the United States should focus more attention on how to include energy issues in the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

  • The Slow Erosion of Gazprom’s Grip Over Europe

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Monday, March 23, 2015 9

    It is the European Commission’s competition arm, not European leaders, that is behind Gazprom’s waning hold on Europe’s energy sector.

  • Letter From Lisbon

    Posted by: Paulo Gorjão Friday, March 20, 2015 1

    For a relatively small geopolitical player, Portugal has a surprisingly ambitious foreign policy. A key theme in that policy is the country’s strategic geographic location.

  • The Steinmeier Review of German Foreign Policy

    Posted by: Jan Techau Thursday, March 19, 2015 4

    The German foreign minister has launched a valuable review of his country’s foreign policy. The project should lead to a new culture of strategic thinking in Germany.

  • Judy Asks: Time for Greece to Leave the Euro?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Wednesday, March 18, 2015 4

    Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.

  • The Modest Price of Preserving Peace

    Posted by: Camille Grand Tuesday, March 17, 2015

    NATO members have committed to boosting their defense capabilities. Beyond reversing downward trends in spending, what should allies do to meet that commitment?

  • The European Endowment for Democracy Goes Russian

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Monday, March 16, 2015 2

    The Kremlin’s clampdown on the media and sophisticated propaganda machine are giving the European Endowment for Democracy a new sense of focus.

  • Letter From Stockholm

    Posted by: Björn Fägersten, Jonathan Lundell Friday, March 13, 2015 2

    The Swedish government that entered office in late 2014 has a bold foreign policy agenda, continuing the country’s traditionally high level of international ambition.

  • Greece’s Cynical Anti-German Rhetoric

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Thursday, March 12, 2015 1

    Athens is using the two issues of refugees and the Nazi occupation of Greece as pawns in its talks with other eurozone members. That is undermining EU solidarity.

  • Judy Asks: Does the EU Need Its Own Army?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Wednesday, March 11, 2015 1

    Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.

  • The Illusion of an Independent EU Army

    Posted by: Jan Techau Tuesday, March 10, 2015 8

    Despite recent calls for an EU army, Europeans should be under no illusions that they are and will remain dependent on the United States for their defense.

  • Remembering the Victims of Stalin’s Great Terror

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Monday, March 09, 2015 3

    An exhibition of Stalin’s campaign of political repression in 1937–1938 coincides with Vladimir Putin’s attempts to forget this part of Russia’s past.

  • Letter From Bratislava

    Posted by: Milan Nič, Marian Majer Friday, March 06, 2015

    Slovakia succeeds in many aspects of foreign and security policy, but the way in which it does so is patchy and complacent. Bratislava needs a more strategic approach.

  • The OSCE’s Near-Impossible Mission in Ukraine

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Thursday, March 05, 2015 3

    The head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe discusses the task of monitoring the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and the future of European security.

  • Judy Asks: Can Nemtsov’s Murder Change Russia?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Wednesday, March 04, 2015 2

    Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.


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