Next week in Reykjavik, NATO will hold the first in a series of high-level meetings that may, within a few short months, invite up to seven candidate countries to begin membership negotiations, and offer noncandidate Russia a seat in a specially created “NATO at 20” forum with carefully circumscribed functions. Membership invitations to the seven countries would ensure that NATO enlarges across the continent from the Baltic to the Adriatic and the Black Sea. For its part, the European Union plans to admit some or most of these same countries by 2004.
But what will happen next to the immediate neighborhood of an enlarged NATO and EU? The countries in that neighborhood emerged only ten years ago from a long Soviet subjugation. Some have already tied their fate and future with the West; others, or their leaderships, are tied by their past to Russia; yet others experience frustration with Western insistence on certain standards to be met before a Western welcome is extended.
In the heart of Europe on NATO’s present border, Belarus shows how the Kremlin supports an anti-Western dictator in return for his political and military loyalty. President Vladimir Putin recently backed the Soviet-style reelection of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, demonstratively snubbing the Belarusan democratic opposition. Russian diplomacy steadfastly defends that dictatorship in international forums, such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the consensus rules of which give Russia de facto veto power. With Moscow’s backing, Lukashenka has recently stopped the work of the OSCE’s mission in his country, kicked out the mission’s senior diplomats, and now demands with Russian approval that the mission’s mandate be diluted into insignificance.
In Moldova, the Kremlin poses a twofold problem for the Euroatlantic community. The first issue is emerging as another Kaliningrad, a Russian military outpost at a strategic crossroads in Europe outside Russia’s borders, in this case, on the threshold of the Balkans. Moscow is obligated to the OSCE to withdraw all of its 2,600 troops from Moldova and to either scrap or withdraw its remaining arsenals by December of this year. But it has not even begun doing so. Instead, it proposes to keep its troops in place as “peacekeepers” in Moldova’s Transdniester region. There, Russia’s military and government have for the past ten years armed, financed, staffed and provided political and diplomatic support for the separatist authorities, who are in fact Russian Federation citizens and officers.
In parallel, Moscow is now working closely with Moldova’s official government–Europe’s sole communist regime–in an effort to bring Moldova back under Russian dominance. The Russian government and Putin personally have repeatedly blessed Moldova’s Soviet-nostalgic authorities as “democratic,” assailed the regime’s internal critics, encouraged it to reorient Moldova’s economy rapidly toward the CIS, and urged the Moldovan leadership to embark on cultural and linguistic re-Russification, which has triggered massive protests. The Kremlin hopes to keep its troops in Moldova either legally, with the approval of Moldova’s Red parliament, or de facto as heretofore with the cooperation of Transdniester; and it seems prepared to face down the OSCE here as well.
Ukraine forms a keystone in the post-Soviet international order, not just for this part of Europe but for Eurasia as well. In Ukraine’s recent parliamentary elections, Moscow campaigned against Ukraine’s Western-oriented, pro-market parties; and it openly helped antireform, corruption-tainted political forces unfriendly to the West. Nevertheless, the new parliament may well be able to muster reformist, European-minded and indeed pro-NATO majorities, mainly from former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc, but also from parts of the large and heterogeneous bloc nominally loyal to President Leonid Kuchma. Communists and other leftists have suffered massive losses in these elections.
Ukraine has an impressive record of close cooperation with NATO in recent years, a stark contrast to Russia’s troubled relations with the alliance. The new parliament, being the least leftist since 1991, seems prepared not only to deepen the relations with NATO–which influential presidential officials also favor–but to undertake overdue economic reforms as well. NATO and the EU should waste no time responding: NATO, by continuing its successful policy of pursuing relations with Russia and Ukraine on parallel but separate tracks, without letting either relationship get in the way of the other. And the EU, by developing a policy toward its eastern neighborhood–Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova–that would reflect Ukraine’s incomparably better foreign and security policies.
Along with Belarus, Armenia belongs to the Russian-led CIS Collective Security Treaty, which, like the Warsaw Pact of old, puts a multilateralist cover on what in essence are bilateral arrangements by Russia with each member country. In this case, Russia enabled Armenia to defeat Azerbaijan in the war for Karabakh almost a decade ago, whereupon Russia obtained long-term basing rights for its troops in Armenia. The country has drifted into military dependence on Russia, political quasi-isolation in the region and deep poverty (which has resulted in a massive population exodus).
By now, Armenia has drawn three lessons: first, that the West, not Russia, can help Armenia recover from economic disaster; second, that economic recovery can come only after substantial progress toward settling the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict and normalizing Armenia-Turkey relations; and, third, that Moscow is not seriously interested in either, because its influence in this as in other post-Soviet regions depends on keeping local conflicts in a smoldering state. In view of this, Armenia’s leadership is now cautiously embarking on an adjustment of its foreign policy. Without questioning the alliance with Russia, it realizes the need for security cooperation with the United States and NATO and a dialogue with Turkey. Progress in these directions can in turn improve the prospects for peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan, finally putting Armenia on the path to economic development.
Oil-rich Azerbaijan and strategically vital Georgia have cast their lot with the West–a choice bolstered by active American, Turkish and British engagement. Georgia is the necessary route for all the westbound oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian basin. This explains Russia’s ongoing attempts to change Georgia’s policy through military pressure and the encouragement of ethnic separatism in parts of the country. Those breakaway enclaves are protected by Russian troops acting as “peacekeepers” without any valid mandate, and using methods that have nothing in common with internationally accepted notions of peacekeeping.
This month, the United States is deploying some 200 special troops on a mission to train and equip Georgian lightly armed security forces. The American move also sends a political signal, underscoring the Western stake in stabilizing Georgia and safeguarding its independence.
Meanwhile, Russia keeps thousands of troops and large arsenals at several bases in Georgia. One of those bases, Gudauta, was due to have been closed last July, in accordance with the OSCE’s decisions and under its observation. Nevertheless, Russia retains Gudauta to this day, has interdicted the mandatory OSCE inspection, and recently used the base for staging military incursions into Georgian territory. Such disrespect for the OSCE in Georgia and Belarus should serve as a warning against introducing anything similar to OSCE-type consensus rules when Russia joins the planned “NATO at 20” forum.
For its part, the “NATO at 20” forum has its work cut out for it on peacekeeping issues. Georgia and Moldova cannot be independent, let alone secure, countries as long as the Russian “peacekeeping” farce continues. These countries, along with Ukraine and the South Caucasus, are no longer to be viewed as Moscow’s “near abroad.” They now form the enlarging West’s immediate neighborhood.
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