The European Union has yet to develop a policy regarding the protracted (“frozen”) conflicts in the wider Black Sea region. Russia is both a belligerent and an arbiter in these conflicts, negating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the EU’s associated partners Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova and of the EU’s strategic energy partner Azerbaijan. The EU, with ample instruments and resources but without a policy, has found itself marginalized and even excluded from conflict-management and negotiation processes in its eastern neighborhood. Instead, Russia dominates all these processes, thereby blocking any resolution of the conflicts. Within the EU, Romania has launched an initiative, co-sponsored by ten other member states, to involve Brussels in the management and eventual resolution of these protracted conflicts (see Part One in EDM, July 29).
Romania’s Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu has worked out a set of recommendations in this regard and introduced them into the EU’s internal deliberations, including those at the ministerial level. Bucharest’s recommendations will also undoubtedly be considered by the EU’s External Action Service (EEAS), which is currently drafting position papers on each of these protracted conflicts. Although Bucharest‘s recommendations are not public, Aurescu’s interviews with the media reveal their broad gist (EU Observer, January 19; Mae.ro, May 17, 27, July 12, 15; Calea Europeana, July 10).
The argument speaks, first, to the EU’s “normative” understanding of international relations: in this case, the need to introduce a rules-based international order in the wider Black Sea region, so as to extend the EU’s model of a peaceful Europe to its eastern neighborhood. Second, it speaks to the recent acceptance by at least some European leaders that the EU must become “more geopolitical,” “learn to use the language of power,” and become a “credible global actor,” all of which would, however, presuppose acting effectively in its neighborhood.
From those premises, the European Union is asked to develop in its own interest a policy leading to stability and security, instead of unpredictability and recurrent crises, on the EU’s eastern borders. The EU is being reminded that the “frozen” conflicts gel into territorial spheres of influence, consign the EU’s partner countries to a form of limited sovereignty, and block their path to European development. (Russia remains unmentioned.)
Specific proposals and recommendations (as made public thus far) include:
- Any political resolution of these conflicts should be such as not to impair the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries’ orientation toward Europe.
- The EU should create a permanent coordination format with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova (the three Association Agreement partners), specifically dedicated to the protracted conflicts. These associated partners should coordinate with each other and with the EU’s relevant institutions about the management and resolution of the protracted conflicts.
- The European Union should institute a senior-level special representative, mandated to implement the EU’s policy regarding the protracted conflicts in the wider Black Sea region, as well as overseeing EU programs to enhance the national resilience of these partner states.
- The EU should add a security dimension to its Eastern Partnership framework. That dimension has been absent since the EaP’s launch 12 years ago. The security dimension should enhance the resilience of Partner states and their societies to a full gamut of nonmilitary or borderline civil-military threats. Proceeding from the EaP framework, the EU should establish security partnership with the individual Partner states.
- The Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DCFTA) between the EU and each of the three Association Agreement partners (Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova) should apply also to their (respective) separatist regions, “so as to stimulate their ties with the affected states and make their reintegration [in the future] a more attractive [proposition].” This arrangement already operates in the case of Transnistria (since 2015 at the latest). The EU itself should reach out to the secessionist regions even as it continues the non-recognition policy toward these regions.
- The EU’s Foreign Affairs Council (foreign ministers of the 27 member states) should produce a document of “Conclusions” to authorize those initiatives.
- The European Union’s policy planning regarding Russia must reflect the EU’s vision of the protracted conflicts, their nature and their possible resolution.
Bucharest‘s proposals carefully avoid (at least publicly) any suggestion for the EU to compete against Russia in the wider Black Sea region. The published proposals, therefore, do not reference Russia as a progenitor of conflicts, nor bring up Russia’s self-arrogated monopoly on “peacekeeping” operations in this region, skip (in the summaries made public) over the issue of Crimea, and do not connect Russia with those territorial “spheres of influence” and its imposition of “limited sovereignty” on the EU’s EaP partners (see above). The proposals focus on certain violated norms without, however, identifying the violator.
This delicate approach might perhaps be designed to elicit the widest possible consensus among the EU’s 27 member states around Bucharest’s proposals. If so, this would be the usual tradeoff of wide for shallow in a multilateral consensus. Equally, this gingerly approach might seek to make it easy for the EU’s EaP partner countries to align with these proposals without burning their bridges with Russia. However nefarious its behavior in the region, Russia still offers some positive incentives to each one of the EaP partner countries except Ukraine at this time.