In many ways, despite the Summit’s decision to postpone discussion of full NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, the uncoordinated NATO and EU enlargement into former Soviet strategic-economic space has aggravated relations with Russia and its major allies in the region, Belarus and Serbia; NATO-EU enlargement has also complicated Russian-Ukrainian relations. While Belarus has sought union with Moscow, Ukraine has sought a "civilized divorce." Ironically, Moscow has thus far appeared unwilling to "marry" Belarus—and Ukraine’s divorce may not turn out to be that “civilized” due to tensions over Crimea.
On the one hand, NATO-EU enlargement puts NATO and the EU in the role of protecting Poland and other central and eastern European states, but at the risk of attracting a number of regions away from the control of Belarus, Ukraine, Serbia and Russia. (These regions include Ukrainian Lvov and portions of Belarus, Kaliningrad, Karelia and other areas in the Baltic). A strong Euro, coupled with promises of democratic freedoms, has served as a magnet for many regional populations dissatisfied with the post-Soviet or post-Yugoslav status quo. In addition to concerns raised by Albanian pan-national movements in Macedonia and Serbia (plus those in a newly “independent” Kosovo), claims of Hungarian irredentism have also been influencing popular movements in Slovakia, Romania and Serbia (in Vojvodina province).
On the other hand, a number of regions are attracted to Russia, including Russian ethnic groups in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. The Belarusian and Serbian leaderships are also attracted to Moscow for support (even though not all of the predominantly Slavic population necessarily seek Russian backing). Moreover, the so-called "frozen" conflicts involve pro-Russian ethnic groups or other minorities who seek Russian supports against local adversaries in the Transnistria in Moldova; Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia; as well as in Nagorno-Karabakh, which is violently disputed between Armenia (backed by Russia) and Azerbaijan (backed by the US). This creates a dual "magnet effect"—in which NATO/EU and Russia wittingly or unwittingly attract or support both elites and local populations within various established states—and thus risks a partition of the "new Europe" in the not-so-long term.
At the same time, however, another issue tends to complicate post-Soviet affairs. Both Ukraine and Belarus have been facing economic pressures from the new Russian Federation as the latter has sought to raise energy prices to global market levels. This has ironically had the political-economic effect of cutting former Soviet-era subsidies step-by-step for both countries (thus cutting supports for Russian "ally" Belarus and not just for Ukraine alone, as generally reported in the Western media.) What is taking place in Russia represents a new form of neo-liberal authoritarianism which can be defined as authoritarian imposition of ostensibly free market, "non regulated" policies.
While Ukraine could ultimately split along a pro-European vs. pro-Russian "civilizational fault line" in which Lvov would look back to Poland, NATO and the European Union, Belarus also faces a continuing period of political economic instability. This appears particularly true as the EU continues to isolate the regime of Alexander Lukashenko through political economic sanctions and as Russia seeks to raise energy prices to international market levels, thus cutting energy subsidies for Belarus. Ironically this policy risks undermining a pro-Russian Belarusian leadership, which has begun the process of post-Communist nomenklatura privatization.
Here, it is up to the US, EU and Russia to cooperate more overtly in pressing for democratic and market oriented reforms in Belarus, but without permitting the country to disintegrate into chaos or break apart. Rather than accepting breakaway regions into the European Union, US/NATO-EU-Russian cooperation would seek to establish "confederal" relationships among regions surrounding the "Brest Triangle" and Ukrainian Lvov, between Poland and Belarus. Disputes in this region go back at least to the 1945 Yalta Conference (if not further back in time). A new International Conference over Eastern Europe and the Caucasus may soon be necessary to adjudicate as many of these disputes as possible within the changing regional political economic context.
The growing crisis—which has manifested itself over the Kosovo independence question—has not only split the Americans versus the Russians, but has split the Europeans as well. In general, states with their own secessionist movements have opposed Kosovo independence. In addition to Russia (and China), European states opposing Kosovo independence include Romania (with Hungarian minorities, plus concern with Transnistria in Moldova), Cyprus (Turkish Northern Cyprus), Slovakia (Hungarian minorities) and Spain (the Basque region plus autonomy movements in Catalonia, Valencia and Galicia).
Here, every effort must be taken to build approaches that permit greater "autonomy" to regionalist movements and to the "frozen" conflicts, so that Kosovo independence does not set a precedent for other secessionist movements to follow. At the same time, in addition to Bosnian Serb demands for independence (Republika Srpska), the US, EU and Russia will need to work with Serbian minorities in Mitrovica (Kosovo) and with the predominantly Albanian majority so as to prevent tensions from exploding. Here, Mitrovica Serbs (with backing from Belgrade) appear to be establishing a separate government with parallel institutions to those being developed in the rest of Kosovo. Yet, rather than trying to force an artificial integration of the Serbian minority into Kosovo, which will be strongly resisted by the Serbs, a better option would be to encourage confederal cooperation between the parties.
In the so-called "frozen conflicts," such as Transnistria in Moldova, one option could be to deploy Partnership for Peace peacekeepers under an OSCE aegis alongside Russian troops, and to eventually replace Russian forces with international peacekeepers—but in the process of forging a Moldovan-Transnistrian federation. Engaged diplomacy is likewise needed to wind down the ongoing conflicts between Russia and Georgia, and between Armenia and Azerbaijan—and to keep these dangerous situations from spiralling out of control.
The next president of the United States will furthermore need to establish a new cooperative framework between the US and European Union. What is needed is the formation of a US-EU-Strategic Economic Council so as to better "coordinate" the "uncoordinated" NATO-EU enlargement. Moreover, such a US-EU Strategic Economic Council will need to meet with the new Russia, and attempt to mediate between Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, among other states and regions—before a number of significant “frozen conflicts” and secessionist movements begin to further "unthaw." Preventing disaster may well require a new International Conference for Eastern Europe and the Caucasus that will bring together both the major powers and regional actors into real dialogue—so as to assure the peace of the region in the very long term.
Hall Gardner is Professor in the International and Comparative Politics Department at the American University of Paris. He is the author of Averting Global War (New York: Palgrave, 2007); American Global Strategy and the ‘War on Terrorism’ (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005; 2007); and Dangerous Crossroads (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997), among many other edited books and articles.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Hall Gardner: Regional Cooperation Better Than NATO/EU Enlargement
- Jens F. Laurson and George A. Pieler: Expansion Does Not Solve NATO's Dilemma
- David Francis: Ukraine's Conditional Future in the EU
- Heinrich Bonnenberg: Ukraine's Future Lies in the EU, not NATO