Joschka Fischer offers a realistic view of EU-Russia relations

Posted: August 30th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: european union, politics, russia | No Comments »

In an article in the Guardian, former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer offers a rather insightful analysis of the realities of a new Russia – EU relationship. He suggests the EU to take specific steps to counter Russia’s power politics:

This requires several measures:

  • A new political dynamism vis-à-vis Turkey to link this country, one crucial for European security, permanently to Europe;
  • Putting a stop to Moscow’s divide-and-conquer politics by adopting a common EU energy policy;
  • Serious initiative for strengthening Europe’s defence capabilities;
  • A greater EU commitment to Ukraine to safeguard its independence;
  • A greater freedom of travel for all the EU’s Eastern neighbours.

I do not think any of these suggestions are especially difficult to agree upon in the EU, so the initiative should start now.

The price for Kosovo’s independence from Serbia

Posted: August 11th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: european union, human rights, law, russia, thoughts | No Comments »

There are a large number of areas in a large number of countries where there is a dominant ethnic minority (vis-a-vis the majority nationality in the main part of the country). In Estonia for example North East Estonia, where there are 95% ethnic Russians living in the city of Narva. The same applied for Kosovo and Serbia to a certain degree and the same applies to South Ossetia and Abkhasia in Georgia, Transdnistria in Moldova. This also applies to Scotland and Wales in the UK, parts of the Netherlands, the Basque country in Spain, etc etc.

The current doctrine of international law does not allow for independence for these regions. This principle was breached in the case of Kosovo, and this has also fueled Russian resolve to attack Georgia and try to take South Ossetia and Abkhasia. It is clear that the agressor in Georgia’s case is Russia which has embarked on a development route, which can be described as a neo-Fascism with neo-Soviet crust. However, things should not have been made so easy for them by allowing Kosovo to become independent.

In the EU the role of the Member States is diminishing, there are common values, common principles regarding rule of law, democracy, human rights, etc, which are respected in all of these states. Thus is does not matter much where you live or which nationality you are. The same situation must be strived for in other countries with conflict situations as well. The international law and principles should be strong enough to guarantee a minimal level of protection for all human beings, regardless of where they live.

If we were to accept the example of Kosovo and agree now also to the “right” of South Ossetians to become independent (and merge with Russia), there will be no end for conflicts, both internal and full wars. The world has become a much more dangerous place and it is the job for the community of democratic countries to act decisively to guarantee the peace. Otherwise who knows which country will be next…

Georgia under attack!

Posted: August 9th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: russia, things that suck | No Comments »

If everything had gone according to plans, I would be in Georgia today with a group of people from Estonia, visiting Batumi. As fate had it, the plans changed and I am in France instead.

If this event does not convince European leaders that Russia cannot be regarded as an equal partner, then what needs to happen. Democratic countries do not attack other democratic countries. Do they need to nuke someone for people in European capitals to wake up? Russia is too big and too consequential to let it drift into a complete dictatorship.

Read the joint declaration of Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Polish presidents on Russia’s military attack against Georgia.

President Ilves says Moscow won’t accept the past

Posted: June 30th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Estonia, european union, russia | No Comments »

In an interview to the Associated Press on board the flight back from Khanty-Mansiisk president Ilves explains why he walked out of the Fenno-Ugric Congress, and gives his thoughts on Russian developments. Nice balanced reporting from the AP, including the final quote from Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission:

“The EU is completely against all kinds of totalitarianism,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said. “We reject totalitarianism, including Soviet totalitarianism.”

European Parliament Petitions Committee wants Nord Stream out of the Baltic Sea

Posted: May 27th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: european union, russia | No Comments »

Responding to ca 30 000 petitions, here are some notable quotes from the draft document approved by the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament:

12. Emphasises that alternative gas pipeline routes, which do not disturb the marine environment, should be analysed first, and notes that it is possible to run such routes to the Russian border overland, solely through European Union Member States;

14. Supports the Swedish Government’s Decision of 12 February 2008 refusing to grant Nord Stream AG permission to build the gas pipeline due to significant procedural and substantive shortcomings and in particular the lack of an analysis of an alternative route and of the option of abandoning the construction of the pipeline; 

19. Expresses its belief that routing the North European gas pipeline through EU territory would enable it to meet the strategic and economic objectives set out in Decision 1364/2006/EC whilst avoiding extensive environmental damage; 

20. Calls on the Council and Commission to use every legal means at their disposal to prevent the construction of the North European gas pipeline on the scale proposed by the investor;

The Motion for a Resolution will now be considered by the European Parliament. Nord Stream has responded to the document as well, claiming that the Committee has misunderstood the environmental impact assessment study process:

The Committee has prejudged Nord Stream, without waiting for the information contained in the EIA which will address the concerns raised.

In my opinion, this project will never materialise, as there is simply no objective justification for it in light of where the EU is going. If one looks at the EU as a whole the project makes no sense as Russia could connect to EU directly by land without the need for an expensive and environmentally dangerous underwater pipeline. If the EU wants to diversify it energy supplies, then having another route to the already dominant provider is not going to help anyone.

The Nord Stream project as it is should be scrapped, and its TEN-E status removed due to change in circumstances. I am unsure how this is done procedurally, but surely there must be a way.

Dima Bilan wins Eurovision

Posted: May 25th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: eurovision, russia | No Comments »

I was wrong in underestimating the song and the efforts Dima made in order to win. The song is not bad and Dima did deserve to win, in my opinion for not winning with Never Let You Go, which is was my favourite. Russia hosting the Eurovision is another opportunity to ignate democratisation in the country and kind of gives Eurovision certain relevance (who would care if it was held in some traditional European place?). This year’s Eurovision was special due to where it was held and the possible impact it has on Serbia, which until recently was not so eager to join the EU.

I did not vote for Dima Bilan, as I thought the song was a little average. I do like his music and him, I have seen him in concert twice (once in Estonia and once in London at World Music Awards 2006). My votes went to France and Ukraine. Sébastien Tellier was a nice discovery for me and I am looking forward to hearing his new album Sexuality.

This year’s Eurovision Song Contest had a lot of good songs (I counted ca 10 I liked and the voting showed that more or less the same 10 songs were universally liked). Therefore there is no need to talk about geographic voting. The result was pretty universal, the only thing I would change is to have pan-European votes, where every vote counts the same (not voting by country). This would mix up the contest and make it a real song contest for European people, not nations.

Perpective on Estonia – Russia relations

Posted: February 23rd, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Estonia, politics, russia | No Comments »

from a BBC correspondent who at one time worked at Radio Free Europe with president Toomas Ilves. Read the article.

Russian parliamentary elections were not fair

Posted: December 3rd, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: politics, russia | No Comments »

According to Council of Europe press release, the Russian Duma elections were “not held on a level playing field”.

In particular, the following major areas raised concern:

  • The merging of the state and a political party is an abuse of power and a clear violation of international commitments and standards.
  • The media showed strong bias in favour of President Putin and the ruling United Russia party.
  • The new election code makes it extremely difficult for new and smaller parties to develop and compete effectively.
  • There were widespread reports of harassment of opposition parties.
  • Personally, I think the elections finally showed to the general public what many in Western Europe refused to believe: that Russia is not in the path of stabilisation and democracy, but going further from it. It is stupid to think that authoritarian rule can somehow guarantee stability or peace: the only way to achieve this is through democratisation.

    Gas, Russia and the Nord Stream project

    Posted: September 22nd, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Estonia, politics, russia | No Comments »

    The Estonian government on Thursday refused to allow the environmental surveys in the Estonian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for the proposed Nord Stream Russia – Germny gas pipeline project. The decision was influenced mostly by populist propaganda, which seemed to overturn the opinions of all ministries and specialists consulted in Estonia (except one). The rational decision would have been to allow the surveys, keep a close eye on them, and subsequently deny any possible request for the construction of a pipeline. Instead, now the EU is unhappy, we have seemingly annoyed the Finns and given Russia a good reason to claim that Estonia is a small, vengeful and petty country which for some reason tries to drive a wedge between the EU and Russia’s otherwise good relations.

    However stupid, populist or irrational the government’s Thursday’s decision was, it was also a democratic decision made by the democratically appointed government, unianimously. The decisions of the EU are also more or less democratic. But are the decisions of the Russia state? Is this a project between equal partners, having the same understanding and values? I guess not.

    My understanding of the pipeline project is that nobody in Europe has a sensible reason to support the project any more. In 2000, when it was granted TEN-E status by the Commission it might even have made sense to make this pipeline to bypass the Baltic countries. More strange is that it has been left in there when the Baltic States and Poland acceeded to the EU in 2004. Logically there is no reason for it to be in the environmentally delicate seabed of the Baltic Sea, when it could go through directly to the EU (Lithuania or Poland). One of the priorities of the EU is environmental protection, as well.

    My understanding is that the EU (or at least the Commission) now has a sceptical view to the project and it is only kept alive thorugh the efforts of Germany and the influence Gerhard Schröder and Putin still have in EU capitals. The project and Gazprom’s other interests in Europe have been investigated for example in an article in this week’s Stern (english translation available here, courtesy of Robert Amsterdam). The article gives a chilling overview of Gazprom’s business activities, which seem to be tailored in order to corrupt and provide slush funds for Gazprom’s managers. It also states that Gazprom might actually not have any gas to sell, as it has not invested in capacity building. Are the brass of Gazprom capable of running a successful business at all or are they interested in pumping out what they can and leave after the inevitable happens?

    There is another aspect to this. The EU is in the final stages of liberalising its energy markets (the new rules became effective July 2007). It seems bizarre that Gazprom is building its business in such vertically integrated way, especially regarding how this might be incompatible with European anti-monopoly rules. It is interesting to check also the new proposals from the Commission (energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs of Latvia), which call for the separation of supply and distribution networks, making sure that “companies from third countries wish to acquire a significant interest or even control over an EU network” comply with the same rules, etc. The Commission seems to be worried about the looming Russian control of the EU gas market and therefore is already making preventative steps to put a stop to this. See the thinly veiled threat in this Gazprom press release regarding Commission’s proposals (“The Company feels sure that its voice will be heard”).

    When looking at the “big picture” the Nord Stream pipeline seems to be another Gazprom project which has mainly political goals and those goals are served even right now. I am beginning to think that the pipeline project is actually another political lever and an opportunity to provide income for certain key people (Schröder = € 250 000 per year), rather than an honest attempt to build an actual pipeline. Hopefully Europe comes to its senses, and does it sooner rather than later…