Europe Needs a New Eastern Partnership Strategy

We have discussed before the dangers of Europe’s pre-November 2013 path, but they are worth recounting: Russia’s sphere of power grows as more and more former Soviet Republics, through their own mistakes, Russian aggression, and the still turgid global economy’s ravages, continue to fall back into Moscow’s orbit. Europe’s prestige as the post-national future fades. War breaks out again as frozen conflicts, never resolved, thaw far too quickly. The post-Nuremberg consensus of Europe slowly falls to pieces.

These are not trivial fears; they are happening today, in what Europe once euphemistically called the Eastern Partnership region. Belarus is lost until the day Alexander Lukashenko falls over dead or is deposed (or perhaps both), and possibly beyond, a tyranny on Europe’s eastern border to which Brussels is essentially indifferent. Armenia will continue illegally occupying the Nagorno-Karabakh with Moscow’s aid until war with Azerbaijan breaks out, because in the end, Europe felt bringing the rogue state into the fold essentially unimportant. Moldova will lose Transnistria some time in the next few years even as Chișinău scrambles to bring its still-fragile legal framework and abysmal economy into line with a European system that seems uninterested in aiding the plucky country along. Georgia’s ruling party is preparing to prosecute its predecessors simply because they can, as they move Tbilisi back into Moscow’s orbit as everyday Georgians resign themselves to history.

And then of course there is Ukraine. Ukraine has received its fair share of news coverage (on this site and others) for many reasons: a thriving democracy, the symbolic importance of the birthplace of Slavic culture turning West, its enormous agricultural and industrial strength, and perhaps most importantly to the Western press, a thriving independent and English-language-heavy press. Yet more than these, Ukraine matters because 46 million people, the second-largest population in Europe, was caught between a vise of Russian aggression and European indifference. When Kyiv implored Europe for aid in the face of Russian trade war threats, they received finger-wagging directed at them and at Moscow almost equally. When they explained that those Russian threats would absolutely destroy the country, they were lectured on the virtues of free trade and raising natural gas prices so that some of their people could freeze to death. When Kyiv explained that if matters did not change quickly, they would have to move closer to Russia, they were treated as fools and charlatans, money-grubbers and petty tyrants.

At no point did Brussels truly take Kyiv seriously, as the Eastern Partner they claimed. Instead, they simply expected Ukraine to fall into line with the European project, secure that History would deliver yet another prize away from the frightening people in Moscow who seemed to believe that some things are worth fighting and killing for.

The Eastern Partnership failed because it was not an Eastern Partnership, it was an Eastern Condescension. Europe’s entire structure for dealing with the former Soviet Republics vacillates between profound indifference, contempt, and brief intervals of intense chiding. These are places where civil society was co-opted or nearly destroyed for seven decades by men who hated popular will outside of theoretical discussions. Their economies are reconstructing slowly and painfully, as even the advanced Baltics show. They are filled with people who believe they have a European future, but do not always have the language or civil skills to reach it.

They are fellow men who are treated as beggars allowed to have a crust or two from time to time, in the expectation that everything will work out well, and that they will continue to come begging day after day.

This is idiotic, and it must change. The financial meltdown of Southern Europe poses no great threat to the European project (as opposed to the euro, which is merely a means to that end). The project born of French and West German weariness of war is to end bloodshed across the Great European Plain and beyond. It is to make Europe a place where generations need not die in wars over religion, in massed battles between millions of soldiers, in trenches, in poison gas attacks, in rolling armored cavalry pushes, in genocides, in all of the barbarities Europe has been willing to showcase since before the Peace of Westphalia.

That project is in danger as it has not been since 1946. It does not matter if Europe believes that the world is no longer one of violence if its large neighbor to the East believes to the contrary; and more importantly, if that empire can draw its old satellites back into its orbit, that world of violence becomes that much more likely.

It is time to treat the Eastern Partnership as a partnership between equals. It is time for Europe to grow up.

Image Copyright Wikimedia Commons