17 October 2009 - NATO PA ROSE-ROTH IN LVIV STRESSES NEED TO FIND BALANCE IN NATO-RUSSIA RELATIONSHIP
The 72nd Rose-Roth Seminar held in Lviv, Ukraine from 13-15 October demonstrated that NATO member countries and their partners in Ukraine and Georgia are working to balance between two competing principles: building a cooperative relationship with Russia and protecting the right of sovereign states to chart their own foreign policy course. The meetings focused on Ukraine but also included sessions on Georgia, Moldova, Belarus and energy security.
It became apparent that many states of the former Soviet Union feel that they are under increasing pressure from Russia. Ukrainians pointed to the dismissive statements from Moscow that question the independence of the country, the troubling Russian practice of issuing passports to ethnic Russians in the Crimean region and the use of energy supplies as tool to gain influence over Ukrainian politics. Moldovans spoke to the continued presence of Russian forces in the Transnistrian region that prop up an internationally unrecognized regime on their national territory. Georgians underlined the ongoing efforts by Russia to create separate states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia out of what is recognized as the sovereign territory of Georgia. In all of those cases, the message was that Russia’s ambition is to maintain weak states on its borders that it can exercise significant influence over, particularly in terms of their foreign policy. The main goal of this is to prevent those states from becoming part of Euro-Atlantic structures, which is why the two NATO aspirants of Georgia and Ukraine receive the bulk of this pressure.
There was broad agreement among the participants that it is necessary to build a better relationship with Russia based on mutual interests. The underlying concern, however, was that Russia’s perceived strategic interests made it difficult to do this without sacrificing core strategic interests of Ukraine, Georgia and other states in the region. As Borys Tarasyuk, Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on European Integration and Founder and Director of the Institute of Euro-Atlantic cooperation said, “Yes, we should have cooperation with Russia, but at what price?”
The session focused on Ukraine showed that it is making substantial progress on reaching NATO standards and the goals set out in the Annual National Plan. At the same time, however, there needs to be a national consensus on joining NATO and that is still lacking. As Simon Lunn from the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of the Armed Forces noted, “the whole country joins NATO, not just the military.” Although there is a consensus among the major political parties about eventual NATO membership, that has not yet translated into broad popular support. However, Andrey Shkil, head of the Ukrainian delegation to the NATO PA, underlined that popular support has increased and that many current members of the Alliance had similar issues with raising public awareness during their drive for accession.
The meetings centered on Moldova and Belarus showed that Russian pressure on its neighbours is not limited to those states seeking NATO membership. Belarus, and until recently Moldova, were both very sympathetic toward Moscow. Yet, according to Vlad Lupan, independent expert, this did not prevent Russian actions in the separatist region of Transnistria, which ironically has pushed Moldova to adopt an increasingly pro-western posture. Belarus is also adjusting its policies in an effort to engage with the European Union. Taken together, these two cases may show that Moscow’s treatment of its neighbours may be pushing them closer to Western institutions.
Energy security and its role in the region sparked considerable discussion among the participants. As Ferdinand Pavel of the German Institute for Economic Research noted, the EU imports 35% of its gas and 45% of its oil from Russia, much of it through pipelines that cross Ukraine. This gives Russia significant leverage that it uses for political as well as economic gain. Several Ukrainian participants noted that, for example, much of Ukraine’s oil refining capacity has been bought by Russian investors who let it sit dormant. Although this would not appear to make economic sense, it has clear political advantages in that is forces Ukraine to remain dependent on Russia.
The final session of the programme focused on Georgia. Giorgi Baramidze, Vice Prime Minister of Georgia, spoke about how Georgia is adopting “strategic patience” in its approach to Russia following the 2008 war. He welcomed the report of the European Commission on the events leading to the war and stressed that Georgia is more determined than ever to make the necessary reforms to integrate into the European Union and NATO. Georgia is making progress, both politically and economically according to Ghia Nodia, Director of the Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development. Economically the country is doing relatively well in global downturn and its free-market approach to foreign investment will remain in place. Georgia, however, is still going through a period of political maturation. The government has learned how to work better with the opposition, but the real test of Georgian democracy will be when it has its first constitutional transfer of power. One point that was clear from the discussion is that the Georgian government and the general public is more determined now to enter NATO and the EU than before the 2008 war.