After the poisoning of the Kremlin critic Aleksej Nawalny and the unrest in Belarus, the EU should finally act more united against Russia. The inconsistencies between the EU members could lead to noticeable problems.
On December 8, 1991, the official existence of the 69-year-old Soviet Union ended after the conclusion of the Belawesh Agreement. After exactly eight years, on December 8, 1999, a new treaty was signed between Russia and Belarus on the founding of the union state. Russia has always regarded the former Soviet states as a personal zone of influence. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which was founded immediately after the dissolution treaty, was only intended to serve as a transitional phase for Russia in order to maintain its grip on the former Soviet republics and found a new union. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has already repeatedly described the dissolution of the Soviet Union in his statements as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”.
After the constitutional reform of July 1, 2020, Putin is allowed to run twice more in the presidential elections-which in principle allows him to remain in power until 2036. The amended constitution not only secures Putin’s domestic political leadership, it also opens up more opportunities for him to exert influence in post-Soviet countries. According to the updated Article 69, Russia is supposed to support compatriots living abroad “in the exercise of their rights, ensuring the protection and preservation of the overall Russian cultural identity. These points were already implemented during the war in Georgia and the Ukraine crisis. Now Russia wants to further expand its military presence in the region. Nevertheless, the Kremlin is in crisis: because of the Corona pandemic and the tense relationship with the EU due to the poison attack on Alexei Nawalny and the interference after the elections in Belarus.
The unrest in Belarus and the poison attack on Nawalny
The current election uprising in Belarus is also accompanied by nationalist slogans. For example, a flag of the Belarusian People’s Republic from 1918 was carried into the streets. On it was written in Belarusian: “Жыве Беларусь!”. (Long live Belarus!). It was a call for the restoration of the mother tongue, which was not communicated in Russian but in Belarusian.
This sent a clear signal. The whole event took place during the Corona crisis and the unrest in the Russian city of Khabarovsk. One can already speak of a developing Slavic uprising through the events in Belarus and Khabarovsk, in which mutual support is shown through slogans and protests.
The recent poisoning of Nawalny has further deepened the escalation in Russian society. However, the policy of physically eliminating opposition members is not an invention of the Putin administration. This targeted extermination or murder of an opposition member already existed with Stalin and has continued to be implemented successfully since Putin’s term of office. Critics such as Anna Politkovskaya and Boris Nemtsov were shot in public. Opposition members living abroad such as Alexander Litvinenko and Sergei Skripal were poisoned.
Of course, the whole event further strained the relationship between Russia and the EU, although the relationship between Berlin and Moscow has been deteriorating continuously for a few years now. The cyber attack on the Bundestag in 2015 or the killing of a Chechen with a Georgian passport in Berlin in 2019 had already had considerable negative effects.
Furthermore, next year there will be federal elections. Russia will try to influence the elections through Russian media operated in Germany. The facts presented here, as well as the events surrounding Belarus and Nawalny, are all happening in parallel with the unfinished Nord Stream 2 project, which is intended to supply Germany and several other European countries, such as the Czech Republic and Austria, with Russian gas – for a reasonable price.
The lack of a coherent EU foreign policy – a never-ending story
The EU’s foreign policy is a weak point. Although on 17 September 2020 the European Parliament adopted two decisions: on the situation in Russia because of the poison attack on Nawalny and on the situation in Belarus. The resolutions call for tough sanctions against Russia and Belarus. But in reality the implementation fails: While the Eastern European EU countries are definitely in favor of imposing sanctions against Belarus, Cyprus recently blocked this plan on September 21 with its right of veto.
While French President Emmanuel Macron is in favor of improving relations with Russia and cannot imagine the security of Europe without cooperation with Moscow, the United States is once again working to form a coalition against Nord Stream 2. In an interview with the Bild editor-in-chief, the United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, made the following statement:
“From the point of view of the USA, Nord Stream 2 endangers Europe because it makes it dependent on Russian gas and endangers the Ukraine – which I think worries many Germans. We hope that Nord Stream 2 will not be completed and we are working on a coalition to prevent this from happening (…)”.
It is already easy to imagine which Eastern European countries will probably join this coalition. The Baltic countries, Poland and Ukraine have opposed this project from the very beginning because their security is at stake.
Berlin’s position in such a difficult constellation is not easy. On the one hand, Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasizes that Nord Stream 2 is not a political project, but only an economic one. On the other hand, the project is coming to a standstill because of the upcoming federal elections and possible U.S. sanctions. One can safely assume that Berlin will wait until the events around Nawalny and Belarus have fizzled out or until negotiations with the U.S. are held soon to take a concrete position.
The USA and Russia have always benefited from the lack of unity within the EU, which has always allowed them to interfere in the affairs of the individual EU states in an expedient manner. The US seems to benefit more from the current situation in Europe, which is why it is much better able to implement its policies. Russia, on the other hand, could not only be left alone with the failure of Nord Stream 2, but the ongoing Turkish Stream project could also lose its importance after the discovery of gas deposits by Turkey.
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