Ambassador of Estonia Toomas Lukk writes Russia’s power politics reduce its relationship with its neighbouring countries to a zero-sum game. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade
Reede, 15 Jaanuar 2021 19:00
Estonian Life No. 2 2021 - Toomas Lukk
As a one of the world's most ethnically diverse and multicultural nations, it is in Canada's DNA to support those who want to follow the path of democracy, rule of law and human rights. The European Union’s Eastern Partnership initiative must remain an inclusive effort of strategic importance in building a common space of stability, economic growth and well-being. Canada’s engagement with Eastern Partnership countries complements the efforts of the European Union and its Member States.
Last year marked the 10th anniversary of the European Union’s (EU) Eastern Partnership (EaP) initiative designed to strengthen cooperation between the EU and its partner countries - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Although Russia sees these countries as belonging to the so-called post-Soviet space and its sphere of influence, an orientation toward Europe has been a central part of these countries’ political agenda. This year, the Covid-19 pandemic, the national awakening movement in Belarus, and hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh have created new pressures that are testing the resilience of the EaP initiative. These events raise important questions of what the future holds for the EaP.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has offered the above listed six countries nothing but political and economic pressure. Russia has projected its assertive power, which reflects its poor democratic record. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s report on the State of Democracy 2019
lists Russia as an authoritarian regime.
Russia’s unfortunate list of accomplishments in recent years involves the incursion into Georgia, where the Rose Revolution set the country on the path of democracy and away from Russia’s sphere. In 2008, Georgia paid a high price for this when Russia launched its first war in 21st century Europe against it.
The Euromaidan protest, which supported Ukraine’s closer cooperation with the EU, led to the Ukrainian Revolution. In response, Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and initiated war in the Donbass. This led to a protracted conflict in Eastern Ukraine in which Russia vehemently denies its participation.
Pro-democracy protests in Belarus called for authoritarian President Lukashenka’s dismissal. Belarussian people want democratic changes, honest elections, and a working economy. Instead, they face police brutality that has become the symbol of the dictatorship’s ruthlessness and turned the country into a massive prison.
People in Moldova want changes too, as they elected the reform minded Maia Sandu to become their next President. Though the narrow vote signals deep political divisions, it expresses peoples’ choice for democracy and justice, a country free from corruption and poverty. The situation in Moldova's secessionist province of Transdniestria, however, remains frozen but far from stable.
Anti-government protests in Armenia, known as the Velvet Revolution, led to a change of government in 2018. The hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh have revived the protracted anger between neighboring Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russia’s military superiority supports its brokering ability, but emphasizes its malign influence in the region.
Russia’s power politics reduce its relationship with these countries to a zero-sum game. The democratic successes of others mean a loss to Russia. The Russian political scientist Gleb Pavlovski contends that Russia has wrecked its international relations base with both close allies and distant countries alike.
Ten years of EU cooperation have featured its different facets. Some EaP countries have chosen to take a less active stand in their relationships with the EU. Yet overall, the EaP has been a positive effort.
The EU has become a leading trade partner of the Eastern partners, signed visa-free and comprehensive free trade agreements with three of them, and offered education, research and youth exchange programs. The initiative has triggered state-building measures and reform processes, including ones concerning public administration, the rule of law and digital markets.
At the heart of the European project is the economy and its single market strategy helping maximize the potential of the economies of the partner countries. For example, Belarus produces 7.5 times less than Austria, a country similar in population. The Georgian and Ukrainian economies’ output is 3 and 4 times less than those of Croatia and Poland.
Europe’s long-term policy objectives aim to strengthen resilience and improve the ability to counter internal complications, external pressures and interference.
As a one of the world's most ethnically diverse and multicultural nation, it is in Canada's DNA to support those who want to follow the path of democracy, rule of law, and human rights. Canada’s efforts complement those of the EU and its Member States.
A good example of this commitment was the Ukraine Reform Conference hosted by the Canadian government last year in Toronto, in support of Ukraine’s European and Euro-Atlantic future where reforms and growth benefit all its people.
The OSCE Group of Friends of Georgia, among others Estonia and Canada, reaffirmed its continued support to the territorial integrity of Georgia and expressed growing concern over the situation in occupied territories, Russian military exercises, and arbitrary detentions.
Despite the repressions, Belarusians stand tirelessly for their rights. Maintaining an international focus on what is happening in Belarus sends a message of support to people of Belarus. The European Parliament has recognized this struggle by awarding its top human rights award, the Sakharov Prize, to the Belarussian opposition movement. Lately, the EU agreed to set up a global human rights sanctions regime, its Magnitsky Act
that enables to impose sanctions on officials and organizations responsible for human rights violations worldwide.
Sanctions imposed on Belarusian officials by both the EU and Canada to change the behaviour of the regime, also have to be applied to the companies that support the regime.
The welcomed cessation of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh must lead to the efforts to establish negotiated, comprehensive and sustainable settlement of the conflict.
Meeting these challenges requires international cooperation and consolidation of democracies to do better, not just differently. As a strategic priority, the Eastern Partnership must remain an inclusive initiative, a reliable source of motivation able to keep up with change. Working together the EU, Canada and other like-minded countries can be this source.Toomas Lukk
, Ambassador of Estonia