Thursday, October 28, 2010

Remarks by HR/VP Ashton after EU - Ukraine Ministerial

I am pleased to welcome Foreign Minister Gryschenko to Brussels. Ukraine is a European country. Our relationship is very important and we want to deepen and to develop it.

In the course of the conversations we had we covered a wide-range of issues for both the EU and for the Ukraine, particularly in view of our up-coming Summit on 22 November.

We want to move forward on the negotiations for an Association Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. We also look for progress in our dialogue on visa liberalisation.

We are looking forward to the local elections this weekend. Ukraine has a habit of good elections, and should preserve and of course build on that.

There was discussion too of the recent ruling of the Constitutional court. We know that further constitutional reform is a key priority and we hope that it would be carried through an inclusive process with the aim of establishing a lasting system of checks and balances that accord with European standards.

We had a good and extensive exchange of views on our relations with Russia, which is a strategic partner for both of us.

And we have been looking at the situation in Belarus, which is preparing for elections on 19 December. The conduct of those Presidential elections will be very important for our relations.

And we discussed Transnistria in the Republic of Moldova. The EU and Ukraine are partners in the 5 + 2 settlement format. We will continue our co-operation, and we both want to see the moves forward.

And finally, we discussed the issue of piracy which for Ukraine is a major issue because of the hostages that have been taken who are Ukrainian and our ability to collaborate effectively, not just in the missions we have to fight piracy but also as strategic partners together in this sense. To be able to develop ways in which we can support leadership in the region in order to be able to deal with this issue. But more than anything a great pleasure to see you and I am also looking forward to a visit I hope to make very soon to Ukraine.

Brussels, 26 October 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Georgia Offers North Caucasus Residents Visa-Free Travel As Kremlin Cries Foul

Lali Pitskhelauri lives just a short drive away from her sister. But the two women haven't seen each other for more than a decade.

Pitskhelauri runs a small guest house and a roadside kiosk in the Georgian town of Stepantsminda, not far from the Russian border. Her sister lives on the Russian side of the frontier in the North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz.

Between them stands the Zemo Larsi (Verkhny Lars in Russian) checkpoint -- the only land border crossing between Russia and Georgia that does not pass through Georgia's Russian-backed separatist regions of South Ossetia or Abkhazia.

Pitskhelauri says she hasn't been able to visit her sister for 11 years.

"How do you think it feels? And it is all because of politicians. It is politicians who closed the road and cut us off from each other."

She asks, distraught, "Why shouldn't we be able to visit each other?"

Victims Of A Decade-Long Struggle

Pitskhelauri and her sister are unintentional victims of a long-standing struggle between Tbilisi and Moscow, which has escalated markedly during the past decade as Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has sought to steer his country into NATO and out of Russia's sphere of influence.

Russia closed the Zemo Larsi crossing in 2006, as relations between Moscow and Tbilisi deteriorated following the arrest of four alleged Russian spies by Georgian authorities. Diplomatic relations were ultimately severed following the five-day war in August 2008.

The two countries agreed to reopen Zemo Larsi in March. But in the absence of diplomatic relations, it remains difficult -- often prohibitively so -- for Russians or Georgians to cross it.

That, however, is about to change -- at least for those on the Russian side of the border. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has signed a decree allowing residents of Russia's seven North Caucasus republics to visit Georgia for up to 90 days without a visa.

Manana Manjgaladze, a spokeswoman for Saakashvili, says it was the lack of formal diplomatic relations between Tbilisi and Moscow that made it extremely difficult for Russians, who live only two to three hours from the Zemo Larsi, to get a Georgian visa.

"The people who live in these republics of the North Caucasus had to go all the way to Moscow to the Swiss Embassy [which handles Georgian interests in Russia] to receive a Georgian visa," Manjgaladze says.

Restricted Visas

To be sure, the decree does not signal improved relations between Tbilisi and the Kremlin. A statement from the Georgian Interior Ministry about the lifting of visa requirements reflects ongoing tensions between the two countries. It says residents of the North Caucasus can now travel to Georgia "to do business, receive an education, and to rest and enjoy all the good things that they are deprived of in their own country -- which is run by a corrupt and repressive federal regime."

Nugzar Tsiklauri, chairman of the Georgian Parliament's Committee on Relations With Compatriots Residing Abroad, says the decree was necessary because of Russia's record on human rights in North Caucasus republics like North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Chechnya, and Daghestan.

"There are massive violations of human rights and there are killings of journalists [in the North Caucasus]," Tsiklauri says. "Human rights activists have gone missing or are being killed."

Tsiklauri adds, "In this situation, the historical obligation of Georgia is to focus on the North Caucasus and help in all ways possible the people with whom we have lived alongside for centuries."

Unclear Limits On Both Sides

Kremlin officials have responded angrily to Saakashvili's decree -- describing the move as a "provocation" and an "attempt to divide Russia's population into different categories."

Andrei Nesterenko, a spokesman for Russia's Foreign Ministry, says the decree will "create obstacles to contacts between our citizens."

"Russia consistently stands for improving neighborly relations in the Caucasus and building a normal, calm life, which Mr. Saakashvili tried to disrupt by unleashing war in August 2008," Nesterenko adds.

Nesterenko says Russia has no problem with Georgia or the Georgian people. He says poor relations between the two countries are the result of "a problem with the regime" of Saakashvili, adding, "Mr. Saakashvili tried to disrupt [neighborly relations] by unleashing war in August 2008."

He also describes Saakashvili's actions as "spastic" and "aimed to cause more annoyances" that "only cause more problems for Georgian citizens.

Some Georgian opposition politicians are also questioning the wisdom of the move.

Levan Vepkhvadze, deputy chairman of the Georgian parliament, has said the free movement of Ossetians across the border could facilitate the "creeping annexation" of Georgian territory that is claimed by some North Ossetian groups.

Former Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze has warned that abolishing the visa requirement could have disastrous consequences for Georgia. She says Russian border guards may not permit Russian citizens without a valid Georgian visa to leave the Russian Federation through the Zemo Larsi checkpoint. She also wonders if the decree will give Moscow an additional pretext to accuse Georgia of harboring "terrorist groups" from the North Caucasus.

Some North Caucasus political figures also are questioning the political implications of Saakashvili's decree, suggesting it is an attempt to exploit anti-Russian sentiments in the North Caucasus.

Boris Ebzeyev, president of Karachay-Cherkessia since 2008, says Saakashvili's decree reflects "the death throes of a regime trying at all costs to restore its irrevocably tarnished luster."

Colonel-General Arkady Yedelev, deputy head of the North Caucasus Federal District, says Saakashvili should have discussed the lifting of visa requirements with Moscow instead of issuing a decree "on a whim."

A Trickle Of Traffic

But that's not how Georgian residents near the border crossing feel.

Dodo Gomiashvili, an elderly Georgian woman who operates a kiosk close to the Zemo Larsi crossing, says Moscow should respond by also lifting visa requirements for Georgians so that she can visit her relatives in North Ossetia.

"There are many of us here who have sisters, brothers and cousins on the other side," Gomiashvili explains.

RFE/RL correspondents have visited the Zemo Larsi crossing since the decree took effect a week ago. They report only a trickle of traffic passing through the border.

That's not enough to bring the new jobs desired by unemployed Georgians in the region.

"This measure isn't bringing us anything good," 31-year-old Giorgi Khutsishvili attests. "I'm working in my garden doing whatever I can to help my family survive so we don't starve this winter."

Khutsishvili says he would be happy if Russia would lift his visa requirements so he can cross into neighboring North Ossetia to sell his vegetables and other products from Georgia.

By Ron Synovitz. Published on 20 October 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Russia In Moldova – Soft Power Or Soft Force?

Depictions of the election campaign in Moldova as “a war between East and West” for influence in the tiny country (such as a recent analysis by the U.S. geopolitical research firm Stratfor) are mistaken if only for the simple reason that just one side is fighting this war. But to understand what I mean, it is important to look at the different ways the concept of “soft power” is understood by Russia and the West.

The term “soft power” came into widespread use in the 1990s in the West to signify “the attraction of a positive example.” This is the kind of “soft power” that the European Union exerts in Moldova. The bloc does nothing to force Moldova to cooperate or integrate with it; on the contrary, it has established a mass of difficult conditions that limit the opportunities for rapid integration.

The EU’s message to Moldova is simple: The more you are like us, the faster integration will proceed, not sooner and not later. It is therefore not surprising that as soon as Moldova elected a government that espoused a European path of development, Europe opened up to Moldova to a degree that previously no one had dared dream of.

Russia in recent years has also taken up the banner of “soft power,” but it understands this term as the cloning of the outward manifestations of Western soft power. Russia has begun financing “nongovernmental” organizations and “independent” mass media outlets that are willing to advance the Kremlin’s understanding of Russian interests (interests that, as a rule, contradict the interests of Moldova itself).

Nothing Attractive

In particular, Russia is pushing the idea of an “Eastern vector” of development for Moldova, at a time when the overwhelming majority of Moldovans support further European integration. The problem, though, is that Russia has no universal idea that might be attractive to other countries. The communist ideology that it offered in the 20th century has been nearly completely marginalized now. In the meantime, the West is attractive to Moldova because of the practical results of the idea of democracy, which has demonstrated itself as the most effective means of social organization. Those results are beneficial most of all to those countries that are trying to imitate the West and so there is no reason to compel anyone in any way.

But Moscow is inclined to see democracy as a hostile ideology that is being spread by the West in order to increase its own influence in Russia’s neighborhood. And this particular interpretation can’t help but color Russia’s actions in the region. Moscow really is battling against the West for influence in the region, while the European Union is content with merely remaining a positive example that is attractive to Moldova mainly through its pragmatism and the mere fact of its existence.

Russia, unfortunately, in its virtual isolation so far has nothing to offer in competition against the West (or to attract Moldova). It cannot boast of an effective system of government or a high standard of living or an active citizenry whose rights are protected. Instead, what Russia is presenting in Moldova (and other countries) as “soft power” -- in contrast to the natural attractiveness of the West -- is highly reminiscent of the old Soviet joke “everything they try to build turns out to be a Kalashnikov.”

'False-Flag Operation'

Russia’s social engineers understand the term “soft power” as a synonym for “information war.” The idea of an information war is simple – it is a complex of measures designed to prompt the population of the target country to begin to act contrary to its own interests and in support of Russian interests without even realizing it. Political campaigns and campaigns in the media targeting political leaders and forces that Moscow opposes have become the norm in Moldova.

But all of Russia’s efforts to employ soft power inevitably end up turning into the use of “hard power” – that is, the use of direct force or economic power against another country. No one in Moldova is surprised by the periodic introduction of undeclared trade embargoes against Moldovan goods. While the Kremlin elegantly shifts the blame for these embargoes on chief Russian health inspector Gennady Onishchenko, when it comes to it political and media campaigns, Moscow prefers to act through intermediaries, taking advantage of political or geopolitical actors that have some credibility with the target audience for its political message.

This is the tried-and-true “false-flag operation.” It is no secret that Russia still has serious levers of influence within Romania left over from the days of socialist brotherhood. Moscow’s influence has only been bolstered by the global economic crisis. Of course, Moscow prefers not to advertise these levers but rather to use them to guide events in the “proper” direction. In particular, it is unlikely that Russian media would have any significant influence on Moldova’s pro-Western (pro-Romanian) electorate, while Romanian information sources are highly regarded.

In this context, it is hard not to be skeptical of the unsubstantiated claim in the Stratfor report that the United States has asked Romania to set up nongovernmental organizations, media outlets, and investment funds in Moldova. True soft power does not need to resort to irrational or covert methods. The genuinely interesting thing about this claim is how widely it has been re-reported in recent days throughout the region.

The very idea that there is a standoff between East and West in Moldova is itself an artificial idea that has been imposed from the outside. The majority of Moldovans long ago made their choice in favor of European integration. There is not a single serious political force in the country now that would not espouse European integration, if only because that position wins votes.

But that position does not suit Moscow, so it keeps on fighting.

By Irina Severin. Published on 24 October 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Armenian-Turkish Relations Depend On People, Not Protocols

Most historical anniversaries are marked by either solemn commemorations or festive celebrations. Others, despite their initial significance, quickly fade from the public mind. The first anniversary of the historic "protocols" between Armenia and Turkey resembles the latter -- with little discussion and even less fanfare in either country.

The October 10, 2009, Armenian-Turkish protocols sought to chart a course toward a "normalization" of relations, but the initial optimism of opening long-closed borders and establishing diplomatic relations has now been proven premature, if not unfounded.

The breakdown of the Armenian-Turkish normalization process was largely due to two factors. First, Turkey made a strategic mistake in underestimating Azerbaijan's vehement opposition to the protocols. For Turkey, the protocols represented an important effort to correct a failed policy, as well as a bid to regain more options for Turkish policy, which had become subservient to Azerbaijan's interests.

Turkish policy in the region had become narrowly defined by the parameters of maintaining closed borders with Armenia and withholding diplomatic relations. Such a policy is not a policy, and it clearly failed to force any concessions from Armenia. Rather, it tended to be counterproductive, serving to unite Armenians and encouraging Armenia to adopt tactical responses to overcome its isolation.

The second factor that abruptly ended the process was the fact that the protocols themselves shifted from being a diplomatic effort to normalize relations with Armenia to become a domestic political issue within Turkey. The protocols became hostage to domestic Turkish politics, taking on a new context of accusation and insinuation, whereby Turkey's ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party was attacked by the opposition for supposedly betraying Turkey's traditional ally, Azerbaijan. Turkish-Azerbaijani relations were transformed from an important element of Turkish foreign policy to an essential component of domestic Turkish politics.

Informal Starts

Nonetheless, beyond the doomed protocols, a process of engagement has emerged between Armenia and Turkey. This engagement has taken place on several tracks, including expanding people-to-people contacts and cooperation between civil-society organizations, as well as more limited efforts in the cultural field.

Civil-society and people-to-people contacts have become quite dynamic, with regular exchanges and visits on both sides of the closed border. Within this context, although Turkey has yet to open the closed physical border, the mental border between Armenia and Turkey has opened, at least partially.

This opening can be seen in this week's (October 14-17) visit to Armenia of over two dozen Turkish civil-society activists and leaders, participating in the so-called Ani Dialogue, featuring several days of events with their Armenian counterparts. Organized by the Istanbul-based Hrant Dink Foundation (named in memory of the slain Turkish-Armenian journalist) and implemented by the Caucasus Institute in Yerevan with the support of the Heinrich Boell Foundation, the Ani Dialogue represents an important form of engagement, despite the lack of formal diplomatic progress.

Moreover, in terms of facing the legacy of the genocide issue, the 1915-16 mass killing of Armenians by Turkish forces, Turkish society has also been moving, albeit too slowly at times. On April 24, when Armenians mark the anniversary of what they believe should be officially recognized as genocide, one of the most significant commemorative events was held not in Armenia, but in Istanbul itself, with Turkish participants.

Mixed Result

But there have also been missed opportunities -- especially in the cultural area, most recently involving the Turkish government's planned reopening of an Armenian church in Van. After many months of expectation and preparation, several thousand people attended a special ceremony marking the restoration of the historical Armenian Holy Cross Church on the island of Aghtamar at Lake Van. Most notably, Armenian priests were able to conduct services in the ancient church for the first time in 95 years.

Yet despite the emotional buildup to the ceremony, the long-awaited event turned out quite differently than expected. In many ways, the ceremony was a disappointment. It was also a missed opportunity. Only about 50 guests were able to attend the service in the small church, and about 1,500 Armenians, including 700 from Istanbul and about 200 from outside Turkey, watched nearby.

But many more were expected. And perhaps many more would have come, but things went wrong. Despite promises by various Turkish officials, the ceremony was held in a church with no cross. The cross itself was not the only problem, but the failure to erect it was seen by Armenians as a test of Turkish sincerity and goodwill. And, unfortunately, the way the event transpired meant the Turkish side failed that test.

The selection of this particular Armenian church by the Turkish officials was no accident. It has a special place in Armenian history, both as a religious symbol and because of its architecture. It was also the subject of an emotional appeal by the late Hrant Dink, who argued in 2005 that the church should be used "to restore our spent souls."

All this suggests that the best hope for real normalization is on the lowest level, people-to-people exchanges instead of state-to-state negotiations. But it also requires a reaffirmation of sincerity and commitment from the Turkish side. Otherwise, the October anniversary of the Armenian-Turkish protocols will remain nothing more than a footnote to a shared history whose interpretation remains anything but shared.

By Richard Giragosian. Published on 11 October 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


S&D leader Martin Schulz and the president of the Party of Regions of Ukraine, Mykola Azarov, agreed today in Brussels to further continue and intensify the contact between the main Progressive Group in the European Parliament and this Ukrainian party.

The two officials had a formal meeting and signed the Memorandum between the S&D Group and the Party of the Regions of Ukraine.

The document is meant to intensify the contacts between the two organisations with a view to supporting the Party of the Region's ambition to strengthen the Ukraine's EU-integration process.

Said Martin Schulz, signing the memorandum:

"The document signed today represents the opening of our cooperation for the coming two years and will contribute to better mutual understanding in bringing Ukraine nearer to the EU, and the EU nearer to Ukraine. For S&D it is an important moment.

"In a spirit of one important point for us, as Socialists in Europe, we need Ukraine as a strategic partner of the EU. I think Ukraine, and I am grateful that prime-minister Azarov shares my view, also needs the EU. We discussed very intensively before we signed the agreement that we will cooperate on the basis of all European values: democracy, openness and freedom; and in the light of this mutual understanding, I'm looking forward with a lot of hope for our cooperation."

As a follow up to the singing of the memorandum, the debate "The future of EU-Ukraine relations" concluded that European perspectives are important for the country.

Said Adrian Severin, S&D vice-president, responsible for the Group's foreign affairs issues, who chaired the debates:

"Unity is extremely important when we speak about Ukraine. The guiding principle should be therefore to achieve the cohesion of the country, in economic, social and political terms.

"We hope and wish to have in Ukraine a 'pro-Ukrainian leadership', which strives for democracy and cohesion in Ukraine.

"This represents, at the same time, a pro-European approach of Ukraine, consistent with the aim of political association, economic integration and institutional convergence with the European Union, before sharing with the latter the institutions.

"The presence of the prime-minister Mycola Azarov is a message of the vision of Ukraine on its own European future".

Click on to see a video of the signing the memorandum by Martin Schulz and Mykola Azarov and an interview with Adrian Severin on the conclusions of the round-table "The future of EU-Ukraine relations"

The Future of EU-Ukraine Relations: Speech by PM of Ukraine Mykola Azarov

Chairman, Members of the European Parliament, Excellencies and ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to express my gratitude to the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament and to the Kyiv Centre for International and Comparative Studies for the opportunity to address this distinguished and esteemed audience.
Just prior to the opening of the conference Mr. Martin Schulz and I signed the memorandum of co-operation between the Party of Regions of Ukraine and the Group of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament

The relationships between the two political forces that we represent are those of partnership and co-operation. The memorandum, without doubt, shows the significantly enhanced European dimension of policy in my party which is the leading political force in Ukraine, as well as in the policy of the Ukrainian government in general.
The memorandum marks the end of a rather long period in the Ukrainian history when our political opponents did their best to create the image of the Party of Regions as an anti-democratic, anti-European political force in hope it would be rejected by the rest of Europe. They worked hard at that, and there are still those who believe these misrepresentations.

But that is behind us. Today we have turned a new page in Ukrainian-European relationship.

Let me ask a direct question: did the Party of the Regions have a vision of Europe that guided it when it took part in this year’s democratic elections and when it formed the new government?

Some believe that our only motive was to serve the interests of our electorate, as well as of the political and business community of the eastern regions of Ukraine situated along our border with Russia.

We are certainly acting on to the mandate of our voters. But we did get support all over Ukraine - in the east and in the west, in the south and in the north. This support was greater in some regions than in others, but people supported us across the country.

That is why I will give you a totally different answer. I expect some are going to find this answer rather surprising in view of the stereotypes about people who come from the Donbass area and speak Russian – the language I am addressing you in.

My answer is – we see our goal first and foremost in creating a truly European order in Ukraine, in creating the European spirit – the goal that our opponents liked so much to speak about and did nothing to achieve.

Let me explain our vision in greater detail.

First, in order to start implementing the policy of “transformation towards Europe” we had to win the democratic elections in a dignified, truly European manner. Our candidate Viktor Yanukovich did that. And let me emphasize a very important fact – it was not a victory in a so called “third round” conducted due to a court order. It was a victory in elections conducted in full compliance with Ukrainian legislation and with European standards. This fact is confirmed by multiple election observer missions, that of OSCE among them

Secondly. Having won the country’s leadership in a transparent, democratic and European manner it is absolutely in our best interests, never mind any other party, to consolidate that approach.

This approach is now facing a further test: the local elections to be held on October 31st this year. These elections should and will be conducted as free, democratic, dignified European-like elections. As the head of the leading party, I personally invited European institutions to take part in missions observing the pre-election period and the elections themselves. Speaking to you here on the ground of the European Parliament, I am inviting all of you as well: visit Ukraine and see with your own eyes what is going on in our country. You will find the situation as I have just described it.

Third. We all know that transparent electoral procedures are necessary but not sufficient for a European-type democracy to function. To function, a European-type democracy needs to be efficient. This kind of efficiency can be achieved through the president, the government and the parliament majority working together, in harmony. We have succeeded in establishing this kind of cooperation in Ukraine - this is a real achievement.

Let me assure you: as long we are in office, the rest of Europe is not going to witness unsightly situations like those that took place in Ukraine not long ago, when the president could officially instruct the foreign minister and Ukrainian diplomatic missions abroad to launch a campaign traducing the acting prime-minister. I am sure such embarrassing events will never happen again as long as we are in government.

I am happy to say that the Group of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament has promised to support us in pursuing the goal of strengthening society, of overcoming the divisions that had formed in the past years. Let me repeat that the memorandum we have signed today says that our European friends will support “the endeavour by the Party of Regions to overcome the current partisan and political divisions and to establish a climate of democratic consolidation in Ukraine”.

Fourth. It is characteristic of the European democratic model that a political force that has won leadership as a result of democratic elections focuses effort and resources towards reforms aimed at a vibrant, dynamic advancement of the society. If this policy is not followed, parties once leading rapidly slip into political oblivion. This slide is what is happening now with the parties of the “orange” political sector in Ukraine.

Naturally, we are not ready to follow them into their unfortunate fate. This is not the choice we make. That is why, from our very first days in office, we took upon ourselves the difficult task of launching sometimes uncomfortable reforms aimed at bringing Ukraine close to the European standards.

I am not going now to elaborate on the purely economic reforms. We have described all the reform process in great detail in the agreement we signed with the International Monetary Fund. This important institution, by the way, had declined any cooperation with the previous Ukrainian leadership, has renewed support and credits for Ukraine. This demonstrates the IMF’s faith in the new Ukrainian leadership, a leadership that is not just good not at writing attractive plans on paper, but also at keeping promises. The IMF experts are sure: our leadership team will not use a cent of the money they lend on anything else but the realization of deep structural reforms.

Recently we have been discussing a truly revolutionary new tax code. In this regard, let me give you just one but one very important fact – during all the nineteen years of Ukraine’s independence there had not been a single political force that had enough political will to present and adopt a document that significant.
I also would like to mention that we adopted the law "on the basic principles of the functions of the natural gas market", a law fully in compliance with EU norms and standards. Adopting this law made it possible for Ukraine to join the Energy Charter treaty.

I would like to say a few words about our social reforms. Our team has taken up the challenge of eradicating the greatest evil, the main obstacle on the way to Ukraine’s Europeazation - the evil of corruption.

We started with the reform of our judicial system which, in the unanimous view of both Ukrainian and European experts, is the sphere that is most heavily affected by the canker of corruption.

Last July we adopted a law on the judiciary and the status of judges that is essentially European. The process of improving the health of the judicial system started almost immediately. Law-enforcement structures got to work efficiently, and during the past few months more top officials faced charges of theft and corruption than had been the case during the whole 5-year period of the previous government.

We have considerably expedited the process of the judicial reform. The President formed the relevant working group in August. The group has been efficiently working on a new version of the criminal code of Ukraine and a new law on the public prosecutor's office, the work being guided by the recommendations of the GRECO group of the Council of Europe. We have also been working hard on the development of the newly proposed package of anti-corruption bills, the main focus being made at working out the mechanisms for effectively enforcing those laws since these mechanisms had been very not clearly formulated in the previous versions of the bills.

Fifth. European democracy is the democracy of the middle class, of the sector of population with an economic stake in society. Poverty is the main enemy of democracy, since it provokes the emergence of dictatorships and authoritarian regimes and stimulates the growth of extremist and nationalist attitudes among the population.

As back we did in the midst of the electoral campaign, we again state it clearly: the Party of Regions is totally against the populist answers to the problem of poverty. We see the only way of fighting poverty to be ensuring steady economic growth, with the priority going to the development of high-tech sectors.

There is a point I would like to emphasize especially: upon winning power, we faced the severe consequences of the preposterous – and this is not an exaggeration – preposterous populism of the previous government, when any ready cash used to be wasted in order to patch the holes constantly emerging in the state budget or thrown in to the abyss of buying food. As a sad result we had an unprecedented 15% fall in the general economic growth and a 25% fall in the industrial production.

We have managed to stop this disastrous policy, to stop the plundering of the state budget or spending it “on food”. The result was almost immediate: within the first half year alone we have achieved GNP growth of 6% and the industrial production growth of 12%. We have not yet caught up with the rapid pace of “the Asian tigers”, but we are seriously ahead of the EU states in this aspect. The Ukrainian stock market is now one of the world’s top five most intensively developing markets. Investors’ faith in Ukraine’s economy is steadily growing.

Alongside tax reform and the pension system reform this steady economic growth provides us with the opportunity for a balanced approach towards industrial development and technological advancement, while enabling the growth in peoples’ income and social protection for the vulnerable. We are fully determined to create a wide and vigorous middle class of well-to-do Ukrainians – people who will never cast their votes for dictators and populists out of poverty or despair.

And finally - sixth. European-type democracy is inconceivable without guaranteeing human rights and freedoms. During our term as the parliamentary opposition we did not allow our opponents to shrink the spectrum of democratic freedoms in Ukraine. All the gains that the young Ukrainian democracy has achieved during the years of independence have been fully in effect. Having won national leadership, we advocate the rigorous observance of essential human rights and freedoms, including the freedom of press and the establishment of independent public TV.

We have also promised our voters to enhance the range of language and humanitarian rights. Ukraine is a multi-ethnic country, and the duty of the government is to guarantee for all the minorities and ethnic groups the right to enjoy a wide variety of state services in one’s mother tongue. To solve this problem, we turned to the European example of dealing with issues of this kind, namely the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The Charter was ratified in Ukraine long ago – but on paper only as it was practically ignored by the previous government.

On the basis of the Charter - that is already being actively implemented by our local authorities - and taking into account the recommendations offered on the issue by the Council of Europe, we are going to adopt a new law on languages. We expect this law to provide wide guarantees for language, educational and other humanitarian rights for the entire Ukrainian population.

Let me focus now on our international policy.

The goal we intend to pursue is to bring a true European sense into Ukraine’s foreign policy, not just in warm-worded speeches but in reality.

What do I mean by stressing “in reality”? Let me dwell on five important issues in this regard.

Issue 1. As regards national security, we have been taken into account both our own experience and the experience of those states that in the past found themselves on the front line of geo-political confrontation. To ensure our security we have chosen a European model, the model of non-participation in any military-political alliances. In our internal political language, we call this priciple “vneblockovost”, meaning being out of any block.

Let me emphasize this: we have chosen this model because it represents a European tradition and is widely understood and successful. History has shown us the fruits of this approach – neutral European states enjoy stable and succuessful development. Having said this, I want to point out that Ukraine is going to contiunue her active cooperation with NATO, the EU and other regional institutions to propote further enhancement of international security.

Issue 2. We have absolutely rejected the previous government’s approach to Ukraine’s relations with Russia, our neighbor and our largest economic partner. We consider the previous political attitude to be confrontational and deeply anti-European in essence.

Why do we claim that the previous policy was in fact anti-European?

By way of example, look at the official website of the President of Russia. You will see that Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of the most respected European leaders and representing a major European state, found the time and the opportunity to meet with the Russian leader sixteen times within the past two and half years. Keep this figure in mind when you hear that during the same two years there was only one meeting between President Yushchenko and President Medvedev. Moreover this was a short informal meeting during a CIS summit.

When one hears voices saying that Viktor Yanukovich has been meeting with his Russian counterpart too often, one should take into account that we have dropped far behind many European countries as regards the intensity of the agenda in of our dialogue with Russia; we are also behind when it comes to investment from and trade with Russia. That is why we have set a, rather ambitious, goal of reaching the pre-crisis level of $40bn in Russian-Ukrainian trade turnover, while German-Russian trade turnover in 2008 alone was estimated at $63.7bn.

Issue 3. In the recent years Europe has been enhancing its presence in developing world markets. In contrast, during the past five years there has not been any state visit by a senior Ukrainian leader to countries such as India or China. Today we are doing our best to make up the lost ground, and we do it following the European experience.

I have recently read in the press that during the latest visit of the Chinese prime-minister Wen Jiabao to Italy the agenda included signing trade contracts for the total sum of € 2.25bn. As we don’t have time to wait for the Chinese leaders to visit Kyiv, our President paid a visit to Beijing this September, heading an impressive group of Ukrainian entrepreneurs. As a result, a number of documents were signed, bringing a potential total investment of $4bn. You see, we have even succeeded in getting a little ahead of Italy in this aspect. But on the whole, our new policy towards Russia and China shows we are ready to follow the lead of our fellow Europeans.

Issue 4. Mistakenly, in recent years Ukraine positioned herself on the front line of the geo-political confrontation, the government justifying this choice by sloganizing about “the export of democracy” and “the orange revolution”. Ukraine’s previous position on joining NATO finished in Europe being split in half on the issue and it seriously damaged our relations with many countries.

For this reason, one of the goals of our leadership team is to exclude any repetition of this scenario regardless of other political developments. We are determined to contribute to turning Eastern Europe away from a battlefield for spheres of influence and into a region of security, stable development and cultural dialogue.

Kyiv supports political initiatives aimed at the enhancement of Europe’s security system, be it steps initiated in Moscow or in any European capital. In this respect, it is not co-incidental that the issue of Ukraine’s role and place within the modern geo-political, economic and security space was one of the major topics discussed during the meeting between Presidents Viktor Yanukovich and Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris on October 7th this year. The EU intends to work on this issue in full cooperation with Russia.

Ukraine is determined to vigorously promote the initiatives for enhancing the system of European security during the term of Ukraine’s presidency in the OSCE in the year of 1213.

And finally, the fifth issue is developing the Ukraine-European Union relationship.

While we were in political opposition, our party did learn some important lessons from Europe. One of these lessons is choosing an appropriate approach towards our bilateral relations.

For years we have seen “the orange leaders” beg Europeans to give them “a perspective on EU membership” or for ’“some political hints”. This, frankly, could hardly be considered as proper European behaviour against the background of economic and political destabilization in Ukraine.

We are convinced that our relations with the EU should be established politically and reflected in agreements. If we set off on a route we should know what the final goal of our destination is. This is the logic of life. But we well realize that it is unwise to concentrate all our efforts on the final goal alone – there is a whole way to go. That is why we support the pragmatic approach suggested by the EU and, from the very beginning, have focused on realistic and practical steps, have been willing to compromise and have worked to reach mutually binding formal agreements reflecting those compromises.

There are three important points I would like to discuss in this regard.

The first point is political association and political dialogue. We view the association as the best form of relationship with Europe think that it will serve both parties for a long time being to come based as it is on compromise.

The second point is the free-trade zone. Yes, there has been some slow down in the talks on free trade, but we should not over-dramatize this fact. Our standpoint here us quite clear: we should move forward towards well-known “four freedoms”: that is the free flow of goods, services, capital and labor. If, in order to ensure these freedoms, we need to change the approach, let’s go ahead and change it. If not, let us seek goals that are a bit less ambitious and reach agreements wherever they are reachable.

Let me illustrate this point with an example. Recently a free-trade agreement has been signed between the EU and South Korea. It took South Korea several decades to develop its powerful economy, its high-tech industry, to gain its international reputation before this country came to the conclusion that free trade with Europe is more profitable than protecting South Korean market from competition. Ukraine has been independent for just 19 years, and only now has approached a point when technological advancement can become a part of the country’s agenda.

Another example is Malaysia, a country that is ready to start free-trade negotiations with the EU, a country that is far ahead of Ukraine in its economic and technological development. I have recently read an interview of my Malaysian counterpart Najib Tun Razak who said: Our strategy is high-quality economic advancement, and this is the reason why we are not ready to accept any kind of investment indiscriminately, as, for example, investments in mass-production of consumer goods involving hard human labor. And on the contrary, we will give priority to investments raising the value of human input and stimulating innovative technologies.

I have given these examples to emphasize that Ukraine, just like our colleagues from Europe and Asia, wants the free trade with Europe to become a powerful stimulus for innovative technological development.
What we cannot allow is the death of whole branches of our economy that could be swallowed by the new competition.

And finally, the third point – a plan of action concerning visa-free entry to Europe for Ukrainian citizens. I want to make our standpoint towards this issue absolutely clear. We consider the visa-free entry to the EU a powerful stimulus for the Europeanisation of the Ukrainian people, helping them get move towards a true European outlook, attitudes and values.

Unfortunately, the requirements that the EU often imposes for Schengen visa applicants from Ukraine are far too severe, and this impedes Ukraine’s Europeanisation. In fact, we see an absurd situation today: Ukrainian citizens, who have enough money to travel over the world, give up European travels facing the mega-bureaucratic and often humiliating red tape they have to go through seeking Schengen visas.

Instead they choose to go to Turkey, Egypt, Thailand or the Arab Emirates - countries that do not impose such visa obstacles. Sure, we want our citizens to travel all over the world, to learn about many different cultures. But let me ask you: isn’t Europe interested in welcoming Ukrainian tourists and thus providing them an opportunity to learn European values and ways first hand, directly from Europeans themselves? That is it surely in the EU’s best interests and the current approach of erecting a visa fence against fellow Europeans is a disservice to Europe as a whole.
Having said all this, I want to make it clear that I am far from saying we are moving ahead “super-smoothly”, without errors and difficulties.

My goal is to promote the understanding of our agenda, aimed – let me repeat what I said before – aimed at creating a common European homeland, not in speeches but in practice.

We will greatly appreciate any assistance, any criticism concerning errors and shortcomings in our work – we do have them, in just the same way as any party, any leadership.

This is the goal of the agreement with Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament that we signed today – to launch the relationship of partnership and to exchange both constructive criticism and support that is so important between partners.

Thank you for your attention. I will now appreciate your questions, your criticism and your comments.

Monday, October 11, 2010

One Year On, Turkey-Armenia Rapprochement Stalled

One year ago, on October 10, 2009, Armenia and Turkey signed two protocols aimed at normalizing relations.

The signing of what many political pundits termed a “historic” deal took place in Zurich, the culmination of painstaking diplomatic efforts by the two countries’ presidents and by international mediators, primarily Switzerland and the United States.

The Western-backed process began with Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s historic September 2008 visit to Yerevan, following an invitation by his Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sarkisian, to attend a soccer World Cup qualifier between the national teams of the two neighbors.

The two leaders watched the return leg of the match in the Turkish city of Bursa a year later, just four days after their foreign ministers, Edward Nalbandian and Ahmet Davutoglu, inked two protocols committing to the establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of their borders soon after the documents were ratified in both countries’ parliaments.

But a year on, the future of the protocols remains unclear, as no parliamentary ratification of the documents has taken place in either country.

Meanwhile, the cautious optimism surrounding the future of the deal, which faced domestic opposition in both countries, has fizzled out.

Links To Nagorno-Karabakh

Official Yerevan and political majority leaders in Armenia had repeatedly stated the country’s strong readiness to complete the ratification of the protocols in the Armenian legislature, but only after Turkey made that step first.

But since the signing ceremony, senior officials in Turkey have sought to link ratification of the protocols with progress in a separate dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Yerevan responded by saying the protocols contained no conditions regarding that issue and that Ankara should, therefore, proceed with the ratification of the agreements unconditionally.

The diplomatic bickering eventually led to Sarkisian suspending the ratification process in the Armenian parliament last April. But he indicated that Yerevan was not, for now, withdrawing its signature from the documents – a statement welcomed by the international community, in particular by the United States and the European Union.

Turkey Gets Its Way

Views on the future of the protocols remain largely pessimistic at this moment – at least on the Armenian side.

Alexander Arzumanian, a senior member of the opposition Pan-Armenian National Movement (HHSh), believes true normalization is not a priority for Turkey.

"Turkey used the protocols to solve its most important issue, as [due to these protocols] it has become a full player in this region and has gotten its own place in the negotiating format for a Karabakh settlement,” he says.

The opposition member, who served as Armenia’s foreign minister from 1996 to 1998, argues that Armenian authorities should not have launched the process the way they did, since Turkey, he claims, views all things within one package -- that is, to make Armenia abandon its long-standing effort to gain international recognition of the World War I-era mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide, as well as to persuade Armenia to make concessions over Karabakh in favor of Turkey’s regional ally Azerbaijan.

The announcement of a road map for a Turkey-Armenia rapprochement in April 2009 made the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) quit the governing coalition.

'Failed To Show Goodwill'

Giro Manoyan, a foreign policy spokesman for the now opposition party, insists that Yerevan must move further toward withdrawing its signature, as the current process only benefits Turkey.

"I think the first anniversary [of the signing of the protocols] is a good occasion for Armenian authorities to withdraw their signature from the protocols," Manoyan says, "considering the fact that Turkey has failed to show goodwill, and in reality is currently using the protocols for a different purpose than what they were meant for."

Another opposition party, Heritage, which vehemently opposed the protocols from the outset, shares Dashnaktsutyun’s position. The leader of the Heritage party’s parliamentary faction, Stepan Safarian, says Armenia must withdraw its signature from the document considering the “constant speculations” from Turkey.

'Good Partner'

Armenia’s ruling party, meanwhile, thinks Armenia has benefited from the process in terms of “showing itself as a good partner” to the world.

"Armenia may consider the problems it has raised before itself in connection with the protocols solved, in the sense that the Armenian side has proved to the entire world that it is a good and constructive partner, that it seeks to solve problems with all neighbors peacefully, through negotiations, and is ready to start certain relations unconditionally," says Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) lawmaker Karen Avakian. "This process needed to be started, and I think it was necessary to once again unmask Turkey, to make Turkey show its [true] face to the world."

Avakian does not exclude that dialogue between Yerevan and Ankara may still continue “if Turkey shows constructive behavior.”

“I think sooner or later Turkey will realize the gravity of these issues and will not take into consideration the Karabakh process,” Avakian added.

In a recent interview with the Austrian news magazine "Profil," Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian also gave an indication that Armenia does not consider the process of normalization with Turkey as having completely failed.

“We hope that the process is not dead, but suspended,” he said.

By Tigran Avetisian, Suren Musayelyan. Published on 10 October 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Štefan Füle European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Ukraine and the World: Rethinking and Moving on 7th annual meeting of Yalta

European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Ukraine and the World: Rethinking and Moving on
1 October 2010

Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honour to participate in this conference. I am grateful to the Board of YES for its kind invitation. I look forward to a stimulating debate.

Turning to the subject of this particular session, “The Global Order and its Key Players” I should like to make some general observations and then focus my intervention on one key player that I know best - the European Union.

Since the collapse of the Communist regimes of Central and Eastern Europe in 1989 and 1991, there has been a number of attempts to define an emerging “new global order”.

While I don’t intend to better the attempts of others today, I should like to highlight some key elements which help in understanding the global and regional challenges that we face at the beginning of the 21st century.

Compared to the certainties of the Cold War, partly forged in this very building in February 1945 and sustained at a huge human cost, the picture today is highly complex involving a multiplicity of actors.

Perhaps the most distinctive and important aspect of the Global Order today is the impact of globalisation. I refer here to the extraordinary processes by which liberalised trade and capital flows have combined with vastly improved services, transport networks and revolutionised means of communication to create globalised economies and societies. We have all witnessed the benefits and dangers of these processes at first hand.

As a result, we are seeing today the emergence of multiple global players and a multi-polar world. Some of these players are nation-states with powerfully developing economies. Some are non-state actors which nevertheless carry more economic weight than states and some of which have a greater potential to influence public opinion than governments.

The clearest examples of this are of course multi-national business and investors. But the new global players also include national and international media organisations. Many of these organisations are able to draw upon powerful new communication technologies. As a result they are often faster and more flexible than the traditional national media. Civil society actors and networks are also playing an increasingly important domestic and global role.

These are new realities to which we need all to adapt: nation states as well as international bodies such as the UN, the International Financing Institutions, the OSCE and, of course the EU. And it is clear that all of the institutions I have mentioned are engaged in a process of reflection and reform in order to adapt to our rapidly changing realities.

At the same time there is also strong agreement, that common challenges can best be met by shared responses, whether in the areas of tackling poverty; disease; climate change; terrorism or promoting economic development. In some cases the answer is closer coordination; in some, shared responsibilities and in some defined areas the best answer is pooling of national sovereignty.

The European Union has undergone extraordinary changes in the past 20 years. Its membership has enlarged beyond recognition to include countries from South, Central and Eastern Europe. It has established the world’s largest, most prosperous and sophisticated single market and a single currency which is today the world’s second currency. It is the leading trading and exporting power in the world and the second largest source of foreign direct investment. It is the largest global provider of development aid. And today, following the adoption of the Treaty of Lisbon, the EU is developing the tools to ensure that it has a stronger, unified voice on the international stage.

As the force of globalisation continues to grow - with all the prospects that it holds out for economic development and prosperity - I believe that the trends towards greater convergence and cooperation in Europe are unstoppable. As President Barroso recently expressed it, in an address to US partners:

“We either stand together and prosper or we fall separately. That is a fact of life in the 21st Century1”.

Ladies and Gentlemen, what do these developments represent for Ukraine? The picture I have drawn of globalised economies and societies involving complex interactions between a multiplicity of actors presents a dilemma for every state. Choices have to be made between relying on what could be deceptively described as “known certainties” on the one side, and a reform agenda which apparently takes more risks by embracing change in order to stimulate sustainable growth and prosperity on the other.

Such an agenda includes promoting increased competitiveness of industries and businesses so that they can participate in international markets and attract attention around the globe; the development of an attractive and reliable investment climate; the modernisation of infrastructure and efforts to ensure that the workforce is equipped with appropriate skills and experience. And here, to be clear, I am not just talking about political stability but, first and foremost, about respect for the rule of law.

At the same time an environment in which innovation and creativity can flourish requires the existence of open societies in which a free media, civil society and diverse political actors can thrive. These reforms are particularly necessary in a world in which the competition for attention from a multiplicity of actors and investors is increasing.

President Yanukovych has repeatedly stated that the path towards the European Union “is one of reform”. He is absolutely right in this. Reform is key to exploiting the enormous potential that exists in the relationship between the EU and Ukraine. In the European Union itself, we have recognised the importance of a reform response to the economic and financial global downturn in our Europe 2020 strategy2.

Ukraine has undertaken a number of important economic reforms in recent months. What is important is that these reflect common reform priorities of Ukraine and the EU. As such they draw us increasingly close. For its part the EU will respond to these positive steps. Above all it will continue to support Ukraine in driving forward the reform agenda.

However reform involves much more than a political decision to move in a particular strategic direction. Reform is a process that needs to be delivered in the short, medium and long-term. For example Ukraine’s imminent accession to the Energy Community is an excellent development. But it is only the beginning of a long path of reform that will transform the energy sector and thereby attract substantial inward investment. Let me be blunt here: any strategic decision to move towards the European Union without a reform process to accompany it, is illusory and just rhetoric.

Dear Ukrainian friends, the European Union is ready to accompany you in implementing your economic reform agenda. We are a passionately committed partner in this. We are ready to show flexibility where we can. We are ready to make compromises where we can.

But I have to stress that there is an area where we will not compromise. We will not compromise on those common values which form the basis of our relationship: respect for human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles. This is the fundamental understanding that has bound together the Member States of the European Union since its establishment. And it is this same commitment that will ultimately define how close the EU and Ukraine come together.

Turning to the new EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, I should like to underline its importance. The Agreement offers Ukraine the prospects of political association and economic integration with the EU. It is much more than words on paper. It is essentially an ambitious blue-print for reform, addressing all of the issues I have already outlined. The Agreement offers the prospect of a gradual opening of the EU’s internal market of 500 million consumers to Ukrainian businesses and investors, a market 10 times larger than any of Ukraine’s other neighbours.

This is not an abstract or theoretical exercise. Once in place, it is estimated that the deep and comprehensive free trade area with Ukraine will bring substantial benefits to our citizens. For Ukraine the impact of the agreement is likely in time to be overwhelmingly positive, involving real income increases; gains in international trade; productivity; employment generation and ultimately poverty reductions. It will impact positively on consumers, businesses, investors and workers. One study from 2007 estimates improvements in overall social welfare of more than 5% and long-term skilled and unskilled wage increases of more than 4% as direct effects of an extended FTA with Ukraine3. These kinds of projections are useful; but they are only models. The benefits in terms of prosperity and increased revenue will only be achieved and enjoyed if the right conditions are in place.

Equally important, the process of reform through approximation to EU standards is a process of modernisation which will strengthen Ukraine’s capacity to compete on international markets beyond the European Union.

Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen there is still much work to do if the EU and Ukraine are to enjoy the full benefits of our developing relationship. We are deeply committed to completing our work on the Association Agreement. We believe this offers Ukraine the prospect of coming much closer to the European Union in practical and tangible ways. This represents the best way of making progress towards future steps in our relationship. We look to all our Ukrainian partners, its political leaders, business and civil society to make this a reality.

Only by working closely together we will be able to provide an answer to the challenges of the present and the future. It is important that we do not stay prisoners of the past in our thinking and in our actions. Instead we should work together to unleash our full potential in the interests of all our people.

The question is not that Ukraine needs Europe. Or indeed, as mentioned last night, that Europe needs Ukraine. We need each other to realise our full potential. This requires a commitment from both sides. We are ready for that. Are you?

Source: Website of Štefan Füle European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy

Monday, October 4, 2010

Azerbaijan And The West: Beyond Interest, Toward Commitment

A friend in need is a friend indeed. I couldn’t agree more. Yet, it is the times when we are savoring our success or trying ever harder to reach our goals that we appreciate a friend’s supportive smile or pat on the back. Whether we get it or not does not affect our success, but it does ease our way and make it more pleasant.

The greatness of success has always depended not just on how it is achieved, but on being able to share it with those who have accompanied you throughout the sweet and bitter journey.

The cooperation Azerbaijan forged with the West, especially with the United States, has over the years been characterized as strategic by many, short-term by some, and untruthful by others. However, even when relations reached an all-time low, Azerbaijan never wavered in its commitment to its partnership with the West. Time and again, when buffeted by strong winds, Azerbaijan has needed understanding and a firm stance from the United States, while the United States has expected the same from us, however strange it might seem given Azerbaijan’s size on a global scale.

When Azerbaijan was forced into full-scale war with its neighbor in the early 1990s, it expected no less than a balanced approach from the West. Instead, all it got was Section 907, banning any direct U.S. aid to the Azerbaijani government. History might not repeat itself, but it does rhyme. Ten years later, the United States’ government was in need of friends, big and small, to support the war on terror. In the blink of an eye, while most of the region’s countries were still hemming and hawing, Azerbaijan contributed peacekeeping troops to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and served shoulder-to shoulder with a U.S. Marine battalion, providing security for the Haditha Dam, a vital infrastructure in Al Anbar Province that produced one-quarter of Iraq’s electricity. With 11 rotations and more than 1,000 troops, Azerbaijan underscored its loyalty to the United States.

The same year, 2002, Azerbaijani troops also joined the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, becoming the first CIS member to contribute troops. Six years later, in 2008, when many allies were pulling out of Afghanistan in despair, President Ilham Aliyev submitted a bill “on the status of Azerbaijani troops carrying out peacemaking operations abroad” to the Azerbaijani parliament, which envisaged doubling the peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan.

In yet another gesture, the Azerbaijani government demonstrated an unfeigned faithfulness to its friendship. More than NATO 100,000 troops flew through Azerbaijani airspace in 2009 alone. Approximately 25 percent of the coalition’s supplies going to Afghanistan pass through Azerbaijan. NATO member states transport 1,500 containers every month to the war-torn country through the territory of Azerbaijan. The growing size of Azerbaijan’s military contingent, the open airspace, and Baku’s full cooperation on the battlefield says a lot more than mere words can express.

Facing pressure from the Armenian diaspora, the United States Congress fell flat with a biased approach to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. It used the role of lobby groups as an excuse for a lopsided approach. Azerbaijan, on the contrary, in its commitment to its promise on the war on terror, successfully prevented and dealt with terrorist threats, including those from Iran, despite constant pressure from the latter. Numerous plots were intercepted, criminals detained, potentially tragic scenarios avoided.

Because of its continuous good terms with the United States, Azerbaijan was accused of “cooperating with the Great Satan” on Iran’s Sahar-2 television channel -- which is broadcast in the territory of Azerbaijan without authorization -- and threatened by the Iranian authorities. It is not difficult to appreciate that pressure from 71 million Iranians is a much greater problem than pressure from 1.5 million Armenian-Americans.

Favoring Western Companies

Azerbaijan stands for and does many things that, for some reason, go unnoticed around the world. Astonishingly, Azerbaijan is one of the only major Caspian hydrocarbon-producing countries that has exported almost exclusively to the West. The biggest oil-and-gas contracts signed since 1994 -- including Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli (ACG) and Shah Deniz -- favored Western companies over Russian, Chinese, Iranian, and other options.

As for the pipelines, construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC), Azerbaijan-Georgia-Romania Interconnector (AGRI), and Azerbaijan’s repeatedly positive attitude toward the Nabucco pipeline are clear evidence of Azerbaijan’s willingness to forge effective energy cooperation with the West. Despite Russia’s evident disapproval of such cooperation, Azerbaijan stays true to Euro-Atlantic projects. Azerbaijan took great steps to secure its oil revenues for future generations by creating the State Oil Fund, the transparency of which is maintained internationally by Western experts.

Azerbaijan has proven itself as the world’s fastest-growing trade route and a telecommunications hub in Eurasia. Azerbaijan, almost solely, is financing the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars-Istanbul railroad, one that will connect Central Asia with Europe along the shortest route. The country took gigantic steps to contribute to the improvement of the East-West corridor. The question is not whether the source of these projects is in Azerbaijani oil revenues, but whether the outcome is worth the input. For everyone should know that Azerbaijan’s vibrant growing economy and regional power are strengths, not weaknesses to be ashamed of.

Taking into account the complexity of U.S. involvement in the region and the juxtaposition of its foes and allies, Azerbaijan automatically becomes a country best suited for cooperation and partnership. Azerbaijan is one of the very few secular Muslim states of the region that has displayed a model of religious tolerance throughout its history. The cultural links that Azerbaijani people share with Americans might have been limited in the early 1990s, but following countless education and cultural-exchange programs, promoted both by the U.S. and Azerbaijani governments (such as FLEX, IREX, Muskie, Fulbright, State Oil Company (SOCAR), Azerbaijan State Scholarship and U.S. Peace Corps programs), understanding between the two states has grown immensely.

When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was on an official visit to Baku, aside from all other official meetings, she requested a special gathering with a group of young Azerbaijani leaders. She got to meet 10, five of whom were graduates and alumni of U.S. high schools, universities, and other educational-exchange programs. Nothing could embody the spirit of Azerbaijan’s Western stance more than this outcome of cooperation over the years -- Azerbaijan’s outstanding young people.

However, as much as the Azerbaijani government can do to maintain its friendship with the United States, it is ultimately the determination of the United States upon which this partnership will rely. The famous business speaker Art Turock once said: “There's a difference between interest and commitment. When you are interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstances permit. When you're committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.”

Circumstances did not permit Azerbaijan to send its troops to Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Iraq when there were young soldiers dying from Armenian bullets every day on the front line. The circumstances were not in our favor when we were resolute in our attempts to thwart Russian pressure against engaging in full-fledged energy cooperation with the West. Nor were they positive when we had to face Iran numerous times to support the United States. Interest is what government officials and decision makers rely on; commitment is what the ordinary people expect.

All in all, it is not promises we need from time to time from our great ally across the ocean, but a little genuine understanding and appreciation of who we are and what we stand for.

By Elnur Baimov. Published on 29 September 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Kremlin's Ruling Party Boosts Ties Across The Former Soviet Union

As Kyrgyzstan gears up for crucial parliamentary elections on October 10, former Prime Minister Felix Kulov's Ar-Namys party has picked up a key endorsement from Russia's ruling United Russia party.

Ar-Namys on September 22 signed a cooperation agreement with United Russia, the colossus that controls executive and legislative branches across the Russian Federation and is headed by Russia's most powerful politician, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Following a model that seems to have worked in Ukraine, where a pro-Western president was replaced earlier this year by a pro-Russian one, United Russia is also now working actively with friendly parties in Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia -- all countries whose political vector is up for grabs in the next 18 months.

According to a United Russia press release, the Kyrgyzstan agreement includes not only political cooperation, but also calls for the development of "equal and mutually beneficial cooperation between Russia and Kyrgyzstan in the economic sphere, the creation of beneficial conditions for the development of entrepreneurial, investment, and scientific activity."

Further blurring the lines between party activity and national policy, the cooperation agreement was signed on United Russia's behalf by the head of the party's Supreme Council, Boris Gryzlov, who is also speaker of the Russian State Duma.

Deepening Ties

The Ar-Namys agreement is just the latest in a series of such pacts United Russia has signed with parties throughout the former Soviet space. Earlier this month, United Russia signed a similar pact with Moldova's Democratic Party, headed by former Communist Marian Lupu.

Lupu told a press conference after returning from Russia that the agreement with United Russia is part of his party's "pragmatic" view of relations with Russia.

"We need relations of cooperation, not confrontation with Russia. This is the message of the political agreement we signed. Second, Moldova cannot ignore and will not ignore the Russian Federation. Third, we have to be pragmatic and constructive if we want the best for the citizens of Moldova," Lupu said.

Moldova is expected to hold parliamentary elections in November, and analysts say Moscow hopes to split Lupu away from the pro-Western, four-party ruling coalition.

United Russia also has a cooperation agreement with the Renewal party in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region.

In Georgia, United Russia works with the opposition For A Just Georgia movement of former Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, which describes itself as "having a classic right opposition orientation."

Sergei Markov, a Russian Duma deputy and United Russia official, told RFE/RL's Georgian Service that the key issue is improving relations between the two countries.

"United Russia's main goal is to support those political forces that are in favor of better relations between Georgia and Russia. Noghaideli is among them," Markov said.

"But he is not the only one coming out for such a position. Some lawmakers even from [Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili's party in private conversations acknowledge the insanity of his policies."

United Russia also has cooperation agreements and provides direct financial assistance to the ruling parties in the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

In 2005, United Russia signed a cooperation agreement with the Party of Regions in Ukraine. Earlier this year, Party of Regions head Viktor Yanukovych became president of Ukraine, embarking on a noticeably more pro-Russia course than his predecessor.

Konstanin Kosachyov, who is chairman of the Russian State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee and heads United Russia's Commission on Interparty and International Ties, told RFE/RL's Russian Service that working with Yanukovych is "simple."

"For us any president of Ukraine is absolutely fine who is realistically oriented toward the interests of Ukraine. [Former President Viktor] Yushchenko interpreted those interests in a false way. Yushchenko thought they consisted of getting as far from Russia as possible and quickly moving toward the West," Kosachyov said. "That is precisely why we had such a hard time with him. But with Viktor Yanukovych, it is simple for us. He has a significantly more precise and adequate understanding of Ukraine's interests."

United Russia's overriding concern in all of these alliances is advancing Russia's political and economic interests in the region. That is why the party, which proclaims itself in Russia as right-of-center, is comfortable working with left-leaning parties in Moldova and Ukraine, a right-leaning ally in Georgia, and parties of indeterminate ideology in Kyrgyzstan, South Ossetia, and Transdniester.

'Pragmatic Line'

The key factor in United Russia's alliances is the willingness of partner parties to adopt what it calls a "pragmatic" line in relations with Moscow.

Petre Mamradze, a spokesman for Noghaideli's For A Just Georgia party, lays out a position typical of United Russia's partners.

"We are doing everything we can to improve relations with Russia. Being realists, we see this is the ruling party of Russia. According to all opinion polls, the overwhelming majority of this enormous country supports Vladimir Putin and the party that he heads. For Georgia, this is a fact; it is reality. And if we ignore it, we will disappear," Mamradze said.

United Russia's aggressive alliance-making seems to fit into the larger pattern of Moscow's evolving foreign policy. A Foreign Ministry working paper that was leaked to the Russian version of "Newsweek" magazine earlier this month emphasizes that Russia no longer views the world in terms of "friends" and "enemies," but exclusively in the framework of "interests." It urges Moscow to create a range of formal and informal tools for advancing Russia's modernization agenda through foreign ties.

In the area of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the concept paper emphasizes "supporting the activity of Russian economic operators in the CIS space." It sets the goal of "actively attracting Ukraine into the orbit of economic cooperation with Russia" and "facilitating the expansion of the activity of Russian business in Kyrgyzstan."

The paper does not list promoting stable democratic development in the CIS as a national interest for Russia, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told a conference in Yaroslavl this month that parliamentary democracy has been "a disaster" for Kyrgyzstan.

United Russia's position at the nexus of politics and business in Russia means that parties allying themselves with United Russia can expect significant material support in their election campaigns. Noghiedeli's For A Just Georgia and Lupu's Democratic Party both have slick, multimedia websites, for example.

Alexander Rondeli of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS) says Moscow is "acting now often not through state channels, but through the party United Russia, which can also hardly be considered a political party."

"But if you take this as an attempt to influence the political situation inside Georgia and set up some sort of pro-Russian opposition against the current authorities, you can also assume that definitely without financial contributions this won't work," Rondeli said.

By Robert Coalson. Published on 29 September 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.