February 14, 2014
Ukraine has drawn a great deal of international coverage this month. The events in Ukraine in many ways illustrate broader geopolitical trends unfolding in the region. During the past few weeks, Germany has shown an assertive stance, supporting opposition groups and protesters in Kiev to Russia’s apparent irritation. Berlin’s moves in Ukraine accompany calls by German leaders for a greater German role internationally, both in political and military matters. In part this appears to be a response to U.S. global disengagement. Berlin is also under pressure to move beyond economic involvement and take a greater role in maintaining the European Union’s cohesion. However, the release of Victoria Nuland’s phone call indicates that Washington still prioritizes Europe and in particular its Eastern borderlands.
Meanwhile, a referendum in Moldova’s autonomous Gagauzia region showed how the EU-Russian competition extends beyond Ukraine and into the broader European borderlands — and that Moscow retains a strong position in many of these countries. Meanwhile, as the Republic of Moldova moves to integrate with the West, the breakaway Transdniestria territory will issue inflammatory rhetoric and continue the actions against Moldovan schools that Tiraspol initiated in January.
A recent visit to Chisinau by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, to be followed soon by Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta, illustrates the concern Central European countries share for their Eastern borderline. Romania and Poland share a strategic partnership based on the intermarium theory – the geopolitical vision of Polish Gen. Jozef Pilsudski after World War I. Pilsudski believed an alliance among the nations running from the Baltic to the Black Seas would be essential for preserving the region stability’s. Little has been done in practice, but Moldova is the one place where Bucharest and Warsaw may find an opportunity to coordinate.
Events in the Balkans have also highlighted problems in Europe’s south. The Western media has hastily attached the “Balkan spring” label to protests in Bosnia. The protests stem from the country’s dire economic conditions, which are largely the result of Bosnia’s political fragility and complex ethnic profile. Changes are unlikely in the short term, but political instability will stick around, because Bosnia’s problems are structural. The opposition in Albania has also called for protests soon.
The European Union faces a dilemma: Brussels considers pacifying the Balkans a keystone of its enlargement policy. But this is a troubled moment for the bloc. The next European parliamentary elections will probably confirm that a more nationalistic Europe has risen out of the socioeconomic problems afflicting member nations. The eurozone’s south still faces high unemployment, while French President Francois Hollande, in an attempt to address his country’s economic issues, has turned from socialist policies, to social-democrat policies, to recently announced spending cuts. There seems little the European Union can do amid such disarray to help western Balkan countries grow and face down their problems – especially since Moldova, right now, is more important to Brussels and the West. And while the Central European countries in particular are troubled by the news from their near abroad, they can do still less.
Thanks to editor and patient friend – Joel Weickgenant!