2024.03.04

Andrius Kubilius. When Protests Make One Dizzy

Polish farmers have decided to block Lithuanian borders.

As it is known, the Polish authorities are not stopping them from blocking the Ukrainian borders for a long time, which is neither morally nor politically acceptable. Even humanitarian aid from Lithuania cannot reach Ukraine because Polish farmers are fighting their supposedly ‘just’ battles.

The consequences of the Polish Government’s acquiescence to the Polish blockades on the Ukrainian border are entirely in line with the proverb: “Give an inch, they’ll take a mile”, and now they have decided to block the Lithuanian border too. Because it is no longer interesting to blockade only the Ukrainian border.

Polish farmers have created and successfully spread the myth internationally that they are still suffering badly from the influx of Ukrainian grain. That is why they are protesting. This was partly true until June 2023, but after the EU Commission and Ukraine took special measures to protect the markets of the countries neighbouring Ukraine, it is a lie. Since then, no surplus Ukrainian grain has entered the markets of Poland or any of its neighbours. This can be seen in the graph based on EU statistics  (see Figure 1 below), which demonstrates how much cereals have been entering the markets of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria from the end of 2021. It is clear that after a peak of almost 1 million tonnes in November 2022, only around 15 000 tonnes (60 times less) are now entering these markets, which is exactly in line with the pre-war Ukrainian cereal export figures to these markets. 

Farmers might understandably be unhappy with the fact that wheat grain prices on world markets have been steadily declining since their peak, when they increased at least 3-fold from USD 300 per unit of relative weight (before the war) to USD 1 200 in the first months after the war. They have now fallen to USD 570 and are continuing to fall, but are still higher than they were before the war (see Figure 2 below). This global price trend is not due to Ukraine, but to the good harvests in Argentina this year and the good harvests forecast for the United States or Canada. The falling prices may cause various fears among Polish farmers, but it is neither moral nor sensible to protest on the Ukrainian or Lithuanian borders. Just as only those who are dizzy from protesting can protest on the borders of Ukraine or Lithuania regarding the consequences of the Green Deal approved in Brussels.

The consequences of such protests for Polish farmers could be very simple: it would not surprise me if a public campaign “buy Ukrainian and don’t buy Polish” starts in Lithuania.

Ukrainian salo and horilka are indeed of excellent quality.

**********

Figure 1. Imports of cereals from Ukraine into neighbouring (EU) Member States. Source: European Commission, Statistics on Ukrainian grains and oilseeds exports

 

 

Figure 2. Dynamics of wheat price in global markets (2015-2024, USd/Bushel). Source: tradingeconomics.com

 

2024.02.20

EPP Group position paper on the EU Plan for the victory of Ukraine

The European People’s Party  has always been and will continue to be the leading European political force standing together with the Ukrainian people. We continue to lead EU initiatives aimed at supporting Ukraine with military, humanitarian, and financial assistance, aiding  the reconstruction efforts and helping Ukraine prepare for integration to EU and NATO.

At this moment the biggest concern and challenge for the EU and the Western world is ensuring long-term military support sufficient for Ukraine to achieve victory and to defeat Russia. Despite the West’s economic strength being 25 times than that of Russia’s, the Western military support provided during the last years prevented Ukraine from  defeat, but was not enough to win the war.

There is an urgent need to overhaul the Western system of military support to Ukraine, which until now was based on individual countries making voluntary decisions regarding military assistance. Our system needs to be transformed into one  based on collective decisions and obligations to deliver the necessary support for Ukraine to prevail and win the war. It should also include a collective decision regarding the ramping up of the EU military industry to produce what is needed for defence and victory of Ukraine in the nearest future.

To address these issues, the EPP Group proposes that the  EU institutions  urgently develop “The EU Plan for the Victory of Ukraine.” This Plan would provide the framework for collective EU decisions and the implementation of urgent steps for military assistance to Ukraine necessary for its victory. This position paper presents the basic information and arguments for the preparation of such a Plan.

Read the paper in pdf.

2024.02.19

Andrius Kubilius. The West, Lithuania and Europe’s Eastern Area: the Strategic Importance of the “Transformation Triangle” for Europe’s Destiny

I started writing the text on the “Transformation Triangle” some two weeks ago. The term “Transformation Triangle” itself came to mind even earlier, during a visit to Washington in November 2023, when I was looking for an answer on how the West can realistically help Russia to get rid of the Putin regime and to gradually return to the path of democracy.

The idea that we must explain to the West that Ukraine’s military and geopolitical (integrationist) victories are the only way how the West can help Russia’s transformation has long been with me. And Ukraine’s victories are the sole responsibility of the West. For only with sufficient Western support for Ukraine can such victories be achieved, and with it the opportunity to bring about transformation across the wider Eastern area of the European continent. So far, Ukraine has not received such a sufficient support.

I started telling and writing this even before the war.

I started writing this text, which I planned as a summary of my thoughts, a couple of weeks ago. I finished it on the day that the shocking news reached us all – Putin had killed Navalny.

Navalny fought for his dream of a “wonderful Russia of the future” (“прекрасная Россия будущего”): a normal, European, democratic Russia. This is the prospect of Russia that many Russians still believe in. This was demonstrated by the huge queues of Russians willing to sign up to Nadezhdin’s candidacy in the so-called presidential “elections”.

Putin killed Navalny. He  killed Navalny,  because Navalny had a dream. Putin killed a man, but it is impossible to kill a dream. It has a life of its own and it will one day become a reality.

When that happens, depends not only on ordinary Russians, on the opposition to Putin or on Russian civil society. It is up to us and it is up to the West as a whole. We have in our hands the most important instrument to help Navalny’s dream become a reality. These are the Ukrainian victories, which depend only on the Western support.

Putin will lose. He will be crushed first in Ukraine and then in Russia.

Putin’s defeat is our task and our job. This requires a long-term and holistic Western strategy. I have tried to set out some of the elements of such a strategy in this text.

“The wonderful Russia of the future”: a normal, European, democratic Russia is not only Navalny’s dream, which will live on. It is also our dream, because the existence of the whole of Europe depends on its realisation – whether we will ever be able to live in a stable peace without the threat of a post-imperial, authoritarian, aggressive Russia. To protect ourselves against such a threat, we need to invest not only in NATO’s “deterrence and defence” strategies, not only in our own  military capabilities in Lithuania, but also in the realisation of Navalny’s dream, in the implementation of the long-term strategy of the “Transformation Triangle”. Because only the “Transformation Triangle” will destroy the very source of the threat.

We say goodbye to Alexei Navalny. But our struggle will continue. Dreams never die.

***

Ukraine’s war against Russia is not yet going the way the Ukrainians and all of us would like. Since the beginning of the war, Western support for Ukraine has been just enough to enable Ukraine not to lose, but the support of only that level has prevented Ukraine from achieving victory. It is enough to remember just one figure: in 2023, Russia has spent more than EUR 100 billion on financing the war, while the Ukrainian side, with the full weight of the West’s support for Ukraine’s defence, has managed to mobilise resources worth only EUR 80 billion, of which as much as EUR 40 billion were Ukraine’s own resources.

Total Western military support to Ukraine in 2023 was less than 0.1% of Western GDP. After all, the economic potential of the West is 25 times that of Russia.

So, the West is rich enough that, with its vast resources to support the heroism of the Ukrainian soldiers, it could easily have ensured that Russia had already lost the war.

But this didn’t happen. Russia has not yet lost the war. And in truth, it still remains to be seen how Ukraine will be able to achieve victory in this war in the coming years. Because it is not likely that Western support will increase dramatically in the short term.

Here we have the first strange paradox in the behaviour of the West: a number of Western leaders, politicians and military men, seeing that Ukraine is still not winning the war, do not shy away from loudly lamenting this, and do not shy away from publicly predicting that a Russia that has not been crushed in Ukraine will be ready to attack some NATO country in 5 or 6 years. However, this overwhelming feeling on the part of Western leaders does not in any way translate into a decision to provide greater military support to Ukraine, which would enable Ukraine to win the war, to crush Russia and, at the same time, to remove the threat of its aggression against the West.

Why is that?

The answer is clear: because Western support has so far lacked the strategic ambition to achieve such a victory.

Why does the West still not dare to be ambitious for victory?

Because they are contemplating the goal of victory over Russia with a mood of negativity and fear rather than with a positive ambition that such a victory of Ukraine and the West would be good not only for Ukraine, but also for Russia itself and its prospects, would be good for the whole of the eastern area of the European continent, and would be good for the West itself, because it would create the conditions for a stable peace in the European continent.

It is clear that the ambition to achieve a Ukrainian victory for the West has so far was absent, because a large part of the West is simply afraid of such a Ukrainian victory.

First, the West fears that its ambition to see Russia defeated could provoke Putin to escalate the war, perhaps even to the point of using nuclear weapons. The West is therefore opting for the tactic of a slow “froggy boil”, only gradually increasing Ukraine’s military potential, in the hope that this will avoid the risk of escalation, and that Russia will eventually be exhausted and will decide to pull out of the war itself. However, this “slow-boil” tactic has the potential to “exhaust” the West’s own support for Ukraine in the first place. We are already seeing signs of this in the deliberations of the US Congress.

Secondly, the West fears what consequences such a Ukrainian victory might have for Russia itself. It is feared that a Ukrainian victory will result in the collapse of the Putin regime and that it will be replaced by even more aggressive “nationalists” rather than by some Russian democrats (because the West does not believe in Russia’s democratic prospects). There is also the fear of a post-Putin Russia breaking up into separate, conflicting entities, leaving it unclear who controls Russia’s nuclear weapons. More recently, the famous Elon Musk has been voicing such fears to members of the US Senate.

Sometimes it seems that the goal of a Ukrainian victory alone is not geopolitically and psychologically sufficient for the West to overcome such fears. That is why the West remains so “lukewarm”. They are also lukewarm in their military support for Ukraine.

All these fears, together with the usual short-sightedness and lack of leadership, prevent the West from seeing the completely new European horizons and perspectives that a Ukrainian victory could open up, as well as from seeing positive horizons that require a positive and strong Western strategic ambition.

Therefore, we, those of us who are striving for a Ukrainian victory, must also help the West to see the much broader horizons that only a Ukrainian victory can open up. Only in this way can we awaken the West’s ambition to achieve such a victory in Ukraine, only in this way can we help the West to free itself from fears about what will happen with Putin, with the Kremlin, or with all of Russia after a Ukrainian victory.

We need to preach to the West a very clear strategic doctrine, which is understandable to the West, and which is important to the West as a whole, and not just to us (or to our region), and which will help the West to understand the significance of the new horizons that will be opened up by the Ukrainian victory, and the meaning and strategic benefits of this, including for the West.

As French President Macron is fond of saying, today the West (including the European Union) lacks a new “grand narrative”, which makes the West look increasingly weak geopolitically.

Ukraine’s war against Russian aggression allows the West to discover a new “grand narrative”, and this must be the West’s ambition to achieve not only the victory of Ukraine, but also the transformation of the entire eastern area of the European continent.

These new European horizons can be called the horizons of the “Transformation Triangle”. At the top corner of the Transformation Triangle is Ukraine, and in the other two corners of the triangle are Russia and Belarus. The corners of this triangle are historically and geopolitically closely interlinked. Therefore changes at the “corner of Ukraine” will inevitably lead to major transformations in the other corners of the triangle: Russia and Belarus.  It is also called a triangle because if one looks at the point on the map where the borders of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus meet, one can clearly see the geographical triangle formed by the border roads (see photo).

“The Transformation Triangle” is the new “grand narrative” in Europe, because it is the key to the lasting peace in Europe: the neighbourhood of the current European Union, not led by the dictators in Russia and Belarus, but rather with the resurgent and evolving democracies in these countries, is the only chance for Europe to fulfil the formula of G.H.W.Bush: “Europe – whole, free and at peace”. This is the only formula that can guarantee lasting peace in Europe. This requires “freedom” in Russia and Belarus. Only when Russia and Belarus are transformed into territories of democracy and freedom can the old Europe no longer feel threatened by an authoritarian and neo-imperial Russia. Democracies do not fight each other – this is the axiom of a lasting peace on the European continent.

The question Western leaders must answer is simple: do they want chaos, blood and more suffering on the European continent, or do they want a stable peace. Indifference, a “not my business” attitude, an unwillingness to invest in a lasting peace, will only lead to ever-increasing chaos and the threat of war; a stable peace requires political and material investment in the “Transformation Triangle”. “Grand Narratives” only become true “grand narratives” when “grand” political and material resources are also invested in them, and one not merely limits oneself to empty but regularly repeated statements.

The West can bring about a major positive change at the “Ukrainian corner” of the Transformation Triangle, starting with Ukraine’s military victory and ending with the victory of the “Ukrainian success”, which will require both the reconstruction of Ukraine and Ukraine’s EU and NATO membership. The military victory of Ukraine is needed to crush the ideology of the current Kremlin regime’s Russism in Russia and to crush the Kremlin regime itself, thus opening a window of opportunity for political transformation in Russia, while the creation of a “Ukrainian success” through its Euro-Atlantic integration is needed so that the example of such a success can inspire ordinary Russians and Belarusians to strive for the same kind of European-oriented transformation in their countries.

Some in the West fear that such Western efforts to bring about change in the Russian-Belarusian corners of the Transformation Triangle are an implementation of the Western policy of “regime change”, which is supposedly unacceptable for some historical reason. However, this is a completely false fear: yes, we want a political change in Russia and Belarus, we want the fall of both the Putin and Lukashenko regimes, but this will have to be achieved by the Russians and the Belarusians themselves, and we will help the change in Russia and Belarus with our resolute policy of support for Ukraine and with our consistent solidarity with the Russian opposition and civil society.

The Transformation Triangle means that positive transformation in Russia and Belarus can also take place, thanks to the European-designed and supported change at the “corner of Ukraine”. Transformations in Russia and Belarus will be implemented by Russians and Belarusians themselves, but the context and motivation for such transformation will be created by the changes in Ukraine. And the changes in Ukraine, including its victories, can and must be created and influenced by the West. But to do so, the West needs to discover a new “grand narrative” and to realise its ambition for it.

Both Ukraine’s military victory and the integration victory of the “Ukrainian success story” now depend solely on the West’s determination to achieve this. The Ukrainians have long since demonstrated that they have more than enough of determination, while the West has still not shown that it has the Western resolve and determination  to support such Ukrainian victories. And without the West’s resolute support, such Ukrainian victories will not be possible.

What the European Union’s Transformation Triangle strategy must look like? It must consist of five essential parts:

Ukraine’s military victory and Russia’s defeat. The Putin regime and the aggressive ideology of Russism must suffer a severe crushing. The nostalgia of ordinary Russians for imperial grandeur must also suffer a painful defeat. The defeat must be accompanied by an international tribunal and reparations so that the Russians understand the extent of the crimes committed. This may open a window of opportunity for the beginning of a transformation in Russia. A military victory for Ukraine can only be achieved with much greater Western military support.

Reconstruction and European integration of Ukraine (building Ukraine’s economic success). The reconstruction of Ukraine and Ukraine’s integration into the EU Single Market is the only way how the long-term success of Ukraine’s European economy can be built. Reconstruction and European integration will be closely interlinked processes. The economic “miracle” of Central Europe and the Baltic States has been created by the region’s accession to the EU and the EU Single Market: Lithuania’s GDP/capita (PPP) was only 36% of the EU average in 1999, when it started negotiations for EU membership, and now it is 90%. For Ukraine, the same figure now is only 36%. But it has the same potential to reach 90% of the EU average in the next 20 years if the EU is able to implement an ambitious enlargement policy. It should be remembered that no post-Soviet country (in Central and Eastern Europe or in the Balkans) has so far been able to build its success without the EU integration. The EU can create such a success for Ukraine. The contagious example of Ukraine’s success will be the strongest factor that will eventually inspire the Russian and Belarusian people to seek fundamental change at home. The EU would be making a huge geopolitical mistake if it did not pursue an ambitious and rapid enlargement strategy that includes Ukraine. For such a European integration of Ukraine would fundamentally change the whole Transformation Triangle.

Ukraine’s NATO membership. Ukraine’s membership, or at least the invitation to join NATO in the near future, is not only important because it would address Ukraine’s security issue. It is also important because it would help Russia to transform itself. Because such an invitation to Ukraine would mean that Ukraine is no longer left in the “grey” security zone and a clear signal is sent to Russia that Ukraine is no longer within their sphere of its influence. And this, as the famous Zbygniew Brzezinski once very rightly said, would be the greatest support for Russia’s transformation into a democracy: according to Brzezinski, a Russia that retains the ability to rule and influence Ukraine will always remain an empire, and a Russia that loses this ability will be able to become a democracy. The West has all the means to implement Brzezinski’s formula in the near future – all it needs to do is to invite Ukraine to become a NATO member at the next NATO Summit. This will bring about a huge change in the whole Transformation Triangle and it depends only on the determination of the West to help or not to help Russia transform itself.

Support for the Russian and Belarusian opposition and civil society. This is the least the West can and must do in terms of concern for change in the Transformation Triangle. It is also a test of the West’s geopolitical wisdom: the West can only genuinely help the opposition and civil society if it also genuinely believes that democratic change can happen in both Russia and Belarus. If they do not believe this, then all the Western slogans about support for the opposition or civil society are a sham. Moreover, if you don’t believe in the prospects for democracy in Russia or Belarus (and the majority of people in Lithuania and the wider West do not yet believe in such prospects), then you are helping Musk to explain to US congressmen that there is no need to support and work for the victory of Ukraine and Russia’s defeat and the fall of Putin’s regime, because there can’t be a positive transition in Russia after Putin; because the situation will get only worse; because there simply cannot be a positive democratic transition in Russia. So, if you do not believe in the prospects of democracy in Russia, you are helping those who do not want to give Ukraine more weapons, because they are subconsciously afraid of a Ukrainian victory. Therefore, the European Union must put more much efforts in helping the Russian opposition; the EU must believe in Russia’s democratic prospects, and must begin to implement the grand narrative of the Triangle of Transformation, because only then will it no longer be afraid of Ukraine’s victory, and no longer be afraid of giving more weapons to Ukraine.

A “Marshall Plan” for democratic Belarus and Russia. The European Union must say loudly today to ordinary Russians and Belarusians that, after Putin and Lukashenko, they will be able to live a much better life than they are living now. Because the European Union will not allow them to be disillusioned by democratic change in their own countries. It must be announced now that the European Union is ready to help the future young democracies of Russia and Belarus with European special “Marshall Plans” of the 21st century. These will not be bags of money shipped to a democratic Moscow or Minsk, but agreements on free trade, visa-free travel and modernisation partnerships with the EU, which will help the people of those countries to realise the benefits and opportunities of democracy. For a democratic Russia, this will be a realisation of the dream of the murdered Navalny: to build the “wonderful Russia of the future”. And for the democratic Belarus, these are also prospects for the EU integration.  The European Union should already be announcing such plans now, and should be coordinating them with the democratic forces in those countries: it would not cost the EU anything for the time being, but it would already have a tremendous impact on the thinking of the people of the Transformation Triangle.

Can Putin be angry about this Transformation Triangle agenda and the “grand narrative” of transformation being implemented by the West?

Definitely yes.

But ordinary Russians and Belarusians will surely support such a Western agenda.

The question remains: who is the West with – Putin or ordinary Russians and Belarusians waiting for the implementation of the Transformation Triangle strategy?

Europe as a whole needs such a strategy. Because the Transformation Triangle is the key to a stable peace on the European continent.

And the European Union is able to implement such a Transformation Triangle strategy. Through the implementation of an ambitious and victorious strategy in support of Ukraine.

But this requires one condition: that the West stops being afraid of Putin. And that they finally decide that Putin must be crushed in Ukraine – with much greater Western military support for Ukraine.

“Transformation Triangle” on the map:

2024.02.06

Andrius Kubilius. How To Stop The Veto Rampage And “Orbanization” Of The European Union?

Over the last few years, Viktor Orban has made Hungary the biggest headache for the entire European Union.  Despite the fact that during the recent EU Council meetings he gradually retracted from his tactics to veto all the EU decisions related with Ukraine, during recent years V.Orban nevertheless created the permanent threat to the European Union of being “orbanized”. “Orbanization” of the EU means weakening of the EU decision making capacity with the abuse of veto power by a Member State, which attempts to blackmail all the EU.

The European Union is struggling to find the best way to stop the spread of such a new “culture of blackmail”, but still does not have a systemic approach to such a challenge.

It is time for the EU to look for a proper answer to the challenge of “Orbanization”.

In order to move forward, first of all we need to look into the past, in order to understand how and when the phenomenon of “Orbanization” started to appear.

In the begining, the European Union was forced to find new ways to stop Orban’s legislative activities back home, in Hungary, that violate basic values, especially the rule of law, as enshrined in the EU Treaties, and violation of which risks disrupting the functioning of essential EU mechanisms, including the EU Single Market, which operates on the basis of the uniform application of the rule of law throughout the EU.

To force Hungary to return to the rule of law, the EU had previously legally withheld (“frozen”) the disbursement of the EU  Recovery Fund (around EUR30 billion) to Hungary. In December last year, when Hungary was forced to correct some of its rule of law violations, the EU Commission made the decision to ‘unfreeze’ EUR10 billion in payments to Hungary.

But during last years Orban, who had already been “financially” punished by the EU Commission several years ago, decided that his first priority was not so much to fix Hungarian law as to resort to “veto blackmail” against the EU as a whole (and thus to force the EU to go for  the “unfreezing” of EU funds), since the Treaty on European Union stipulates that most decisions in the EU Council must be taken unanimously.

Under the Treaty definition of unanimity as decision making procedure in the European Council, Hungary appears to have a formal veto over important EU decisions. The established practice within the EU so far has been that an exercise of the veto right does not need to be based on any serious arguments by an individual country. Thanks to mainly Orban’s efforts, the veto right entrenched in the Treaty has become an important instrument of the new “blackmail culture”. This “blackmail culture” is spreading rapidly throughout the EU, especially in “new Europe”. This makes the EU dangerously ineffective, especially since Orban’s “veto” has been specifically aimed at undermining the EU’s efforts to support Ukraine over the last two years, after the onset of the war.

Therefore, it warrants significantly more attention to identify effective EU legal mechanisms to put an end to Orban’s blackmailing “rampage”.

Firstly, it must be clarified that Orban’s infractions pertain to two distinct aspects of EU operations: he infringes upon the principles established in the Treaty on European Union regarding the “internal” activities within EU Member States, as well as the principles for “external” actions of EU countries in their interactions with other Member States and with the EU Community at large.

It is evident that Viktor Orban and his administration are making “domestic” decisions which infringe upon European values of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights within Hungary, as stipulated in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU). However, Mr. Orban is also engaging in “external” misconduct beyond Hungary’s borders in Hungary’s interactions with other Member States and with the EU Community at large, as well as within the EU’s international domain, by exploiting the “veto” power granted by the EU Treaties in order to blackmail the entire EU.

To counteract Orban’s treaty-breaching conduct (both “internally” and “externally”), we must utilize targeted and distinct EU legal instruments to safeguard the EU Treaties in those respectively different spheres of “internal” and “external” activities of Member States.

While there is much to be said about Orban’s domestic actions in Hungary and the necessity for him to adhere to the values outlined in Article 2 of the Treaty, it is clear that what currently preoccupies the European Union is his employment of “veto blackmail” as an “external” maneuver. Nevertheless, in our defense against this “external” blackmail, we continue to discuss and develop arguments, based solely on Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union. This article is designed to uphold EU values against the improper domestic conduct of national governments within the EU, specifically when there is a breach of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law as defined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union.

Our efforts to demonstrate that the “veto blackmail” (applied “externally”) also contravenes the values of Article 2 of the Treaty (which are originating “internally”) have not been legally effective and will likely face significant challenges in curtailing “veto blackmail”. Thus, it becomes important to explore alternative legal avenues to halt the proliferation of this “veto blackmail culture” within the EU.

In the quest to effectively halt Orban’s “veto blackmail”, we should also consider Article 4(3) of the Treaty on European Union, which defines the EU’s basic principles of sincere cooperation and loyalty. The Article 4 (3) states, “The Member States shall facilitate the achievement of the Union’s tasks and refrain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the Union’s objectives.”

As it is stated in the commentary to the Treaty on European Union, “The principle of sincere cooperation is another key concept of Union law. /…/ The principle can be regarded as foundation stone of the Union’s legal order. /…/ The principle of sincere cooperation requires both cooperation and respect. /…/ As a general obligation flowing from the loyalty principle the CJEU inferred the principle of good faith, which prohibits the MS from any abuse of rights”.[1]

Mathias Herdegen, while analyzing Article 4(3) of the TEU, explains: “From the Union’s point of view, compliance with the Treaty obliges the Member States to loyally fulfill their contractual obligations. /…/ In any case, it is obvious to see a violation of the principle of “loyalty to the Union” in an “empty chair policy” or a refusal to participate in the Council of European Union in order to achieve certain objectives”.[2] Despite the fact, that  M.Herdegen does not comment anything on the “abuse of veto power”, but “empty chair policy” had the same goal as policy of “abuse of veto” of today: it was and is used “to achieve certain objectives in violation of “loyalty to the Union” principle.

The language of the Article 4(3) suggests that the EU Member States’ veto right, as established in the Treaty on European Union, is not absolute. Abusing the veto power in a manner that jeopardizes the Union’s objectives is a manifest violation of the Treaty. This means that the right to veto should be reserved for exceptional instances where a Member State’s paramount national interest is at risk. For such instances, an objective mechanism to evaluate the legitimacy of the veto justification should be established.

It is now abundantly clear that Orban’s use of “veto blackmail” instrument is obstructing and jeopardizing achievement of the Union’s objectives, particularly regarding the EU’s support for Ukraine—an EU stance that has been repeatedly affirmed at the highest levels of EU institutions since the onset of the conflict. Yet, Mr. Orban continues to employ his blackmail tactics, relentlessly aiming to undermine the EU’s efforts to support Ukraine without any substantive arguments. This behavior constitutes a stark breach of the Treaty, threatening not just Ukraine, but the integrity of the EU itself.

European Parliament in its January 18, 2024 Resolution “On the situation in Hungary and frozen EU funds” made a clear statement, that in December, 2023 EU Council meeting, when Hungary vetoed the decision on the essential MFF revision, including the Ukraine aid package, it demonstrated “full disrespect and violation of the EU’s strategic interests”. And even more – European Parliament clearly declared that in such a way Hungary violated its Treaty obligations “/European Parliament/ believes that such actions /of Hungary/ are in violation of the principle of sincere cooperation, as enshrined in the Treaties.”

So, it can be stated in a unambiguous way: “orbanization” of the Union is a clear violation of the basic principles of “sincere cooperation” and “loyalty to the Union”, which are “the foundation stone of the Union’s legal order.”

One should also remember that the Union is based on the principle of rule of law, and violation of the principles of the Union and of the Treaty, is violation of the basic law of the Union. Article 17 of the Treaty on European Union, mandates that the Commission “shall ensure the application of the Treaties […] and it shall oversee the application of Union law”.

Consequently, the European Commission must act to uphold Article 4(3) of the Treaty on European Union and shield it from Mr. Orban’s egregious misuse of the veto. According to the Treaty, the Commission, as the custodian of the EU Treaties and laws, must perform its protective duties in accordance with the rulings of the European Court of Justice. It is time for the Commission to take the lead and fulfill its responsibilities. Article 258 of the TFEU states very clearly,

“If the Commission considers that a Member State has failed to fulfill an obligation under the Treaties, it shall deliver a reasoned opinion on the matter after giving the State concerned the opportunity to submit its observations.

If the concerned State does not comply with the opinion within the period laid down by the Commission, the latter may bring the matter before the Court of Justice of the European Union”.

Should the Commission hesitate to act for any reason, it is pertinent to remember that Article 259  of the TFEU states:

“A Member State which considers that another Member State has failed to fulfil an obligation under the Treaties may bring the matter before the Court of Justice”

Therefore, the Court of Justice can be addressed by a state , for example by Lithuania, concerning Hungary’s “veto blackmail” and the enforcement of Article 4(3) of the Treaty on European Union.

It is imperative to put a halt to the “culture of veto  blackmail” which is created by Viktor Orban and which has a danger to spread to other EU Member States. It is within our power to do so, using the obligations and the powers of the Treaties. We must not merely lament the perceived frailties of the European Union; we are the European Union. Let us be proactive in aiding ourselves.

The best way to get rid of the “culture of veto blackmail”, of course, is to abandon veto right in decision making totally and to move to QMV. That is what citizens of EU demanded in the outcomes of the Conference on the Future of the EU. But until this is achieved, we need to demonstrate that the EU is able to defend itself against any blackmail. Violation of the basic EU principles of sincere cooperation and loyalty to the Union should be punished with the same vigor as Union is punishing for the violation of basic EU values of democracy, human rights and rule of law.

[1] The Treaty on European Union (TEU), H.-J.Blanke and St. Mangiameli (Ed’s.),  Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 2013, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-31706-4, p.232-234.

[2] Mathias Herdegen, “Europarecht” (Beck C.H., 2019)

2024.01.15

Andrius Kubilius. Why Is Ukraine’s European Union Membership Necessary For The European Union Itself?

The decision of the European Council last December to open accession negotiations for Ukraine’ and Moldova’ European Union membership is of particular historical significance. These are not just empty words about the significance of this decision, because Ukraine’s accession to the European Union fundamentally changes the long-term development perspective of the whole European continent. Today, it is particularly important for the European Union itself, its Member States and its citizens to understand that Ukraine becoming a member of the European Union is not some kind of the EU charity for Ukraine, which is struggling hard for its freedom. This is a goal that is important not only for Ukraine, striving for it since the Revolution of Dignity in Maidan in 2013, but also for the European Union itself.

Why is it important for the European Union to understand this? Because the enlargement process of the European Union depends largely on the political will of the European Union itself – in the late 1990s, the EU negotiations with the Central European and Baltic countries lasted 3-4 years and were fruitful, while the integration process of the Western Balkans, which began almost 20 years ago, is not moving at all, because the EU has declared that it is “tired of enlargement” and no longer has a “hunger for enlargement”.

Ukraine’s integration process can and must bring back to the European Union the “hunger for enlargement” and the understanding that such an enlargement is also necessary for the European Union itself, not only for Ukraine. Ukraine’s “hunger” for the EU membership is the major factor, an icebreaker, which forces the EU to change its own attitude to the whole process of enlargement: not only towards to the region of the Eastern Partnership, but also towards the region of Western Balkans. The strategic importance of such an enlargement for the European Union should be made clear by Russia’s war against Ukraine, which started two years ago. Why? Because lasting peace on the European continent can only be achieved if the EU’s efforts fulfill two essential conditions: a) that the West has the political will to provide sufficient military support to Ukraine, thus creating the conditions for Ukraine to achieve a victory over Russia; and b) that the European Union has the political will to do all it can to ensure that Ukraine and other countries from Eastern Partnership and Western Balkan regions become members of the EU by 2030.

Why is this important?

There are three main reasons why the European Union should see Ukraine’s membership by 2030 as its key strategic objective:

1. EU membership is the only way to build Ukraine’s economic success, which is necessary not only for Ukraine but also for the EU itself.

The history of the successful economic development over the last two decades of the Central European and Baltic countries as EU members is a clear evidence that in the post-Soviet space, economic success can only be created if a country has the potential to become an EU member state and, at the same time, part of the EU’s rich Common Market. My country, Lithuania, started negotiations for EU membership in 1999. Negotiations lasted only for 3 years until 2002 and Lithuania became the EU member in 2004. In 1999, Lithuania’s GDP per capita in PPP terms was only 36% of the EU average. After Lithuania became the EU member, its economic development has been so rapid that nowadays the same indicator of Lithuania’s economic development already reaches 90% of the EU average, and Lithuania has not only overtaken many Central European countries, but is also starting to overtake the old EU members in Western Europe.

Ukraine’s economic development is now  at the same level Lithuania had reached in 1999: Ukraine’s GDP/capita in PPP terms is now only 36% of the EU average. For various geopolitical reasons, largely beyond Ukraine’s control, the country has not been able to join the European Union at a time when the Central European and Baltic States have successfully followed this path. This has led to the current enormous economic gap between Ukraine and Central Europe. However, it is necessary to remember that Ukraine in the 1990s was equal in economic development to its neighboring Poland, because Ukraine had, and still has, a strongly developed industrial base, an abundant highly skilled workforce and is extremely rich in natural resources. All this is a clear evidence that if Ukraine were to become a member of the EU, and thus join the EU’s Single Market, it would very quickly replicate the path of Lithuania’s (and other Central European countries’) successful economic development. This means that over the next 20 years upon becoming an EU member, Ukraine would practically catch up with the EU’s average level of economic development. This is what Ukrainians truly deserve. It also means that EU businesses investing in the economy of Ukraine, as an EU member state, would have made huge profits and increased the value of their investments several times over 20 years. An economically wealthy Ukraine would also increase the EU’s own economic power. And of course, an economically successful Ukraine, as a member of the EU, would extend European success and stability far to the East. This would also be a clear strategic benefit for the EU.

2. Ukraine’s EU membership – eliminating security grey areas on the European continent

Since 24 February 2022, the entire European continent, including the European Union, has been living in the context of a huge geopolitical crisis: Russia’s war against Ukraine. One of the reasons why Putin decided to wage the war against Ukraine was that the West had for decades left Ukraine in a “security grey area” with no clear prospects of becoming a member of the EU or NATO. This created a temptation for Putin to believe in the fallacy that the West would not defend Ukraine, leaving it in Russia’s “zone of interests”.

Today it is clear that peace and security on the European continent can only be realized when Russia ceases to be a source of neo-imperialist aggression. There is a famous quote by Z.Brzezinski that Russia, which has the opportunity to control Ukraine, will always remain an empire, and only Russia, which loses this opportunity, will have the chance to become a normal European state. Ukraine’s accession to the EU is therefore also important in the sense that it will remove one of the most dangerous “security grey areas” on the European continent. This will also, in the long term, help Russia to become a normal state. Achieving such a change on the European continent should be the European Union’s most important long-term strategic objective. Ukraine’s accession to the EU is therefore strategically important for the European Union and for the security on the European continent.

3. Ukraine’s success story – an inspiration for change in the wider post-Soviet East

After the 1990s, the post-Soviet space, separated for decades from the democratic Western world by the Iron Curtain, is undergoing an inevitable historical transformation: the values of democracy and the European rule of law are slowly but surely spreading from the western fringes of this space to the eastern spaces, still riddled with authoritarianism and underdevelopment. Central Europe and the Baltic States at the beginning, now Ukraine and Moldova and Georgia (Sakartvelo) are following the same path. Armenia is rushing to follow the example, since it is attractive and contagious, because it is the only way to create success in the post-Soviet space. A normal successful state is what the majority of its citizens naturally want.

By helping Ukraine to become a member of the EU and thus a successful country, the European Union will also create the most powerful geopolitical instrument of its positive influence, because Ukraine’s success will inspire positive change in the populations of Russia and Belarus, South Caucasus and Central Asia, who also want to live in their own normal countries. This is a particularly significant time for the European Union because it has a window of real opportunity, unprecedented in the European continent’s painful history, to help the eastern part of Europe to transform itself and to overcome its underdevelopment. That window of opportunity for the European Union has a very clear name: “Ukraine’s success”. And such a Ukrainian success can only be created by the European Union realising the ambitious plan of “Ukraine becoming a member of the EU”. That is why Ukraine’s membership of the European Union is not only necessary for Ukraine, it is necessary for the European Union itself, it is necessary for change in Russia, Belarus, the South Caucasus and even Central Asia.

If Ukraine’s membership is necessary for the European Union itself, who can prevent it?

While it is clear that Ukraine’s membership is also necessary for the European Union itself, the European Union may well itself be the biggest obstacle on this strategically crucial path. The biggest obstacle is to stop seeing long-term strategic goals through the daily routine. Two problems will potentially rise as the biggest obstacles: a) the EU’s own rules for the enlargement negotiations, requiring the unanimous consent of all EU members at every step of the negotiation process; and b) the fear among the EU’s old-timers (especially in Central Europe) that Ukraine’s economic success could create a great deal of competitive pain for both old and new EU members.

Therefore, for the EU enlargement to be a success story, not only will Ukraine and other candidate countries need to implement reforms, but the EU itself will also have to pass its own “wisdom test”.

To pass this “wisdom test”, the EU will first need to revise the framework and decision-making process of membership negotiations to create rules and procedures that no longer serve as a trap but start to facilitate negotiations. Until now, the EU’s political will for enlargement has been too weak, with bureaucratic traps during negotiations being overly intricate. The absence of enlargement in recent decades, along with Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, are direct consequences of these issues. Now is the time for the EU to demonstrate wisdom.

And secondly, the Central European fear of economic competition with Ukraine’s successful economy is absolutely of the same nature as it was in the 1990s, when Germany and France feared impending competition with the economy and agriculture of Poland. At that time, German and French businesses managed to overcome their fears and began investing in Poland’s economy, from which they reaped huge profits. The same will happen with those EU companies that start investing in Ukraine today. This could primarily be businesses from Central Europe, which will invest in Ukraine and have a vested interest in the success of Ukraine’s integration into the EU because it will create a predictable European business environment. However, if Central European businesses focus only on preventing Ukrainian businesses from entering the EU Single Market, then it will be businesses from Western Europe that will invest, “occupy” the Ukrainian market, and earn huge profits. Central Europe will simply lose out in competition with Western Europe. It’s time for “wisdom” on the Central European side.

*****

The European Union is on the threshold of historic prospects. The name of these prospects is “enlargement”. These prospects will only materialize if the European Union itself understands that expansion is primarily necessary for the Union itself, as only bold enlargement will create the EU’s own success. And for that, the European Union needs to learn to live not just in a paradigm of “fears”, but also of “victories”. Ukraine’s membership in the European Union by the year 2030 will be a historic victory for both Ukraine and the European Union.

2023.12.03

Andrius Kubilius. A Place Of Betrayal For Ukraine And Europe – The Future European Council?

The European Council will meet on 14-15 December. President of Lithuania Gitanas Nausėda will also attend. But this will not be an ordinary Council. The decision of the Council in mid-December will be decisive for the future course of European history.

Why?

Because it must decide to approve the European Commission’s recommendation to open formal negotiations with Ukraine (and Moldova) on their future EU membership.

But such a decision may be not taken.

Why?

Because Hungary threatens to block it. Orban does not love Ukraine. But he is friends with Putin. And Austria might block Ukraine if there is no positive decision on Bosnia. And the Netherlands are ready to block Bosnia’s accession. Therefore, all the decisions can be postponed until March next year. And there comes time when the Commission’s mandate ends together with the new European Parliament elections. In addition, Hungary will take over the presidency of the Council of the EU from the middle of the year. And so on.

The corridors of Brussels are full of such rumours and news. They are also full of sad assessments that, despite Russia’s war against Ukraine and the geopolitical crisis facing the entire European continent, EU leaders still do not seem to understand that the EU enlargement is the EU’s most serious geopolitical response to the Russian aggression. As a result, there is as yet no sign of any change from the desperate and sad experience of the last decades of enlargement, when negotiations and enlargement to the Western Balkans were proceeding at a pace that could be likened to a turtle race.

If the European Council adopts the same negotiating and enlargement tactics with Ukraine, where decisions are blocked and delayed while processes proceed at a turtle pace, it will be a betrayal of Ukraine, as well as a betrayal of the whole of Europe. Because the fate not only of Ukraine, but also of the whole of Europe depends on whether Ukraine becomes a member of the EU within the next decade. The European Union’s failure to realise such an enlargement will demonstrate that Europe is unable (or unwilling) to overcome the Kremlin’s resistance to Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration. This will be as much a defeat for the West in the face of the authoritarian Russia as the West’s inability to achieve a military victory on the Ukrainian front.

And the fact that the next European Council is on the verge of such a betrayal can be seen in a text published yesterday by Gerald Knaus, a well-known Austrian expert, based in Berlin (who is also well aware of what is going on in the EU capitals), and who heads the influential think-tank “European Stability Iniatitive”. The text is brief, ringing all the alarm bells and stating the prospect of a harsh reality: “How enlargement dies”.

In order to understand why it is necessary to ring all the alarm bells, here is the full text by Gerald Knaus.

But before that, I urge to pay attention to the fact that the alarm bells are being rung by an Austrian expert from Berlin. For some reason, I do not hear a similar passionate understanding of the dangers of “non-enlargement” from experts from the Central Europe or the Baltic States. Nor do I hear such concern from those who attend the European Council meetings. Including those representing Lithuania. What does this mean: are Gerald Knaus’s concerns unfounded; or are those attending the European Council simply indifferent to the prospects for enlargement and to the fate of Ukraine?

Indifference is an alternative name for betrayal.

**********

Gerald Knaus. How enlargement dies (part one)

(published at: https://twitter.com/rumeliobserver/status/1730951944510771378)

Blocking accession talks with Ukraine & Moldova would be disastrous – unfair, destabilizing political madness.

But it looks ever more likely.

Orban blocks Ukraine. If Bosnia is blocked, Austria blocks others. The Dutch block Bosnia. Bulgaria blocks North Macedonia. As for Kosovo or Albania … (others often hide behind those who block)

Only those who paid no attention to the last two decades – and to the Balkans – are surprised by what is starting to hit Ukraine & Moldova. Nothing was more predictable.

Since Croatia joined the EU in 2013, EU member states have played this game with all Balkan candidates.

Kosovo? “A European perspective”. But since it applied for accession: no sound. No response. Silence. But: “do this or that not to threaten your European perspective.”

North Macedonia? “Solve relations with your neighbors”. It did, with Greece. Then France blocked, for no reason at all. Then Bulgaria – with outrageous demands related to history, backed by the whole EU. Now blaming Skopje.

Montenegro? A Nato-member, fully aligned on foreign policy, less than 700.000 people: still beyond EU “absorption capacity.” After 11 years of negotiations the message is: “not before 2030, but probably not even then.” Why?

Albania? For years it was “wait for North Macedonia.” Now it might be blocked by Greece. And when the first chapter is opened, one day, it will still be a decade behind Montenegro in this turtle race.

Bosnia? Too sad to recount. Never ending, ever shifting pre-conditions, more than for any other candidate ever. Meanwhile: impositions of laws by a vice-roy with unlimited powers.

If Balkan states are stuck, it is said that this is because 1. they do not reform. And if they reform, 2. they must wait for EU to get ready and get united. And 3. deal with bilateral vetos. Or wait for others.

All accompanied by never-changing rhetoric: the process is “meritocratic”; “strict but fair”; with “fundamentals first”; about the “rule of law”. Black is white. Words mean little.

What to do?

First: acknowledge reality. Second: design an accession process with a credible goal for all, now. This can still be done.

More:

The turtle race: https://www.esiweb.org/publications/balkan-turtle-race-warning-ukraine

The bus without wheels: https://www.esiweb.org/newsletter/elephants-skopje-balkan-turtle-race-and-ukraine

The hamster wheel: https://www.esiweb.org/publications/hamster-wheel-credibility-and-eu-balkan-policy

Orban on Ukraine: https://www.euractiv.com/section/europe-s-east/news/hungarys-orban-doubles-down-on-blocking-ukraine-accession-talks/

**********

Gerald Knaus’s suggestions on what needs to be changed in the enlargement strategy are practical and easy to implement. I myself have made very similar suggestions publicly, and even some of the European Parliament’s resolutions mention them.

Their essence:

– Part of the Old Europe is afraid of enlargement because the European Union’s institutions and decision-making mechanisms are supposedly not yet adapted to such an enlarged EU. Hungary’s wasteful use of the veto has frightened many, because it is feared that Ukraine, Moldova and the other newcomers from the Western Balkans will do the same with the veto.

– That is why the Old Europe is demanding that, before the next wave of EU enlargement, the EU institutions be reformed and that the veto be removed from the EU decision-making.

– the New Europe, including Lithuania, does not want to give up the veto.

– The EU enlargement process is stuck at this crossroads, and the Central Europe is not willing to sacrifice its veto for the sake of Ukraine’s membership of the European Union (in my opinion, this is a tragic mistake on the part of the New Europe).

– The confrontation and pitfalls of the proponents of such “institutional reforms” v.s. “rapid enlargement” can be avoided if the upcoming European Council hears Gerald Knaus’ proposal (which I wholeheartedly endorse), and decides that in the initial period Ukraine, Moldova and the Western Balkans will be able to negotiate and pursue their membership of the EU’s Single Market (which is a major part of membership of the EU itself), given that membership of the Single Market does not confer the right to participate in the EU decision-making and does not require immediate reform of EU institutions. Similarly, the Scandinavian countries made a similar transition to EU membership in the early 1990s through the intermediate step of Single Market membership.

– This would avoid the notion that enlargement must be linked to the institutional and decision-making reform from the outset; this would reassure the Old Europe; and this would allow the New Europe to enjoy the prospect of enlargement moving out of a decades-long stagnation (which looks set to be prolonged, if the December European Council is as unsuccessful as it at the moment seems to be). The EU candidate countries (Ukraine, Moldova and the Western Balkans) could rejoice that they are on the road to a reliably achievable and practically exceptionally useful goal: membership of the Single Market (membership of the Single Market is what has brought the most economic benefits to Lithuania; the same would be true for Ukraine).

**********

I don’t myself like to make accusations such as “treason”. But I cannot remain indifferent either.

Meanwhile, today, some of those who are involved in decision-making are watching indifferently as the enlargement of the European Union is about to be killed off; others, who are not involved in decision-making, are watching indifferently as those who are going to decide, take over and kill off the enlargement; and then everybody will start to worry and to criticise each other.

When during recent weeks I see how the roads to Ukraine are blocked by Polish and Slovak truckers, thus destroying the Ukrainian economy no less than Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports; when I see Germany refusing to approve €50 billion aid for Ukraine from the EU budget, and Hungary promising to block the European Council’s decision to open negotiations with Ukraine, while others are promising to block the entire enlargement process; and when I see all this happening in a kind of dubious silence among Europeans – when I see all this, I can honestly say that it all seems like treason to me.

I can only repeat once again that indifference is also tantamount to the betrayal.

However, indifference is sometimes harder to notice. But not this time…

If it happens, a betrayal will be called a betrayal. And it will be known who has betrayed. And who were its indifferent accomplices. And it will be known where the betrayal took place. Possibly in the next European Council.

Andrius Kubilius. Will Poland Compensate Damages For Ukraine?

While all the Europeans and Poland’s neighbours, including Lithuania, remain politely silent, Polish truckers are blocking all entry points to Ukraine. This is being led by some pro-Russian Polish activists. And this has been going on for long enough.

On the Polish side, the queue of those trying to enter Ukraine has already reached 40 km. Drivers have been waiting for weeks.

Foodstuffs, medicines, fuel, civilian and military aid are being denied entry into Ukraine. Volunteers transporting aid, who used to be able to get to Ukraine and back to their homes in Europe in a matter of days, are no longer able to do so because they cannot wait for weeks at the border.

All this is described in detail in Milda Goštautaitė’s, with whom we drove to Kherson together.emotional text “KURWA” (https://www.facebook.com/milda.gostautaite/posts/10168632459070441),

When you see such a situation on the Ukrainian border, no other word comes to mind!

After all, this is a betrayal of Ukraine. Treason elementaris!

This is happening in Lithuania’s neighbour Poland. And not for the first time – previously, it was farmers and the grain issue.

The truckers are not the whole Poland, one might say. However, that makes it all the more terrible that the voice of the Polish authorities is not heard in such circumstances. Kaczynski’s Government has not yet gone, Tusk’s has not yet come to office, but there still is President Duda. Silence. There is a Polish civil society, and it is silent.

There is President Duda’s personal friend, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda. And he is also silent.

In terms of consequences, I do not see much difference between a road blockade by the Polish truckers and a blockade of Ukrainian ports by the Kremlin regime with its navy in the Black Sea. The consequences for Ukraine are the same – a severe blow to its economy. The same as Russian missiles bombing a factory in Ukraine.

Ukraine can defend itself against Russian missiles or port blockades by sinking Russian warships with drones it produces itself.

But how can it defend itself against betrayal by neighbours who otherwise swear allegiance?

The Western world is unanimous that Russia will have to compensate Ukraine for the damage it has caused, including damage to its economy. “Russia must pay” is a slogan pronounced even at G-7 level. And this is a matter of international justice – if Russia is not made to pay, there will be others who will want to follow its example.

The natural question arises: is Poland prepared to compensate for the damage that is being done and has already been done to the Ukrainian economy? I will not be surprised if Ukraine demands such a compensation. Because Slovakia is already following Poland’s example.

Both the Polish betrayal of Ukraine and the indifferent silence of Europe (including Lithuania) can be described by the same Polish word that Milda used to name her text.

Maybe it will at least wake us up…

2023.11.08

Andrius Kubilius. Populism In The New Europe: The End Of The Beginning Or The Beginning Of The End?

In 2024, we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the “New Europe” – on 1 May, it will be 20 years since eight Central European and Baltic States became members of the European Union. Romania and Bulgaria joined a little later, and Croatia was the last.

Someone in the US named all these newcomers “New Europe” because of their differences from “Old Europe”, and the title “New Europe” has stuck.

The New Europe, with its membership of the European Union, its access to the much richer EU Single Market and its billions in financial support from EU funds, has managed to grow rapidly over these two decades and to catch up with the economic development of The Old Europe.

In the light of the sad historical experience of the last centuries in the New Europe, such a leap in the region’s fortunes in recent decades could be generally regarded as a miracle. The New Europe should be the European Union’s greatest enthusiast, never ceasing to celebrate this post-war invention of the Old Europe.

However, this is not the case. Over the last decade, the New Europe has become a region where anti-European populism, disrespect for the European rule of law and democratic rules and traditions, and the development of a culture of “veto” blackmail have spread rapidly in the ruling circles. Orban’s Hungary, more recently Kaczynski’s Poland, a little before that Babiš’s Czech Republic, and now Fico’s Slovakia have been, and are, the flag-bearers of such populism, which is frightening the whole of the European Union. A few years ago, ideas of Karbauskis (leader of the Greens-peasants Union) for Lithuania were also along the same lines. In Lithuania, they continue to float, in ever-changing forms, between the Daukantas Square (President’s Palace) and the current opposition in the Seimas.

It is therefore worth looking much deeper into the causes of the New Europe wave of populism and where the whole of the New Europe is at the moment: is it at the beginning of such a wave and is the peak of the wave yet to come, or are we already witnessing the beginning of the ebb? And what are we to do about all this in Lithuania, being a part of the same the New Europe?

The results of mid-October elections in Poland make it possible to be more optimistic not only about Poland, but also about the prospects for the whole of the New Europe, especially Central Europe, in combating the pandemic of populism in the New Europe in this period. Not only has Poland returned to Europe, but it is likely that Europe is returning not only to Poland but to the whole of Central Europe.

Why am I so cautiously optimistic?

To answer such a question, it is first necessary to look a little deeper into the causes and methods of such populism in the New Europe.

Firstly, one has to answer the question why and how the demand for populism arose in the New Europe, and secondly, the question of why such a populism became the anti-European populism in the same New Europe?

It is clear that populism is no stranger to today’s democratic world. There are many examples of it both in Europe and in the United States: Le Pen in France, the AfD in Germany, and the Trumpists in the United States are all enjoying considerable electoral success, using the same formula for populist “success”: primitively telling the less educated part of the electorate who their “enemy” is, and then showing how that enemy is and will be fought.

There is a familiar list of such “enemies” on the standard menu, which has been successfully used for a long time and is constantly being updated: the global Jewish, Masonic or gay conspiracy, neo-liberalism, globalisation and the European Union. The historical experience of the populists shows that the naming of these “enemies” and the supposed fight against them is quite effective in mobilising large numbers of voters.

This formula for success was formulated in the first half of the 20th century by the famous German political philosopher Carl Schmitt, who argued that the most important function of politicians is to identify enemies and to fight them. This formula for the essence of politics, discovered by Carl Schmitt, was favoured by Hitler, admired by the Russian philosopher Ilyin, who escaped from the Bolsheviks, and whose works are now admired by Putin and the Kremlin elite.

This arsenal of populism, tested by Putin in Russia, has also been put to reasonably effective use in the New Europe. This does not necessarily mean that it was spread in the New Europe exclusively by the Kremlin (although the Kremlin was happy to spread it in both New and Old Europe). Poland’s Kaczynski cannot be suspected of being favourable towards Kremlin, but the Kremlin’s discovery of the methods of propaganda against Russia’s main “enemies” – against gay Europe and Western liberal democracy, or the supposed fight for traditional family values – was quickly adopted by the New Europe’s populists. This includes not only Poland, but also Lithuania.

In the New Europe, such a populism was exclusively the populism of political leaders. Political leaders gifted for such populism have claimed and instilled in their societies such a perception of “enemies”, and have concentrated ever greater powers of control over the media and the necessary finances for such a propaganda. Broad sections of New European society were prepared to submit to such indoctrination of the propaganda. This became an effective way of seizing power and holding on to it for long enough.

The first signs of this appeared already around 2000, and it began to take hold around 2010 with V.Orban, who first discovered G.Soros as the “enemy”, and then the entire European Union and liberal democracy. This was soon followed by Kaczynski and PiS in Poland, who already in 2015 declared that Poland’s biggest enemies, besides LGBT people, were Germany, the German-dominated European Union, and D.Tusk, who serves Germany. In 2017, A,Babiš, one of the richest businessmen in Czechia, notorious for his conflicts with the European Union, became its Prime Minister. A month ago, R.Fico returned to power in Slovakia, this time loudly declaring his anti-Ukrainian and thus anti-European stance. Anti-European populism guarantees political longevity in the New Europe: Orban, Fico, Kaczynski are the record holders for terms in office in the New Europe, while Babiš is again enjoying the status of the most popular politician in Czechia.

Lithuania has been no stranger to such populist trends over the last twenty years. The first to successfully use the traditional instrument of populism was R.Paksas (the impeached President of Lithuania), followed by a period of populist success by V.Uspaskich (a businessman with ties to Russia, who later became a minister of economy and now is a Member of the European Parliament). R.Karbauskis, using the same formula of populism, was successful in the 2016 parliamentary elections. The arsenal of “enemies” he named was wide – from V.Landsbergis and A.Kubilius to globalisation and the concept of a global Lithuania, to the bureaucrats of the European Union and Brussels, to neo-liberalism, the Istanbul Convention and LGBT, and even to the letter “w” or McDonald’s signs.

Looking at the Lithuanian history of anti-European populism, it is easy to see one tendency: it was and is primarily linked to those political leaders who were also leaders of big business. And such businesses in Lithuania were built up not only on the basis of contacts in Russia, but also on the basis of large-scale support from the European funds.

Very similar links can be found in the Central Europe: Czechia’s Babiš is not only a billionaire, but has also been the subject of a number of investigations by EU prosecutors regarding corruption related with the use of EU funds for his business, while Orban has long been known for building a business and media empire of friends and associates that helps him to monopolise power, and to distribute EU funds. Mr Kaczynski and PiS have used EU funds to exclusively strengthen their favoured sections of society. This phenomenon has been dubbed by some New Europe academic scholars the “grand” corruption, to distinguish it from “normal” corruption, where someone in a position of power takes care of their business. In 2018, Fico was forced to resign amid justified suspicions that a prominent journalist, Jan Kuciak, and his girlfriend had been murdered because the journalist was trying to investigate the large-scale corruption in the distribution of EU funds linked to the PM’s circle. Now Fico has regained power in order (as he proclaims) to drive out all the prosecutors and investigators who are still ruining his life.

Thus, the root cause of the wave of anti-European populism in the New Europe is the European Union’s own funds and money to support the development of the New Europe itself. Such money and the possibility of distributing it tempts some to seek power at any cost and at the cost of any populism, and then to use such money also to maintain power. In the new Europe, the most popular and effective populism for taking or keeping power is the anti-European populism. And so we have a paradox: the generous European Union itself is the main cause of anti-European populism in the New Europe. And we will continue to see waves of such an anti-European populism in the New Europe until the New Europe itself becomes a financial donor. Then the temptation to use populist methods to get into power in order to access EU funds will end. Just as the period of seeking power for the sake of “prikhvatisation” (the concept combining “privatisation” and the Russian language verb “прихватить(to grab), and meaning the usually dodgy privatisation process, where the state property was appropriated by persons/entities close to organized crime) once ended. There will be other temptations to populist power-grabbing, but it is safe to assume that there will be fewer direct business interests involved, and therefore less political power. And therefore it will be less dangerous.

Meanwhile, we in Lithuania are not far from the dangers of anti-European populism. Although the wave of Karbauskis’s populism seems to have receded, this does not mean that there will be no signs of a new wave of populism and anti-Europeanism during the next year’s elections. The European money is not over yet, the next Seimas and the Government and the President will have until 2027 to negotiate in Brussels the EU’s new macrofinancial perspective for the period of 2027-2034, which will define how much money Lithuania will receive and for whom. It may seem to some, including in Lithuania, that during the period of such negotiations it is better for Lithuania to have a more talkative, more “self-interested” government than the current government of “untalkative” conservatives and liberals.

How will this be attempted?

Once again, someone will have to harness the mobilising power of anti-European populism. The instruments for this are in place: members of marches for family, with Kremlin agents behind them, the you-tube videos of former and self-proclaimed journalists, and the goodwill of the Daukantas Square – everything will be used for this. The entire political arsenal of the left will be actively involved, no matter what they call themselves today: peasants, democrats or social democrats, or simply Žemaitaičiai and Gražuliai. All of them will, in one way or another, be under the wing of G.Nausėda and I.Vėgėlė, even if the latter will pretend that “they have nothing to do with all of this”.

The battle in the next elections will not be between the choices of the political left and right, but between populism and anti-populism. The populism will lean very strongly towards the anti-Europeanism. In the presidential elections, we will see not so much a fight between G.Nausėda and I.Šimonytė, but a duel between empty populism and constructive anti-populism.

Since the 1990s, anti-populism in Lithuania has been, is, and will continue to be a characteristic of only a healthy centre-right, even though it too has to continually rein in anti-European temptations within itself.

Finally, I must answer the question why I wrote at the beginning of this text that I am cautiously optimistic about the long-term prospects for anti-European populism in both New Europe and Lithuania?

It is because I think that next year’s elections in Lithuania may be the last elections in which the European anti-populism will have to compete with the region-wide anti-European populism. After that, the space for waves of anti-European populism is likely to begin to recede sharply.

Why do I think so?

First and foremost, because by the end of this decade, especially if Ukraine becomes an EU member before then, Lithuania will have moved from being a recipient of the EU aid to an EU donor. At the same time, there will no longer be such a strong temptation for somebody to rush to power and, in the name of that, to “wash” people’s minds with all the anti-European rhetoric. Then it will become clear that the majority of Lithuanians are really happy to be members of the EU and they want to live according to European rules, traditions and understandings, including on human rights issues.

Secondly, because the elections in Poland have shown that the younger generation is no longer “buying” all the anti-European rhetoric and threats to traditional values from Brussels. It is likely that we will also see in Lithuania a greater resistance of the younger generation to the populist bacillus.

By the end of this decade, the New Europe and the Old Europe are likely to finally converge: anti-European populism and pro-Kremlin idiocy will be present in some quantity everywhere, but it will no longer be dominant. Unfortunately, such a dominance still exists today in some parts of the New Europe.

Lithuania, together with the new Poland, can be at the forefront of the recovery of the New Europe from the pandemic of populism. Let us wish ourselves that!

2023.07.15

Andrius Kubilius. The Sobering-Up in Vilnius

Andrius Kubilius is a former PM of Lithuania, MEP, Initiator of the “United for Ukraine” network

(The Lithuanian version of the article was published on 15.07.2023)

The NATO festival  in Lithuania is over. That’s how many of us saw the NATO Summit – as a NATO celebration in Vilnius. Both those of us who were lucky enough to see it up close and those of us who watched it from the distances of Brussels or Strasbourg. Lithuania made sure that the celebration was well and efficiently organised, citizens made sure that they demonstrated how important Ukraine is to Lithuania and to the World. All Ukrainians, from journalists to politicians, with whom I have had the opportunity to interact these days, thank Lithuania for this. We did well!

Although, it is us and all the Europeans who have to thank Ukraine first of all. For its struggles and sacrifices made not only for its own freedom and security, but for the freedom and security of all of us.

However, celebrations tend to end. Then it is time to ask ourselves: what is the legacy of that celebration?

Unfortunately, when searching for an answer to such a question, there is less festive mood after the Summit. And especially because of the decisions (or non-decisions) taken at the Summit regarding Ukraine.

I will not repeat my praise for the decisions announced at the Summit (not on Ukraine), both on the completely new quality of the NATO regional defence plans and on the agreement between Sweden and Turkey. It is good that this was announced in Vilnius, but it had little to do with the Summit itself.

It is also good that Ukraine’s NATO membership has gained strong momentum during the last six months before the Vilnius Summit, and it seems that Ukraine has moved strongly along this path. It is good that the Summit itself was full of speeches and pledges to continue to support Ukraine with arms, but it is bad that the West did not dare to use the Vilnius Summit to send a strong geopolitical signal, in particular, to Russia, by taking a formal decision in Vilnius to invite Ukraine to become a NATO member.

Ukraine not only needs long-range military weapons from the West, it also needs long-range geopolitical weapons. And they are all in the hands of the West. I will repeat what I have said more than once: Ukraine’s invitation to become a member of NATO is necessary not only for the sake of Ukraine’s security, but also for the sake of the West’s message to the Kremlin elite and to ordinary Russians: forget your dreams of rebuilding the empire; Ukraine is no longer available for imperial nostalgia; there is no longer any point in continuing the imperial colonial war.

Inviting Ukraine would be the first step to demonstrate that the West is boldly embracing Brzezinski’s doctrine that Russia has a chance to become a democracy without Ukraine, and that Russia will always remain an empire as long as the West allows Russia to keep Ukraine in so called  zone of its interests. Moreover, in Vilnius, the West had the opportunity to show that it has already realised its fundamental geopolitical mistake of the last decades: Ukraine has been left in a “grey security zone” since the 1990s, with no possibility of becoming a member of either NATO or the EU, and this is what prompted Putin to resort to aggression. Vilnius was an opportunity for the West to start correcting this geopolitical mistake, which no amount of arms supplies, not even the largest, can cover. And yet this geopolitical mistake will have to be corrected by the West, sooner rather than later. Or never.

What is disappointing is not only the fact of the non-invitation  itself, but the way in which, through the efforts of Western leaders, this non-invitation has been superficially identified and explained – without even attempting to look for any serious substantive or geopolitical arguments.

What has disappointed me most in this Ukrainian affair is the indifference of the text and the comments on the non-invitation of Ukraine.

The text of the communiqué on Ukraine’s NATO membership, published in Vilnius, repeats almost word for word the wording of the 2008 Bucharest NATO Summit’s non-invitation, reiterating that Ukraine’s future is with NATO. This future was also promised in Bucharest, but it has never become a reality. Putin understood this as the West agreeing to leave Ukraine and Georgia in the Kremlin’s zone of interests. To the disappointing phrase from Bucharest, repeated in Vilnius, was added the sentence from the North Atlantic Treaty that Ukraine would be invited to become a member of NATO when all the countries agreed to it. It is as if someone does not know that Treaty provision on the consensus.

It was also casually stated that Ukraine must improve democracy and the fight against corruption, because this is also the basis on which it will be judged as to whether it can become a NATO member. One should imply that, by such standards, Ukraine is still a long way from Albania, Montenegro or North Macedonia, which became NATO members not so long ago. To those who know a little more about the failures of these countries, both in democracy and in the fight against corruption, such conditions for Ukraine announced in Vilnius sound like a completely lax excuse from the West as to why Ukraine in Vilnius has not yet been invited.

It is also worth remembering that Portugal was one of the founding members of NATO in 1949, even though it was ruled from 1932 to 1968 by the same authoritarian and dictatorial leader, Antonio Salazar. Greece, a member of NATO since 1952, lived without any democracy after the “colonels” coup from 1967 to 1974, but its NATO membership was not suspended.

So much for the solidity of the additional “democracy and anti-corruption” conditions announced for Ukraine.

Of course, equally surprising was the argument made in Vilnius that Ukraine could not be invited to join NATO while the war was going on. It is obvious to everyone, and has been repeated over and over again by Mr Zelensky himself, that Ukraine will not become a member of NATO while the war is still going on. But why Ukraine cannot be invited to become a member of NATO now, while the war is still going on, remains completely unclear.

After all, the example of Sweden has already made it clear that there can be quite a long time between a formal invitation and the real membership. For Ukraine, Ukraine could have been  invited, but also been presented a condition that the ratification of the accession treaty would start not now, while the war is still going on, but when it is assessed that the circumstances of the war no longer prevent it. There are two separate geopolitically important steps in the process of becoming a NATO member: (1) the invitation to become a member of NATO, and (2) becoming a member of NATO. Each of them sends a strong political signal on its own and can be separated in time. Vilnius Summit could have sent the first signal – an invitation – distinctly from the membership. However, for some reason Western leaders ran away from the possibility of inviting Ukraine to join already in Vilnius, citing the threat of World War III if Ukraine became a NATO member during the war. Despite that no one (not even Ukraine) offered or asked for such membership during the war.

Thus, there were no serious business arguments for not inviting Ukraine. It was simply a missed opportunity to do so. And then the question is: why? Why did Germany and, in particular, the US resist to extend such an invitation? What factor accounts for their cautious or geopolitically unwise approach?

If there is no serious explanation that Ukraine still does not meet some of the NATO criteria, then one must inevitably conclude that the only such serious factor in why Ukraine still has not received an invitation, and about which one dare not go public, is the “Putin factor” and its impact on Western geopolitical thinking. Some in the West may still feel that Putin has a veto right over NATO enlargement in his own sphere of interest (which he clearly had in the Western mind in Bucharest in 2008 and had been holding there until 24 February 2022). Some may fear that such a NATO decision would escalate the military situation and provoke an unpredictable response from Putin (although the West’s geopolitical weakness and the still ongoing non-invitation of Ukraine is precisely what provoked Putin’s current aggression); some may fear that inviting Ukraine to join NATO could bring down the already weak Putin regime and bring some prigozhins to power (although why the West should care about Putin’s survival and why Putin is better than Prigozhin remains completely unclear).

In any case, it is clear that the “Putin factor” still plays an important role in Western thinking. It may be diminishing, but it is still important. This is what the non-invitation of Ukraine at the Vilnius Summit reveals. This is the moment of “Vilnius Sobering-up”: the West must have a clear strategy with regard to the “Putin factor”, that is to say, it must have a clear strategy as to what kind of Russia’s future the West expects to be after Ukraine wins the war. After that the invitation to Ukraine will no longer scare some Western capitals.

A wise and courageous Western policy towards Ukraine is the only way in which the West can also help Russia to transform itself into a normal type of state. This requires the West to believe that Russia, too, can say goodbye to the “Putin factor”; to believe that democracy is also possible in Russia, and that, after Ukraine defeats Russia on the military front, a window of opportunity will open up for such a transformation of Russia. Only by believing in such a possibility will the West no longer fear Ukraine’s crushing victory (and give it the weapons it needs to do so), nor Ukraine’s NATO membership (and invite it to join the Alliance), nor Ukraine’s becoming a member of the EU, thus creating economic success for Ukraine. It is those Western leaders who still do not believe in Russia’s ability to transform itself are afraid of the “Putin factor” and do not dare to invite Ukraine to join NATO. Those who believe in such a possibility are no longer afraid of the “Putin factor”. And they are no longer afraid to invite Ukraine.

This is the essence of the “Vilnius Sobering-up”: not only are we facing new challenges on Ukraine’s path to NATO; we are also facing new challenges on Russia’s transformation path. These two are intrinsically interlinked, and it is our duty to address them both at the same time. For the sake of Ukraine and for the sake of a different Russia. It is also our duty to explain this constantly and loudly throughout the West, with the help of all like-minded people. Otherwise, the West and NATO will continue to tread in our region between the fine words constantly repeated in Budapest, Bucharest and Vilnius about security guarantees and future memberships, but without distancing themselves from the “Putin factor”, thereby losing more and more of their geopolitical credibility.

When “sobering-up” and “awakening” occur in geopolitics, it is also an awakening from the nice, but empty words and one simply does not want to hear them any more.

It is always worth hoping that, after the NATO Summit, it was not only Vilnius that had a “Vilnius Sobering-up” moment, but also Washington and Berlin.

2023.02.03

Andrius Kubilius. How the West Will Help Democracy In Russia?

Recently, there has been a growing debate, both in the West and among the Russian opposition and intellectuals, about how Ukraine’s victory will affect Russia’s own future. All sorts of scenarios are being painted, and it is being debated whether Russia can ever become a democracy, or whether it is just facing another period of chaos and confusion.

Meanwhile, in the West, there are those who fear that such a Ukrainian victory could lead to the complete collapse of Russia, chaos and the threat of an uncontrolled nuclear arsenal. It is possible that this perception of alleged threats has so far deterred some Western capitals from supplying Leopards, Abrams and ATACMS to Ukraine. The strong response of Khodorkovsky and Kasparov to the hyperbolization of such alleged threats that is widespread in the West has also just emerged, pointing out that such a hyperbolization is very useful to Putin: the more the West is frightened by the consequences for Russia of a Ukrainian victory, the more the same West will limit the supply of its own heavy weaponry to Ukraine. Khodorkovsky and Kasparov present a convincing concept of Russia’s transformation into a normal state, with a clear “Day After” plan of what will be done from the first day after the change of power (after Putin, after the defeat of the war), in order to establish a normal federal democracy, with strong regional self-government, in Russia. Earlier, a similar plan for a “post-Putin” Russia was put forward by Navalny.

It is absolutely clear that the transformation in Russia will be carried out by the Russians themselves: by the opposition, by civil society activists, intellectuals and other patriots who genuinely care about the fate of Russia and who clearly see that the Kremlin’s current autocratic, neo-imperialist policies have brought Russia itself to a complete existential dead end, to a complete catastrophe threatening the survival of Russia itself, to what I have described as “the tragedy of Russia”.

The Russian opposition is preparing a strategy for the transformation of Russia. Whether the opposition succeeds in implementing it, will depend not only on the victory of Ukraine, which will open the door to such transformation. It will also depend on whether the Russian opposition manages to convince Russian citizens, or at least key groups in society, of the effectiveness of such a strategy.

Transformation happens when the citizens, who support such a transformation, have the opportunity to start to believe that they are in the majority, as well as when society has the opportunity to realise that it is not alone, when it realises that such a struggle for transformation is not only important for Russian citizens themselves, but also for the whole democratic world. This will only happen when the West proves that it is not just a passive observer of such a transformation, merely writing various theoretical scenarios for post-Putin Russia’s development, but that it has a clear strategy for helping such a transformation to take place.

Some in the West are afraid to talk about such a strategy of support for Russia’s transformation, because it is allegedly akin to a strategy of “regime change”, which is simply forbidden to talk about. Such a notion is completely irrational and is imbued with the simple fear, which still never leaves the Western subconscious, that talks of democracy in Russia might not please Putin.

Russia becoming a normal democracy is as much a global good for the European continent as stopping climate change. It would be strange if the West had a strategy for achieving one good (the Green Deal) and no strategy for contributing to another good (democracy in Russia) and instead, it would limit itself just to discussing various theoretical scenarios.

We are at a historical turning point: many of us still remember the historical moment when the Berlin Wall came down. I believe that we are now approaching the collapse of the “Kremlin walls” – the walls of the autocratic, kleptocratic, aggressive neo-imperialist Kremlin regime. It would be simply shameful and regrettable if, in the face of such historical fractures, the West were to remain a passive observer with no strategy.

In such a strategy of Western support for the transformation of Russia, we must not talk about some Western strategy of support for armed coups in Russia or mass Maidans in Moscow, but rather about a Western strategy that includes strategies of support for the victory of Ukraine and Ukraine’s integration into the EU and NATO, for the tribunal against Putin and for the future EU’s relations with democratic Russia. All of this must be aimed at bringing about the transformation of Russia. The West can also support Russia’s transformation very strongly by implementing its policies in this way.

Although I have written a number of texts on why the West should believe in Russia’s democratic prospects and what the West’s strategy of support should be (the aforementioned “The Tragedy of Russia”, as well as “Our Russian Psychological Complexes”, “Smart Russian Officers Will Decide The Fate Of Russia?” , “What Does The West Want?”), I have decided to briefly reiterate in a single text some of the main ideas that have been accumulated during the past months on what such a strategy should look like. This is prompted by the fact that we continue to see the West’s ongoing strategic indecision about Russia’s prospects.

So what should the West’s strategy be and how will the West ultimately help Russian democracy? And what is our, Lithuania’s, interest in all of this?

The Tragedy Of Russia And Western Responsibility

As I have already mentioned it is clear that Russia is currently going through one of the most tragic pages of its history, by bringing together many tragedies to its neighbours, especially Ukraine.

I have every confidence that Ukraine, with the support of the West, will win this war and will have every chance to recover and become a successful European country.

Meanwhile, Russia is at a historical crossroads. If imperial dreams continue to dominate in Russia, it will probably end in total disaster for the Russian state and the Russian people. Defeat in the war could open the door to the transformation of Russia, to deep self-reflection and to the deputinisation of the Russian society.

It is obvious that such a transformation of Russia is not only necessary for Russia, but also for the whole of Europe. Because the security of the entire European continent depends on it. Democracies do not fight each other. For this reason alone, the EU must have a strategy to help Russia in this transformation.

It is time for the West to realise that an instant, short-term or just a reactionary policy to the Kremlin’s actions is no longer sufficient. The West needs a long-term, proactive policy towards Russia based on a broad and inclusive philosophy: a clear isolationist policy towards the current Putin regime, a strategy of support for the future transition (post-Putin), a strategy for future relations with democratic Russia.

The West took a similar approach during the Cold War when it pursued a long-term strategy of containing Russia. The famous US diplomat and analyst George Kennan gave birth to this strategy with his philosophical doctrine of containment of Russia, which he explained in 1946 in his “Long Telegram”. This doctrine was based on a thorough analysis of Russia’s internal processes and the prevailing mentality of Russian society. This doctrine gave rise to the famous Truman Doctrine, which shaped Western behaviour during the Cold War. The latter doctrine consistently led to the 1947 Marshall Plan for Western Europe, which influenced the creation of the European Union and NATO. That way, the West not only resisted Stalinist and later Soviet plans to extend its influence throughout the Western Europe and the rest of the World, but were also able to overcome one of the long-standing tectonic conflicts on the European continent, that caused the First and the Second World Wars.

This conflict was linked to the early 20th century disputes between Germany and France over the dominance of the entire European continent and the inability to share the economic power of the Ruhr region’s industrial steel and coal resources. This long-standing tectonic conflict only ended when the Americans proposed the Marshall Plan to both countries and to the whole of Western Europe, calling for the integration of the coal and steel industries, thus starting the process of unification of all the Western economies. This long-term strategic move not only ensured an end to the conflicts over the riches of the Ruhr, but also brought sustainable peace to Western Europe.

Similarly, one can remember the leadership of the West and the United States in the 1980s in bringing about the collapse of the Evil Empire: it started with Karol Wojtyla becoming the Pope John Paul II, followed by the dramatic fall in oil prices, then Reagan’s threat that the US was beginning to invest in Star Wars technology, then Stinger missiles for the Afghan mujahideen, all of this leading to Gorbachev being forced to declare “perestroika”. All this was not an accidental action by the West, it rather was the consistent implementation of a multi-step Western strategy to defeat the Evil Empire.

The same strategic approach is needed now.

Although the West was able to resolve the deep tectonic conflict between Germany and France in the 20th century with a clear strategy, Europe and the West continue to struggle with a second tectonic conflict on the European continent. This was and still is the tectonic conflict between imperial or neo-imperial Russia (the Soviet Union) and continental Europe. In the 20th century, this conflict led to bloodshed and captivity over large areas of Europe. As a result, large parts of the European continent have been occupied and cut off from democracy, freedom and prosperity for decades.

Between the end of the war in 1945 and the beginning of the 1990s, the Stalinist and expansionist policies of the Russian Empire were at the root of this conflict. After 1990, the causes of the conflict were the post-imperialist nostalgia and sentiment, in which Russia was trapped. This also bred Putin’s kleptocratic, autocratic and increasingly aggressive regime, which eventually led to the war.

Although Russia is at the root of this tectonic conflict, the West needs to propose a long-term strategy for resolving this conflict. Such a strategy must achieve one goal – Russia must transform itself into a normal, European type of democracy. Democracies do not fight with each other and do not fight bloody wars. The West must help such a transformation to take place. This requires a Western strategy, and it must be of the same scale and systemic nature as the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, the strategy to contain Soviet Russia or the strategy to bring down the Evil Empire.

The nature of the conflict between authoritarian Russia and democratic Europe is unfolding and requires new means to address it. The search for such a solution is also the responsibility of the West, because the cost and damage of the failure of Russia’s transformation could be extremely high. New wars on the European continent could be even more terrible.

Unfortunately, the West has not yet developed a long-term strategy that will not only resolve this conflict but also help Russia to overcome its tragic trajectory. For only democracy in Russia is a proper and long-lasting solution.

Therefore the West, and the European Union in particular, must finally wake up from the sleep of “geopolitical laziness” and realise that Russia’s transformation is not only necessary for Russia itself, but that it is also of equal strategic importance for the European Union. For such a transformation of Russia would facilitate the creation of a completely different security architecture across the European continent. That is why the European Union must have a clear strategy to assist such a transformation.

Looking for a solution: How Can The West Contribute To Russia’s Transformation?

As Mr Borrell, the EU’s “Minister for Foreign and Security Affairs”, admitted very openly last October in the plenary session of the European Parliament, the European Union’s deep dependence on gas and other energy resources from Russia has so far prevented the European Union from having a clearer strategy for its relations with Russia. And, by the same token, a strategy towards Ukraine. Now that the volume of Russian gas on EU markets has fallen from 41% (before the war) to 7.5% (in September), according to Mr Borrell, there is also a room for an independent strategy towards Russia.

This frank and courageous acknowledgement of the EU’s past strategic mistakes, coming from Mr Borrell, gives us hope that the EU will be truly capable of moving from the “Putin-first!” strategy in its relations with Putin to finally turning towards “Democracy in Russia-first!” strategy. As well as towards a strategy on how to help Russia transform itself.

This strategy to support the transformation must be based on a number of principles:

  • The European Union must overcome its division between those who “believe” and those who “do not believe” in the possibilities and prospects of democracy in Russia.

Only by believing that democracy is possible in Russia we will be able to help this transformation to happen. Putin has for long time been trying to prove to Western leaders that democracy in Russia is not possible. All the poisonings of Litvinenko, the Skripals, Navalny, where the Kremlin has made no effort to hide the traces of its involvement, have been suitable for this. This was simply aimed at frightening the West and at demonstrating what the Russian reality is, which the West would not be able to change. The Kremlin’s aggression, both internal and external, was also suited to this, by constantly communicating to the West that this is what Russia is: aggressive, savage, oriental, with a nuclear bomb in its hands, ready to take revenge and punish anyone who tries to explain the prospects for democracy in Russia, and to punish those who are unwilling to adapt to the kind of Russia that Putin’s regime has created. Western leaders have succumbed to this Putin “influence” and have tried to adapt to such Russia, believing themselves that Russia will never become a democracy. Hence the whole “Putin-first!” doctrine, with successive Western leaders rushing into dialogue with Putin, regardless of how Putin himself behaved.

  • In the minds of the Russian people, the dream of a normal life must overcome the dream of rebuilding the empire.

It is obvious, that any transformation of Russia will only be realised by Russians themselves. By those who will begin to understand that the Putin’s regime is the Russia’s greatest tragedy. Putin is pursuing a scorched-earth strategy with regard to such opposition to his regime. It is therefore not surprising that protests against the war, against the mobilisation, are not becoming a mass phenomenon in Russia. However, this does not mean at all that the transformation in Russia will not begin in the near future. It may depend on a number of factors, the most important of them being whether ordinary Russians will be assisted to create for themselves a new dream of their future, of a normal European life, instead of the collapsed dream of a return to the past, to the “glorious” days of the Empire. The European Union can play a particularly important role in helping Russians to return to such a dream and to work towards its realisation through the fundamental transformation of Russia. The European Union is capable of playing such a role because many members of the Russian opposition, its intellectual leadership, have now largely emigrated to various European Union countries. The European Union, by extending the hand of intensive cooperation to this opposition, could help it to unite and to work together with the EU institutions already now on joint strategic cooperation programmes that could be implemented as soon as Russia’s transformation into a democracy is realised. This would also help the EU to mobilise its institutional resources to launch a completely new phase of EU policy towards Russia right away, in a real move away from the strategy “Putin-first!” to the strategy “Democracy in Russia-first!”. This, unfortunately, has still not happened.

How can the EU help the Russians in their war of dreams?

In politics and geopolitics, we tend to look only at the actions, motivations, and emotions of the national leaders, because many feel that this is what determines the development of countries and the internal or external actions of the particular country. This is not unimportant, but it would be a mistake to forget other relevant factors: the general public, its nostalgia, its expectations, its beliefs or its dreams. Dreams lead to change in democracies, but they also affect possible transformations in authoritarian systems. Even authoritarian regimes have to be concerned with the loyalty of their citizens, which depends on the prevailing dream in the society. Authoritarian regimes cannot remain in power for long by relying or sitting on the bayonet alone.

In Russia, too, change can only begin when the majority of Russians will start to believe in the dream of a new, normal life, and will have the opportunity to see, in some way, that such a dream is believed in by the majority.

There are three actions on which the West should concentrate its efforts to help the Russians to achieve a new dream:

  • the West must help the Russians to immediately and definitively rid themselves of the false nostalgic dream of regaining the supposed “greatness” of the empire, as such a dream leads only to a deeper and deeper tragedy for Russia;
  • the West must work already today with Russian opposition intellectuals to map out a strategy for future relations between the West (including the European Union) and a future democratic Russia. Such a strategy would explain to ordinary Russians how a new “normal” dream would be realised in a democratic Russia together with the West.
  • the West must politically and economically invest in the success of Ukraine, so that the example of such success would encourage the Russians to pursue a new dream of a normal life in Russia.

How Important For The Russian Society Is Ukraine’s Victory, a Special Tribunal for Putin and Ukraine’s NATO Membership?

To help the Russian people to get rid of the old “imperial” dream, it is necessary that this dream is completely crushed on the battlefield. Ordinary Russians need to see the tragic consequences of this false dream for themselves, including painful sanctions against Russia and Russia’s international isolation. Only a clear understanding by Russians that this false dream is the root cause of the current tragedy in Russia will not only bury this “imperial” dream, but also open the door to a new dream of a normal life in Russia.

Therefore, Western arms supplies to Ukraine and sanctions against Russia are important not only for Ukraine to be able to defend itself and win the war, but also for this false “imperial” Russian dream to be finally crushed, and thus for ordinary Russians to be able to free themselves from the tragic trap of such a nostalgia.

It is worth recalling once again the words of Alexei Navalny from his text, published in September 2022: “Too many people in Russia are interested in normal life now, not in the phantom of territorial gains. And there are more such people every year. They just don’t have anyone to vote for now.”

The Russian opposition is well aware of how important it is for ordinary Russians to believe in the dream of a new, normal life in Russia. The West has a duty to help Russians to believe in the reality of such a dream. This requires, first of all, helping Russians to finally rid themselves of their belief in what A. Navalny called “the phantom of territorial gains”. Instead, Russians must be helped to believe in what Mr Navalny himself has described as the dream of “a wonderful Russia of the future”.

Second, Russian society will have to go through a painful process of “deputinizing” itself. There will be many important parts: from lustration to self-reflection, from a new constitution to the restoration of the rule of law.

First of all, the Russians themselves will have to admit that the root cause of the crisis is that they have allowed themselves to believe in the dream of rebuilding the empire that has been “infected” into them by Kremlin propaganda. By relying on such an artificially exalted nostalgic dream, Putin has guaranteed the loyalty to his regime of a large part of the Russian society. At the same time Putin has created a mafia-like power structure; and the mixture of mafia-like power propaganda and the dream of rebuilding the empire has become the basis of the ideology of the new, Russian Nazism. Same as during Hitler’s time, this type of Nazism is capable of generating the loyalty of a significant part of the people (even the educated German people). Hitler enjoyed this loyalty in his time, and Putin has been enjoying it up to now.

The Russians themselves will have to find the strength to say goodbye to Putinism. For an example of how to do this, one need not look far: once upon a time, as far back as 1956, Nikita Khrushchev had the courage to openly name and condemn Stalin’s crimes at the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party. Thus, at least for a time, the Soviet Union farewelled with the Stalinism. And now someone, perhaps even from within the current Kremlin elite, will have to take on the same role, just to talk about the crimes of Putinism. This would be the first step towards a national understanding that the state and the nation are in the deep crisis.

The international community can play a particularly important role in this inevitable path of self-reflection and self-examination in the post-Putin Russia if it urgently establishes a Special International Tribunal to investigate Putin’s crimes of war aggression. All the crimes of Russia’s war in Ukraine are and will continue to be investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, but Putin’s crime of war aggression need special attention and can be investigated only by a special tribunal that can give an answer on Putin’s guilt not in ten years’ time, but in the foreseeable future. This would also help Russia to say a final goodbye to the imperial dream.

For Russians, the road from the imperial dream to the dream of a normal life will not be easy: it will not be enough for the Russian public to recognise that Putinism is evil. Nor will the decisions of the International Tribunal established by the international community on Putin’s crimes be enough. Russia itself, after Putin, will have to take decisions on reparations and damage repayments to Ukraine. Such will be the price of transformation.

And, above all, Russia after Putin, as well as the changes that have taken place in it, will be judged first and foremost in terms of its relations with its neighbours. Only the complete disassociation of the new Russia from its aggressive, neo-imperialist policy towards Ukraine and other neighbours, and the liberation of the occupied territories, not only in Ukraine, but also in Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia, will be the main criteria by which the Western democracies will judge the results of Russia’s transformation towards democracy. No one will believe in “change” in Russia if those changes do not meet the minimum criteria listed here. Even if Putin is gone.

Finally, a new dream requires that Putin’s imperial dream of Novorossiya not only be crushed, but also prevented from recovering, even when the inevitable post-revolutionary wave of nostalgia for the past once again sweeps over the newly revitalised young Russian democracy. This requires that even the Russian imperial hawks finally realise that Ukraine is no longer within their reach. It must therefore be in the West’s interest to grant Ukraine NATO membership in the near future. This is important not so much because it would increase Ukraine’s security (Ukraine itself is doing just fine without the NATO membership), but because it would help the Russians to stop succumbing to the imperial nostalgia.

NATO was created to enable the West to resist the imperial expansion of Russia/Soviet Union; Ukraine is now doing just that, with its military capabilities exceeding all NATO membership criteria; NATO’s admission of Ukraine would not only strengthen NATO  military capabilities, but also help Russia to say goodbye to its “imperial” dream for good: Russia’s imperial return to Ukraine by military force would become impossible, and such dreams would become unreal.

Ukraine’s EU Membership Is A Cornerstone Of The European Union’s Strategy “Democracy In Russia – First!”

Like Ukraine’s membership in NATO, Ukraine’s membership oin the European Union is important not only because it is the only way in which Ukraine’s democratic and economic success can be built, but also because it is another way to help Russia free itself from the grip of “imperial” nostalgia. Ukraine becoming a full member of the European Union would be a crushing and final knockout blow to Putin’s long-standing “imperial” dream, the realisation of which the Kremlin has concentrated in Ukraine.

The main pragmatic objective of Putin’s “imperial” dream has always been the same: to prevent Ukraine from becoming a successful state, because such a contagious example is dangerous for Putin’s mafia regime, while in the post-Soviet space, the only tried and tested way in which a country can become a success story is very well-known: it is the country’s integration into the European Union and its subsequent EU membership.

In the same recent text, A.Navalny highlights the same reasons for Putin’s aggression against Ukraine: jealousy of Ukraine and its potential success, hatred of Ukraine’s pro-Western choices and the desire to turn Ukraine into a “failed state” are the dominant features of Putin’s “Ukraine strategy”:

“… since the beginning of Putin’s rule, and especially after the Orange Revolution that began in 2004, hatred of Ukraine’s European choice, and the desire to turn it into a failed state, have become a lasting obsession not only for Putin but also for all politicians of his generation.”

Exactly the same is observed not only by the leaders of the Russian opposition, but also by the most prominent Western experts. For example, a few days before the war broke out, the former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, together with Robert Person, published a valuable text with the title “What Putin Fears Most?”. The authors’ answer to the question they had formulated was unequivocal: what Putin fears most is not Ukraine’s membership in NATO, but Ukraine’s membership in the European Union. He is panic-stricken about Ukraine’s success, and Ukraine’s success can only be created if the West is interested in and helps Ukraine to become a member of the European Union. Because the whole of Central Europe and the Baltic States only became success stories when, immediately after the democratic revolutions in the late 1980s, these countries were given the opportunity to integrate rapidly into the European Union.

Putin’s “Ukraine strategy” has always been clear and unambiguous – to prevent Ukraine from becoming a successful state. This has been cloaked in various slogans of imperial nostalgia, but in fact Putin’s main objective has not been the annexation of the new territories of Novorossiya, but the destruction of the success of Ukraine. “Novorossiya” was, and remains, only an instrument for achieving this strategic objective, because  the survival of the Putin regime depends on Putin’s ability to prevent the success of Ukraine. That is why Putin is fighting against Ukraine’s success. And this is the axis of his entire geopolitical strategy in recent decades.

Unfortunately, the West (including the European Union) until the beginning of the war did not have a clearer “Ukraine strategy”, it did not have a strategy to counter Putin’s “Ukraine strategy”. It had no strategy to help build Ukraine’s success with the ambitious EU enlargement strategy.

This was one of the reasons why Putin was tempted to go to war against Ukraine, because it seemed to him that the West would continue to have no strategy for Ukraine and would therefore very quickly return to business as usual with Putin.

Why the West has not yet had its own “Ukraine strategy”, was, as has already been mentioned, very openly and significantly acknowledged last October by Josep Borrell, the EU’s “Minister of Foreign and Security Affairs”, in a speech during the European Parliament plenary debate on Russia’s war against Ukraine. There was no strategy only because the European Union has hitherto been very significantly dependent on Russian gas. Mr Borrell openly admits that the European Union has not had its own “Ukraine strategy”: “We have not had our own foreign policy towards Ukraine” – the most frank and courageous admission by EU leaders of the EU’s past mistakes, these mistakes having contributed to the fact that the whole of the European continent is now in a profound geopolitical crisis.

There is only one way out of this geopolitical crisis: the European Union must have an ambitious and effective “Ukraine strategy”. This must be a strategy for Ukraine’s rapid integration into the European Union and full EU membership. Such a strategy must be realised by the end of this decade. The first right steps in this direction have already been taken: Ukraine has been granted the candidate status. But for Ukraine to become a member of the EU by the end of the decade, membership negotiations in Brussels must start as early as the beginning of 2023, rather than be delayed in the traditional bureaucratic way.

EU bureaucrats and political leaders must remember that Ukraine’s EU membership is not only necessary for Ukraine’s own success, but also for Russia’s transformation and the EU’s strategy of “Democracy in Russia – first!”. It is therefore clear that Ukraine’s membership of the European Union is, above all, necessary for the European Union itself, because it is the only way for the EU to implement a strategy that will lead to peace and security finally taking root on the European continent. The extension of the dream of democracy, of normal life, to the East of the European continent is the only way to ensure that the basic dream of Europeans, “Europe – whole, free and at peace”, is finally realised, because democracies do not usually fight with each other. And the European Union can realise this, first and foremost, by building on Ukraine’s success, which will have a huge positive impact on Russia’s transformation.

Ukraine’s geopolitical integration into the West (NATO and the European Union) is no less important than Leopards or Abrams for Ukraine’s defence. This requires a consolidated political will. The political will of the West for the defence of Ukraine is being consolidated in the “Military Ramstein”. Obviously, the West also needs an “Integration Ramstein” in order to consolidate the political will needed to realise Ukraine’s membership of the European Union and NATO.

It is worth remembering again and again that the success of countries and people on the European continent is only built on their integration with the European Union. The European Union has enormous “soft power” to positively influence and change the lives and policies of its neighbours, but often the European Union itself forgets about this special power. Or sometimes it does not dare to use it, as Mr Borrell openly admitted.

It is worth talking about this formula for success, not only in terms of the success stories of Central Europe and the Baltic States, not only in terms of how the success story of Ukraine can be created, but also in terms of how the dreams of a normal, European life in Russia can be realised in the future.

The prospect of a normal, European life in Russia and the European Union

Although the European Union will certainly not offer Democratic Russia the prospect of the EU membership, the European Union must already now propose a strategy for future relations with Democratic Russia, this strategy providing the most effective mechanisms of relations that would provide Democratic Russia with the same stabilising prospects for young democracies as the young democracies of Central Europe and the Baltic States were given by the prospect of membership of the European Union in 1993.

The European Union and democratic Russia could start planning now for a future special Association Agreement – something similar to what the European Union signed in its time with Ukraine, Moldova, Sakartvelo (Georgia) and later with Armenia. Such a future treaty with democratic Russia should provide for a strong future relationship of free trade, visa-free travel and economic partnership in the name of modernisation, the clear prospect of which would allow ordinary Russians to believe in a new dream – the possibility of a normal, European life in Russia – already today.

For democratic Russia, the EU should also open the door to joining the regional Eastern Partnership programme in one capacity or another, which would allow democratic Russia to engage with its neighbours in a European format, rather than in the manner of the dictatorship of the former imperial metropolis, which has led to the current disaster.

This EU strategy would be important not only because it would help to shape such a new Russian dream, but also because the implementation of such a strategy would be essential to protect the young, resurgent Russian democracy from the destructive force that the inevitable post-revolutionary nostalgia for the past brings with it. Just as the post-war Marshall Plan protected the young German democracy from nostalgia for the defeated Nazism, also it protected all the old European democracies struggling to recover from the tragedies of the war, as the joy of victory in the war was quickly crushed by the hardships of a shattered economy across Europe, and as societies weighed down by these hardships began to become radicalised at a very rapid rate, just as the communists in every country, local, but submissive to Stalin, were waiting for. The Marshall Plan saved the old Europe from such radicalisation and from public support for the Communists.

The young democracies of Central Europe were saved from the same dangers of nostalgia and radicalisation in the early 1990s by the prospect of European Union membership. However, nothing saved the young Russian democracies at the same time from the sudden rise in the threat of nostalgic radicalisation, which is why Yeltsin was followed by Putin.

For this reason, the importance of such a strategy for the EU’s future relations with the Democratic Russia was underlined by the European Parliament in its special report on the EU’s strategy for relations with Russia, adopted in September 2021. What such a strategy for the EU’s relations with Democratic Russia could look like, and why it is important to develop it today, was set out in detail in the special study “The EU’s Relations With a Future Democratic Russia: A Strategy”, drafted by experts from the European Union and from Russia and published by the Martens Centre in July 2022.

Both the European Parliament’s report and the study underline the same principles:  The European Union (including Lithuania) wants good, mutually beneficial relations with Russia, but this depends on Russia’s ability to transform itself from an authoritarian, aggressive state into a democratic, normal, European state. This is one of the European Union’s most important strategic interests, and for this the European Union must have a clear strategy on how the EU can help Russia to achieve this transformation. It must also have a strategy now for future relations with Democratic Russia, because that is the way to help Russia’s transformation.

This must be a strategy for assisting Russia. Not the Putin regime (by offering the Kremlin to return to business as usual), but Russia and the Russian people. This must be a strategy on how to help the Russians to avoid a “tragedy of Russia”, on how to help avoid the catastrophic consequences of such a tragedy for Russia itself. Because it is not only Russia itself that would suffer from a catastrophic “tragedy of Russia”, but also the whole of Europe and the whole world.

It would therefore be simply irresponsible to say that the “tragedy of Russia” is a matter for the Russians alone.

Time to Act: Interest of Lithuania

It is in Lithuania’s best interest that the West has such a strategy and implements it systematically, because Lithuania’s geopolitical security depends on whether Russia eventually becomes a pro-European, democratic and peaceful country. As NATO has finally recognised, authoritarian Russia is the biggest threat to the security of the European continent. We, those of us in Russia’s current neighbourhood, feel that threat particularly acutely. Because it is not a distant and theoretical threat, but a real and visible one. Our painful historical experience is a proof to that.

We cannot just sit on our hands and wait for the West to come up with a strategy towards Russia. We should be more active in seeking such a strategy ourselves. We should go beyond just asking for NATO battalions to be reinforced in Lithuania, and not just look for ways to punish Putin or support Ukraine by our own actions. We need an ambitious and comprehensive Western strategy towards Russia, and we need to offer its draft.

We need the West, together with NATO, to have a strategy not only for deterrence and defence against the threat of an authoritarian Russia, but also a strategy for helping an authoritarian Russia to transform itself into a normal, European, democratic state. Only then will there be no Russian threat: either to the European continent, or to its neighbours and the Russian society itself.

This requires that the West today not only engages in discussing the scenarios of a “Russia after Putin”, but also develops and implements a strategy to help realise the “good scenario” – the good scenario for the future of Russia and, by extension, for the future of Europe as a whole.

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