Global Survey on the Migration Crisis – The European Project on the Brink of Collapse?

Photo: Virginia Mayo / AP
Photo: Virginia Mayo / AP

The migration crisis is not ending and is in fact increasing the divide between EU Member States, overstretching the fondations of the EU (Schengen agreement), and underlining the lack of solidarity among European actors. If Germany was the model, or at least the moral authority of Europe, in terms of receiving asylum seekers (expected to be over 800,000 this year), Chancellor Merkel and her Minister of Interior, Thomas de Maizière, have announced over the weekend that Germany will be reinstating border control between Germany and Austria. Such move goes against the principles of the Schengen agreement and illustrates a needed response by Chancellor Merkel to domestic pressures. Interestingly enough, the implementation of border control comes a day prior the EU ministers meeting seeking to find a common solution to the current migration crisis.

After a month of data collection, the survey created and monitored by Politipond on the question of the migration crisis has finally closed (here is the link to the survey). The questionnaire was designed in a way that would permit to identify and analyze several variables: actorness of the EU; role and influence of the Member States; influence of domestic politics; European push towards greater integration; and European identities.

Sample and Questionnaire

The survey was composed of 10 mandatory questions with multiple-choice answers. The questionnaire was designed in order to analyze how global participants feel about the crisis, understand the crisis, and perceive the way EU Member States and institutions try to deal with the issue. The survey counts 38 participants from all around the world. None of the participants were solicited and most of them found out of the survey by either receiving the Politipond‘s newsletter or through social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin).

Source: Politipond. 2015
Source: Politipond. 2015

After a month of data collection, the largest participating countries were Portugal, the United States, France and Germany. These countries are an interesting sample as they incorporate the US, the quiet superpower, the Franco-German engine, and Portugal a member of Southern Europe. The US is an interesting actor as it has been very absent actor on the crisis, even though President Obama has recently announced some participation in welcoming refugees. Nevertheless, American media (The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, NPR, the Miami Herald, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times) have been covering the issue in depth for months and the American public opinion is deeply divided on the question. The issue of migration and immigration have been an important dimension in the current presidential campaign for 2016.

In the case of France and Germany, both countries are important historical partners that usually shape the direction of the Union. If Germany has proven to be the most welcoming EU Member State, with Sweden, France has been a much more cautious and observing actor. In recent days, France has expressed its support to Germany. Last but not least, Portugal is part of the infamous PIGS group (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) or Southern Europe. Portugal has, like his southern partners, faced serious socio-economic degradation since the collapse of the world markets. Portugal at the difference of Greece, Italy and Spain, is not a recipient of migrants due to its geographical position. However, the debate in Portugal has been focusing on the migration crisis.

Variables – Power, Institutions, and Identity

Credit: Politipond. 2015
Credit: Politipond. 2015

Each variables can be measured by countries and see if participants have diverging position based on their country of allegiance (see graph below). These variables sought to identify several aspects: institutional design and power; identity; and actors’ behaviors and actions. Question 1 and 3 received an overwhelming yes vote with 90% in favor of a common European asylum policy (which needs to be reformed as the current Dublin regulations are showing signs of weaknesses) and that solidarity is required in order to address such pressing issue. However on the question of mandatory national quotas promoted by the Commission, one third of the participants are opposed to such policy move by the supranational European body.

Question 5 and 6, looking at nationalist policies, received a high degree of no vote with an average of 85%. Participants seem to find counterproductive for Britain to put the blame on France for his lenient approach to addressing the number of refugees in camps in Northern of France. In addition, participants overwhelmingly expressed their opposition (90%) towards nationalist policies of closing borders and forcing migrants out.

7Countries
Source: Politipond. 2015

This graph above is identical to the previous one, but is looking in the way the four countries, with the highest degree of participants, responded to the same questions. On question 1 and 3, all four countries responded similarly. On question 2, Germany appears to be the least favorable towards national quotas promoted by the Commission. Question 6 on blaming French for not doing enough in Calais, both the US and Germany believe that France has been lenient and has not done enough in addressing the number of migrants in the camps. 12% of Portuguese participants claim that nationalist policies of closing the borders and forcing migrants out is an appropriate solution in addressing the migration crisis. On the last question of cooperation at the European level, French participants (32%) tend to believe that European leaders are working towards a common European solution.

Who is Responsible for the Crisis?

Source: Politipond. 2015
Source: Politipond. 2015

Not surprisingly, most participants blamed the Member States (29%), minus Italy and Greece (a total of 0%), for failing to address the crisis. The most interesting dimension is that failed countries, like Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, are seen as a large part of the blame with 26%. The EU is regarded to have failed in dealing with the crisis (with 13%). However, it is unclear what exactly the EU means as the Commission and the Parliament are not considered as responsible, which leaves the Council of Ministers and the European Council. Ultimately, the EU is usually considered as a black box without clear materialization of who does what. The traditional blame of the EU for failing to address a crisis is reflected in this study. But the graph demonstrates that participants tend to mis-understand the EU and what it is.

Call for Foreign Military Interventions?

4.Intervention
Source: Politipond. 2015

A missing aspect of the talk on solving the migration crisis has been foreign interventions. Most of debate consists in addressing the flows of migrants inside the European territory and the failed European asylum policies. However, one core dimension in solving, at least in the long term, the migration crisis will be to address the root causes in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Eritrea, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and so forth by stabilizing these territories, rebuilding the states and their authorities, lowering corruption and cronyism, and dealing with neighboring countries (read here an analysis on failed states published by EU Center at the University of Miami).

These conditions are central in order to permit future migrants to live productive lives in their home countries. The big question is how much the Euro-Atlantic community can be efficient in such missions in so many countries and are their public opinion in favor of such ‘sacrifice’? According to the results of the survey, 62% of participants consider that either military (27%) or civilian (35%) CSDP missions would permit to address some of the root causes. And with 14% of the votes, participants feel that national missions, like the ones deployed by the French army in Mali and Sahel regions, could be effective operations of stabilization and peace-building.

Interestingly, 76% of the participants are in favor of foreign interventions, either military or civilian, as opposed to 24% against any type of foreign interventions. Regardless of the small sample of the participants, 3/4 of them favor foreign interventions. The French government has expressed its position in favor of the use of force in Syria through air bombing. It seems that the French public opinion is in favor of such military road.

From a Fortress to a Borderless Union

5.Image
Source: Politipond. 2015

Images have been an important variables in shaping public opinion and creating an emotional reactions to the migration crisis (read a previous analysis on the topic here). Based on the results, the leading image in identifying the EU in dealing with the crisis is

Cartoon: Plantu
Cartoon: Plantu

‘Fortress Europe’ (with 43%) followed by ‘borderless Europe’ (34%). The identification of the EU as either a soft power or civilian power falls well behind and demonstrates the irrelevance of such terms. If Fortress Europe implies huge wall protecting the European territory, borderless Europe is its absolute antonym. The words borderless and fortress are fascinating as, despite their fundamental opposition, European citizens are using both concept interchangeably.

Normative Europe appears to be a construction by the EU to justify its moral behavior implying a certain degree of inaction and risk-averse foreign policies. If the concepts of ‘soft power’ and ‘civilian power’ are heavily used by European diplomats and experts, they are only part of the European dialect. In a recent work, that I participated on, on perceptions of the EU in the US (expected to be published in the Fall or early spring), it was demonstrated than ‘normative Europe’ barely exist outside Europe.

Leaders and Policy-Makers – Who Matters?

Source: Politipond. 2015
Source: Politipond. 2015

With an overwhelming majority (61%), participants argue that no European leader is in measure of making a difference in dealing with the current crisis.  Chancellor Merkel of Germany (11%) and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the Commission (8%), are the leading candidates in being the ones with the greater influence in the shaping of policy-making. Both players share a common vision of quotas and redistribution across the Union as well as opening the countries to the refugees. The interesting aspect is British Prime Minister Cameron (5%) coming into fourth position, with the Italian Prime Minister (5%). If the Italian PM is facing a serious crisis with the large influx of migrants crossing the country (it is estimated that 1/4 of them will eventually stay in Italy), British PM is trying to keep them outside of the island.

François Hollande of France and his European counterpart, HR Mogherini, are not perceived as being influential players. In the case of the French President, the number could be different a month later, however, the situation in Calais with the refugee camps is not playing in favor of the French President. HR Mogherini has not been as visible to the general public, but has been playing an important role in the deployment of the CSDP mission of EUNAVFOR Med off the coasts of Italy and Greece. She has been active on dealing with the foreign dimensions of the crisis. This aspect of the crisis has not been properly covered by the media, and most citizens are not concerned about such dimension.

The End of the European Dream?

The reinstatement of border control by Germany on the segment shared with Austria has led to a snowball effect with now Slovakia, the Netherlands and Austria announcing similar measures. Such political decision made by Berlin and now other EU Member States is a direct attack on a core principle of the EU, the Schengen agreement, which guarantees the free movement of people across the Union. Even though the Treaties offer the possibility for EU Member States to lift the open borders in case of emergency or national security, it is always a controversial move. In the case of the migration crisis, a lifting a the Schengen agreement, demonstrates the obvious:

  • inability to protect European borders and the neighborhoods,
  • inability to enforce the Dublin Regulations, which demonstrates the weakness of the integration process;
  • lack of solidarity among the 28 EU Member States,

The migration crisis underlined all the weaknesses, which have been denounced by experts for decades, of the EU all at once. It shows that the EU and its Member States have lived in this perpetual belief of post-sovereignty world and denial of the world shaped by hard power. In some ways, it seems that EU Member States and the EU have incorporated all the components described and advanced by Francis Fukuyama in his 1998 book of The End of History. Today, the refugees, seeking for a better world and a chance to raise their kids in a stable and secure environment, have brought the EU to the brink of failure, tear down the concept of European solidarity (if it ever existed), and brought the worst of European societies with the continuous rise of nationalism and xenophobia.

To the defense of the EU, it has one element in its favor, ability to adjust and reform in the worst of the storm. After over 60 years of existence, the EU has gone through several deep divides, like the period of the empty chair, the end of the Cold War, the divide over the Iraq crisis, the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty, the Euro crisis, and now the migration crisis. In each crisis, the Member States have been able to adjust and advance. But will this time be an other example of Europe’s ability to adapt? or, will it break? The results of the survey conducted over the month of August validate these comments and show that European citizens are highly dubious about the future direction of the Union and ability of their leaders to address the root causes of the crisis, while maintaining European cohesion. The migration crisis is overwhelming and stretching the European unity and structures to a level never experienced before.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

‘Europe Did not Cause this Tragedy’

Photo: Massimo Sestini—Polaris
Photo: Massimo Sestini—Polaris

The Mediterranean sea is the most dangerous migrating route in the world. In 2014, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) concluded that 75% of the total migrant-related deaths in the world lost their lives in the Mediterranean sea. Unfortunately, many experts predict that 2015 could be one of the deadliest years in modern history. This prediction was confirmed with the tragic event in mid-April with the death of an estimated 900 migrants with only 28 survivors.

“unless Europe acts to reform its failed policy on migration” writes the editorialist of the New York Times of April 21st, “this could be the deadliest year yet for the thousands of people who fled to Libya from conflict-torn regions across the Middle East and Africa, only to find themselves in a deadly pincer.” After years of inactivity and avoidance of this problem, the Member States are now facing human and political crises requiring rapid and substantial solutions. Blaming the EU for such failed policy would be an error, as according the Treaties, the Member States are the ones in charged of the security of their borders. The protection of the territory depends on the Member States, not on the EU. In this current crisis, the Member States have three options: first, to patch a problem with a short-term policy; second, to do nothing; third, to empower the EU. In any case, the Europeans are now facing a dilemma.

How can the EU identify itself as a normative power with that many people trying to reach its coasts for a better life? And, how can the EU bring a serious solution on the table when so many EU Member States are dealing with the rise of extreme-right wing parties – for many xenophobist and racist – domestically?

The Central Route to Europe

The crisis in Libya is serious for two reasons. Since the fall of the Qaddafi regime in 2011, led by an Euro-Atlantic coalition, the country has spiraled into a civil war. The civil war has created a power vacuum in the middle of North Africa offering the exit point for many Northern and Central Africans leaving their home countries because of political violence, war, dire economic conditions, terrorism with the hope to reach the European continent for a better life. Libya has become the transit country for most of illegal migration. In addition to unchecked migration, the civil war and lack of government have offered a new ground to the Islamic State (IS). IS has emerged in the country directly threatening neighboring countries, which includes Europe.

The migrants leaving their countries have changed over the years. They were once the

Source: Le Monde
Source: Le Monde

poorest and the most desperate. Today’s migrants are composed of individuals belonging to the middle class with a predominance of women and children. Some come from Middle East countries devastated by war like in Syria, Iraq and others from further South such as Mali, Gambia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Eritrea and Somalia. The price of the trip has increased and cost between €2,000 and 6,000 per person. Migrants can ask for asylum in a European country unless they set foot on European ground. Such law empowers the smugglers. Once in Europe, their lives remain extremely difficult.

If Libya is the exit point of Africa, Italy is one of the entry points of Europe. Since the Arab Spring, Italy has been on the front line of illegal mass-migration from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). For years the numbers of migrants seeking asylum in Europe has considerably increased. The Central Mediterranean Route, from Libya to Italy, has seen a serious increase of illegal migrants from 40,000 in 2008 to 170,000 in 2014 (see here the different routes to Europe).

getimage

As reported in the New York Times by Jim Yardley, “after a year in which more than 3,200 people died and more than 130,000 were rescued by Italian naval and coast guard ships. Humanitarian groups estimate that nearly 500 people have already died at sea this year, compared with about 50 in the same period last year.” The Mediterranean has become a large cemetery at the doorstep of Europe. The number of death at sea is increasing. So far this year, it has been estimated that more than 500 migrants have died as opposed to 47 in the same period of 2014. Additional Lampedusas may very well become routine considering the recent numbers.

From Mare Nostrum to Triton

In order to control this illegal migration, but mostly in reaction to the Lampedusa catastrophe costing the lives to 232 migrants in October 2013, the Italian launched a program in October 2013, Operation Mare Nostrum, in which the Italian navy was used in order to stop boats transporting illegal migrants. Because of the continuous rise of migrants and an increase in the cost of the operation (around $9.7 million per month), the Italians have been calling for support from their European counterparts in sharing the burden on costs and materials as all European nations are directly or indirectly confronting the problems of illegal migrations. Ultimately the Italian cancelled Mare Nostrum because of financial constrains considered too costly within the dire Italian economic context.

In November 2014 Mare Nostrum ended and let the spotlight to a small European program, Triton, under the supervision of Frontex, the European immigration agency. Triton is much smaller in scope, in geographical coverage (operates only within 30 nautical miles of European shores), and in financial terms (represents 1/3 of Mare Nostrum’s budget). Additionally, Frontex depends on the supports and contributions of Member States in order to receive material and human capabilities. Last but not least Triton’s mission is not to replace Italy’s work on protection of its territory but assists it when needed. As per the European Commission’s memo of October 2014 “Triton is intended to support the Italian efforts, and does not replace or substitute Italian obligations in monitoring and surveying the Schengen external borders and in guaranteeing full respect of EU and international obligations, in particular when it comes to search and rescue at sea.” Frontex coordinates, Italy leads.

Table: Comparative Analysis of the Mare Nostrum with Triton

©Politipond                                                                                                                                                                                                         Sources: Ministero della difesa. Mare Nostrum Operation. Accessed online at http://www.marina.difesa.it/EN/operations/Pagine/MareNostrum.aspx [accessed on April 21st, 2015]; Yardley, Jim and Bilefsky, Dan. 2015. “Migrants Blame Captain of Capsized Boat.” New York Times. April 22. ; European Council on Refugees and Exiles. 2014. “Mare Nostrum to End – Frontex operation will not ensure of migrants in International waters.” ECRE Weekly Bulletin. October 10. European Commission. 2014. “Statement by EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström on operation Triton.” Brussels. October 7.; European Commission. 2015. “Fact Sheet – Questions and Answers: Smuggling of Migrants in Europe and the EU Response.” Brussels. January 13.

The table clearly demonstrates the fundamental distinction between Mare Nostrum and Triton in terms of mandate. Triton’s mandate does not make the operation a search and rescue mission, but simply a border management operation. Additionally, the capabilities provided to Frontex are based on the contribution of the willing Member States. Frontex facilities the work of the Italian navy. Frontex’s hands are clearly tied.

European Union’s Responses and Actions

European reactions and responses will depend on the complex paradigm: balancing humanitarian responsibilities against budget constraints and widespread public sentiment against immigration. Ensuing the catastrophe, most European officials and heads of state and government expressed their emotions. In addition, President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, called an emergency European summit meeting for Thursday, April 23rd to address the issue. The problem of illegal migration and lack of EU unity was addressed in a report eight years ago wherein the EU acknowledged a “disunity within the E.U. over which obligations arise from E.U. fundamental rights, international human rights and refugee law, and how these obligations relate to the law of the sea.”

Matteo Renzi of Italy and his counterpart Joseph Muscat of Malta declared during a joint conference after the weekend that “What happened on Sunday was a game changer. There is a new realization that if Europe doesn’t act as a team, history will judge it very harshly, as it did when it closed its eyes to stories of genocide — horrible stories — not long ago.” The President of European Parliament, Martin Schulz, made a similar argument when raising two questions: “How many more people will have to drown until we finally act in Europe?” “How many times more do we want to express our dismay, only to then move on to our daily routine?”

Frederica Mogherini, Chief of EU Foreign Affairs, declared once again ‘‘We have said too many times ‘Never again.’ Now is time for the European Union as such to tackle these tragedies without delay.’’ French President François Hollande called for more material capabilities “more boats, more aerial surveillance and a much tougher fight against traffickers.”

Prior the extraordinary European summit meeting, the President of the European Council highlighted a list of overarching questions: How to stop the human traffickers, whom put the migrants’ lives at risk? How to step up European combined efforts for rescuing people in need? How to better help the EU Member States most affected? and, how to step up European cooperation with countries of origins and transits?

Days before the summit, during a joint meeting of Foreign and Interior Ministers with HR Mogherini, Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner Avramopoulos presented a 10 point plan of the immediate actions in the Mediterranean region. During the emergency meeting of Thursday, the European heads of government agreed on a list of points:

  • First, the High Representative (HR) is now charged of the mission to “propose actions in order to capture and destroy the smugglers’ vessels before they can be used.”
  • Second, Triton’s budget has been tripled and is now at the same level than Mare Nostrum and Member States have committed more material resources (no numbers though).
  • Third, increase cooperation with origin and transit countries, especially Libya.

These agreements seem quite shallow considering the complexity of the problem. The Commission is scheduled to deliver its Europe Agenda on Migration due on May 13, which in Juncker’s words “We will be ambitious. We will be bold.” The destruction of boats and an increase of budget are only a quick fix to a regional problem requiring state-building, economic and trade cooperations, security sector reforms, additional humanitarian and aid assistance, and even military interventions.

Solidarity, Responsibility and Norms

“With no coherent policy and woefully insufficient financing,” writes the New York Times “lives are needlessly being put at risk, and the European Union’s humanitarian values are exposed as meaningless.” The continuous dying of migrants at the doorstep of fortress

Photo: Matthew Mirabelli/Agence France Presse - Getty Images
Photo: Matthew Mirabelli/Agence France Presse – Getty Images

Europe is forcing the EU and its Member States to reflect on three dimensions: solidarity; responsibility; and normative action. Solidarity is the core component of a social contract and an Union like the EU. Unfortunately with the financial crisis and the rise of populist movements throughout the Union, this core value has been lost in translation.

“The E.U. has been struggling to respond to the crisis because governments think it is too expensive,” Mr. Pascouau said, and “the debate on immigration has become toxic because of the rise of the far right.” Sweden, Poland, Austria need to be as concerned as mediterranean Member States about the rise of illegal migrants and their deaths in vein. Most migrants do not stay in Spain, Italy or Greece, they are trying to reach France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden. In this case, solidarity can be represented under two dimensions: material, human and financial aspects; and a reform of the European immigration policy.

Solidarity does not only imply European solidarity, but global solidarity. During an interview with NPR with François Crepeau, the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, argued in having the Global North (North America and the EU) absorbing immigrants. He argues that the best solution in resolving the massive illegal influx of migrants is through the integration of these migrants in each country of the Global North over a 5-10 years period by giving them visas in order to build a life. Crepeau claims that by offering them a legal solution/exit they would wait in their home countries for a way out rather than risking their lives and burning all their savings. The EU-28, especially European citizens, needs to accept such option and implement it and then find a common agreement with the US and Canada. Unfortunately this option seems off the table as Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the Commission, declared after the extraordinary summit that his “proposal for legal immigration was not supported” in order to secure resettlement across Europe for 10,000 refugees.

Responsibility, Member States ought to demonstrate their commitment to the Treaties and accept their own responsibility in the deaths. So many Member States are blaming the EU for these catastrophes, when in fact the Member States are to be blamed. Even though the blame game is counter productive, Member States and domestic political parties ought to have serious national discussion about the rise of illegal migrants from Africa. The arguments of closing the borders, ending the Schengen agreement and passing the buck to neighbors are unacceptable. Member States have to increase spending and cooperation either at the European level or even on bilateral basis.

Normative action seems to have died in the Mediterranean sea. The EU and the EU-28 need to materialize the self-proclamation of soft power through actions. Even if one cannot expect the EU to solve the migration problems coming from Africa, the EU and its Member States have to demonstrate a willingness to work with African partners. During an interview with a French expert on European defense in 2010, he argued that the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) was developed in order to solve the most pressing

The Economist
The Economist

crises in Africa. He claimed that if the Europeans were not doing as much as possible in order to solve political cronyism in Africa, terrorism, and contribute on stabilizing the region with substantial economic incentives, the European continent would be flooded by massive waves of migrants. This expert was 100% correct.

Five years ago the EU and its Member States could have implemented preventive measures. Today the EU and its Member States are confronting a serious crisis requiring massive human, capabilities and financial contributions, a European reform of the immigration policy and a serious commitment to cooperation at the European level all this under dire economic situation and unfriendly domestic electorate. The EU ought to liberalize immigration policy and open up legal routes for migrants. The EU and its Member States have quite a challenge in front them.

Last but not least, the most shocking line was made President Tusk right after the Council meeting, “Let me be clear. Europe did not cause this tragedy. But that does not mean we can be indifferent.” Was the summit about finger-pointing or about solving one of most pressing issues facing Europe? Such comment clearly illustrates Europe’s mindset in addressing this crisis.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Putin, Master of Europe?

Credit: Alexei Druzhinin / RIA Novosti / Associated Press
Credit: Alexei Druzhinin / RIA Novosti / Associated Press

Is Russia winning its war against Europe? It surely looks like it. Since 2008, Putin’s Russia has been over active in dividing and conquering the members of the European Union and the Euro-Atlantic community (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, has been successful by implementing a strategy on two fronts: regional/international and domestic. Despite his track record of not bidding himself to any agreement, Putin has transformed Russia into the ‘indispensable nation’ in Europe.

Geopolitics – Maintaining Regional/International Chaos

Putin understands one thing: safeguarding Russia’s neighborhood and empowering its sphere of influence at any cost. In order to fulfill both goals, Putin has been using military force in order to limit the horizontal expansion of NATO and the EU. On the European continent, Russia is the only state willing to use military force to advance its interest. It has done so in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine since 2013 (this does not include the lengthy war in Chechnya). In 2008, Putin saw the need to attack Georgia as the Bush administration was foreseeing the incorporation of Georgia within NATO. By attacking Georgia, Putin forced Euro-Atlantic leaders to rethink about the consequence and strategic soundness of including a small state like Georgia within the Alliance. The Article 5 was a powerful deterrent during the Cold War, but could be in the current multipolar order a threat to the security of the Euro-Atlantic community.

In 2013, Ukraine was on its way to sign a trade agreement with the EU. Putin saw it as a threat and pushed its influence over the corrupted and pro-Russian leadership, Viktor Yanukovych. Ukrainian President abruptly ended the talks causing pro-Western manifestations in Kiev. In a matter of months, Yanukovych had fled Ukraine, Russia had annexed Crimea and continues supporting pro-Russian militiamen in Eastern Ukraine. Though the annexation of Crimea was not enough to unite the 28 EU Member States against Russia, the evidences gathered by NATO demonstrating the clear military involvement of Russia in

Picture: Reuters
Picture: Reuters

Eastern Ukraine permitted the 28 EU leaders to implement sanctions against Russian individuals and corporations.

Putin was again the heart of the February negotiations with Angela Merkel of Germany and François Hollande of France in order to agree on the baseline for a ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine. The Minsk provisions have not lived to the promises hoped by Europeans.

Aside from the use of military power, Putin has been working on the creation of a Eurasian Union. This Union initiated by Vladimir Putin is a way to balance out the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The Eurasian Union has allowed Putin to attract regional countries from the EU to his Union. As per Nico Popescu of the EU-ISS, it exists two Eurasian Union: one real, an economic union; and, one imagined with geopolitical aspirations. The first one, the Eurasian Economic Union, is led by the Eurasian Economic Commission, which has a staff of 1,000 employees, which was established by the Eurasian Union treaty in May 2014. While the second union, with geopolitical role, is the center point of Putin’s third term seeking to become an organization, like the EU, NAFTA among other, and reintegrating former states of the Soviet Union under one entity.

The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) is currently under construction. The Treaty came into force on January 1st, 2015 with three core members, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, and Armenia (entering on January 2nd) and Kyrgyzstan joining in May 2015. As presented by Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group the EEU in perspective is quite considerable: “The size of the EEU is not the primary cause for concern; rather, it’s what it reveals about Vladimir Putin and his commitment to maintaining regional dominance. It’s why he will go to such extremes to keep Ukraine from joining Western institutions like the EU or NATO. He’s not willing to cede this sphere of influence, and Ukraine is the crown jewel; there is no viable, robust Eurasian Union without Ukraine.”

Vladimir Putin has masterfully locked in the control of geopolitics in Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Additionally, Putin has increased his influence in the conflicts in the Middle East. Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, owes his power to Putin as he reached at the last minute to his American counterpart, President Obama, in order to agree on an international deal to destroy Syrian chemical weapons.

Playing with European Domestic Malaise

Within the European Union, Russia has been highly successful in creating disunity among the 28 Member States. Putin has used two aspects to Russia’s advantages: Europe’s energy dependence and the sluggish European economic context.

On the question of energy, the EU-28 are highly dependent on Russian hydrocarbons (gas and oil). Germany, France, Italy, Greece and Eastern EU Member States need a constant influx of Russian energy in order to maintain their economic and industrial engines going. Europeans have dealt, poorly, with the security of supply of energy as illustrated below.

Chart: European Dependence on Russian hydrocarbons (2002-2012)

3. Chart 1- EU dependence on Russian energy-B&W
Source: Eurostat. 2014. “Energy Dependency Rate, EU-28, 2002-2012 (percent of net imports in gross inland consumptions and bunkers, based on tons of oil equivalent) YB14

The graph above demonstrates the high degree of dependence on Russian hydrocarbons. The trend has certainly be declining, but the overall average remains too high in order to guarantee a security of supply. In recent years, the Europeans have been working on lowering their dependency on Russia through renewable energy and, for a long time, on nuclear energy.

Figure: Production of Primary Energy in Europe

5. Fig 2-Production of Primary Energy in Europe-B&W
Source: Eurostat. 2014. “Production of Primary Energy, EU-28, 2012 (percent of total, based on tonnes of oil equivalent) YB14.”

Renewable energy – composed of biomass, hydropower, wind, solar and geothermal energies – are increasing and offering an alternative to Europeans. However, renewables cannot be the only source of energy as they need to be backed up by either hydrocarbons or nuclear power. If Europeans are working on moving towards greener economies, they still require hydrocarbons. Germany has been the prime example with the Nord Stream pipeline bringing Russian hydrocarbons directly at home without depending on transit countries. With the crash of oil prices, hydrocarbons remain an important share of European consumptions.

The second door for Russian intrusion and/or attraction is money. Despite a dire domestic economic and financial situation, Vladimir Putin has been able to attract the most desperate EU Member States such as Italy and Greece as well as building strong ties with some national political parties. Since its financial collapse, Greece has proven to be the weakest EU and Eurozone member. Greece’s default was avoided by a series of multilateral bailouts by the troika – ECB, European Commission and IMF -, keeping the country within the Eurozone. However, these bailouts have come at great costs requiring  large spending cuts in social and welfare programs. Unemployment levels are through the roof, young Greeks are fleeing to Germany to get a higher education, and dying in Greece

Photograph: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images
Photograph: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images

is once again a reality (read here a previous analysis).

In addition of this dire domestic context and the succession of powerless former government, Syriza, the extreme-left party led by Alexis Tsipras, was elected in January 2015 (read here a previous analysis on Syriza). Tsipras’ platform was based on renegotiations of the terms of the bailouts and rebuilding Greek national psych. From electoral promises to governing realities, Tspiras was unable to do so and is now seeking for outside funding in order to “come up with money to pay off maturing debts, revive its devastated economy and renegotiate its loan agreements with other countries in the eurozone.” Prime Minister Tsipras was in Moscow last week. Both countries are claiming that Tsipras did not ask for money. Considering Putin’s behavior and Tsipras’ desperation, it is difficult to believe that Tsipras and Putin only talked of the new gas pipeline through Greece and discounts on gas prices. Additionally, Tsipras has been advocating for a removal of the European sanctions against Russia. Such comment is a departure from European unity in order to maintain economic sanctions on Russia.

From state to party-sponsoring, Putin has found a way to change the perceptions within Europe about Russia. In France, recent allegations and press coverage have demonstrated that a Russian bank has been financing the extreme right wing political party, the Front National. Reports show that the Russian bank, First Czech Russian Bank (FCRB), had lent EURO9 million to the party. The party claims that no French banks were willing to lend them money, forcing them to find foreign funding. However, the Front National has been very vocal in defending Vladimir Putin’s domestic and foreign policies and portrayed him as a great leader. The French government is reflecting on launching an investigation to look into the campaign financing of the FN.

The relationship between Putin and the European far-rights has grown thanks to the dire socio-economic context and the rise of euroskepticism all around Europe. “The far right is attracted by Putin’s Russia,” argued Pierre Lellouche, a member of a mainstream conservative party, the Union for a Popular Movement, “because it embodies the traditional social values they feel Europe has abandoned.”

europe-russia

Divide and Conquer

Putin is the key to regional stability and instability. Since his arrival to power in 2000, Vladimir Putin has worked on rebuilding the grandeur of Russia and perceives the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century. Vladimir Putin is using all aspects of Russian power to increase Russia’s regional and international influence. He has been very successful at it. Bashar al-Assad of Syria is still in power of a destroyed country, Crimea is now part of Russia, Eastern Ukraine seems englobed in a long and nasty war and could end up as the next piece of Russia, and Russia is regularly interfering with national sovereignty of EU and NATO members.

In response, the members of the Euro-Atlantic community have only condemned Russia’s actions, agreed on mild sanctions and are hoping to stop conflicts and tensions through diplomatic agreements. Are Putin’ strategies sustainable? and, what are the endgame? Putin certainly emerges as being very successful in creating discord, affecting the unity of EU Member States, and underscoring the power-aversion of the EU and to some degree the US. Putin has made Russia the indispensable European state.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Arming or Not Arming Ukraine?

Photo: Vadim Braydov/Associated Press
Photo: Vadim Braydov/Associated Press

The calls of arming the Ukrainian government in order to respond to Russia clear support of Ukrainian separatists are misguided. It is neither in the interest of the US, NATO, nor the EU and its 28 Member States to start an arm race with Russia over Ukraine. After one year of military combats in Ukraine, leading to the Russian annexation of Crimea, and violent fights in Eastern Ukraine, four-nations peace talks – composed of President of France, German Chancellor, Ukrainian President and Russian President – will be meeting in Minsk, Belarus’ capital (which is the bastion of the last true European dictator) on February 11th. The Minsk Summit, known as the last chance summit, will be trying to solve the Ukrainian conflict and lay the foundation for an eventual future peace in Ukraine.

The peace talks are a continuation of the four-way phone conference held on Sunday between the four leaders in order to implement the Minsk agreements signed on September 4th, 2014. Wednesday talks are supposed to seek for a cease-fire and a settlement for ending the conflict (even though very little has transpired about sunday’s long talks and the approach to Wednesday’s talks). As argued by the Elysée, France’s executive power, there are several points of contention prior tomorrow’s meeting:

  • reaching out a global agreement;
  • the degree of autonomy of territories held by separatists;
  • control of borders wherein Russian military equipments have gone through;
  • removal of heavy weaponry (which could be clearly undermined if the US decides to go on with providing heavy weaponry to the Ukrainian government);
  • about the future of territories conquered by the separatists.

Despite the very localized combat zone, the situation in Eastern Ukraine is worrisome for the overall regional stability of Europe. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and a recent UN Report (from BBC News), the war in Ukraine has had serious consequences as illustrated below (see here portraits of the war):

  • 5,358 people killed and 12,235 wounded in eastern Ukraine;
  • Fatalities include 298 people on board flight MH17 shot down on 17 July;
  • 224 civilians killed in three-week period leading up to 1 February;
  • 5.2 million people estimated to be living in conflict areas;
  • 921,640 internally displaced people within Ukraine, including 136,216 children;
  • 600,000 fled to neighboring countries of whom more than 400,000 have gone to Russia.

Lack of Unity in the West

The numbers posted above illustrate the reality of war on the European continent. The strategy to solving the crisis is far from being a demonstration of unity between the members of the Euro-Atlantic community. The 2015 Munich Security conference illustrated the clear divergence of strategic approach to Ukraine between the two sides of the pond. During the 2015

Source: 51st Munich Security Conference
Source: 51st Munich Security Conference

Munich Security Conference, the US and Germany clearly went apart. US Secretary Kerry expressed the US support to arming Ukraine, while Chancellor Merkel expressed her opposition to such strategy and advocated instead for ‘strategic patience.’ Strategic patience is defined as the “capacity to stay united behind a coherent set of principles and, at the same time, back its policies with plenty of diplomatic activism and economic incentives.” Chancellor Merkel said during the Munich conference that “The progress that Ukraine needs cannot be achieved by more weapons.” US Senator McCain, a foreign policy hawk, was caught responding to her comments by saying “Foolishness.” His view represents the vision on the Capitol in Washington D.C. wherein a majority of republican senators as well as the democratic establishment are willing and apparently ready to arm the Ukrainian government. The White House expressed its support to providing Ukraine “lethal defensive weapons” in case of diplomatic failures. Such announcement by the White House may have put the President in the corner once again after the infamous ‘redline’ crossed by Bashar Al-Assad of Syria.

Russia, Russia, Russia

The Ukrainian dilemma is obviously a serious problem in terms of geopolitical stability, but as well Western unity. For instance as demonstrated by John Lough of the Chattam House:

On the one hand, Ukraine is a victim of aggression and deserves the right to defend itself against separatist forces that Russia is clearly supplying and supporting. On the other hand, the supply of defensive weaponry to Ukraine has the potential to split the West and precipitate a wider war.

Many seem confused behind Putin’s rationale – and called him an irrational actor – to continue pushing the Russian offensive in Ukraine. Why would Putin ‘gamble’ its legitimacy, legacy and even Russian economic prosperity for eastern Ukraine? The response is simple: sphere of influence. As expressed in an excellent op-ed by John J. Mearsheimer in the New York Times:

Great powers react harshly when distant rivals project military power into their neighborhood, much less attempt to make a country on their border an ally. This is why the United States has the Monroe Doctrine, and today no American leader would ever tolerate Canada or Mexico joining a military alliance headed by another great power.

What would Ukraine bring to the EU and/or NATO? Is it an acceptable risk for the euro-atlantic community to bring Ukraine within its institutional, legal, political, economic and military networks? It does not appear that neither Georgia nor Ukraine are strategic benefit for NATO and the EU at this point of time. The Euro-Atlantic community is deeply divided on opening the doors of NATO and the EU to Ukraine and Georgia. Thus, Russia has clearly demonstrated that it cares much more about keeping Ukraine at all cost than the West about loosing it. Powerful member states like France have expressed their opposition to the eventuality to incorporating these states within NATO. For instance, “France is not favorable to Ukraine’s entering the Atlantic alliance,” said President François Hollande. “Let this be absolutely clear.” President Hollande wants to end the violence and war and normalize relations with Putin (the two mistral ships are still waiting in French harbors).

Seeking for Western Strategic Soundness and Patience

If the West is so concerned about creating a clear demarcation between them and Russia, why not using Ukraine as a buffer zone? After all Ukraine has been very divided on picking a side, either the EU or Russia. This was one of the reasons behind the Orange revolution in 2004 and last year manifestations in Kiev snowballing into the current war. For the EU it will be more a matter of developing/strengthening either a bilateral partnership or a loosen commercial agreement with Ukraine than incorporating Ukraine as its 29th Member States. The EU has too many internal tensions, problems and distractions to even consider bringing Ukraine in.

But the real concern from a Western point of view is the degree of confusion and division

Source: 51st Munich Security Conference
Source: 51st Munich Security Conference

within the Euro-Atlantic community. The fact that the US has been relentless in its call to arm Ukraine without forging clear unity between NATO members speaks about the lack of common strategic vision. From a European standpoint, the neighborhoods are so unstable (read previous analyses here, here and here) that it slowly undermined its influence and security. The EU and the EU-28 cannot agree on a common strategy, so let alone the idea of forging one, for each crisis such as the ones raging in Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Iraq (Islamic State (IS)), and Nigeria (Boko Haram). This lack of European soundeness demonstrates several aspects: first, some Member States are completely out of foreign policy due to domestic troubles and do not realize the long-term consequences of their lack of interests and engagement (the United Kingdom is considerably silent on this important regional issue); second, some Member States are cheery-picking which issue to tackle without an overall vision; third, other Member States are simply seeking for going alone at the expense of the unity.

Several options are on the table: a possible Franco-German led cease-fire through diplomatic talks (or ‘strategic patience’); sending or not weapons to support Ukraine despite Germany’s opposition; or continuing the deepening of economic sanctions against Russia. But the talks about arming Ukraine and the eventuality that it could escalate the war with Russia is a reality.

It may seem that the West is miss-reading the Cold War. Yes, nuclear weapons and proxy wars locked the two superpowers in check. No, American hard power was not the only tool in the toolbox. Soft power, and its power of attraction, played an important role. Certainly hard power offers a quick solution; while soft power is much loosen, less precise, and slow. At this point of time, the best bet for the West is serious diplomatic talks in ending the conflict. Tomorrow’s Minsk peace talk between the Franco-German engine, Ukraine and Russia could arrive to possible agreements and redlines. The US should instead seek to work them instead of threatening Russia.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).