The SCO expands

The EU’s expansion into Ukraine obeys the law of unintended consequences. Alliances that were probably decades into the making are starting to take shape in months, if not weeks.

Thus, after ten years of protracted negotiation, Russia agreed to sign the huge gas-supply contract with China last June. The two countries have reinforced their diplomatic and military cooperation within the SCO and are now poised to enlarge this organization to ten members.

Russia and China have recently announced that India, Iran, Pakistan and Mongolia will be accepted as new members at the forthcoming SCO summit in Dushanbe to be held on the 11th-12th September 2014. This is how the enlargement process is perceived in New Delhi:

With Beijing having had a profound rethink on India’s admission as a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the tectonic plates of the geopolitics of a massive swathe of the planet stretching from the Asia-Pacific to West Asia are dramatically shifting. That grating noise in the Central Asian steppes will be heard far and wide — as far as North America, says Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar.

In a not-too-distant future we could expect Turkey to respond positively to President Nazarbayev’s invitation to join the Eurasian Union. There is also a very strong possibility that Turkey’s observer status within the SCO will morph into full membership of the organization.

In hindsight, the EU’s and NATO’s ill-inspired eastward drive and subsequent sanctions against Russia have greatly accelerated the latent integration plans in Asia and have increased the bonds of solidarity and economic cooperation within the BRICS group of countries. 

 

Ukraine: it’s High Time for Plan B

Posted by Florian Pantazi on 29/07/14
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One hundred years to the day, the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural state model received its first major blow. A few years later in the wake the first world war, the multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian monarchy collapsed and was replaced by a plethora of new national states.

Not all of these states, however, were built as purely ethnic entities. Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, for example, tried to uphold the model for another 70 years, with the help of the Soviet Union.

We all know the ending by now. Both countries, including the Soviet Union, imploded and new national states emerged from their ashes: Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Kosovo, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Russia, Belarus and, last but not least, Ukraine.

Alas, from its inception, the brand new Ukrainian state contained the seeds of its own destruction. As Samuel Huntington rightly predicted in “The Clash”, the faultline which separates western Ukraine from eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainians proper from the Russophones, has become the theatre of a bloody civil war.

For reasons unknown to international relations and diplomacy, current western leaders prefer to ignore the fact that Ukraine is about to disintegrate along ethnic lines and that keping it within its current borders is not only unfeasible but downright dangerous for the peace of Europe. The stupidity of singling out Vladimir Putin’s administration for the situation there and of slapping sanctions after sanctions on Russia could only make matters worse.

It is high time therefore to search for a diplomatic way out of the Ukrainian quagmire. One such solution has been offered by two American historians and geopoliticians, James D. Hardy and Leonard J. Hochberg. In a series of articles from the 6th of May, 2014 (“The Ukrainian Crisis, Part III – the Deal”), the two American specialists outlined the so-called Plan B to the current sanctions campaign against Russia:

 

It is ‘Plan B’.  But a least worst position is not by definition either unreasonable nor undesirable.  In this case, a divided Ukraine – provided the border is along the civilizational fault line – between Russia and the west makes sense on every level.  It reduces tensions, encourages economic growth, takes account of real, not artificial, cultural and ethnic borders, increases the chances for Russian-European cooperation, prevents Ukrainian disintegration, and rescues America from another foreign policy blunder.  A partial win, all around.”

In truth, western and Russian politicians are well-advised to arrive at a diplomatic solution for Ukraine sooner rather than later, as the performance of the global economy has started to be seriously affected by this geopolitical tug-of-war between the US and Russia. Furthermore, no politician worth his name could these days advocate the pumping of money and military assistance into a multi-ethnic state in turmoil that has no real chance of surviving as such within its current borders.

As a Romanian historian and geopolitician, I endorse such a diplomatic solution, with the amendment that the territories of south-western Ukraine inhabited by a Romanian-speaking majority, which had been taken away as a result of Stalin’s Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, are allowed to reunite with Romania.

 

The Ukraine Strategy Fiasco

Posted by Florian Pantazi on 20/07/14
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The tragic accident of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 has shocked the European public – and with good reason. Less justified, however, is the attitude of some EU national leaders who are trying to use this tragedy in order to slap more sanctions on Russia.

Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace in Moscow, gives a more balanced view of events in Ukraine and the way they should be interpreted:

“The west fully supports a Ukrainian government which originated from a revolution that toppled an elected – if obviously corrupt – president. True, the new president, Petro Poroshenko, has a solid popular mandate. Yet the referendums held in Donetsk and Luhansk two weeks prior to the presidential poll – and no less illegal than the Maidan revolution in Kiev – reflected a very high degree of dissatisfaction in eastern Ukraine with the deal they were getting from central government.

The legitimacy of the “people’s republics” is questionable, of course, but the Ukrainian government’s “anti-terrorist operation”, resulting in an ever-rising toll of civilian lives, does not do much to endear Kiev to the easterners. The west’s tendency to treat one’s allies more leniently than one’s adversaries – while sticking to the same high principles throughout – can and does backfire.

In Ukraine, a lot is at stake today. First, for the Ukrainians themselves, wherever they may live. The fate of their country remains in the balance – not just because of the armed conflict in the east, but as a result of the dire economic situation and an uncertain political future. Russia, too, is profoundly affected. Having clashed with the United States over Ukraine, it is now facing increasingly serious consequences in a number of areas – above all, in economy and finance.

For Europe, Ukraine represents a security risk far higher than the one it faced in the Balkans in the 1990s. In the US, Russia may have come to be seen as a nasty nuisance rather than a worthy competitor or a real threat. Yet there is an impression that the punishment already administered is not supported by a realistic strategy leading to a credible goal. If so, it could lead to a very different outcome from the one that the US might desire.”

 

Let us face it, what we are dealing with in Ukraine is yet another American-inspired policy quagmire. No clear exit strategy from the worrisome situation is available, even if the West has ample financial leverage on the Kiev government that could be used in order to put a stop to the military operations in the East and bring all parties involved in the conflict to the negotiating table instead.

A lingering question about the tragic MH17 accident remains. Why is it, that no EU or Ukrainian air safety official had taken timely measures to prevent commercial flights above a war zone ? In hindsight, these officials are at least as responsible for what happened to the unsuspecting passengers of the plane as the actual people who shot it down.

 

Turkey invited to join Eurasian Union

Posted by Florian Pantazi on 12/06/14
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President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan has officially invited Turkey to become a member of the new Eurasian Union during a 2-day conference on the 4th and 5th of June 2014 which took place in the Turkish seaside resort of Bodrum. ( I have alluded to this opportunity in my previous post.)

In extending the invitation, President Nazarbayev has told his Turkish hosts that membership of the Eurasian Union would be beneficial for Turkey and would not be very much different from the country’s membership – together with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgizstan – of the Turkic Council.

I take this opportunity to let my readers know that on the 6th of June I have published my most important ebook on the geopolitics of Eurasia so far, The New Pivot of History. I welcome your comments and feedback.

 

Does the Eurasian Union have enlargement potential ?

Posted by Florian Pantazi on 31/05/14
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The recently-signed Eurasian Union agreement between Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan in Astana has brought into being the world’s newest trade bloc, as envisaged by President Putin since 2010.

The current size of the bloc is rather small, as it includes only about 170 million consumers. If, however, the Eurasian Union is destined to be the nucleus to which other Eurasian and even Asian countries would be interested to adhere in future, the bloc will eventually grow in terms of size and international clout.

One such potential candidate for membership is naturally Turkey, which would make a much more valued member of the Eurasian Union than of the European Union. If compared to Ukraine – a country that shunned the opportunity to join, which in turn might prove to be a blessing in disguise for Vladimir Putin – Turkey has a much stronger economy, almost double the population, its industries are complementary to Russia’s and it could host a much safer transport corridor to the EU for Russian oil and gas than Ukraine has ever done.

Instead of courting rebellious ASEAN partners – one thinks of those already fallen under the influence of the US or Japan – China, on the other hand, might also ultimately find the Eurasian Union a more attractive alternative. Again, the Chinese and Russian economies are complementary, there are existing military and security arrangements binding the two countries, and no border disputes between them to speak of.

Such a possible outcome would lead to the creation of the largest and economically most powerful trade bloc in history. It would also benefit from the advantage of having all the energy and mineral resources it would ever need within its own borders and not outside them. The only other economic bloc offering similar advantages is Mercosur. By comparison, the EU and even NAFTA are heavily dependent on imports of energy and raw materials from the Middle East, Africa or elsewhere.

The New Pivot of History

Posted by Florian Pantazi on 25/05/14
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In the allocation of world power, the periods of hegemonic transition have always been fraught with major confrontations.

One hundred and ten years have passed since the British geographer and economist Halford J. Mackinder published his notorious paper on geopolitics, The Pivot of History, otherwise known as the Heartland Theory.

In his view, economic and military power was about to pass from what could be considered fringe, peripheral sea powers like England and the United States, to mainland Europe, namely to Germany. Mackinder noticed that Germany’s technological and industrial base, rail infrastructure and military capabilities, combined with Russia’s enormous natural resources would ultimately displace seafaring powers like England from their hegemonic position.

Last week’s historical, 400 billion-dollar Sino-Russian gas contract over 30 years, however, seems to point towards a mega-realignment of geopolitical alliances, which in future will indeed favour Eurasian powers (China, Russia) at the expense of the United States and its NATO allies.

As Anatole Kaletsky has also recently noted, China and Russia have by now acquired a common enemy (USA-EU-NATO). They have highly complementary economies, an established economic and military potential, as well as a clear desire to be recognised as leaders in a new, multipolar international order. China’s rise as a world power, supported by Russia in the background, is already attracting in its sphere of influence countries from all over Asia such as Iran, Pakistan and the five ‘stans’. Meanwhile, the US’s appetite for global leadership is on the wane even if, for the time being, it still counts as the world’s foremost military and economic power.

The early recognition of this mega geopolitical shift in world affairs should become a main objective of EU diplomacy. Our continent, exhausted by two world wars, happens to be severely lacking in natural resources as well. Blunders like the one in which the EU has found itself embroiled with Ukraine, and the sterile promotion of the Washington consensus’ agenda in countries surrounding the Union, should now give way to more sober foreign policy calculations. Failing this, the new Sino-Russian alliance might provide European diplomats – especially those from the Baltic states, much too vocal for their own good – with a few nasty and unwelcome surprises in the future.

Russia, the Eurasian Union and the US

Posted by Florian Pantazi on 11/05/14
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Current developments in Ukraine might lead us to forget why the crisis has erupted in the first place. In short, Putin’s project for an Eurasian Union and his desire to include Ukraine within it had prompted the Maidan protests and the overthrow of the Yanukovych administration.

Less debated these days is Mrs Clinton’s role in the chain of events which were set in motion in Dublin in 2012. On that occasion, she participated at an OSCE conference where she made it clear that the US was adamantly opposed to Putin’s Eurasian Union, wrongly dubbing it “a move to re-sovietize the region”.

In a highly prophetic article from 2012, Nikolas K. Gvosdev, a Security Studies professor at the US Naval War College, contended however the following:

“The U.S. position, as stated by Clinton, is that Washington would not like to see any sort of Eurasian Union emerge, in any way, shape or form. Given the process already underway in terms of forging closer economic links between Russia and other post-Soviet states, this is not a realistic approach to take. Instead, U.S. policymakers should be asking themselves two questions: Is the cooperation being proffered by Moscow on other issues of concern to the U.S. of sufficient value to accept a greater degree of Russian influence and control in the Eurasian space? And are fundamental U.S. interests, as opposed to American preferences, threatened if Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan adopt institutions modeled on the European Union?

If the answers to the previous questions are yes and no, respectively, shifting the U.S. position from all-out opposition to any form of Eurasian integration in favor of a process that builds stronger protections for individual state sovereignty and preserves some degree of openness in the Eurasian space for countries to have trade and security relationships with the West makes more sense. A Eurasian Union that is simply a more developed customs union in which post-Soviet states freely participate — in part because the free flow of goods, capital and labor across the Eurasian space makes good economic sense for all parties concerned — should not be viewed in the same vein as attempts to forcibly recreate the Soviet Union.

If the Obama administration adopts this more flexible position, then it will be able to manage the tension between the Russian preference for a more consolidated Eurasian space and the U.S. desire for preserving the independence of the post-Soviet states. But if Clinton’s position as expressed in Dublin is enshrined as the U.S. perspective, this will become an area for conflict between the two countries, one that will very likely nullify the reset once and for all.”

Mrs Clinton’s foreign policy exploits has left us with the Ukrainian crisis. Today she is considering running for President. Should we prepare for WW III in case she wins the elections in the US ?
Link to the full article below:
The Realist Prism: U.S. Stance on Eurasian Union Threatens Russia Reset

Ucraina, sau “de nobis sine nobis”

Posted by Florian Pantazi on 07/05/14
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“Groupthink is said to occur when a group makes faulty decisions due to group pressures to conform. Groupthink often leads to deterioration in moral judgment, a demonization of other groups, ignorance of alternative approaches and, ultimately irrational actions.”

In cursul iernii trecute, vestul a hotarat, fara acordul Moscovei, sa aduca la putere la Kiev un guvern care nu poate fi calificat, in urma recentelor atacuri impotriva separatistilor, decat ca unul fascistoid, chiar daca nu fascist 100%.

Consecintele incercarii de extindere a NATO/UE intr-un stat-tampon ca Ucraina, vital pentru interesele de securitate si economice ale Rusiei, nu au intarziat sa apara. Ucraina este acum in plin razboi civil, si nici un efort diplomatic nu mai poate decat atenua, nicidecum stopa, cursul evenimentelor.

Comparand ceea ce se intampla astazi in Ucraina cu revolutiile din 1989 sau “revolutiile colorate” din 2004, nu putem sa nu constatam ca asemenea mega-transformari nu pot avea sanse de succes daca Rusia nu este de acord cu manevrele politico-militare ale vestului.

Planificarea de catre expertii vestici a transformarilor din Kiev este rodul unei erori care afecteaza destul de frecvent deciziile acestora, cunoscuta de sociologi sub numele de “groupthink” : oameni bine educati, inteligenti si capabili profesional se aduna si iau decizii in grup, ce au in practica consecinte de-a dreptul catastrofale.
Excluderea Rusiei din G8 si alte sanctiuni nu vor ajuta la nimic, partida a fost pierduta de vestici din momentul in care au decis sa porneasca la drum fara a avea pe rusi de partea lor, adica de la bun inceput. Ceea ce vedem acum sunt numai consecintele unei planificari strategice total eronate, pentru care promotorii ei vestici vor trebui sa plateasca cu varf si indesat : somajul nu este numai pentru cei din industrii sau servicii …

Thomas Piketty’s Manifesto

Posted by Florian Pantazi on 04/05/14
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Last Saturday, Thomas Piketty and a group of French intellectuals have launched a manifesto which is intended as a guide to would-be reformers of the European Unions’ policies and institutions.

Central to the manifesto is the idea of introducing an EU-wide corporate income tax which, according to its authors, will prevent both fiscal dumping and fiscal optimisation, as well as provide the necessary funds for the cash-strapped EU budget.

Without any further ado, I would like to provide you with a link to the full manifesto, as published by yesterday’s Guardian:

Our Manifesto for Europe

Making Room for Alternative Democracies

Posted by Florian Pantazi on 05/04/14
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The landslide success of Erdogan’s party, the AKP, and Vladimir Putin’s skyrocketing domestic popularity in the wake of the Crimean crisis are golden opportunities for a rethink of Western officialdom’s policies towards Turkey and Russia.

Unlike my counterparts in Washington, I prefer to label the Turkish and Russian political systems as “alternative democracies”. Sure, on the White House’s national security site they are unceremoniously called “authoritarian regimes”, to distinguish them from outright dictatorships. Fact is, the West has been trying for too long to impose its own views and standards when it comes to the global economy (the ill-fated Washington agenda) or to world politics (liberal democracy).

In countries like Turkey and Russia, the state and its leadership have always been paramount to their economic development and political stability. As anyone would easily agree, over more than twelve years in power both the Russian and the Turkish leader have delivered exactly that. No Turk or Russian citizen in his right mind, however, expects their leaders to be thrashed on a daily basis in the media, or the latter’s political authority to be undermined with a helping hand from the West. These countries, while not fully democratic according to Western standards, do organize regular elections, allow for a multi-party system and do respect – with some exceptions – most of the basic human rights and freedoms.

The proof is, so to speak, in the pudding. Erdogan’s party has won the 2014 municipal elections with 47 percent of the vote, compared to 38 percent in 2009. A few years ago, Putin’s approval rating was hovering around 60 percent. Today, his most recent actions meet with the approval of some 82 percent of Russians. Consequently, Western policy-makers would be better-advised to refrain themselves – in the interest of regional and world peace – from sponsoring almost weekly attacks in the international media directed against these states and their leaders, as alternative democracies have earned the right to exist alongside their older, but far less stable liberal model.

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