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Europe - [12/15/2008]

The role of the European Union in the South Caucasus

European Breakfast with Vytautas Landsbergis Euro MP, Group of the European People's Party and European Democrats, Vice-President of the Delegation in the EU-Armenia, EU-Azerbaijan and EU-Georgia Parliamentary Cooperation Committees 5 December, 2008

Speaking at a European Breakfast held by the CIDOB Foundation a few weeks after the European Union lifted its sanctions on Russia owing to the war in Georgia in August, the Euro MP Vytautas Landsbergis stressed the importance that the South Caucasus has for the future of Europe, and championed the policy of peace and defence of human rights over that of power and military means.

Landsbergis, who forms part of the Delegations of the European Parliament in cooperation with Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, said that the South Caucasus was an integral part of Europe, both in terms of its cultural identity and its national history. He reminded his audience that the three countries were all independent during the 19th century, and were not creations of satellite republics of the Soviet empire. He stressed the cultural diversity in countries that are mostly Christian (Georgia and Armenia) and Muslim (Azerbaijan), as well as the linguistic diversity (including some 60 or 70 different languages) and ethnic diversity (Russians, Armenians, Kurds, Osettians, Azeris, Cumucs, Karachais, Balkarians, Georgians, Chechens, Abjasians, Ingusettians, Circasians and the peoples of Dagestan). Viewed as a whole, it represents a puzzle that could be compared with the case of the Balkans, and is not without its conflicts. The Lithuanian member of parliament criticised the impoverished existences of some 300,000 Georgian refugees expelled from Abjasia and South Osettia and the repression in Chechnya (North Caucasus), after a war that he called “colonial”; he also noted the tense calm that exists in Nagorno-Karabaj, the Azeri region occupied by Armenia, where there is a danger of Azeri refugees becoming radicalised.

The difficult road to Europe

Europe represents a legitimate aspiration to the countries of the Caucasus because, Landsbergis says, they feel that they are European. However, he went on to detail the different stances involved in Georgia's EU policy, Georgia being the most pro-Europe country, as compared to Armenia, which is virtually a protectorate of the Kremlin, and Azerbaijan, which has a grave absence of democracy, but which follows an independent line from the dictates of Moscow, though without having aligned itself with the EU.

Owing to its proximity to the Black Sea and the Caspian, this region, with its huge reserves of gas and oil, is of great geostrategic importance for the EU, which could establish a network of oil and gas pipelines that would bypass Moscow, thereby ensuring Europe's energy independence. The Caucasus represents the next great European frontier. This factor plays an essential role, according to Landsbergis, in the fluctuating relationship of tension and rapprochement that exists between the EU and Russia, which calls Europe's policy expansionist within a space that the Kremlin believes should be under its control. The EU no longer sees the region as a distant one, but rather as a space that is near to its interests, and thus the Union is seeking to project stability, build democracy and ensure energy independence. At the same time, Landsbergis claimed that the EU is being excessively prudent with a region that is so close to Russia, and is avoiding having problems or conflicts that might cloud its relations.

Contrary to this real politik view which is based on material interests that are diluting an ideology that is already devalued in the region, Landsbergis champions the role that continues to be played by the factors of national identity, cultural differences and the memory of the common history of resistance to Russian dominion. In this sense, Landsbergis (who was proclaimed president of his country after the Lithuanian Parliament voted in favour of independence) stressed the exemplary role that the restoration of democracy and independence has played in Baltic countries, in a struggle that he called “moral, for democracy and human dignity”. The Baltic countries attained a success that enabled them to rapidly join Europe. In contrast, the countries of the South Caucasus “have arrived late to the European road”, he said, defining it as a natural road, without Russian intervention.

PAX EUROPA

The Euro MP acknowledged the limitations of European action. He criticised the lack of political will: “Europe cannot afford to have the South Caucasus without democracy”. In Landsbergis' opinion, the enlargement does not signify colonial or imperialistic expansion, as Putin claims, a criticism that Landsbergis attributes to the Soviet legacy that exists in Russian political culture. In the opinion of Landsbergis and other analysts, Russia is suffering from a situation similar to that of Germany in the 1930s – a post-colonial mentality and a sense of seeking revenge. “Autocracy is nothing new in Russia”, he said, adding that “devotion to the Czar is stronger than a desire for democracy”.

The war in Georgia last August was, Landsbergis believes, a warning to foreign offices concerning Kremlin policies toward the region. “Georgia was attempting to ensure its independence and territorial integrity, with blind faith in the myth that it would figure on a NATO map, but Russia does not consider that all nations possess the same value”, claimed Landsbergis. The Euro MP said that belief in power over and above values such as justice, and the disproportionate use of military means, all represent a challenge for European and Atlantic solidarity. The politician viewed Russia's actions as a response to the independence of Kosovo, and a warning to the countries in the region about their aspirations. Nevertheless, he warned that Russia “may become trapped in her own rhetoric by supporting the independence of Osettia and Abjasia at the same time as it represses any separatist aspirations in Chechnya”. Furthermore, he warned of new dangers of separatism among the Armenian minority in Georgia.

The Lithuanian politician championed peace as being an essential value through which everybody gains. He called for greater involvement by Europe, to which he presented a “borderless construction” as a solution in a space where there is greater danger of a lawless area being created than the danger of working out which national law to apply in which territory.




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