Riots, protests, chaos cloud EU hopes for stability

13th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

Since Russia's decision to send troops into Georgia in August, exposing the fragile nature of a region the Europeans consider their "neighbourhood", the EU has been striving to help bring stability there.

Brussels -- Riots in Moldova, protests in Georgia and chaos in Ukraine have dealt a blow to European Union efforts to stabilise the ex-Soviet states and set the scene for a tense joint summit next month.

Since Russia's decision to send troops into Georgia in August, exposing the fragile nature of a region the Europeans consider their "neighbourhood", the EU has been striving to help bring stability there.

At a summit in March, EU leaders decided to boost financial aid to Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus through an "Eastern Partnership" project meant to bolster their economies and encourage democracy.

To add impetus to efforts, the leaders invited their counterparts from the six, some of whom aspire to join the EU one day, to a summit in Prague on May 7.

In response, Moscow -- whose political weight among its former satellites the EU hopes to dilute -- has railed against European attempts to extend "a sphere of influence" into Russia's backyard.

At the outset, the only real doubts hung over the participation of Belarus, whose President Alexander Lukashenko has been labelled Europe's last dictator, with its presence depending on new advances in democracy.

But with the opposition riots in Moldova, Communist President Vladimir Voronin's threat to use force and allegations of interference by EU member Romania, it has all become infinitely more complicated, according to analysts.

Of these six countries most aligned with the EU, Moldova was "the big hope of the Eastern Partnership", said Nicu Popescu, at the European Council for Foreign Relations in London.

"It could flaw the whole policy," he said, "because the more authoritarian countries like Moldova become, the more the Eastern Partnership summit will become a summit of EU leaders and a bunch of autocrats."

Tomas Valasek, director at the London-based Centre for European Reform, said "it is not the dream conditions the Czechs had dreamed of to launch the Eastern Partnership".

The Czechs hold the EU's rotating presidency and will host the summit.

Yet Moldova is not the only EU "partner" to be shaken.

Now in an electoral period, Ukraine -- meant to be another driving force in the neighbourhood -- is riven by political infighting, exacerbated by the withering impact of the global economic crisis.

And "there may well be instability in Georgia by the time we get to May 7," said Valasek, as tens of thousands of people hit the streets there Thursday to launch a movement aimed at forcing President Mikheil Saakashvili to resign.

But while the partnership might now seem more complex to get off the ground, the events only underline how necessary such an arrangement is, he said.

The EU's Czech presidency, whose current government will host the summit as its last major European event after it was ousted in a confidence vote, does not plan to postpone the meeting, a spokesman said.

It simply intends to send out the invitations "at the last minute".

Popsecu encouraged the EU to step up the pace if it wants to counter Russian sway in a region where Moscow has made clear its ambitions in recent years.

He urged the bloc to send a high-level delegation to Moldova, to back up its calls for the "authorities to respect all constitutional freedoms" and restore normal ties with Romania.

Leaving Moscow to take advantage could turn Moldova into "a more comfortable ally for Russia" than the EU, he said.

According to Belgian conflict expert Tanguy Struye, it is "this game of influence" between Russia and Europe in the region -- where the United States and Turkey are also actors -- that is behind the instability.

"Instability will continue" given regional energy interests and in spite of the aims of the Eastern Partnership, "as long as there is no kind of agreement between the powers" to leave the nations to their own devices, he said.


0 Comments To This Article