June 6, 2013
Ex-USSR states are still getting caught between Brussels and the Kremlin. Twenty years on from the breaking up of the Soviet Union, political and economic pressures are forcing ex-bloc members to decide: return to their old superpower master Russia, or turn to the west and democratise for a future in the EU.
It’s a process which has now been going on for decades. East European countries, in the wake of a submissive relationship within the USSR, have struggled to walk a path to an independent future. On the one hand, there is the possibility to join up with EU nations – provided the countries can make the necessary democratic reforms. On the other hand, the Russian powerhouse also offers a level of financial reassurance, though at the price of economic sovereignty.
For some of the ex-USSR nations such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the EU’s neighbourhood policy has allowed for integration and a future in partnership with Western European nations. The policy, put into place in 2004, has introduced a new mind-set to the EU’s integration. By introducing new members, mostly from Central and Eastern Europe, the institution rapidly expanded its members from 15 to 27 within just a few years – to the benefit of both sides.
Meanwhile, Russia has been working to create a strong gravitational pull, and stop its former allies from deserting it for democratic values. The Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) is the institution with which President Vladimir Putin has hoped to entice the Russian-owned states of old. Already with Kazakhstan and Belarus on board, the Russian president has worked to turn other nations back from their democratic resolve.
Certain nations may be certain of their intentions, but this has not yet made their future clear. In view of the Ukraine, for example, the presidency has from its inauguration in 2010 made clear its intentions to improve ties with the EU. The country has come a long way already, putting an end to political prisoners, as well as working to reform its elective systems and economy to conform to EU standards – but its destiny is not yet clear.
The Association Agreement, a document which ensures closer ties between the EU and its neighbours, will play an important role for Ukraine and others like it. Vice President of the European Parliament Jacek Protasiewicz has warned that the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine should be signed this November. At a conference in Kiev, he cautioned: “If the agreement is not signed this year, I’m afraid that we will lose a great opportunity to achieve a strategically important result for Ukraine.”
There are fears that countries in question may be put off from their efforts if Brussels does not reward them with better ties in the near future. Within the context of the Russian-dominated EurAsEC, Ukraine, Maldova and Armenia are under the classification of observers, which could lead to full membership if these nations are not shown incentives by the EU.
Brussels for its part has seen increased trading and competition since its expansion to include Eastern European states, benefiting old and new states alike. It does not want to miss out on the chance for new, eager additions. That means it will have to work in the coming months to make sure it encourages these nations – before it loses sight of them.Meredith Smith