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Erdogan’s Turkish Delights

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There is only one president being capable to be at the same time offensive, out of line and arrogant, as well as needed and constantly courted. No, it is not Putin, as he has followers and admirers, but the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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Nationwide protests against his policies in May 2013, led to police crackdown resulting in 22 deaths and the stalling of EU membership negotiations. Following a split with long-time ally Fethullah Gulen, Erdogan tried to curb judicial power and started purges against Gulen’s sympathisers. His figure is subject of different views: a populist president, an Islamic reactionary trying to end secular power in Turkey, an opportunist and arrogant politician trying to exploit Islamic religion and conservatory policies to cover corruption, a future despot, etc.

In reality Erdogan is all and none of that, surely is a skilled and ruthless politician who exploit the confusion and lack of direction that Turkey, the EU, and the world face in these turbulent years. However, what strikes more is the ability to stay afloat and find renewed interest around his figure despite the continuous diplomatic faux-pas and international outcry. It is undeniable that Turkey under Erdogan acquired a new status and returned to the spotlight as a key player in the international scenario.

Hungarian Empire to annex the Balkans. The French were interested only in keeping the North African colonies and put a foot into Middle East, while the Prussians were becoming the latest power stepping into the colonial scenario, and saw in the Empire an ally to counterbalance Britain. The Italians took away Tripolitania and Cyrenaica (Libya).

WWI, the imperialist war, brought to an end the life of the “sick man”, relegating Turkey to the actual position in the Anatolian Peninsula. With Kemal Ataturk, Turkey became a republic, and started a growth that put the country back into international spotlight after WWII, when the Cold War inevitably saw Turkey being at the centre of the competition between East and West, and not only for its geographical position.

Nevertheless, 20th Century Turkey was different from the Ottoman Empire, it was not a “sick man”, instead becoming a strong military ally of the US, a member of NATO, a powerful republic dominated by an army ready to intervene to stop any sliding towards socialism. The US and the Soviet Union regarded Turkey as their border, and any action in Anatolia was to be counterbalance elsewhere.

Today’s Turkey is something similar to the 20th Century status, but with a striking difference: today can flirt with any power, break with them, harass and humiliating them, and still be considered important and crucial for the geopolitical equilibrium. In few words, Turkey is a country that every power would prefer to avoid dealing with, but have to in order to avoid that someone else will step in. A love-hate relationship where Ankara has only to gain rather to lose, if not partially.

Back to President Erdogan, he has the merit to fully understand this new position acquired by Turkey, and he is milking it with no shame nor politeness. Few years back, what the EU had with Turkey was just a dialogue on access to the Union, on which the EU felt always stronger thanks to two main arguments: the death penalty and Cyprus status. The first was the anti-thesis of the Union Treaty and the second a remnant of the past century to be solved, as it also involved a member. That strong position has now been lost and Erdogan has been the first and most skilled in exploit the new scenario, created by the reckless US policy in Middle East.

The Syrian conflict destabilized the Middle East in the last few years, put Turkey back in the map and among the key players. Erdogan put his tactics at work in wooing and blackmailing every single power. At first, he was a strong US ally, as per tradition, siding for a change of regime in Damascus, threatening military intervention to protect Turkmen, but in reality was looking at the opportunity to wipe out the PKK Kurdish rebellion. In this position, he even followed the Obama’s administration in a strong anti-Russian policy, despite Turkey had strong economic ties with Moscow.

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With the EU, he patiently used the open door policy on migration by letting millions of refugees into Europe through Greece and Bulgaria, and then blackmailing Bruxelles in renegotiating future access and obtaining financial support to face the humanitarian disaster. This first phase, however, was short lived, as Turkey committed a serious mistake: shot down a Russian MiG over the Syria-Turkey border. To the joy of the Americans (saw in it a point of no return in the relation between Ankara and Moscow), and to the embarrassment of Erdogan, Moscow adopted sanctions that hit Turkey very hard, as well as making clear remarks on avoiding future military actions by Ankara.

Nevertheless, when everyone was looking at a Turkey now in a straight and narrow, Erdogan restarted silently his contacts with Putin, started to adopt a low profile in the Syrian crisis, and especially mounted a strong campaign against EU. To this shift contributed the fact the Turkey suddenly found itself dragged into a spiral of violence, between the PKK and IS attacks, benefitting by EU open door policy to which Ankara at first agreed. The time for a new shift was coming, and was accelerated by the July 2016 coup. This military attempt resulted in an opportunity for Erdogan to change once again Turkey’s position on the international scenario. While Erdogan accused the US of supporting the coup by financing the Gulen Movement, considered a terrorist organization led by his former ally Fethullah Gulen, who lives now in Pennsylvania, United States, the EU and US accused Erdogan of staging a coup or using the coup to legitimate repression and extending his power. Whatever the reality, Erdogan used the coup to reset his international ties and officially opening his rapprochement with Putin. Turkey entered in Moscow sponsored peace talks, to which even the Iranian were invited and who never had idyllic relations with Ankara.

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Erdogan’s erratic policies this time led to a war of words with the US over the extradition of Gulen, by irritating Washington for holding military talks over Syria with Putin, and by starting a series of accusations to his old friend in the EU. He accused Germany to use “Nazi practices” and the Netherlands to be a “Nazi remnants”, leading to a serious diplomatic row.

However, regardless of how irritating or arrogant could be, Erdogan continue to be sought by every single power to change alliance, to join again the western friends, while Russia tries to keep on its side as no Syrian solution can be achieved without Turkey’s participation. Between US sponsored intervention or Russian sponsored neutrality, Erdogan is enjoying a wealth of opportunities to obtain the most from all: silence on Cyprus, access to the EU, economic ties with Russia, military support from the US. To obtain this he uses the migrants issue, the US sponsored coup, the Russian relation with Iran, strong words against some European countries where Turkish expats resides.

In this Erdogan achieved what the Ottoman Sultans never did: be a power not for spoliation but for building a new world order where Turkey is at the centre stage. Only gullible and short-sighted politicians could not see that without Turkey any plan to solve the Syrian conflict, whether American or Russian sponsored, will be ineffective. Unfortunately for them, Turkey’s price is high and the presidents and prime ministers of many countries will have to digest more Erdogan’s Turkish Delights, although very different for the famous ones, to achieve their dreams.

Written by Matteo Figus

14/04/2017 at 19:32

Trump vs The Media: Fake News for Fake Politics

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The election of Donald Trump as US president sparked controversy and debate around the world about his suitability to lead the world most powerful country. Trump, with his unconventional and out of protocol actions, has been under intense scrutiny, and judgment, as no other politician has ever been around the world.

Actions and presidential decrees, united to statements outside the official channels, only contributed to highlight even further the division in America and the unwelcome feeling around the world.

Aside from the recent controversy following his immigration decrees, the security challenges, and the accusations of Russian meddling into US elections, one of the Trump’s key horses has been the campaign against on what he calls the fake news.

His crusade, and refusal to talk or release interviews to major US and international networks, accused to distort reality and of depicting him in a bad light all the time, opened a debate on whether he is trying to censor the media or raising an actual warning.

The message from Trump is not new and while is wrong in the form is right in the substance, although the hypocrisy of the media and of the major political courts in Europe deny this. Trump’s crusade against the media is clearly a personal attack to defend himself from the constant denigration and undermining of his position, it is a personal objective that has nothing to do with his politics and programme. The form of the attacks, highlight a situation similar to that lived by Italians when Silvio Berlusconi was PM. Constant attacks on his figure, business empire, the collusion with criminality and control over the media he owned, only strengthened his power even more. His counteraction against newspapers and TV networks outside his control where made just to stop inquests over his interests.

Nevertheless, what makes different the Trump position is that in the substance what he is saying is not wrong. Fake news is not an invention of Trump, for decades we are under the constant bombardment of supposed “breaking news” and to the brainwashing campaigns used to legitimate the processes advanced by the politicians in command. We all remember the Iraqi lessons on WMD, the supposed intelligence reports on chemical weapon ready to be used, and the missiles to destroy the West. Let’s not forget how the Arab spring of 2011 has been hijacked by western media to support US change of regime policy in Libya and Syria, while had backfire in Egypt and Iraq leading to the growing of IS.

More recently, the Ukraine, Burma and Philippines cases, were all portrayed in different manner correspondent to the interest of what the major powers need. Has the Ukraine issue been covered in a fair and objective manner, including the diplomatic and historic issues behind? The answer is no. No one of the major media advanced the same bad overage of Russia intervention, to the constant NATO harassing and military buildup in the East, a clear message of destabilization. What it would happen if Russia was to build up his military presence for example in Cuba or Venezuela?

The fake news are around us, all official media and state’s TV are brainwashing people on the political objectives of the established power. Even Trump’s actions are modified to benefit the moment, like the cancellation of the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Many citizens, even before Trump, were opposed to it, especially the EU as it would have relegated their market to a second position. When Trump actually put to end to any possibility of a US participation into the TPP, the news was just relegated to the dark, concentrating instead on other more questionable political choices of Trump. What about the infamous wall on the border with Mexico? Everyone is shouting at the humanitarian disasters, but where are all the media condemning the Israeli wall against Palestinian people in the West Bank?

Trump is going to be an over the line president, an unconventional politician, an easy target to constant propaganda to undermine his status, but the media that constantly follow him on any move are just reflection on how political standards just sank to a level of indecency. It us, surrounded by technology and access to information at no price, that we should open our eyes and ears and question whether this battle is just another way to distract the conscience from the actual problems.

Written by Matteo Figus

14/03/2017 at 12:46

Posted in Analysis, North & Central America

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The Ukrainian Crisis: When Moscow plays in being the West

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The Ukrainian crisis, as we have seen already, has a domestic and an international dimension, both being the reason of the unrest and probably of its solution. While western and eastern Ukraine uses nationalism and ethnic factors to justify their struggle, the West and Russia act in a common ground of a “fake paternalism” that in reality covers the strategic and geopolitical interests behind their actions.

Especially Russia has been a sort of a puzzle recently towards the Ukrainian crisis: from triumphant action in securing a deal with Yanukovich in December 2013, to his demise in February this year; from the military action and annexation to Crimea to the stall and sometimes undecipherable position towards eastern Ukraine.

What really Russia wants from Ukraine? Is it real the threat of military intervention or it is a bluff, a sort of soviet-era blackmailing?

 

Moscow intervention is due to western historic blindness

The reasons of the Russian involvement in Ukraine are deeply rooted in history and especially in the last twenty years of international politics. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia assisted to the downfall of every single partner or satellite country, assisted to the failing of the state and its institutions, and especially was subjected to the West “revenge and punishment”. Russia in the 90s was a derelict state, anarchy was widespread, internationally was the “pet” of Washington, who used all its economic might to keep Russia under the leash. The US were free to move in the world scenario without any control, and if Russia was less concerned about the Iraqi invasion, the Balkans wars and Somalia turmoil, everything started to change for the bad to worse very soon. Washington’s plan to build a missile shield, officially against Iran and North Korea but in reality against Russia, increased nationalism in the Baltic States, Poland, Romania and Czech Republic, all countries that happily offered to assist the US. Russia started to realize that behind the friendly and paternalistic face there was a design to put Russia in a cage from where it will not be able to resurface again, a revival of the cordon sanitaire used against bolshevism in the last century.

But many can argue, if Russia was is such derelict conditions, then why the Americans were so keen to waste time and resources in this strategy? The reason is because the US knew that Yeltsin would not have been able to hold power for long and the strategy was to keep weak an adversary already wounded, before it was too late. Unfortunately for the US, the Chechen terrorism helped Russia in finding the key man to turn around its destiny: Vladimir Putin.

His ruthless conduct in the Chechen War was his business card to the West, that surely understood that the new Kremlin course would be a bumpy one, but at the same time underestimated Putin’s capacity to hold power for long and especially to rebuild Russia’s self esteem. During the ‘war on terror years’ and the Bush preventive war strategy, Russia still played a submissive role: western sponsored UN resolutions were voted in favor or abstained, a criticism was shout but not too loud. The US continued to look at Russia as an ex superpower, something to keep an eye on but not to be worried too much.

This therefore started to build in the West that sort of over confidence that any action against Russia, even the sensible ones, will not generate greater consequences. In this project aimed at destroying Russia’s vital space in the east, were used the “revolutions” or change of regime piloted to overthrow pro-Russian governments and replace them with pro-western ones. The main pillars of this strategy were: the missiles shield in Poland and Romania, the Ukrainian revolutions and Georgia.

In reality while the US and its allies continued to see Russia as a “pet”, they did not realize that Putin was already rebuilding its military might, the economy was growing at faster rate and the country was in the verge of an economic boom. Russia had to digest some hard situations but the turning point was in 2008, not for Obama election but instead for two important events that changed Russian politics for ever: Kosovo independence and Georgia action in Abkhazia and Ossetia.

2008: Back to the future, when soviet praxis meet Putin’s modernism.

The unilateral independence of Kosovo from Serbia enraged the Kremlin, denouncing a violation of international law and designed to split countries with ethnic or religious differences, like Russia. Russia for the first time appeared not only angry by words but took decisive steps blocking any recognition to the new state. However, we were far from any real action. This to Washington seemed the “ usual dog that barks but never bites” and therefore came the next step: Georgia.

The imprudent and suicidal action of president Saakashvili to retake Abkhazia and Ossetia by force, with the benediction of the West, changed the course. The Russian blitzkrieg, not only destroyed the Georgian army, but even put at risk the existence of the country itself as the Russian troops were marching on Tbilisi. The shock for Georgia and the West was unprecedented: Russia was at war and no one knew how to stop, suddenly the pet became again the big bear of soviet times, irascible, intractable, and aggressive.

The Georgian war, that took as a pretext the defense of Russian citizens in the two breakaway regions recognized by Moscow, was a clear response to the US for Kosovo. From then the relations between the two countries has deteriorated further: Russia cut the opposition out of power; paid its financial debts and expelled USAID, deemed useless for a rich nation like Russia; rebuilt the military power which display every year in the Victory Day parade in soviet style; restored nationalism and pride; internationally ended the appeasement to Washington. If Russia committed the fatal error to let the US act in Libya, Putin did not thought twice in blocking any attempt to intervention in Syria or fomenting unrest in Iran.

So why the Ukrainian crisis unfolded? The West after the debacle in Syria, where for two years was trying to build a case against Assad to legitimate an armed intervention, i.e. the chemical weapons, saw Russia not only blocking any UN resolution but even reaching successfully a deal, that it is still in place, to control and destroy these dangerous weapons. Russia’s move, is seen as the first major diplomatic success since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and for the first time we saw emerging what in Putin’s mind is the resetting of the world relations under a ‘Yalta restore system’ to superpowers balance.

But everyone knew that the tit for tat politics, used by both countries in the Cold War, was only starting and how to strike at Russia’s very heart of interests? Appeasing the Ukrainian protests was for the West a return to the policy of piloted change of regime and at the same time this would have enraged Russia. However, Washington was wrong in the calculation that Russian reaction could not led to a Georgian style intervention even though, this time, was a surgical intervention. Russia intervened to take what was needed and keep the rest in standby, while the West does not have a case either for intervention of for blocking Russian interference.

Nevertheless, we would be wrong to think of Russia’s actions in a straight line and without the double standards of which Moscow accuse the West. Crimea is not eastern Ukraine and Putin knows that.

 

Russian double standards: Crimea and the Donbas

Crimea,that was already an autonomous region within Ukraine, since the start of the unrest, voiced preoccupation and signals of a shift towards Russia. Its major Russian population and especially the naval base that Russia kept from soviet times, were all reasons for the Kremlin to do not waste a lifetime opportunity. Putin considered Crimea under a strategic and geopolitical factor masked by nationalism and rhetoric to facilitate a return to the mother land.

Putin used nationalism to obtain internal approval, but the reality is that Russia could not afford to lose the Black Sea fleet: it is needed to access and control the eastern Mediterranean (Syria), keep under control NATO states. If under a military point of view there was nothing that Kiev could have done to prevent a takeover, and a war that Russia probably would have fought for real, even on historical side there were few reasons to oppose a change. Crimea has always been Russian since 1783, although Tartar population lived in the peninsula until 1944. The Czars fight to control the peninsula and the access to the sea was vital. Even under the Soviet Union, Crimea was until 1954 a region depending from Russia SSR, although being an autonomous region. The main change occurred in the WWII when, following the Nazis invasion, some Ukrainians assisted the Germans, and in Crimea some Tartars fought against the Russians. At war over, Stalin revenge was devastating: he deported the entire population of Tartars in Siberia, and the peninsula was reshaped under Russian predominance and held with an iron grip. However, in 1954, the soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, Ukrainian, in the prologue to the famous de-stalinisation transferred Crimea to the Ukraine SSR, seen by many in the Soviet Union as a sort of compensation, justified under administrative advantages represented by geographical and common economic structure with Ukraine. Russia always maintained its naval base, and the situation remained unchanged until our times. The Tartars were allowed to return in Crimea only in 1991.

Ukraine and the West, although ventilated anger and still do not recognize Russian annexation, know that in fact this is now a fait accompli and regard Crimea as something non defendable; even ex US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and ex Soviet president Mikhail Gorbacev, who are far from being considered Putin’s supporters, condemned US negation of history and Russia’s right to Crimea. Nevertheless, this exposes also Moscow hypocrisy: what about Kosovo then? Six years ago they furiously denounced a violation of international law by allowing a unilateral referendum, and now the same happened in Crimea but with sides switched. Has Moscow changed line? Not really, the Kremlin still regards any unilateral action as dangerous to a country national unity, especially in a country like Russia, but the gain from Crimea and the potential loss of a strategic base were far more important than this pillar of Russian policy and for one time have been overlooked. This can be demonstrated by the total different approach towards eastern Ukraine.

When the eastern regions declared unilaterally an independence referendum, Moscow was silent and on more than one occasion even invited the rebels to refrain as there were no suitable conditions to hold a poll due to military engagement, although in reality the situation was not that dissimilar from Crimea. Moscow, following Crimea annexation, threatened military intervention in the east, as did in Georgia, to defend Russian citizens, but in reality nothing happened, although we have had already many episodes that could have been taken as a pretext: the Odessa fire, an assassination attempt of pro Russian mayor in Kharkhiv, the recent assault to the Russian embassy in Kiev. Nonetheless the Russian tanks are still on the other side of the border, except for old fashion ones that supposedly crossed and joined the rebels. This demonstrates that Russia is playing a different game in Ukraine: is doing exactly what Washington has been doing is Syria by arming rebels, fomenting unrest in the population, giving logistic support. In other words, no direct intervention, but a low intensity conflict by creating a situation where the rebels are strong enough to resist government forces and at the same time not that strong to alter the balance leading to an armed intervention from the west.

Russia in other words is keeping Ukraine at a leash as the US have done with Russia in the 90s. Economic sanctions towards Kiev will bite hard, gas supply halted recently will damage even further an economy at collapse. Russia also know that the government in Kiev is helpless, does not have a clear policy and an intervention will be considered only if a reckless action will happen: the recent embassy incident was a demonstration of how dangerous is the game Kiev is playing and led even the US to angrily criticize the government for inaction in protecting Russian diplomats.

Russia is not willing to go to war, due to economic consequences, on a military side although Russian forces are superior, it will not be easy against the Ukrainian army that has hardware from Russian industry, nationalism will increase the risk of an all out war with the possibility of a repetition of the afghan campaign. Russia at the same time does not want to take control of an economy in tatters, although the Donbas is the industrial powerhouse of Ukraine. Moscow still hope that will be able to settle with Ukraine for a federation with eastern regions obtaining a large form of autonomy, and a country that may join NATO and the EU, but keeping the east neutral or free from NATO bases.

How likely is this succeed will depend on many factors, but surely not from western sanctions as Russia is not concerned about that, at least until the West will not start to open the eyes and see Russia for what it is, a superpower back in business. While the West thought to have closed the front door to Russian expansionism, on the other simply forgot the back garden door, where Russian new czars take their afternoon tea with their Chinese partners, who also are US antagonists in the Pacific. The result is old ideological enemies signing multibillion dollars deals that dwarf western sanctions and give to Russia a long term investment in an area now cut off completely to western businesses.

Written by Matteo Figus

17/06/2014 at 21:47

Ukraine Crisis: A Western crash test dummy against a Russian wall

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Ukraine is fighting for its unity, and most likely survival, but whether the current military action is an anti-terror operation or a war, a fact is clear: Ukraine is heading towards disaster unless a diplomatic and peaceful solution will be found. The problem for Ukraine is that the new Kiev government and the Eastern rebellious regions are not alone in this dispute and their “external sponsors” are to be considered the main reason for the bitter turning of events. While the West, namely the EU and US, and Russia at a different time, and for different reasons, intervened in Ukraine politics for their own geo-political interests, on the other they simply got stuck in front of their stubbornness and hypocrisy by reaching a point of no return.

 

The Ukraine crisis unfolded few months ago when protests against former president Viktor Yanukovich culminated in what Moscow called a “western sponsored coup” and the Western powers a “democratic change”. The Maidan protests, aimed against Yanukovich’s decision to withdraw from an association agreement with the EU and signing instead a deal with Russia, were soon taken as a pretext from the West to fuel a change of regime as already seen in other areas: Iraq, Libya and the failed attempt in Syria. Nevertheless, this reckless action did not take into account Russia’s vital space and a likely reaction that culminated with the Crimean annexation.

Yanukovich’s government, elected and legitimate, was overthrown by mass protests made mostly by common citizens although no one can deny the presence of armed groups linked to the far right movements with clear xenophobic tendencies such Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) or the Maidan Self Defence Forces. While the West stepped up its anti-Russian propaganda, it did not realise the danger in fuelling an already fertile ground for hatred between the two souls of Ukraine, West and East. By denigrating and openly taking side against the legitimate government in Kiev and supporting what was increasingly becoming an armed insurrection and not a peaceful democratic rally, western interference reinforced the extremist groups providing them with a sort of legitimacy. In few words, the same script adopted in Syria where for long time they supported an armed insurrection refusing to admit that the only taking advantage were terrorist groups linked to Al Qaida or of other Islamist tendencies. While the West ignored this warning (to be honest not that far in the past to be forgotten), it may be worth to mention that even in the 2012 Football Euro Cup for example many in the EU expressed concerns at hooliganism and racist behaviour in Ukraine, especially in UK.

Russia on the other side took this careless action as a pretext and reason to express its concerns for Russian citizens and the Russian speaker population in Eastern Ukraine. While Russia started to build up its war machine, the West and many Ukrainians simply decided to turn blind in front of the evidence: the Maidan protest were not a simple democratic movement , but a clear rebellion and an armed insurrection that many countries, including Russia and the democratic crusaders in Washington and London would not have hesitated to crush at the first sight of weapons within civilians. This led to a brutal repression by Yanukovich, where the (in)famous Berkut and snipers fired against protesters, but also to a response where policemen and security forces were shot dead. Nevertheless amid all this turmoil Yanukovich avoided making that step that would have plunged Ukraine into civil war: call in the army to quell the unrest.

Negotiations were made and even some opposition parties agreed to sit at a table to pave the way for new elections, with Yanukovic granting any sort of concession such amnesty, freeing all arrested and promising greater autonomy for regions. But the deal was sunk by the West pushing the more extreme souls of the Maidan protests to take the lead and provoking further unrest that could have been only resolved by either an army coup or Yanukovich departure. When he decided to leave, at that point it seemed to everyone that the Maidan protests would have been able to close the game and the release of Yulia Timoshenko as the final act of a victorius anti Russian “revolution” in 90s style. It was exactly at this point that the “phase two” of the Ukrainian crisis developed and started with the Kremlin involvement: Yanukovich finds refuge in Russia, Crimea is flooded by special Russian troops, a 40,000 strong army gathered at the border.

Nevertheless, while Crimea was a price willing to be paid in Kiev, and even in the West although the apparent outrage, it was also clear that the Kremlin’s gamble of threatening military invasion in the East played exactly the same side effects generated by western influence in Kiev: exacerbated rather than ease the already irreparable situation in the country. Kiev’s government at this point found itself not struggling for survival but to keep a country united. Attempts to reduce far right movements presence and promise of a new presidential elections were clearly futile in front of a domino effect that, exactly similar to the Maidan protests, saw people rebelling against central government and declaring autonomy, independence or asking Russian annexation.

While the West this time promptly called these rebels “terrorist and agents of Russia”, Russia vested the rebellions as “popular will and democratic expression of an under siege population of Russians from fascists in Kiev”. These words, as mere propaganda may be, had a strong effect in Russia and Ukraine as they were used only during what is known as The Great Patriotic War against the Nazis.

Kiev: new government, new president same confusion on the ground

The new government appeared for many as inept and incapable to deal with the unrest. While it was without any chance and counterproductive oppose Russia’s annexation of Crimea, it was the initial inertia showed during the start of the Eastern rebellion that fuelled a sort of excessive optimism, a thought that a swift solution could be found. While the East was proclaiming itself free with a People’s Republic in Donetsk and hold a referendum not recognised by the international community, in Kiev whilst condemning the fact that an electoral consultation was taking place in a deteriorated security situation, they found nothing better than to do the same by organising presidential election in a country on the verge of collapse. Nevertheless, the point of no return was the decision to call in the army, thus increasing the danger of a civil war, with soldiers refusing to fight and switching sides, military difficulties and an expensive human price to pay that is already showing its bill.

But if the Kiev government decided to do what Yanukovich refused to do, and thus applying the same role of the army as saw in Syria, Libya and Egypt against their own population, it also appear that the government born from the Maidan protests is not followed by the same population strata as demonstrated by the recent presidential elections. If at first Yulia Timoshenko’s freedom was seen by many as the first step for a return to power, the election saw the victory of a man not new in Ukrainian politics, as having cooperated with both Yushenko and Yanukovich, with the West and Russia. Entrepreneur Petro Poroshenko, won an outright victory in Ukraine’s presidential poll of May 2014 with 54% of the votes, he was the only oligarch to have supported the pro-European opposition from the start, though unaffiliated to any of the country’s political parties. He is known as “the chocolate king” for his ownership of Ukraine’s largest confectionery manufacturer, Roshen. Poroshenko was supported by the former boxer Vitaly Klitschko, who gave up his own presidential ambitions to throw his weight behind him, and by fellow tycoon Dmitry Firtash, who has long been on cordial terms with Russia. Ukrainian media interpreted the great support for Poroshenko as a reaction to the opposition’s inability to find common ground during and after the anti-government protests that overthrow former President Viktor Yanukovych and as a signal that the new establishment was distancing itself from extremists.

Poroshenko comes from the mainly Russian-speaking Odessa region in southern Ukraine, although his political stronghold is believed to be in the central Vinnytsya region, where he started his business and political career. He has been elected to parliament several times and has worked with both the pro-European and pro-Russian political camps in Ukraine. He was foreign minister in Ms Tymoshenko’s government from 2009 to 2010, and briefly an economic development and trade minister in 2012 under Yanukovich. He was one of the founders of Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, in 2001. However, later that year he left to lead Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine electoral bloc. He was also one of the main figures of the Orange Revolution that brought Mr Yushchenko and Ms Tymoshenko to power in 2004. This chameleon political careerist, or to be more frankly an interest piloted one, is at the top of a stubbornness government refusing to deal with a fundamental request of autonomy from the East, where the clear anti-Russian stance of some of its supporters and the Western backing are bogging down the country in a fratricidal confrontation with unpredictable consequences. The government is avoiding any discussions on constitutional reforms or for a federation, and its obstinate centralism is favouring paradoxically the disintegration of a united country. On the other, after his victory, Mr Poroshenko promised to forge closer links with the EU and restore peace in restive eastern regions where pro-Russian separatists had severely disrupted voting. He has also pledged to improve relations with Russia. But his first act was an all out military assault on Donetsk and consequent bloodshed.

So the last question is: taking aside the fact that it is without doubt the influence from Washington and the EU, what were the internal reasons for overthrowing Yanukovich?

It has been claimed by many the corruption, but in a country were each president from Kuchma to Yushenko, from Timoshenko to Yanukovich has been accused of stealing or being corrupt, it is very difficult to believe that. Even the claim that Ukraine was a dictatorship is an exaggeration as Yanukovich won legally an election and no constitution or power was suppressed, people were free to move. A powerful element is without any doubt the economy and the silence over this is the reason why both the West and Russia push on nationalist propaganda to mask their responsibilities.

Ukraine is an economy near to collapse, even though has a strong agriculture in the western part, known as the granary of Europe, and a powerful industrial sector in the East. Nevertheless extreme dependence from Russian import / export, gas and energy supply combined with western liberist economy exploiting cheap labor and reduced taxes made Ukraine not a sustainable and independent economy. Ukrainians were frustrated by this rather than the stories created and inflated by the medias. The first protests, when Yanukovich refused to sign with the EU, were genuine only to be then hijacked for strategic and political interests. What Ukrainians also believed, and probably still believe, is that the EU will welcome them in a further enlargement. Whilst Ukrainians are continuously brainwashed by western propaganda of an easy EU access and an economy ready to get back on its feet, a debt is piling up, bankruptcy is just behind the corner; Russia counter measures are already starting with gas payment demands.

The reality is that no one is ready to bail out Ukraine, like Greece, especially after a landslide victory of the anti-EU parties in the recent European parliament elections that put a clear slogan out: no more EU, no more enlargement, no immigration. After the shameful anti Romanian and anti Bulgarian propaganda in the EU of last year, now the new xenophobic and racist parties across Europe are ready to target Ukrainians as the Eldorado that will cash in at next the electoral polls.

 

Eastern Ukraine: A new symphony in Donbas?

This area the powerhouse of Ukraine, and of the former Soviet Union, is in majority Russian speaker and nevertheless they lived peacefully within Ukraine since the independence.

However, it has never been an easy coexistence between the two areas, and this was reflected in history during the WWII and the constant push and back between presidents towards Russia and the West after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Eastern Ukraine always supported filo Russian presidents and when Yanukovich won the election, the Party of Regions had in the Donbas region its stronghold. The delicate equilibrium that maintained united a fragile architecture was broken suddenly with the Maidan protests, although some cities in the East at first even participated in the change of power, like Kharkiv or Dnepropetrovsk. Eastern Ukraine at first, even though with less enthusiasm, joined protests against Yanukovich, but in the Donbas region everything started to move in the opposite direction with the raising fear of a new power unbalanced towards the West and hostile to Russia, from which this region heavily depends.

When the Maidan protests were increasingly becoming anti Russian and xenophobic, with raising extreme right movements taking the lead with armed groups, Eastern Ukrainians felt the same sense of need for defence and even paranoia that Russia has about an incoming encirclement. This is especially true for the Donetsk and Luhansk regions where Russian speakers are over 50% and it is known as Donbas or Donetsk basin. Carpe diem was the word following Crimea annexation by Russia and, feeling the moment, they truly believed in an insurrection supported by Russia, arriving to overthrow the local governments and declaring a People’s Republic, followed by a non recognised independence referendum. But, exactly as it happened for the Kiev government, the Donbas region at the crucial moment saw its external sponsor vacillating, being unsure how to step back from this mess. As in western Ukraine believe to EU propaganda, in the Donbas people believed too much in Russia’s involvement and soon found themselves alone. After Crimea annexation it seemed that Russia was ready to take on Ukraine, and thunder words from Putin made the Donbas greater confident, as well as Kiev government inaction. But to repeat Crimea was a dream, as it was Russia going to war against Ukraine, at least for now. The Odessa fire, that was for many the possible signal of all out war with Moscow, in reality was the turning point were both Washington and the Kremlin understood that they push too far and began slowly to settle down. The problem is that the Kiev government and the Donbas region instead raised their stakes and a military confrontation is now on the ground, with a clear risk of degenerating into civil war.

There is a movie by a famous soviet director, Dziga Vertov, called Enthusiasm Symphony of the Donbas that in its Stalinist propaganda was aimed at demonstrating the development and the importance of this region as a centre stage for the construction of socialism. If the movie portrayed a happy and hardworking place with a triumphant soundtrack, today the symphony coming from Donbas is very different and sounds more like the thunder of war.

 

Written by Matteo Figus

03/06/2014 at 22:08

Ukraine: Europeanism Utopia and Russia’s Security Paranoia

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The Ukrainian protests against government’s decision to not sign an EU agreement melted in just few days, but was it really only an internal matter or was just another episode of the saga Putin vs West?

It is now clear that was never at stake the interest of the Ukrainian people but political gains and economic benefits behind the interests of such powers. Ukraine, as Georgia in the past, is a fertile ground to gauge the pressure of the tensions between Russia and the West, and once again, to the dismay of the latter, Putin won.

Ukraine economy is a mess, near to collapse, needed a bail out regardless on whoever will grant it, so why there was this attention to pull Ukraine on either sides? The answer is simply European hypocrisy and Russia’s vital space paranoia.

The EU jumped on the protests claiming that Ukrainian people were behind a popular protest to join the EU, that their will was betrayed and Yanukovich change mind after Russia’s blackmailing. All this may be true, and it is no surprise for a poor country to see people cherishing the idea of free travel to countries better off, as also it is no surprise that Russia used all its weight to sink the agreement. However, what is wrong is that not all Ukraine was behind the protest and that all the country supports an EU access. While the western regions, rich in agriculture in what was the granary of Soviet Union, support strong links with the West, on the other the Eastern areas and the Donbass, the powerhouse of heavy industry always had strong ties with Russia. Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions has its stronghold in eastern Ukraine and it is no surprise that he also had to put an ear on that side.

The problem for Ukraine and the EU is that Russia will never allow in such proximity to lose its control either politically and economically. Russia at the end triumphed, with Kiev’s government accepting a $15 billion bailout, with cheaper gas prices and the promise to accelerate the accession to the Russian version of the EEA, a  custom union with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Has Ukraine therefore lost? Not really, as said either ways Ukraine was going to receive a bailout, but the problem connected with this is that nothing comes for free and whether EU or Russia, Kiev has now linked itself to a strong dependence, by chosing to do not irritate the strongest side.

Nevertheless, if Ukraine calculations were based on purely economic data and immediate needs, what moved EU, Russia and even US was totally different: balance of power.

The EU jumped into this dispute denouncing Russia’s interference and “acting” with its fake paternalism in a time where the Union has its lowest approval index by the population of state members and where crescent nationalism is advancing in many countries requests for an exit referendum.  Nevertheless, the EU cannot be trusted, it uses bail outs to control governments’ policies, it is the most undemocratic organisation and what benefits really could have from Ukraine’s accession? The benefit was to bail out another government and impose IMF/BCE controlling policies to gain the most from a no competitive market which would have been a “colony” for western economies in crisis. Cheap labor would have offered the chance to struggling companies to cut workforce in their home countries to reopen across the borders, and while they present Bruxelles in such pan-European dream on the other we can see Cameron’s UK trying to introduce changes to migrants from Romania and Bulgaria in an attempt to please nationalists of the UK Independence Party. Another reason that would have well suited Bruxelles was to introduce another bigger country which would have altered balance in the EU Parliament, a message to the fellow British partners.

But while on one side the EU showed its hypocrisy, on the other the US got involved only to pinpoint Russia’s rediscovered power and any plan that undermine or limit Putin’s influence it is always welcomed in Washington. Plan for a missile shield are back on the table, Russia’s involvement  in Middle East has irritated many governments and after the Snowden affair, US-Russia relations are getting sour quickly enough to foresee a 2014 rich in similar tit for tat actions. Russia, for history, ethnic-religious ties and economic reasons pursued and will always pursue a politic of self-defence and retake control of its vital space. Russia, and the USSR before, always lived in the paranoia of the constant threat of an invasion or isolation to starve the country, and today this is still visible in Putin relentless new strategy to keep at bay any intruder in  the eastern side. Whether blackmailing the fragile Ukrainian government, or supporting eastern region ties (basically threatening a dangerous rift), by placing missiles in Kaliningrad, by intervening in Syria and Iran issues turning the table against western plans, Putin is achieving slowly the task of rebuilding a stronger Russia and defend its autonomy of action. But is it all roses for Russia in bailing out such an economy in crisis? Obviously not, but Russia’s strategy has always been to achieve the task with whatever methods and at the end by extending control over economy in Ukraine, Putin reasserted its political control over the area, demonstrating once again the weightless spirit of the EU as international power. Russia nevertheless, by taking on its side Kiev’s fragile economy and offering to cover debts may be pushed into a finance black hole, and Moscow’s economy will have to be strong enough in the next years to make sure that this agreement will not backfire.

The reality is that Ukraine is one of those countries that will always struggle to balance itself, but until you will have a Russia this powerful, inevitably it will fall under a particular sphere of influence. The Russian achievement in Ukraine is the defeat of EU hypocrisy, but it is not a total victory as Western powers will find another way to limit Putin’s attempts to  a system restore to Yalta’s configuration. Nevertheless, there is enough in Moscow to cheer and Putin can celebrate by even allowing himself to show total control and confidence in his absolute power by  freeing Mikhail Kodorkovsly and granting amnesty to the Pussy Riot members. A lesson to learn, another missed opportunity for the West to understand Russia’s new path with an old map.

Written by Matteo Figus

24/12/2013 at 18:16

Cyprus: Towards a Permanent Partition?

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The recent economic crisis that is affecting the EU and many of its members brought to the news the case of Cyprus. The Island, forced to request a financial bailout, is not only a troubled EU member struggling for its economic survival, but also home to one of the longest unsettled territorial disputes since 1974.

Cyprus is currently divided between the official Republic of Cyprus in the south and mainly inhabited by Greek-Cypriots and the internationally unrecognized Northern Cyprus Turkish Republic, supported by the Ankara’s Government.

The dispute on the partition following Turkish invasion in 1974, has not found any solutions and recent events seem to increase rather than favor a reunification of the Island.

Cyprus nationalism and independence

In 1571 the mostly Greek-populated island of Cyprus was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, and held until 1914 when Cyprus was formally annexed by Britain following the Ottoman Empire’s decision to join the First World War on the side of the Central Powers; subsequently the island became a British Crown colony.

The two communities of Greeks and Turks, soon developed a strong national sentiment toward the respective mother countries, although they lived peacefully for many years. Nevertheless, this nationalist sentiment grew stronger after the First World War due to several reasons. One can be linked to the colonial policy of “divide and rule” which was applied in other areas such Nigeria for example. The major counter effect of this policy was to strengthen division among the population on ethnic lines, but serving British interest in keeping both groups weak and unable to challenge colonial rule.

Whilst Greek-Cypriots grew a strong sentiment of reunification with Greece, enosis, the Turkish nationalism was reinvigorated by events in the Anatolia peninsula where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, President of the Republic of Turkey from 1923 to 1938, attempted to build a new nation on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire and elaborated the program of “six principles” (the “Six Arrows”). These principles of secularism and nationalism reduced Islam’s role in the everyday life of individuals and emphasized Turkish identity as the main source of nationalism.

In the early fifties a Greek nationalist group was formed called the Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston (EOKA, or “National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters”). EOKA wished to remove all obstacles, British, Greek Cypriot or Turkish Cypriot from their path to independence, or union with Greece. EOKA initiated its activities by planting the first bombs on 1 April 1951 with the directive by Greek Foreign Minister Stefanopoulos. A “Council of Revolution” was established on 7 March 1953 and EOKA’s campaign against the British forces began to grow. On the other side, the Turkish Resistance Organization (TMT, Türk Mukavemet Teşkilatı) declared war on the Greek Cypriot rebels as well.Cyprio demonstration 1930

Following the above surge in attacks and decolonization policy in the post WWII, British rule lasted until 1960 when the island was declared an independent state under the London-Zurich agreements. The agreement created a foundation for the Republic of Cyprus, which joined the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities in a single state, seen as a necessary compromise to avoid intervention from Greece or Turkey.

Independence and Partition

The 1960 Constitution of the Cyprus Republic proved unworkable however, lasting only three years. Greek Cypriots wanted to end the separate Turkish Cypriot municipal councils permitted by the British in 1958, as this would have exacerbated Turkish nationalism and increase risks of partition. The Greek Cypriots, at this stage where strongly supporting the enosis, a union with Greece, whilst Turkish Cypriots were in favor of taksim, partition between Greece and Turkey. Along with different vision on Cyprus future, the two communities accused each other of altering constitutional equilibrium and persecution. The Greek Cypriots complained about Turkish Cypriots larger share of governmental posts compared to the size of their population. Additionally, the position of vice president was reserved for the Turkish population and both the president and vice president were given veto power over crucial issues. In this condition, the 1960 constitution fell apart and communal violence ensued. Between 21 and 26 December 1963, the conflict centered in the Omorphita suburb of Nicosia, which had been an area of tension in 1958. The participants were Greek Cypriot irregulars, Turkish Cypriot civilians and former TMT members. The Turkish fighters were less powerful, outnumbered from the superior Greek Cypriot side that were supplied with stored EOKA guns and eventually weapons from foreign powers. Both President Makarios and Dr. Küçük issued calls for peace, but these were ignored. These clashes, as in 1967, were only settled after Turkey threatened to invade on the basis that they would be protecting the Turkish population from possible ethnic cleansing by Greek Cypriot forces.

In 1967, a military junta overthrows Greek government, establishing an obscurantist far right government widely condemned by the whole of Europe but had the support of the United States. In the autumn of 1973 there had been a further coup in Athens in which the original Greek junta had been replaced by one still more obscurantist headed by the Chief of Military Police, Brigadier Ioannides, with head of state General Phaedon Gizikis. Ioannides believed that Cypriot president  Makarios was no longer a true supporter of enosis, and suspected him of being a communist sympathizer. This led Ioannides to support the EOKA-B and the National Guard as they tried to undermine Makarios. On 15 July 1974 sections of the Cypriot National Guard, led by its Greek officers, overthrew the government. Makarios narrowly escaped death in the attack; he fled the presidential palace, whilst the British managed to assist his escape to London the next morning. Makarios_III_and_Robert_F__Wagner_NYWTS_croppedIn the coup itself, 91 people were killed, all Greek-Cypriots. The Turkish-Cypriots were not affected by the coup against Makarios; one of the reasons was that Ioannides did not want to provoke a Turkish reaction. Nikos Sampson was declared provisional president of the new Cypriot government; Sampson was a Greek ultra nationalist who was known to be fanatically anti-Turkish and had taken part in violence against Turkish civilians in earlier conflicts.

In response to the coup, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger sent Joseph Sisco to try to mediate the conflict. Turkey issued a list of demands to Greece via a US negotiator. These demands included the immediate removal of Nikos Sampson, the withdrawal of 650 Greek officers from the Cypriot National Guard, the admission of Turkish troops to protect their population, equal rights for both populations, and access to the sea from the northern coast for Turkish Cypriots. These demands were rejected as they would have given Turkey an unacceptable amount of power on the island. Turkey, led by Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, then applied to Britain as a signatory of the Treaty of Guarantee to take action to return Cyprus to its neutral status. Britain declined this offer, and refused to let Turkey use its bases on Cyprus as part of the operation.

The inevitable happened: Turkey invaded Cyprus on Saturday, 20 July 1974. Heavily armed troops landed shortly before dawn at Kyrenia (Girne) on the northern coast meeting resistance from Greek and Greek Cypriot forces. Ankara said that it was invoking its right under the Treaty of Guarantee to protect the Turkish Cypriots and guarantee the independence of Cyprus. The operation, codenamed ‘Operation Atilla’, is known in the North as ‘the 1974 Peace Operation’. By the time a ceasefire was agreed three days later, Turkish troops held 3% of the territory of Cyprus. Five thousand Greek Cypriots had fled their homes.

Along territorial changes, the Turkish invasion had also the effect to facilitate on 23 July 1974 the collapse of the Greek military junta with Greek political leaders in exile started returning to the country. On 24 July 1974 Constantine Karamanlis returned from Paris and was sworn in as Prime Minister.

Talks to solve the issue started in Geneva, Switzerland, with all the guarantor powers present: Greece, Turkey and Great Britain. These talks, divided in two rounds between 25 July and 14 August 1974, were intended to find a solution for a permanent settlement of the Cypriot crisis. If during the Greek military power international sympathy was mainly on Turkish side, after the return of democracy Greek Cypriots were gaining more support. The Turkish invasion if justified at first to prevent a pogrom was now starting to be seen as a possible act to consolidate partition. Turkey demanded that the Cypriot government accept its plan for a federal state, and population transfer. When the Cypriot acting president Clerides asked for 36 to 48 hours in order to consult with Athens and with Greek Cypriot leaders, the Turkish Foreign Minister denied Clerides that opportunity on the grounds that Makarios and others would use it to play for more time.

On 14 August Turkey launched its “Second Peace Operation” with troops rapidly occupying even more than was asked for at Geneva. 40% of the land came under Turkish occupation reaching as far south as the Louroujina Salient. In the process, many Greek Cypriots became refugees. The Cypriot government estimates their numbers at about 200,000, with other sources stating 140,000 to 160,000.  The ceasefire line from 1974 today separates the two communities on the island, and is commonly referred to as the Green Line.

As a result, the de facto partition of the Republic and the creation of a separate political entity in the north was established. On 13 February 1975, Turkey declared the occupied areas of the Republic of Cyprus to be a “Federated Turkish State”, to the universal condemnation of the international community. The United Nations condemned the move with the UN Security Council Resolution 367-1975 and reiterating that they recognize the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus according to the terms of its independence in 1960.

In 1983 the Turkish Cypriot assembly declared independence of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. United Nations Security Council Resolution 541 (1983) considered the “attempt to create the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is invalid, and will contribute to a worsening of the situation in Cyprus”. It went on to state that it “Considers the declaration referred to above as legally invalid and calls for its withdrawal”. The conflict continues to affect Turkey’s relations with Cyprus, Greece, and the European Union.Cyprus_districts_named

Negotiations

Negotiations to find a solution to the Cyprus problem have been taking place on and off since 1964. Between 1974 and 2002, the Turkish Cypriot side (effectively controlled by the Turkish government) was seen by the international community as the side refusing a balanced solution. Since 2002, the situation has been reversed according to US and UK officials, and the Greek Cypriot side rejected a plan which would have called for the dissolution of the Republic of Cyprus without guarantees that the Turkish occupation forces would be removed.

Greek Cypriots rejected the UN settlement plan in an April 2004 referendum. On 24 April 2004, the Greek Cypriots rejected the plan proposed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for the settlement of the Cyprus dispute. The plan, which was approved by the Turkish Cypriots in a separate but simultaneous referendum, would have created a United Cyprus Republic and ensured that the entire island would reap the benefits of Cyprus’ entry into the European Union on 1 May. The United Cyprus Republic consisted of a Greek Cypriot constituent state and a Turkish Cypriot constituent state linked by a federal government. More than half of the Greek Cypriots who were displaced in 1974 and their descendants would have had their properties returned to them and would have lived in them under Greek Cypriot administration within a period of 31/2 to 42 months after the entry into force of the settlement. For those whose property could not be returned, they would have received monetary compensation.

Following Greek Cypriots rejection, the entire island entered the EU on 1 May 2004 still divided; the EU acquis communautaire – the body of common rights and obligations – applies only to the areas under direct government control, and is suspended in the areas occupied by the Turkish military and administered by Turkish Cypriots.

Cyprus views

The Greek Cypriots started their struggle for independence against the British, and the Turkish community at first to establish enosis, the union with Greece. Today, this initial goal has been completely sidelined, especially after Cyprus joined the EU in 2004; Cyprus is seen as an independent country that, although maintains strong ties with Greece, has its own path. The conquered economic progress until 2013 and the achievement of EU membership shifted Greek Cypriots towards a conservative position in maintaining the status quo. The reasons are:

  1. The collapse of the Greek economy, united with the achieved own development, contributed to the abandon of enosis in recent decades.
  2. Cyprus joining the EU has also strengthened the community and the nationalist sentiment, bringing economic development and international stability.
  3. Greek Cypriots fear a strong Turkish influence in a possibly reunited island, mainly due to the presence of a strong military force in Northern Cyprus, thus maintaining an unbalanced and disproportionate section of the Island.
  4. Alteration of equilibrium: a reunification for many Cypriots is a threat to stability. For them could unite a strong-developed south and a militarized but poorer north, with consequent afflux of population to the Greek Cypriot inhabited areas.

The Turkish Cypriots have fought along British forces against Greek and Cypriot nationalists to avoid independence or enosis. After independence they maintained a strong and defensive approach, due to being a minority in a 3% of land. This increased their idea of being discriminated and under constant attack. The actions of the Greek military junta and EOKA-B in Cyprus in the 70’s demonstrated to many the existence of an anti-Turkish agenda. This led to the first Turkish invasion, still seen by many as justified. The second invasion, however, altered existing equilibriums and historical balance, with Turkey occupying 36% of territory and in the following years favoring settlement to increase its population. The Turkish community, at first rejected any plan of reunification, fearing reprisal and abandon by Turkey, represented at best by its leader Ruf Denktash. _58910932_cyprus_raufdenktash-gThis sentiment today changed to a contrary position, switching side with Greek Cypriots. Turkish community voted for integration, dreaming of an EU membership in 2004.

  1. They see the reunification as the best chances of a bright future and abandon of isolation, as the Northern Cyprus Turkish Republic is not recognized.
  2. They also know that Turkey will appease this desire of a settlement due to Ankara’s EU membership claims.
  3. The fear of inter communal clashes and Greek pogrom is considered unlikely in a country today part of EU with strict international monitoring.
  4. Turkey’s NATO membership is another guarantee that Turkey will commit herself to international obligations.

The guarantors: Greece and Turkey 

Although Greece maintains strong relations and ties with Greek-Cypriots, its role and influence is clearly undermined by the recent crisis that shattered the economy. Greece sympathy for enosis finds the same indifference as in Cyprus; Greeks would clearly prefer a peaceful settlement of the question rather than having their country embroiled in an expensive Cyprus conflict or even the resurface of political tensions with Turkey.

Turkey’s position today is more complicated and rather different from the past. If their first invasion of the Island received some sort of support and understanding as a genuine intervention to defend its population against an attack supported by a fascist regime in Athens, the second invasion is widely seen as a clear attempt by Turkey to a partition on permanent basis. The years that followed saw Turkey’s hostility to any negotiations on reunification, although something is changing today:

  1. Turkey has a fast growing economy with enormous potentials. This is in contrast with EU countries struggling to cope with debt.
  2. Turkey is widely accused of maintain strong military presence, but Turkey is also a member of NATO and has strong relations with the USA, that strongly support a solution on Cyprus for reunification.
  3. Turkey is seeking EU membership and any obstacle to a permanent settlement of Cyprus dispute will undermine her chances.

Turkey therefore is seen today as more cooperative towards a solution for Cyprus and a possible reunification. However, there are some points that could undermine this view:

  1. Turkey’s recent interference in the Syrian conflict can drag the country in a proxy war, leading to tensions with regional powers and, in case of joining the EU, would pose risk of stability by bordering a troubled region.
  2. Turkey is still unstable internally with Kurds insurgence, and the renaissance of Islamism that, if not controlled, could threaten the established laicism that marked Turkey’s modern history.
  3. EU recent crisis could make less desirable an entrance into the union to ordinary Turkish people, especially after having seen the effects in Greece and Cyprus.

 

The Mediators: EU and UN

The EU is in a difficult position. Favor Cyprus reunification will be a statement of progress in a continent that saw fragmentation and rising nationalism rather than the idyllic European dream of bringing countries together. The economic crisis is shattering hopes and the support to the EU both on political and economic basis. Cyprus therefore could be at the same time the savior or the destroyer. A reunification will boost political chances and will increase the possibility of Turkey joining in the future, bringing an emerging economy inside the European market. On the other, Cyprus recent financial crisis has shown once again the limits and the opposition of the population to an EU guided from the top, imposing unjust policies to their governments. This trend, noticeable in Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy and UK, could alienate both Greek and Turkish Cypriots as well as Turkey’s population itself.

A reunification of the Island could also speed up Turkey’s chances of joining the EU; however, this will open the risk in sharing a border with a troubled region: Kurds insurgencies, Lebanon unstable governments and Hezbollah, Iraq fratricidal bombings, and a future Syria that, with or without Assad, would be far from being a stable country for decades.

The UN has always been a stronger supporter of Cyprus reunification and, compared with the above players, the only one who maintained a coherent position. Nevertheless, UN attempts to solve Cyprus dispute have been undermined during the years by:

  1. Greek nationalists during the military dictatorship, and their interference in Cypriots affairs that ultimately led to Turkish reaction
  2. Turkish strong military presence and refusal to withdraw
  3. Influence of superpowers: the USA in an anti-communist stance appeased the Greek dictatorship first and then switched to Turkey when non aligned Cyprus leaned towards pro-soviet links.
  4. Swinging position of Cypriots sides moving out, alternatively, from a vision of reunification. Refusing the Annan plan, Greek Cypriots joined the EU as a separated country, whilst pro-European Turkish Cypriots were left outside.

Conclusion

Based on the above, to many the Cyprus dispute appears as leaning towards a permanent partition, and even to consider this the best solution. A two-Cyprus States will ease tensions in the short term, and only a Turkey’s admission to EU will ease all the remaining tensions related to military attacks or reprisals, therefore paving the way for a reunification under EU policy of integration in the longer term. The above solution is plausible only if the central pillar will resist to the recent storms: the EU.

Seen the recent developments, appears that the EU is the key to the future settlement for the Island; a survival of a reformed EU could bring solutions and stability, but a collapse and the constant rising of anti-EU sentiment and nationalism could effectively make way for the permanent partition of Cyprus.

Written by Matteo Figus

28/05/2013 at 13:23

EU: A fragile screen to mask the impossible

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Scotland has announced the holding of an independence referendum in 2014 which, if successful, could add a new state in the already crowded European map. The independence would be a victory for the nationalist parties but a clear defeat for the European dream of integration. This announcement represents the latest in a series of events that prove, ultimately, the failure of the EU’s political integration project.

The current EU crisis has overshadowed the fact that their politics have failed long time ago, and the economic shield is now falling apart leaving a fragile paper castle exposed at the mercy of the turbulent winds of reality.

The reason of the failure can be traced since 1990 and made of the following:

  1. balkanization
  2. Nationalism
  3. Enlargement
  4. Absence of identity

In 1990, the European community was made of 12 members, strangled between the two superpowers and the cold war. However, they shared a long and common history with plans for effective integration. The dissolution of the Warsaw Pact block and the end of cold war were seen at the time as the chance to finally break the stalemate of the Europe post-WWII. The unification of the Germany in 1990 was at the time hailed as an example of a new Europe integrating east and west towards the future construction of a united Europe. This was short lived; soon after the political establishments submitted to the strict economic and political urges using integration as a powerful propaganda to hide revenge and exploitation of a weak Eastern Europe. The Czechoslovakian split, although consensual, was an example of how nationalism was growing and integration of European countries was more difficult than reality suggest. That example leads to appease independence in the Balkans where Slovenia and Croatia entered in a war with Yugoslavia. That area will destroy forever the dream of a European integration. The EU, in front of their irresponsibility for increasing nationalistic sentiment and the inability to avoid a war in the Balkans, preferred to choose the easy way out and grant diplomatic recognition paving the way for the balkanization of the area and of the whole Europe. The rest is history, bloody years of conflict ensued and, although to be honest these wars were unavoidable, the EU had its slice of responsibility in increasing the nationalism and ethnic hatred behind the struggle. EU politicians preferred to recognise independence thus fragmenting Yugoslavia in a series of new states and culminating with the Kosovo unilateral proclamation of independence. That was the point of no return on which now Scotland independence, and many other will follow, has legal terrain to fight its claim.

As a result of the above trend, the European map is a fragmented and weak puzzle of states which do not share common ideals and, worst of all, still cultivate hate and revenge to arch enemies.

We can therefore argue: how to integrate an area where countries before living together are now building walls and segregation from each other? How to bring together under the same state Croatia and Serbia (if Belgrade joins)?

The balkanization of Europe that culminated with Kosovo independence has been counterproductive as the other huge mistake of European bureaucrats: the enlargement without ending in sight.

The enlargement from 12 in 1990 to 27 members (will be 28 in 2013) has been so rapid that the European Union is now bordering with Russia to the East and the Black Sea. No attempts have even been made to amalgamate the first 15 members before enlarging the union; instead any new country was allowed just only on two principles: the market to exploit and the crucial vote mechanism in the European parliament. Many of the member countries do not even have the standards required by the EU or a solid economy: Romania and Bulgaria are an example. But even the Baltic States, Poland, Slovakia and the big players such Italy and Spain are nearly to a breakdown point not far from Ireland, Portugal or even Greece.

The enlargement in reality was looking to attract new markets and speed economy growth, as well as exploit workforce at low cost; demonstration is the number of factories and companies that moved straight away to East in order to cut costs. The other main reason was the balance of votes in the European parliament to counterbalance big countries predominance. Both strategies have failed. The EU economy is falling and there is no need here to argue further as it is in front of all our eyes the effect of the crisis with austerity measures imposed from the top, increasing social tensions, nationalism and resentment towards Brussels. The strategy to avoid the formation of a block failed, as Germany and France still hold power and they dictate the line to the others.

We should now ask why the recent economic crisis is so important for EU future; is the euro? The stability of the markets? The financial and banking system? No, is not at stake only the survival of the Euro currency or the economic structure, but also the whole EU as organisation. The failure in building and ensuring an effective political integration was masked all these years by ensuring that at least the economy and the markets were solid enough to make us believe that with the Euro and the free market everything was going towards a precise direction. Now that the economic crisis is at its high, our eyes have finally seen the reality: there was never, and never will be under the current situation, a real project to build the United States of Europe.

The chances of survival are therefore minimum for a simply reason: whilst the economic fairy tale is fading, we realise that we still feel French, German or Italian, that we hate the EU for destroying our economies, that we do not want to submit to German decisions and so on. In few words Europe does not have an ideal, a common identity or set of principle that would bring us to say “why we don’t try harder to save at least what we have”. But what we have? Except free movement, free market, a single crumbling currency, a flag and anthem, nothing else. Even the Soviet Union in its last days of existence had more chances of survival due to the ideology still entrenched in minds and way of life. European politicians did not bother to promote within their citizens care the principles of internationalism ,solidarity and integration; instead we had money rushing, exploiting, corruption, theft, nationalism  that ultimately is destroying what was born as a marvellous idea and if dying as one of the worst example on how to integrate.

Europe has not a democratic character either, as all citizens rarely have consulted in key matters such treaty revisions, accepting enlargements or on financial debates. All heads of states, PMs have built a sort of wall to avoid any referendum on any EU matter, showing their fear of failing and showing that they have no confidence in their citizens and strength of European institutions.

What could be the solution at this point? European leaders should have the courage and strength to do the only reasonable thing left with an organisation on a cerebral death: pull the plug. This must be follow by a renegotiation and rebuilding of a new EU, based on democratic and egalitarian principles between the states. The new EU would probably see only 5-6 countries starting with a single currency and with a political integration. Enlargement would be only agreed under satisfactory political and economic records. This is obviously the solution if we still want to have a united Europe. However, if we are all honest, and decide to drop the mask of hypocrisy, then it would be better to admit that the European Union will be only an economic free area, with a single currency, free movement, etc., but nothing else. The time is running out and decision should be made whether to save an unworkable union or renegotiate a new one based on reality and history.

Written by Matteo Figus

23/10/2012 at 18:26

Posted in Analysis, Europe

Tagged with , , ,

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