An outdated strategy and lack of funding are the main factors that made the Eastern Partnership an ineffective integration model, experts say

The EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative is in a fever. Belarus has suspended participation in the program. Azerbaijan has cooled to further European integration. In Armenia, various forces are in favor of closer cooperation with Russia. To mobilize the remaining participants, an “Associated Trio” was created, which included Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. Why is the European Union losing ground in a number of countries of the former USSR? Read in the Sputnik review from Danary Kurmanova.

Europe underestimated the countries of the former USSR

From the very beginning, the Eastern Partnership project focused on developing relations with six former Soviet republics – Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Post-Soviet countries are clearly losing interest in the Eastern Partnership, since the meaning of the initiative was perceived incorrectly, says a senior researcher at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences Dmitry Ofitserov-Belsky.

“The partnership has never been a gateway to the EU,” he says. “This is just an institutionalized format of cooperation with Europe. Meanwhile, relations between Belarus and the West are now tense. Minsk suspended its membership in the project, responding to EU sanctions. misunderstanding, and it’s not even Karabakh, but the issue of understanding democracy in general. “

Back in 2019, Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev said that there was no point in further steps in European integration, moreover, “they will be ineffective.”

“And neighboring Armenia feels comfortable as a part of the EAEU, cooperation with Russia is beneficial for it,” explains Officers-Belsky.

The project, which the European Union planned for six countries, was reduced to three. This is an indicator of the crisis, the expert says.

“In addition, the EU hoped that the countries of the former USSR would adhere to a democratic course. However, the same Moldova was led by the corrupt Vladimir Plahotniuc, and this is a blow to the principles of the project. Europe had to face the reality: the post-Soviet space is not a constructor from which you can assemble everything whatever “, – added the specialist.

Another reason for the decline in interest in the Eastern Partnership was the financial aspect. According to the European Commission, the budget of the EU Neighborhood Program, designed for 16 partner countries from 2014 to 2020, was 15.4 billion euros, or about 0.9 million euros per country. “Such money will not be enough for particularly ambitious plans,” says Officers-Belsky. “And the countries, especially Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, counted on the financial support of the European Union.”

Tool against Russia

The “Associate Trio” says its goal is to accelerate the accession of Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova to the EU. The position is quite logical, says a political expert, director of the International Monitoring Organization CIS-EM Stanislav Byshok.

“However, it is worth noting that the countries are united by unresolved territorial claims: Georgia has South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Ukraine has Crimea and Donbass, and Moldova has Transnistria,” the expert notes.

Both the Eastern Partnership and the Associated Trio can be considered projects directed against Russia, the economist believes. Mikhail Khazin… “European integration is all just words, which can be clearly seen in the Baltics,” he said.

The transit of goods from Russia and Belarus, being the most important economic sector for Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, has significantly decreased. Since Moscow and Minsk decided not to use the ports of unfriendly countries.

“The states that believed that they were being attracted to the so-called“ European family ”, as a result, suffered from the actions of the EU. Because these actions were not aimed for the benefit of these countries, but against Russia,” Khazin explained.

The organizers of the Eastern Partnership insist on the absence of any anti-Russian sentiments. But it is enough to recall the words of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmitry Kuleba after the recent visit of the representatives of the “Associated Trio” to Brussels. The diplomat positively assessed “the termination of the high-level dialogue between the European Union and Russia” as part of the sanctions policy.

At the same time, membership in the “Associated Trio” has not yet brought any real benefits to Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. Any partnership implies prompt mutual assistance in crisis situations, while the governments of the three states on May 31 again asked the EU to provide vaccines against coronavirus.

The project is new, the mechanisms are old

Many formulations in the memorandum on the creation of the “Trio” are devoid of specifics – not a word about real steps, only passages like “the path of democratic development and the construction of prosperous states.” In fact, the “Associated Trio” is a manifesto, says Stanislav Byshok, and such documents do not require precise prescription of details.

According to the expert, the “Trio” structure resembles the “Visegrad Group”, which united Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary on the issues of integration into the EU. However, the declaration of the Visegrad Four was signed in 1991, and 30 years have passed since that moment.

The European Union clearly lacks new models of interaction with post-Soviet countries, says Dmitry Ofitserov-Belsky. Even the recent permission of the EU Council to sign an agreement on a common airspace with Ukraine and Armenia is not a serious integration step. The common aviation space means the opening of the market for passenger, cargo and postal air transportation, and this is only a minimal type of cooperation, the expert says. “Europe did nothing to normalize the situation in Karabakh, so it is logical that Armenia has no European ambitions,” he concluded. “The EU just needed some step to maintain its reputation in the Transcaucasus.”

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