Problems of Eastward Expansion

KIEV/VILNIUS/BERLIN | | ukraine

KIEV/VILNIUS/BERLIN (Own report) - In the run-up of the EU's "Eastern Partnership" summit scheduled to begin tomorrow in Vilnius, Berlin's expansion project is threatened to fail. Only two countries, Georgia and Moldova, will sign Association Agreements, while Belarus and Armenia prefer to join the "Eurasian Customs Union" with Russia. However, the biggest blow comes from the Ukraine, which has halted preparations for signing the EU Association Agreement. Germany has left no stone unturned in its efforts to eventually break the Ukraine completely out of the Russian sphere of influence and integrate it into Berlin's hegemonic system. German media now speaks of the "battle for the Ukraine" and a "new Iron Curtain," to be vanquished in the East. German government advisors had, in fact, already planned to forge ahead to integrate Russia into a European free trade zone, after the six countries have been firmly integrated into the German sphere of influence. This now has also been put into question.

Ever Further Eastward

The real significance of the "Eastern Partnership" that Berlin planned to consolidate this week in Vilnius, can only be seen from the historical perspective - when viewing Europe's situation 25 years ago. Even though the Federal Republic of German (FRG) had had a bit of influence in the East, it was restricted, in large part, by its borders with the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Comprehensive eastward expansion of the FRG's industry had been blocked merely by the existence of the socialist countries' alliances. The 1989/91 upheavals in Eastern and Southeastern Europe opened doors for the FRG. But preparation and implementation of the EU's eastern enlargement has not only facilitated the solid integration of most of the countries in that region into the German hegemonic system - the EU - but also the alignment of their economic and legal norms on German standards. The objective is to also integrate those five remaining southeast European non-EU member countries. To continue the eastward expansion, Berlin and Brussels have initiated an association of six other countries in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus - the "Eastern Partnership". This "Eastern Partnership" is also part of Germany's efforts to expand its influence and align the norms of these countries with German-European standards ("economic integration").

A New "Iron Curtain"

That project is now doomed to fail. Even though the Association Agreement is supposed to be signed with Georgia and Moldova at the upcoming summit in Vilnius, it is still being negotiated with Azerbaijan. Armenia has decided to join the "Eurasian Customs Union" that already includes Belarus. The "Eurasian Customs Union" is an alliance predominated by Russia and is seen as a rival by Berlin and Brussels. However, most significant is the fact that the Ukraine, the largest and by far strategically most important of the six "Eastern Partnership" countries, has postponed preparations for its signing the Association Agreement. The majority of the country's oligarchs prefer the sort of limbo position between the West and East, without taking sides for one or the other, therefore hoping to retain a maximum freedom of prerogative. According to warnings in Berlin, the rejection of the EU's Association Agreement could even lead to the Ukraine's integration into Russian alliances. And the German media even speaks of a new "Iron Curtain."[1]

Struggle for Natural Gas Supply

Over the past few years, Germany has been working hard to integrate the Ukraine into its hegemonic system. Intense power struggles have been waged in the field of energy supply. The Ukraine has always been dependant on deliveries of Russian natural gas and this, in turn, has facilitated Russia's exertion of considerable pressure on Kiev. However, the shale gas boom in the USA has unexpectedly opened new options for Berlin and Brussels. Since recently, the United States is in a position to dump large quantities of shale gas onto the market and with the ever growing volumes of low priced liquid gas (LNG) - for example from Qatar - being available, world market gas can now be delivered to the Ukraine via Western Europe - through pipelines, which had previously been supplying Western Europe via the Ukraine with Russian natural gas. This has also become possible because Russian deliveries are being routed via the Baltic Sea through the "North Stream" pipeline. Since last year, the West, with also the participation of German companies, has been, in fact, supplying the Ukraine with natural gas - primarily, at the moment, via pipelines through Poland and Hungary. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[2]) Now an additional accord between the Ukraine and Slovakia is ready to be signed, which is supposed to break the Ukraine's dependence on Russian gas for good. Bratislava had adamantly refused to be drawn into the power struggles between Berlin and Moscow, but is now relenting under EU pressure. The German RWE Corp. is supposed to furnish the Ukraine with gas also via Slovakian pipelines beginning in the middle of 2014.[3]

"Battle for the Ukraine"

Should the Ukraine persist in its refusal to sign the EU's Association Agreement, this could be a political defeat for German efforts. Berlin is, of course, not giving up. The German government has announced it remains open to Kiev changing its course to favor the West, and does not preclude that the EU Association Agreement could be signed at a later date. Last week, observers were already considering that no final decision must be taken in Vilnius. The main thing is that "the contact" to Kiev "not be lost, so that the Ukrainian pendulum does not swing eastward," which if successful, the signing of the Association Agreement can be postponed to the spring of 2014.[4] In the meantime, Berlin's close allies in the Ukraine have begun protest demonstrations to force the Ukrainian government to sign the Association Agreement.[5] The German media is already referring to a "battle for the Ukraine."[6] The power struggle between Berlin, Brussels, Kiev and Moscow has not yet been decided.

All the Way to the Pacific?

Beyond the power struggle for the Ukraine, German foreign policy specialists have already turned their attention to the period after the summit in Vilnius. Even if the Association Agreement is signed, the EU will be really put to the test, according to a paper published by the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP). The necessary reforms must be carried out in the countries of the "Eastern Partnership," their implementation supervised. The implementation of the Association Agreement calls for "stringent and, in part, very painful social adjustment measures," predicts the DGAP. Then, one could, in the long run, approach integrating even Moscow into the European treaty system, for example within a "common free trade zone."[7] This would open up the perspective for German companies of an uninhibited economic expansion not only up to the Urals, but even all the way to the Pacific. However, these plans have now been dealt a serious setback. Through the Ukraine's refusal to sign the EU's Association Agreement, the expansion of Berlin's hegemonic system has for the first time suffered a serious throttle.

Other reports and background information on German policy toward the Ukraine can be found here: Between Moscow and Berlin, The Boxer's Punch, Between Moscow and Berlin (III), Between Moscow and Berlin (IV), Fatherland and Freedom and Battle for the Ukraine.

[1] Theo Sommer: Ein neuer Eiserner Vorhang? www.zeit.de 25.11.2013. See also Europas Werte
[2] see also Kampf um die Pipelines and Battle for the Ukraine
[3] Ukraine durchbricht das russische Erdgasmonopol; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 20.11.2013
[4] Letzte Station Straßburg; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 16.11.2013
[5] see also Protestbündnis für Europa
[6] Die Schlacht um die Ukraine; Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung 24.11.2013
[7] Andrzej Olechowski, Adam D. Rotfeld, Rainder Steenblock, Rita Süssmuth, Karsten Voigt: Über Vilnius hinaus denken: Polen und Deutschland müssen die EU-Ostpolitik vorantreiben, DGAPstandpunkt No. 8, November 2013