PRISOIEDINIATES—INVOLVING CIVILISING Europe as Junior Partner
Following a strategy aimed at educating the EU on the ground, Russia pursued policies intended to involve the EU in Moscow-controlled conflict efforts for purposes of reinforcing Russia’s role in changing the fates of nations. This policy could exist even during periods of cooling EU- Russia relations. This explains the mixed record of EU-Russia interactions. For example, even though the EU effectively torpedoed the Kozak project in Transnistria, Putin still abstained from any further escalation of the conflict. Instead, the Russian President sought opportunities to engage the EU in situations, where Brussels would ultimately end up thinking that Russia’s strategy was the most obvious and productive. In this way, Russia would “educate” Civilising Europe. Russia welcomed the growing number of visits from European officials to Moscow. The Russian President received Javier Solana, for example, and the question of Transnistria was discussed in detail.53 EU Special Representatives for Moldova were received with due attention and seen in the Russian Foreign Ministry at the level of head of directorate and first deputy minister.54 When the EU Special Representative for Moldova, A. Jakobovits de Szeged, realised that the Russian MFA had lost its power in the decision-making web of Moscow, he subsequently sought meetings with Russian senior policymakers in the Security Council and was received by the Deputy Head of the Security Council V. Zubkov. Another EU official requested further information from Presidential Envoy D. Kozak and soon received detailed briefings from Russian diplomats.
In July 2004 any hopes of the Moscow-led 3+2 (Russia, Ukraine, OSCE + Moldova and Transnistria) negotiations format had been dashed, leading the Moldovan government to invite the EU and US to take part as observers. The new “5 + 2” format of negotiations started in late October 2005. Officially, the Russian Envoy for the settlement of the Transnistrian issue, Ambassador-at-Large Valery Nesterushkin, welcomed the participation of the EU and US in the negotiations in a new “5 + 2” format “as they could bring their expertise into the talks”.55 Similarly in the Caucasus, the Russian side did not object to the participation of a European expert in the work of the Joint Control Commission in Transnistria and Ossetia from 2001 to 20 08.56 Moreover, Russia even suggested upgrading the status of the Joint Control Commission: raising it from the level of Ambassadors to Deputy Ministers. As long as the EU’s involvement in the republic was restricted to economic development and aid policies, Russia did not object, nor did Moscow obstruct EU aid policies in the region or the EU Border Assistance Mission on Transnistrian sector of Ukrainian-Moldova border (EUBAM).57
Even during the long interruption in the “5 + 2” negotiations after the deployment of the EUBAM mission (analysed below), Moscow sought to continue to interact with the EU in the framework of a semi-formal conference on the political settlement in Transnistria under an OSCE umbrella. Although from late 2008 the formal negotiations continued in the “2 + 1” format, Russia tried to depict this structure as the antechamber for the resumption of “5 + 2” talks. When directly asked whether Russia was trying to squeeze other mediators from the conflict resolution through the new “2 + 1” format, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov replied in a conciliatory tone:
We have said from the very beginning that whatever we do in Transnistria will not undermine the 5 + 2 format. Nobody [in Russia] raises the alarm and panics when representatives of the EU regularly visit the region. In such cases, nobody accuses the EU of trying to break this format... It is necessary to work without any prejudice and not to see some geopolitical games in everything. We are very far from it and wish our EU partners to behave in the same way when they visit Chisinau or Tiraspol... President Medvedev was working hard for a direct meeting between the two presidents and then we will see what concrete possibilities exist for the meetings in the format “5 + 2”.58
Eventually Moscow supported the resumption of the “5 + 2” talks and even improved its relations with the new government in Chisinau. At the same time, the Russian foreign minister kept reminding the EU that it should stop being suspicious and join Russia-led schemes as junior partners.59 One of the ideas that the Russian Foreign Ministry floated was to organise the creation of joint EU/Russia peacekeeping forces. However, when it came to discussing more detailed technical plans for cooperation, the Russian side backtracked because what the EU offered (collaboration with the OSCE and strong presence of the US in this format) would eventually undermine the mentor-apprentice relationship that Moscow was after.
There were several cases when Russia almost explicitly told the EU that it was prepared for cooperative action with Brussels as long as it respected the ritual of invitation and great power practices. The case of the Kosovan independence that took place during this period was an indicative example. Although in closed-door discussions Russian diplomacy did not exclude the possibility of recognising Kosovan independence, when European mediators publicised the idea Moscow immediately disavowed it.60 The problem was that it looked as though this decision was not made by Russia. As far as Russia was concerned the aim of these policies was to educate the EU in a most important practice: before undertaking any action in the Caucasus, the EU had to consult Russia. An important result was that the EUSR for the Caucasus, Peter Semneby, visited Moscow to discuss his proposal even before submitting them to Political and Security Committee in 2007.61 Acting within the same logic, Moscow did not object to the deployment of the EUJUST Mission Themis to Georgia, which was tasked with assisting the reform of Georgia’s justice system and various aid projects in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.62 At the same time, there were strict limits for how far the EU could get involved in projects. Moscow revealed those limits when the representatives of the EU tried to expand their control and access to the territories of breakaway republics, which will be discussed in the next section. So Russia was prepared to give Civilising Europe some experience on the ground as long as the EU gained this experience under Russia guidance. This type of involvement would further contribute to mentor-apprentice relations between Russia and Europe.
Similarly, Russia encouraged this type of behaviour from all other European colleagues. For example, it did not reject the plan advanced by the German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who tabled a new initiative, Georgia/Abkhazia: Elements for a Peaceful Settlement of the Conflict.63 Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, praised the German plan generously. Yet Russia’s support of the German initiative looked at odds with its general reluctance of any efforts by European powers or the US to play an independent mediation role in the conflict. Russian media gave clear explanations for the cooperative position adopted by the Russian side. The first reason mentioned by top Russian diplomats was that “Steinmeier informed Russia and requested Moscow to support his plan, and accordingly, Russia did not reject the plan at the very start. Second, the German plan contains some elements that completely suit Moscow”.64 Although the plan was torpedoed several days later, because of personal animosity between the German Foreign Minister and Abkhaz leader, European officials seem to have taken the Russian message to heart.
A year later, senior Belgian diplomats preparing to take over the EU presidency visited Moscow and informed Russian diplomats about the priorities and the planned action of their presidency in the shared neighbourhood. And this gesture was welcomed by Moscow.65
Even Russia-EU interaction during and after the Russian-Georgian war in 2008 reveals two major elements of Russia’s great power identity, i.e. to change the fates of Georgian nations (through war) and to educate Europe (through conflict resolution effort). One can easily identify the former element in numerous references to Russia regaining great power status as voiced by Russian officials. President Medvedev himself described the operation in Georgia as great power politics.66 Equally interesting is that in one of Izvestia’s issues published soon after the war, senior journalist Dmitry Voskoboinikov went through numerous English-language publications and quoted all the statements that described Russia as “a great power”.67 The second element becomes obvious if one considers that out of several potential mediators in the Russian-Georgian war, Moscow chose France, which then held the rotating EU Presidency. The Russian President accepted mediation by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was simultaneously president of the EU. Medvedev signed the Sarkozy Six-Point Plan, which foresaw inter alia a cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal of Georgian and Russian forces, and the opening of international discussions on enduring security and stability arrangements for South Ossetia and Abkhazia.68 Having involved the EU in a Russia-controlled conflict, President Medvedev used it to ‘educate’ France and the EU to the level of True Europe.
While dealing with Sarkozy, President D. Medvedev sought to demonstrate that the EU’s special sympathy towards Georgia was in fact a selfdelusion caused by the charms of the noble Georgian savage. Almost repeating Pikul’s script, D. Medvedev warned Sarkozy that allowing the Georgian nationalist leadership to use the flag of the EU could undermine the credibility of Europe. As if warning his French counterpart, President Medvedev described President Saakhashvili as a thug69 (otmorozok) who smells blood and loses all self-control.70 Attributing these immoral and barbaric qualities to Saakhashvili, Medvedev, as much as Pikul’s hero, calls on Civilising Europe not to fall prey to the alleged charm of the Georgian savage and to acknowledge Russia’s superior competence in deciding fates of nations. Izvestia echoed the Russian president in depicting Russia as the True Europe and Georgia as the barbarian. Russia was True Europe because it shared with Europe the same values—values of human life and security. The Georgian Barbarian was constructed through the repeated references to the fact that Saakhashvili chose to kill people for the sake of his ideas. So, it was promoted that he had crossed the line between rationality and irrationality and become a barbarian. In this situation, Russia and the European Union were the last strongholds of rationality in an ocean of fanaticism. Therefore, they should be allies because, despite all their differences and shortcomings, these societies are anthropocentric rather than ideo-centric.71
Echoing Pikul, Izvestia reproached Civilising Europe. In particular, it stressed that the ignorance of Civilising Europe had led it to indulge in messianic fantasies, which resulted in irrational hopes of recruiting reliable puppets. Eventually these puppets had begun working for themselves, cheating and swindling their creators. The outcome was a struggle for security, which, as perceived by Civilising Europe, had become the main source of insecurity. As a result, all the noble and rational considerations of Civilising Europe had eventually worked to undermine their original goals. Echoing the Soviet idea about the inevitable and essential character of historic laws, True Russia was the Wise Man of humankind who looked into the eyes of history with pious awe and was thereby bestowed with a rare gift of insight and wisdom. It could anticipate the unintended consequences of those dangerous games of the civilised world. It could warn Civilising Europe that, if the main reason for war had previously been the excessive fear of one nation over another, today the main reason for a war could be the shortage of such fears.72
Almost like an old experienced warrior who had seen the full horrors of war and who therefore thought twice before unsheathing his sword, True Russia, through the mouthpiece of Izvestia, warned Civilising Europe that wars can really happen even though Europe seemed to have forgotten its own history. Through its own self-sacrifice, Russia stopped the barbarians from committing atrocities in South Ossetia. True Europe came to assist at the final stage of conflict. But as an experienced warrior, True Russia warned Civilising Europe that the three-day shooting in the Caucasus was a short episode in the most dangerous of Great Games. The next time it might happen, no missiles or radars,73 no new systems and no European Union would be able to save anyone: the nuclear winter would hit all of us, and the living shall envy the dead.74
Despite these strong statements, Moscow still cared about the opinion of Europe. A week before a report presentation on the causes of the Russian-Georgian war from the commission chaired by the Swiss diplomat
Heidi Tagliavini, President Medvedev paid an official state visit to Switzerland. The Russian media stressed that it was the first visit of a Russian head of state to Switzerland since its independence.75 The outcome of the visit, however, did not match the importance accorded to it by the extensive media campaign. Four agreements were signed that included visa facilitation, readmission, cooperation in case of natural disasters, and an agreement on sport cooperation.76 Medvedev’s foreign policy aid, Sergei Prikhodko, pointed out that an important topic discussed by the Russian and Swiss presidents was the issue of Russian-Georgian relations. Prikhodko stressed that Russia was particularly grateful to Switzerland for its mediation efforts.77 However, the main goal of the president’s visit was to remind the Swiss that their independence and neutrality were secured by the courage and self-sacrifice of Russian soldiers. During the visit, it was repeatedly stressed that the Russian President visited Switzerland to commemorate the 210th anniversary of the Russian army’s Swiss expedition that took place in 1799.78 While the expedition played only a small role in the history of Switzerland, the Russian side used it as a pretext for reminding the Swiss that Russian soldiers had once fought for them. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov opened the monument to the Russian Foreign Minister Ioannis Kapodistria, who served as the Russian Envoy to Switzerland in 1814-1815 and had played an important role in working out the constitutional basis for restoring Swiss independence and neutrality.79
While it is unlikely that the visit of the Russian President had any impact on the findings ofthe Tagliavini Report, the fact that the gesture was made suggests that Russia attached great significance to the report and to opinions in Europe. When the Report did not explicitly condemn Georgia and pointed out that Russia bore certain responsibility for the war, the Russian MFA did not dismiss the report as biased. Instead, it quoted the opinion of a German law professor, Otto Luchterhandt, who had been involved in the preparation of the report as an independent expert. He argued that Russia could indeed justify its actions as the right for self-defence and collective defence together with South Ossetia.80 At the same time, Russia’s comments on the report pointed to some vagaries in the text, concluding that the report demonstrated some European countries still pursue what Putin terms “politicised approaches”.81 In Russia’s response to the Tagliavini Report, one can still discern Russia’s quest for recognition from Europe. As Russia did not receive the report from the EU, it dismissed it as the Civilising Europe, or even False
Europe, which supported Georgian barbarism. But it still sought and quoted opinion coming from German intellectual/scholar Luchterhandt as a reassurance that at least one member of the progressive European public was on Russia’s side.
Despite all dramatic posturing of the Russian-European standoff, Moscow sought to actively engage the EU for joint conflict resolution in Transnistria. One example of Russia seeking to engage the EU was the Meseberg memorandum. In May 2010, during a bilateral meeting, Russia offered Germany the establishment of a joint EU-Russia Political and Security Committee with ground rules for joint crisis management operations. In exchange, Russia was prepared to start substantive discussion on Transnistria.82 This structure, together with the renewed “5 + 2” talks, was designed—unsuccessfully—to become the forum in which the EU would need to play by Russia’s rules and, more importantly, internalize the lesson that cooperation in the Black Sea region would lead to the resolution of all the EU’s concerns under conditions acceptable to Russia. That was a carrot. The stick was the third element of Russia’s tactics.