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Publicat în 7 iunie 2017, 15:14 / 659 elite & idei

Antonia Colibasanu: Your Geopolitical Strategic Focus

Antonia Colibasanu: Your Geopolitical Strategic Focus

Fragile political stability in the Balkans. Macedonian new government, led by Zoran Zaev of the Social Democrats SDSM, was voted on May 31, six months after elections. Following the visit of the U.S. Deputy Assistant for Eurasia Hoyt Brian Yee, the Albanian opposition Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha and ruling Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama reached an agreement on sharing the management of the state’s institutions as well as on the participation of all parties in the forthcoming elections on June 25. The plan, which was originally conceived by MEP David McAllister who came as a negotiator of the EU at the end of April, has ended the Albanian opposition boycott of parliament and consequently, of elections which has lasted for the last three months. Both Macedonia and Albania have seen their political environment stabilizing after the visit of the U.S. Department State representative Hoyt Yee. Besides the two countries, Yee also visited Serbia and Montenegro in May. In Belgrade, he conveyed an invitation from the U.S. Vice President Michael Pence to Serbian elected President Aleksandar Vucic to visit the US in the coming months, stressing the U.S. commitment to supporting Serbia’s economic growth and improving bilateral relations. In Podgorica, Yee said that Montenegro’s accession to NATO this year has been „the most dramatic change in the region”. He added that this event has also revealed Russia’s commitment to undermine the progress of the Balkans in its European and Euro-Atlantic path, “starting from the insolent plan for Podgorica and support for movements in Bosnia to its efforts to isolate Kosovo” (per his speech during the 2BS Forum in Budva). Yee hasn’t visited Kosovo, which will also see elections this month, on June 11, after the government led by Isa Mustafa from the Democratic Party of Kosovo has fallen due to the no-confidence vote triggered by the controversial Montenegrin border agreement. The tour taken by the U.S. Deputy Assistant for Eurasia in the Balkans highlights the increased attention of Washington towards the Balkans. This comes as the EU’s influence is weakening in the region. The EU’s internal crises coupled with socio-economic problems that countries in the Balkans are facing, at a time when Serbia remains the only relatively stable state, when Russia looks to keep its influence and Turkey seeks to increase its own, the U.S. increases its alertness and uses diplomacy to balance off against renewed destabilization. Due to the complex geography, political influences and economic hurdles, such efforts only underline the political fragility of Balkan states.

Turkish relations with the West and their relevance for the regional security. The U.S. President Donald Trump authorized the Department of Defense (D.O.D.) to provide Syrian Kurds with weapons to aid in their fight against the Islamic State in Syria, according to a D.O.D. press release issued on May 9. The Kurdish issue is sensitive for Turkish security and politics, but the announcement hasn’t caused the cancellation of Turkish President Erdogan trip to Washington. His meeting with President Trump on May 16 lasted 22 minutes and the visit received criticism in local Turkish media, as it was perceived not having achieved much (or anything) of the matters on the Turkish agenda. Prior to the visit there were reports that a change of mind on the earlier announcement about U.S. help for the Syrian Kurds was hoped for. Also in May, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Europe should not push Turkey away despite concerns that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is steering his country down an autocratic path. Merkel’s comments supplemented those coming from European Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn that Turkey had abandoned the path towards joining the western bloc. Hahn explained that the EU had to forge a new type of relationship with Turkey. In response, President Erdogan warned that unless the European Union opens new chapters in Turkey’s accession process his country had nothing more to talk about with the bloc and would say “good-bye”. The statements from Merkel and Hahn do not represent a shift in European attitude towards Turkey. Neither do those coming from Erdogan. Turkish integration into the EU has seized being an objective for Ankara, which regards relations with the EU pragmatically: Turkey needs access to the common market for its exports and it negotiates with Brussels handling the flow of migrants getting into Europe through its borders. The “European model” no longer appeals to Turkey. The government in Ankara is focused on consolidating its internal powers, as the regime is stabilizing itself. This is why Erdogan has not cancelled the trip to visit Trump but only voiced displeasure with the decision on arming the Syrian Kurds. The Kurdish problem is important but not critical, especially at this moment, when Turkey is restructuring its army and cannot get involved in a conflict. In the same time, Turkey seeks to position itself as a regional power, keeping an appearance of involvement on multiple fronts – it says NATO needs to do more in the Black Sea area, while also saying that the Black Sea is less important than the Eastern Mediterranean. All this is diplomatic noise, aimed at building up the image of a strong regional player. The recent actions taken by Ankara, including Erdogan’s attitude towards Trump, highlight once more that Turkey needs the U.S. for strategic reasons, to be able to counter the regional powers like Iran or Russia, with whom Turkey has a long history of conflict.

NATO’s political function increasing – for politics sake. NATO heads of state met to inaugurate the alliance’s new headquarters in Brussels on May 25. They discussed about defense spending and the alliance’s role in fighting terrorism. They have agreed to “do more” to fight terrorism and ensure fairer burden sharing. Their discourses were political – aimed at their electorate at home more than anything else. NATO has had a political and a military role from its very conception. In the Cold War, allies shared a common goal and used both political and military functions of NATO in their fight against their common enemy, the U.S.S.R. With no common enemy nor common goal in sight, the Alliance political function is taken by internal politics, considering member states security priorities have increasingly grown different. NATO currently serves more as a platform for diplomacy and political communication, while facilitating regional defense cooperation to grow within the Alliance, depending on member states national interest.

The EU Commission held an orientation debate on the future of European defense on May 27, which follows through the EU’s goal in establishing a common Defense Action Plan. It is yet unclear what are the EU goals on the common defense and security, considering the distinct visions on security member states have as well as the differing socio-economic backgrounds. However, it is notable that the Commission has accelerated its work on the matter.

If you found this report useful, please forward it to your friends who may be interested in learning more about the most important geopolitical trends as seen from South Eastern Europe! To receive an update every month, they can register here: http://eepurl.com/czO2xn or by sending a message to antonia@colibasanu.ro

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