Donald Tusk`s South Caucasus tour: In the context of new stage of Eastern Partnership

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Baku, 16 July 2019 –

President of the European Council Donald Tusk`s visiting Armenia and Georgia after Azerbaijan brought several geopolitical issues to spotlight. Experts say a number of factors of particular importance to the post-Soviet region have now acquired topicality. In this context, Donald Tusk`s statements in Armenia provoked much interest. The president of the European Council openly said that the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict had to be solved in accordance with international law and provisions of the Helsinki Final Act. This is the recognition of Armenia`s aggression. The European Union supports Azerbaijan`s sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of borders. This position was reiterated at an international conference marking the 10thanniversary of the Eastern Partnership initiative. This article will focus on the geopolitical aspects of the aforementioned processes.

Tusk`s remarks: Armenians deeply upset

The European Union`s celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership initiative resonated widely. Some linked this to global geopolitical processes. Experts therefore assess the celebrative events against a background of geopolitical dynamics. They analyze the geopolitical aspects of President of the European Council Donald Tusk`s tour of the South Caucasus. It is natural because his remarks on the regional situation were of pivotal importance.

Donald Tusk gave several messages in Armenia. Although Armenian experts, who comment on his meeting with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, tried to hide the truth, they failed to succeed. This manifested itself in Donald Tusk`s statement on the settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. The president of the European Council declared that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict had to be solved peacefully in accordance with international law and Helsinki Final Act. It is a clear message to Yerevan. This means that Brussels does not plan to go beyond the international law to support the aggressor.

Armenian experts rushed to comment on this statement of Donald Tusk. They did not hide their disappointment at the European Union`s support for Azerbaijan`s territorial integrity. But they expressed their surprise as Donald Tusk did not say a word about "the right of people to self-determination". This leads to a conclusion that for Donald Tusk the main principle is the territorial integrity, sovereignty and inviolability of borders. In fact, it is a fair attitude. However, Armenians have so far heard what matched their stance.

What is interesting here is Brussels’s attitude towards the EU-Armenia relationship. Donald Tusk said that the European Union wanted to expand relations with Armenia. However, he set several terms. Yerevan should conduct reforms in a number of areas, including the fight against corruption, justice system, other aspects of public administration and human rights. Brussels’s relationship with Armenia will depend on the fulfillment of these terms.

Donald Tusk discussed this issue with Nikol Pashinyan. It seems that they failed to reach agreement on some of the points. Of course, Brussels realizes that the Armenian leaders are just pretending to do something, rather than implementing concrete reforms. Yerevan demands Brussels to increase aid. But the European Union clearly declared that it is useless to speak of additional aid without having a specific plan of action. This remains the main source of disagreement. Although some media reports allege that the European Union increased its assistance to Armenia, there is no concrete evidence.

However, Brussels is likely to render assistance to Armenia sooner or later because some of the European countries are loyal to Armenia. And there are no changes in this attitude. But one thing is now obvious: the EU separates the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict from Armenia`s internal problems. The withdrawal of the Armenian forces from Azerbaijan`s occupied territories is the necessary condition. The changing of the status-quo is also crucial.

So Donald Tusk`s visit to Armenia saw Brussels and Yerevan just hold general discussions. But in Baku, the European Union and Azerbaijan exchanged views over prospects of specific cooperation. This reflects Brussels` attitude towards the South Caucasus countries. Against this background, Donald Tusk`s remarks at an event marking the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership initiative in Batumi are of special interest.

Eastern Partnership: Interaction of two new factors

In his speech at the high-level conference celebrating the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Eastern Partnership initiative, the president of the European Council highlighted two important issues. He said: "We will continue developing opportunities to – and I quote – "accelerate political association and further economic integration between the EU and interested partners", which was the original goal stated in the Prague Summit declaration, still valid today. We count on the active involvement and on contributions from the EU Member States and Eastern Partners, but also on civil society and business communities. We need to jointly reflect on how to make the best out of the opportunities that the Eastern Partnership provides. For now, let us focus on what the Eastern Partnership has proven that it can do best: improving the daily lives of our citizens."

This means that the European Union has set new tasks through the Eastern Partnership initiative. The first is aimed at strengthening the political and economic integration with partner countries. So the European Union does not intend to disregard the initiative. On the contrary, Brussels is searching for new opportunities to make it more effective. One of the possible consequences of this scenario may be the deepening of the geopolitical struggle in the post-Soviet area, including the South Caucasus.

Some signs of the growing tension have already emerged. At the Batumi conference, Donald Tusk commented on Russian President Vladimir Putin`s interpretation of the fall of the Soviet Union. "You remember when the Russian President said in 2005: "we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century." Today in Georgia I want to say loud and clear: the collapse of the Soviet Union was a blessing to Georgians, Poles, Ukrainians as well as to the whole of Central and Eastern Europe. And I'm convinced that also to Russians," the president of the European Council said. Tusks demonstrated its opposition to Russia`s strategy to strengthen its ideological influence on the former Soviet republics.

Donald Tusk also got into debate with Vladimir Putin in the Russian leader`s absence at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan. Addressing the summit, he said: "Thanks to my jet lag I was able to read the whole interview with President Putin in the Financial Times. I have to say that I strongly disagree with the main argument that liberalism is obsolete. We are here as Europeans also to firmly and univocally defend and promote liberal democracy. Whoever claims that liberal democracy is obsolete, also claims that freedoms are obsolete, that the rule of law is obsolete and that human rights are obsolete. For us in Europe, these are and will remain essential and vibrant values. What I find really obsolete are: authoritarianism, personality cults, the rule of oligarchs. Even if sometimes they may seem effective."

So the ideological disagreement between the EU and Russia is now deepening. While the EU is trying to promote liberalism ideas, Russia is loyal to different ideology. And it`s not ruled out that this process may influence the situation in the post-Soviet area.

We think it lies at the heart of the second factor. Donald Tusk relies on support of civil society and business communities along with governments in order to strengthen cooperation. The importance of the ideological context is increasing. And under these circumstances the EU wants to build relations with civil society and business communities.

All these factors demonstrate the European Union`s commitment to step up its role as part of the Eastern Partnership initiative. Donald Tusk`s South Caucasus tour is of particular significance in this regard. More precisely, the EU has now embarked on a new stage of its strategy to cement its global geopolitical standing. And the Eastern Partnership initiative plays a special role in this strategy. In Batumi, the EU and partner countries reviewed the cooperation plan till 2020 and discussed the ongoing geopolitical situation, the strengthening of cooperation and promotion of integration. Conflict resolution now receives more and more attention in this context. These are obvious signs of interesting geopolitical processes that may take place in the post-Soviet area in the near future.

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