Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tuesday Shorts

by Alexander Melikishvili

Former Presidents, High-Ranking Officials and Dissident Intellectuals from Central and Eastern Europe Present Their List of Grievances to Obama Administration in an Open Letter

Former presidents, defense and foreign ministers, ambassadors and dissident intellectuals from Central and Eastern Europe (including Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovak Republic) took an unusual step of writing an open letter to the Obama administration in the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza on July 16. Reflecting the common unease of Central and Eastern European countries over the current state of transatlantic relations, the letter touches on all major issues, including NATO's future, resurgent Russia, energy security and U.S. plans for missile defense system in Czech Republic and Poland.

The authors express concern "that Central and Eastern European countries are no longer at the heart of American foreign policy" and note that "all is not well either in our region or in the transatlantic relationship." Here are some of the notable passages from the letter:

- On last year's Russian-Georgian war: "Like you, we await the results of the EU Commission's investigation on the origins of the Russo-Georgian war. But the political impact of that war on the region has already been felt. Many countries were deeply disturbed to see the Atlantic alliance stand by as Russia violated the core principles of the Helsinki Final Act, the Charter of Paris, and the territorial integrity of a country that was a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace and the Euroatlantic Partnership Council - all in the name of defending a sphere of influence on its borders."

- On NATO's weakness: "Despite the efforts and significant contribution of the new members, NATO today seems weaker than when we joined. In many of our countries it is perceived as less and less relevant - and we feel it. Although we are full members, people question whether NATO would be willing and able to come to our defense in some future crises. Europe's dependence on Russian energy also creates concern about the cohesion of the Alliance. President Obama's remark at the recent NATO summit on the need to provide credible defense plans for all Alliance members was welcome, but not sufficient to allay fears about the Alliance´s defense readiness. Our ability to continue to sustain public support at home for our contributions to Alliance missions abroad also depends on us being able to show that our own security concerns are being addressed in NATO and close cooperation with the United States."

- On the resurgent Russia: "And then there is the issue of how to deal with Russia. Our hopes that relations with Russia would improve and that Moscow would finally fully accept our complete sovereignty and independence after joining NATO and the EU have not been fulfilled. Instead, Russia is back as a revisionist power pursuing a 19th-century agenda with 21st-century tactics and methods. At a global level, Russia has become, on most issues, a status-quo power. But at a regional level and vis-a-vis our nations, it increasingly acts as a revisionist one. It challenges our claims to our own historical experiences. It asserts a privileged position in determining our security choices. It uses overt and covert means of economic warfare, ranging from energy blockades and politically motivated investments to bribery and media manipulation in order to advance its interests and to challenge the transatlantic orientation of Central and Eastern Europe."

- On the U.S.-Russia "reset": "We welcome the "reset" of the American-Russian relations. As the countries living closest to Russia, obviously nobody has a greater interest in the development of the democracy in Russia and better relations between Moscow and the West than we do. But there is also nervousness in our capitals. We want to ensure that too narrow an understanding of Western interests does not lead to the wrong concessions to Russia. Today the concern is, for example, that the United States and the major European powers might embrace the Medvedev plan for a "Concert of Powers" to replace the continent's existing, value-based security structure. The danger is that Russia's creeping intimidation and influence-peddling in the region could over time lead to a de facto neutralization of the region. There are differing views within the region when it comes to Moscow's new policies. But there is a shared view that the full engagement of the United States is needed."

- On revamping NATO: "...we need a renaissance of NATO as the most important security link between the United States and Europe. It is the only credible hard power security guarantee we have. NATO must reconfirm its core function of collective defense even while we adapt to the new threats of the 21st century. A key factor in our ability to participate in NATO's expeditionary missions overseas is the belief that we are secure at home. We must therefore correct some self-inflicted wounds from the past. It was a mistake not to commence with proper Article 5 defense planning for new members after NATO was enlarged. NATO needs to make the Alliance's commitments credible and provide strategic reassurance to all members. This should include contingency planning, prepositioning of forces, equipment, and supplies for reinforcement in our region in case of crisis as originally envisioned in the NATO-Russia Founding Act."

- On the U.S.-proposed missile defense system in Poland and Czech Republic: "...the thorniest issue may well be America's planned missile-defense installations. Here too, there are different views in the region, including among our publics which are divided. Regardless of the military merits of this scheme and what Washington eventually decides to do, the issue has nevertheless also become -- at least in some countries -- a symbol of America's credibility and commitment to the region. How it is handled could have a significant impact on their future transatlantic orientation. The small number of missiles involved cannot be a threat to Russia's strategic capabilities, and the Kremlin knows this. We should decide the future of the program as allies and based on the strategic plusses and minuses of the different technical and political configurations. The Alliance should not allow the issue to be determined by unfounded Russian opposition. Abandoning the program entirely or involving Russia too deeply in it without consulting Poland or the Czech Republic can undermine the credibility of the United States across the whole region."

- On the energy security: "The threat to energy supplies can exert an immediate influence on our nations' political sovereignty also as allies contributing to common decisions in NATO. That is why it must also become a transatlantic priority. Although most of the responsibility for energy security lies within the realm of the EU, the United States also has a role to play. Absent American support, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline would never have been built. Energy security must become an integral part of U.S.-European strategic cooperation. Central and Eastern European countries should lobby harder (and with more unity) inside Europe for diversification of the energy mix, suppliers, and transit routes, as well as for tough legal scrutiny of Russia's abuse of its monopoly and cartel-like power inside the EU. But American political support on this will play a crucial role. Similarly, the United States can play an important role in solidifying further its support for the Nabucco pipeline, particularly in using its security relationship with the main transit country, Turkey, as well as the North-South interconnector of Central Europe and LNG terminals in our region."

Did Obama Draw a Thick Red Line over Georgia in Moscow?

According to at least one account of what transpired between Presidents Obama and Medvedev during the recent summit in Moscow, the United States made clear that another attack on Georgia would result in grave consequences for Russia. The head of the Georgian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty David Kakabadze cited three different high-ranking officials, who confirmed on the condition of anonymity that President Obama told President Medvedev something akin to either "This time the United States would not stay away in the case of a new invasion in Georgia" or "This time it will have grave consequences for Russia."

Nabucco Partner Company and Turkmenistan Conclude a Gas Exploration Agreement

On Friday, July 17, the Turkmen state information agencies announced that the Turkmen government and the German energy company RWE AG, which is one of the shareholders in the Nabucco pipeline consortium, signed the deal that allows RWE AG to explore the 940 square km block of Turkmenistan's Caspian shelf for six years. Considering that earlier this month Turkmen President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov expressed willingness to provide gas for the Nabucco pipeline, the RWE AG deal bodes well for Nabucco if it is complemented by the construction of the gas pipeline across the Caspian Sea.

Closure of a Large Outdoor Market in Moscow Stokes Tensions with China

The decision by the Russian authorities to shut down Moscow's sprawling 740-acre Cherkizovsky market in late June apparently produced some tensions between Moscow and Beijing because of the manner in which the Chinese traders were dealt with. As this informative Wall Street Journal blog vigniette explains, the detention of 150 Chinese traders and expropriation of their merchandise led the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang to appeal to the Russian government "to protect Chinese businessmen's interests in Russia." It should be noted that in September of last year as a result of the raid by the Russian customs inspectors allegedly $2 billion worth of contraband goods (of mostly Chinese origin) were seized at the Cherkizovsky market. The Cherkizovsky market, which until recently was the largest outdoor marketplace in Europe, was a haven for organized crime activities and a site of frequent inter-ethnic clashes and racial tension. According to the Federation of Migrants in Russia, a non-governmental organization defending the migrant rights, the closure of Cherkizovsky market left 100,000 people (mostly merchants and shuttle traders from China, Vietnam and Central Asia and Caucasus) unemployed.

Will the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia be Augmented by the U.S. Observers?

Reuters reports that, according to the Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria, the Georgian government is conducting "preliminary talks" with the United States regarding the possibility of including U.S. monitors in the 240-strong European Union Monitoring Mission (E.U.M.M.), which has been deployed along the de facto border of the separatist South Ossetia region of Georgia since last year's war between Russia and Georgia over the control of the aforementioned secessionist territory. It should be noted that Bokeria mentioned that Turkey expressed tentative interest in participating in the expanded E.U.M.M.

NATO Holds Air Defense Exercises in the Baltics

It looks like NATO is finally making some concrete steps to strengthen its Article Five commitments towards the three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. On July 14-15, the Allied Air Component Command Headquarters Rammstein held the Baltic Region Training Event (BRTE) aimed at increasing interoperability of Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian air space surveillance and control capabilities. This is the third exercise of its kind. The first and second air defense exercises (codenamed Baltic Air Sovereignty Training Event or BASTE) were held in October 2008 and April 2009 respectively.

LA Times Factoid on Nabucco

The Los Angeles Times published a very handy reference to the Nabucco gas pipeline project.