Baku Dialogues: 25 Years After the Fall of the Berlin Wall: How Global Politics Have Changed
Dear Rector Pashayev, students, ladies and gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to talk to you today at ADA University about the challenges that we are facing 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In particular, I am pleased to be delivering this speech in Baku, in Azerbaijan, a friend and strategic partner country of Serbia. This year marks a quarter of a century since the fall of communism in Eastern and Central Europe. Unfortunately, today we must address the risk of the revival of Cold War paradigms.
This is a real threat and we must put all of our energy and strength into preventing this revival from taking place.
Over the past 25 years, Europe and the United States have failed to reach consensus with Russia on the necessity of creating a joint living space based on shared values, and also common security concerns. This is partly our fault; the fall of the Berlin Wall was a celebrated as a victory over the Soviet Union rather than as a new joint beginning. The lesson of the Marshall Plan for Germany after the World War II was a clear: after you defeat your opponent, you should try to build a democratic society. This approach was sadly not replicated in the relationship between the West and Russia after the end of Cold War. If we are isolated, we cannot help to advance democracy in Russia, or any other country or region.
The Ukraine crisis has marked the end of the old security architecture in Europe. Clearly, we need to construct new one, perhaps by trying to negotiate a security charter that would include Europe, Russia and the US, possibly under the auspices of the OSCE. The first step would be to try to create a joint economic space including energy flow with as few barriers possible.
EU enlargement: the Balkans and Serbia
Today as much as ever, Europe must continue to express solidarity within and outside Europe, and to demonstrate the political vision and courage to finally complete the EU enlargement process. The Ukraine crisis has clearly demonstrated the necessity of putting aside the so-called ‘enlargement fatigue’, in order to finally fulfill the historic vision of a single Europe, united and free. If this opportunity is missed, other powerful players will quickly fill the ensuing vacuum. It is clearer than ever that further EU enlargement is not only dependent on political will and the capabilities of prospective members to implement the necessary reforms, but also on the EU’s readiness to extend peace, prosperity and stability throughout the continent. The EU integration process has been a major driving force for reforms, regional cooperation, and reconciliation among the Balkan countries.
When the EU leaders met at the Thessaloniki Summit in June 2003, they promised the Western Balkan states that they would eventually become members of the EU. The idea was perfect; to accelerate reforms by providing EU membership perspectives to the region. That promise has been the anchor for Serbia’s vision of its political future. We have always believed that our geography, history, political culture and economy make us a natural part of Europe. Considering the recent history of the Balkans, and Serbia’s role, along with the significant contribution of modern democratic Serbia to reconciliation in the region, we believed that EU membership would cement our role as a guarantor of stability and peace, and stimulate economic regeneration of the Balkans.
Today, we are still hopeful that the EU will honor its commitment [to Serbia’s membership]. Within the process of European integration, we expected Serbia to be treated just like all other aspiring countries. We never asked for any preferential treatment or shortcuts.
However, we have on a number of occasions been asked [by the EU] to fulfill new conditions or provide political concessions. As soon as we fulfil those conditions, new ones suddenly appear, delaying our progress toward EU membership. For example, in 2011, when Serbia arrested the last war criminal, General Mladic, and transferred him to the Hague Tribunal on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, the European Commission praised the reform process and thus recommended to members states that we be granted candidate status. However, several member states delayed this process for a few months, arguing that the resolution of the highly complex Kosovo issue should be precondition for Serbia’s accession to the EU.
These unfair and artificial delays in the integration process are jeopardizing and slowing down both reforms in Serbia and the reconciliation process in the broader Balkan region. Serbia officially began accession negotiations with the EU in January 2014, after signing the so-called Brussels Agreement with the Kosovo-Albania leadership. Despite this, negotiations are proceeding slowly, and there are thirty five chapters to be completed in order for Serbia to become a member of the EU. In this context, Serbia’s best case scenario is EU membership after another ten years. We understand that for the EU there are more urgent issues than enlargement, especially now, when it is facing a number of internal problems, including the Eurozone crisis. However, I strongly believe that the only way for the EU to fully reach its potential as a global player is to complete the enlargement process with candidate countries.
The EU’s Approach to Eastern Partnership countries
The Ukraine crisis has raised awareness within the EU of the failures of the current approach towards Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries: Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Belarus, as there is no consensus on what should change. There are still no membership perspectives for these countries, nor is the EU willing to provide rapid cash transfers or major economic support to those countries.
Meanwhile, NATO is unwilling to offer membership to countries partially occupied by foreign troops, as is already the case with Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova. Russia is aware of this unwillingness, and has manipulated those frozen conflicts to this end. The future relations of the EU and US with the so-called Eastern Neighborhood cannot be successfully developed if Russia’s interests are threatened, or if it believes they are threatened. There is a need for an agreement or informal formula with Russia in that regard. If the EU is not prepared to provide genuine support to its Eastern neighbors - i.e. the EaP countries - then it is unrealistic for Brussels to expect full commitment to the Association Agreements and the implementation of reforms. But then these countries need a promise of membership, or the same or similar benefits as Norway or Switzerland.
In regard to security and integration, it is clear that Russia will do anything to prevent any EaP country from joining NATO. At the same time, EaP countries have limited prospects of joining NATO under these circumstances.
Azerbaijan: Future Perspectives
In this context, Azerbaijan is in an interesting position. It is geographically located at the intersection of key trade and economic routes from Central Asia to Europe, and at the point where the interests of major powers clash. I would argue that in the short term, Azerbaijan will benefit from the Russian-Ukrainian conflict in regard to its energy interests. Azerbaijan seeks to strengthen its position not only at the regional level, but also as a reliable partner of the West. Importantly, the EU is seeking alternatives to Russian gas. Azerbaijan will also strengthen its geostrategic position, given that NATO military equipment leaving Afghanistan will transit Azerbaijan. Following the delay on Russian-NATO cooperation on Afghanistan, Azerbaijan became the only reliable corridor for withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. The EU faces challenges in regard to diversifying its energy suppliers, and Azerbaijan will play a major role in this process. Aside from Azerbaijani gas, the delivery of Turkmenistan’s gas to Europe is only possible via Azerbaijan. Significant volumes of Iraqi and eventually Iranian gas could reach European consumers through the Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline (TANAP) on Turkish territory. Azerbaijan is the major stakeholder in TANAP.
Azerbaijan and Turkey have always had a strategic, some would say fraternal, partnership, but on the other hand, Turkey has always pursued its own regional interests under any circumstances. Azerbaijan is interested in two key aspects of Turkish foreign policy:
The first is Turkey’s full support on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, as well as the continued suspension of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Armenia.
The second is the secure and reliable delivery of Azerbaijani energy resources to Europe via Turkish territory.
When it comes to the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Turkey does not only provide diplomatic support to Baku, but is also an important strategic partner in ensuring Azerbaijani access to the Black and Mediterranean Seas.
The relationship between Azerbaijan and Iran has taken a very different turn. Although there are nearly 30 million ethnic Azerbaijanis living in Northern Iran, the relationship between Tehran and Baku has grown increasingly tense in recent years. These two countries have been following different paths in their respective foreign policies, pursuing opposing targets in terms of future development. In the field of energy, Iran strongly opposes the construction of a Trans-Caspian gas pipeline between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.
Moving closer toward EU integration does not seem a priority for either the policymakers or wider society in Azerbaijan, unlike Georgia and Moldova, where full European integration is a goal of the government and a central pillar of public debate. Azerbaijan did not sign an Association Agreement with the EU at the EaP Vilnius Summit in November 2013. The Azerbaijani government seeks a relationship with the EU based on strengthening its importance as an energy supplier and a mutually acceptable political reform agenda; Baku has offered the EU a “modernization and strategic partnership agreement”, to which Brussels has not yet responded.
Among the CIS countries, Baku is the most independent from Russia in terms of its foreign policy, since Azerbaijan does not rely on Russia’s economic assistance or investments; it does not host Russian troops on its territory and nor it does have a large Russian minority. After Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Azerbaijan was among the three CIS countries, along with Moldova and Georgia, which voted for the pro-Ukrainian resolution in the United Nations in March 2014.
But despite Azerbaijan’s energy cooperation with the EU, Baku still takes Russian interests into account when dealing with Brussels. Notably Russia still has leverage over Baku in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, as well as in regard to the unresolved status of the Caspian Sea. Thus Russia can prevent the Trans-Caspian pipeline project from being build; this pipeline would deliver huge gas volumes of Turkmen to Europe via Azerbaijan.
In addition, as I mentioned previously, while in the short term Azerbaijan can benefit from the Ukraine-Russia conflict due to energy issues, in the long term these benefits will recede, as Russia could use all possible means to keep Azerbaijan inside its zone of influence. Therefore, a new Cold War is not in the interests of Azerbaijan or any other country in the surrounding regions; for instance, the decline in oil prices is hurting Azerbaijan’s economy. In this regard, Azerbaijan will continue to be a partner of the EU, but will not push an anti-Russian policy.
Thank you for your attention; I am ready to answer your questions.