It is remarkable how strongly some international organisations’ coverage of the East-Central European and South Caucasian post-Soviet space has come to correlate with the regional states’ territorial integrity. Two large blocs are confronting each other in Eastern Europe: NATO and the EU on one side, and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), both Moscow-dominated, on the other. And four countries – Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova (GUAM) – which are not members of either of these coalitions do not fully control their territories.
In contrast, NATO or EU members with large Russian minorities and restrictive citizenship laws such as Estonia and Latvia, on one side, or economically weak CSTO and EEU members such as Belarus and Armenia, on the other, have fully preserved their internationally recognised borders.
In Azerbaijan’s Nagorno Karabakh, Moldova’s Transnistria, Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and Ukraine’s Donets Basin (Donbas), six unrecognized pseudo-states have been created, with direct or, in the case of Karabakh, indirect support from the Kremlin. Crimea has been simply annexed by Russia.
The prospects of further eastern enlargement of the EU and NATO are unlikely any time soon. The UN, OSCE and Council of Europe have, despite clear statements in support of Ukraine and Georgia, demonstrated their unsuitability for resolving the East European grey zone’s fundamental security problem. The unsuccessful trans- and East European institution building over the last quarter of a century illustrate the need for the US to get finally involved.
An engagement of Washington was, and is, crucial for the political stability of both eastern and western Europe. This has been amply illustrated by the Baltic and Adriatic Charters signed by the US with various post-communist countries in 1998 and 2003, designed to prepare them for future NATO membership. After allying with the US within the Baltic Charter, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia successfully joined NATO in 2004.
In the Western Balkans too, the US’s Adriatic Charter has done what would have been called wonders 20 years ago. In 2009 Croatia, a state that had not existed two decades earlier, and Albania, which had once been one of Europe’s most gruesome communist dictatorships, became NATO members. In 2017 Montenegro – which had been bombed by NATO warplanes less than 20 years earlier – became NATO’s 29th member country. Currently Macedonia’s accession to NATO, as well as that of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is being prepared.
The US partly learned its lesson from its earlier successes, and from the disaster of the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war. It signed bilateral Strategic Partnership Charters with Ukraine in December 2008 and with Georgia in January 2009. The two charters stated that the parties would support the integration of Ukraine and Georgia into European and Euro-Atlantic structures, security cooperation and preparing these countries for candidacy for NATO membership. But the two new documents did not send much of a signal to Russia and remained largely unknown even to the people of the three signatory states.
What is now needed is an expansion of Washington’s two bilateral charters into a larger quasi-alliance. A new multilateral charter should link the US clearly with the EU’s three associated Eastern partners, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, as well as perhaps with Azerbaijan. This provisional semi-coalition could become an upgrade for the GUAM group formed in 2001.
A new multilateral US Charter for Eastern Europe and the Southern Caucasus will, to be sure, not offer nearly as much protection to GUAM as Article 5 of the Washington Treaty provides for NATO’s members. The US’s assurances in such a document would, most probably, remain significantly below those given to countries like South Korea or Israel. Even so, a US-GUAM charter could provide elementary organisational structure to eastern Europe’s grey zone during the interregnum, until these countries eventually become members of the EU, NATO and/or other relevant international institutions that embed them properly in the international system. Even a very cautiously formulated American charter for the GUAM countries would have considerable symbolic power, and would increase East European security and raise the stakes of further escalation in the post-Soviet space for Moscow.
A US-GUAM charter on the lines of the Baltic and Adriatic Charters would be a small, but significant step forward in making eastern Europe more secure. It would usefully parallel and support Brussels’s European Neighbourhood Policy and in particular the Eastern Partnership initiative. While not yet providing a comprehensive solution to the fragile security situation in East-Central Europe and the Southern Caucasus, it would gradually help make Europe’s post-Soviet grey zone less grey.
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