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They seek it here, they seek it there ...

Posted by Helen Thursday, March 24, 2005

… they seek that supersoft power everywhere. Our readers will, no doubt, recall that the EU was going to be the ruling power of the twenty-first century (an unwise prediction, given how much of the century is left) through its incredibly effective soft power. Indeed, it has already shown its mettle by influencing the legislation of … well, we are not sure who, but, according to Mark Leonard, Russia and Rwanda.

The trouble is that the supersoft power seems to be absent whenever there is something actually going on. The EU and several of its member states find themselves on the margins and beyond them as far as the developments in the Middle East are concerned.

Surely, there should be some interest in the former Soviet Union. It seems no. There are quite interesting post-electoral developments in Kyrgyzstan that remind one of similar events in Georgia and Ukraine.

At the moment it is not clear which way things will go and we have had all the usual warnings about democracy not meaning much to the people, tribal warfare, ethnic strife, blah-blah. But it seems that the people want free and fair elections.

The situation is being closely monitored by the US and Russia, both of whom have military bases in the country and by the OSCE. But where is the supersoft power of the EU? Have we no interest in seeing former Soviet republics turn into democracies?

Or is it that, as usual, there is no particular EU policy and the member states are again mesmerized by the endless nit-picking debates about budgets, rebates, 3 per cent of GDP and, of course, that wretched constitution.

How this reminds one of the days around the signing and implementation of the Maastricht Treaty. While the Soviet Union fell apart, Eastern Europe became free and Yugoslavia disintegrated into bloody chaos, the member states of the then European Community focused completely on that treaty.

Then there is Chechnya. The European Union has just been accused by the Human Rights Watch in its report on the situation in that part, of ignoring the abuses. According to the ISN Security Watch

“The 57-page report describes 43 disappearances that occurred in 2004, mainly carried out by pro-Moscow Chechen forces, and cites claims that there have been between 3,000 and 5,000 disappearances there since 1999.

By contrast, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office said last December that just over 2,437 people had been “abducted” since the beginning of the operation in the province in 1999. Of those, 347 had been subsequently released by law enforcement agents, according to Russian authorities.”
The Human Rights Watch is complaining about the fact that this year the EU did not even bother to introduce the subject of Chechnya at the annual meeting of the UN Commission of Human Rights (an organization so appalling that even Kofi Annan felt the need to mention it in his ridiculous speech about the supposed reforms that he will introduce just as soon as more money comes into the already rather swollen coffers).

Whatever one may think of the ridiculous UNCHR, it is true that the EU has not been making too many noises about Chechnya as there are endless negotiations with Russia on economic partnership and Russia’s membership of the WTO.

EU leaders say that they do not want to isolate Russia from the West. Not like President Bush, they add smugly, who criticized the Russian government for its growing democracy deficit and human rights record when he was in Europe last month.
“Earlier, Putin had instructed the government to step up the negotiating process for Russia’s integration with the EU in terms of economics, security, culture,education, and scientific research. All of these issues will be further discussed at the next EU-Russia summit in May.”
EU officials refuse to be criticized. They are still concerned about Chechnya and what goes on there, they maintain. In fact, spokeswoman Emma Udwin maintains that they are “strongly concerned” and, indeed, sometimes even mention the subject in their endless meetings and summits.

You see, the EU wants to improve the situation on the ground (if that is so, it has failed miserably as the situation on the ground has degenerated catastrophically) and to that end it actively funds “NGOs working on human rights issues in the region”.

In a supreme example of total waffliness, she added:
“The EU wants to see a political solution in Chechnya that commands the broad support of the population, and which respects Russia’s territorial integrity.This must be underpinned by respect for the rule of law, human rights, and democratic principles. The way forward is to hold early free and fair elections.”
And pigs will fly all the way from Grozny to Brussels.

Presumably, the answer is that there is very little the EU can actually do. But Russia is susceptible to some influence or, even, pressure. After all, Putin gave in on the wretched Kyoto Protocol when it became obvious that he would not get the coveted WTO membership otherwise.

It is just that the EU does not really want to be too antagonistic to Russia. It is a big beast and, seemingly, a useful ally in the plan to creat alternative power centres to the United States.

Whether Russia really wants to go along with all of the EU’s plans remains doubtful. Putin’s aim is to restore Russia to the position of being the other superpower, though he is not necessarily getting anywhere near achieving that aim.

Beyond that the EU has no particular ideas how to deal with any problem, near or far. We are back to the old conundrum: it is all very well to create the structures in order to give Europe a stronger voice and to sink individual national interests in that, but what is the Single European Voice going to say?