America seems to care more than the European Union about eastern Europe
Largely silent is the EU, whose members appear more concerned over institutional reform and emissions targets than geopolitical issues. That worries the Americans. They seem to have settled a row with Poland...
EUROPEANS may not always like it, but America still matters most for their security. As Kosovo edges towards independence, NATO ponders further expansion and Russia rips Europe`s threadbare energy policy to rags, every debate involves America. And the mood is gloomy.
“Russia is getting stronger; we are getting weaker”, concludes one European political leader. That is alarmingly clear in Serbia, where a pro-Russian nationalist, Tomislav Nikolic, came out ahead in the first round of the presidential election on January 20th. Serbia has just signed an energy pact to distribute Russian gas exports to Europe; in return a Russian company (the oil arm of Gazprom, the state-run gas giant) is to get a controlling share in Serbia`s national oil monopoly.
Europeans flinch at the idea of Kosovo, the mostly ethnic-Albanian province of Serbia, declaring independence immediately—something the Russians strongly oppose. The Americans fear that more delay risks violence by impatient Kosovars or by Serb provocateurs. Some Europeans plead for a few weeks longer, perhaps to allow yet more talks with Serbia after its presidential election, or simply to get more European waverers such as Spain and Romania to back European Union recognition of an independent Kosovo.
Serbia is one of what some analysts call “swing states”, places where Russia and the West are vying for influence. Others include Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Moldova—and even a few EU members such as Latvia and Bulgaria. President Vladimir Putin of Russia, accompanied by his likely successor, Dmitry Medvedev, recently signed a deal with Bulgaria to build a new pipeline across the Black Sea. Called South Stream, this will pipe Russian gas direct to Europe, bypassing transit countries such as Ukraine and Poland. In this, it matches Nord Stream, a similar bypass under the Baltic.
South Stream may stymie a rival EU effort, Nabucco, which was meant to bring gas from the Caspian and Central Asia to western Europe through the Balkans. Nabucco would be the only pipeline from the region not to cross Russian territory, giving Europe the hope of more diversified gas supplies. Nabucco`s prospects already looked shaky: gas for it must come from either a trans-Caspian pipeline (which Russia has blocked) or Iran (which America dislikes). If South Stream were built, it would make Nabucco uneconomic.
Pipelines and dependence on Russian gas are not the only sources of controversy. American and European diplomats are also wrestling with the question of NATO expansion, which may feature at the alliance`s summit in Bucharest in April. The leading candidate is Croatia. Albania and Macedonia are less prepared, but bringing them in might be seen as one way of countering instability caused by Serbia`s hostility to Kosovo`s independence.
That leaves Ukraine, whose new government says it wants eventually to join NATO, and Georgia, which tarnished its democratic credentials in a crackdown on opposition protests in November. Offering either country a membership action plan—a staging post to joining the alliance—would enrage Russia. But holding back might be seen as giving the Kremlin a veto over its neighbours` security arrangements. The hunt is on for something else to offer instead.
Largely silent is the EU, whose members appear more concerned over institutional reform and emissions targets than geopolitical issues. That worries the Americans. They seem to have settled a row with Poland over a planned missile-defence base. But not much else is going right. Ron Asmus, a former American diplomat now at the German Marshall Fund, a think-tank, frets publicly about a “rollback” of the West`s influence in eastern Europe. He is not the only one.