Hiski Haukkala (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik)
The end of the Cold War brought political relaxation and the demise of the bipolar division of power opened doors for new opportunities and challenges for the United States as well as an emerging EU. The Eastern enlargement in 2004, the expansion of NATO, the actions of the United States in the Balkans as well as its response to 9/11 created a fertile ground for Russia‘s paranoid foreign policy toward the West. The so-called ‘Wider Europe’, which includes countries that have found themselves caught in a conflict of interests between the NATO/EU and Russia, has become a major playing field for these rivals. For Russia, these countries represent primary geopolitical interest and are perceived as a ‘forbidden zone’ for EU’s and NATO’s (geo-)political expansion. However, no matter how much the West is trying to expand its influence eastwards, Moscow is always ready to strike back, and this with even greater intensity.
The development in Ukraine since the beginning of 2014 clearly reflects this approach. Russia decided to test the growing presence of Western institutions in the East and did not hesitate to launch a large-scale hybrid conflict. First, the sequence of events in Ukraine has discredited the Union’s existing activities in the region, and second, it again forced the United States to get more involved in European security, which, as it turned out, cannot do without it. This fact has only further intensified political tensions between East and West.
The aforementioned facts are not the only problem that will determine the next steps to be taken by the Western actors. The states of the Wider Europe themselves represent a major challenge for the implementation of Western political goals. These states have a limited administrative capacity, and they are also mired in corruption and suffer from physical, mental or political divisions between East and West. Moreover, they use the competition between Russia and the EU in their favor when they seek the best political and economic deals with both powers.
The West should therefore adopt and implement a consistent and coherent policy towards the region. The EU and the US should radically change their present approach and always carefully consider all possibilities and risks. The Union needs to grow up and take over the role of a strategic player in the area of security and move away from a purely reactive policy. On the other hand, the United States, primarily through NATO, should remain closely involved in ensuring European security and recognize the importance of the West’s unified actions towards the region.