Fahad Ali describes the never-ending territorial adjustments
Europe’s map changing again the issue of territorial changes in the composition of states appears to be a never-ending phenomenon and has the tendency to prove even stalwart analysts wrong whose predictions about final territorial settlement have been challenged by ever-changing territorial boundaries. This time it is Europe that is witnessing an armed conflict in which, if successful, Russian aims may ultimately result in yet again bringing changes in the region that is known to be a hub of territorial claims and counterclaims. Russia claims Ukraine as its integral part as is borne out by president Putin who had a history of proving himself as the proverbial gatherer of lands and he had successfully annexed Crimea in wake of stiff regional and international objections.
Russian-Ukraine war has now entered its fourth week and clearly Russia has not been able to attain its war aims in face of strong resistance put in by Ukraine that is now receiving widespread international assistance. It is required to be kept in mind that even though Russia has lost influence and friends since the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989, the nuclear power still holds sway over several of its neighbours in Europe and keeps others in uneasy neutrality. The ruling Russian oligarchy has not accepted the disintegration of the Soviet Union and Putin leads the pack firmly bent upon restoring the lost glory of the fallen USSR.
The Russian ambition of reclaiming the territories it self-righteously considers its own though the Russian invasion of neighbouring Ukraine and the humanitarian tragedy it provoked over have raised a Western outcry of heartfelt support and spawned calls for a fundamental rethink of how the geopolitical map of Europe should be redrawn in the future. To anchor that in the reality of 2022 is far more difficult than may appear at first sight. Nudging Ukraine, Europe’s second-biggest country, fully into the Western fold against the will of Moscow poses massive problems. But the options for avoiding such an eventuality are fast disappearing and it may become a problem that may result in widening the confrontation.
In this respect, European Union leaders will confront them together head-on during what could become a bruising two-day summit at Versailles just outside Paris, a situation forced into the assessment by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy when he amazingly signed an official request to become an EU member. He added that the European Union is going to be much stronger with Ukraine and piling on pressure he stated that Ukraine should be taken as an integral part of Europe. Compounding the EU’s problem, Moldova and Georgia, two smaller nations who also fear the expansive reach of Russia, followed course within days and also asked for membership.
The violence of the Russian invasion in Ukraine also spooked historically neutral countries like Sweden and Finland which now see a surge in support for joining NATO and in Helsinki’s case unshackling itself from a Russian influence so heavy that it became a political moniker Finlandization. To the astonishment of many, within days, conventional knowledge of who belongs where on the geopolitical map of the continent has been badly shaken. Many nations fear an immediate enlargement of the bloc and a reshaping of traditional spheres of influence would put the continent on the brink of a full-fledged war. And there is no better example than Ukraine’s aspirations to join the 27-nation EU that could tilt the balance of blocs in Europe. In this context, European Council President Charles Michel reiterated that together with Ukraine, the EU stands firmly on the side of freedom and democracy as Ukraine is part of the European family.
Even if support for Ukraine is overwhelming among the EU member states, granting membership is anything but automatic or even wishful at this stage. The process is long drawn and was considered instrumental in Russian reluctance to further pursue EU membership after the EU asked Russia to wait for completion of required formalities. The leaders of eight eastern member states officially backed Ukraine and one of them, Estonian Prime Minister addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg stating that it is not only in their interest to give Ukraine a membership perspective, it is also their moral duty to do so adding that Ukraine is not fighting for Ukraine but it is also fighting for Europe.
Despite such enthusiasm shown by European leaders there is much skepticism about the matter as became evident by the Dutch Prime Minister who made it clear that not now. He phoned Ukrainian president stating that he knows their ambition for the short term but this will not happen in the short term because this is a whole process taking many years. He insisted that possible membership for Moldova and Georgia would be even farther off because it does not face an immediate threat like Ukraine does. This skepticism was endorsed by many analysts who opined that the EU does not decide matters of this nature hastily. They maintain that the membership of EU is a bureaucratic, tedious process requiring many questions to be answered and this procedure spans years and this has been a singular factor of the Europe’s map changing again.
In this context, Europe’s map changing again it is feared that the discussion about Ukraine’s accession to the EU could also easily become overheated, providing euro-skeptics with a perfect opportunity to spread fear among voters as they have proven to be very sensitive to this matter due to multifarious reasons. In this respect it is pointed out that in the past, membership applications have taken years, sometimes decades. Turkey applied to join in 1987 and is nowhere close to membership causing considerable heartburn in the country. The incumbent Turkish leaders periodically fires broadsides in this matter but do not cross acceptable lines. Four others are candidate countries now despite the widely propagated fact that the EU has shown an extreme reluctance to expand further eastward. To allow Ukraine to leapfrog over the others would stir passions in the Western Balkans where several are awaiting a nod.
Just obtaining membership does not end the matter as for potential newcomers are also required to abide by the need to absorb all Europe’s map changing again regulations, from rule of law principles to trade and fertilizer standards and this legal compendium is composed of about 80,000 pages of rules. Over the past years, the EU has often pointed out that Ukraine’s anti-corruption measures still lacked teeth. To top it off, any candidate needs the unanimous approval of current members, often allowing one nation to decide on the fate of the whole process. In comparison, however, a move toward NATO membership, especially for nations like Sweden and Finland, would be easier, since the two already have very close cooperation with the military alliance.
One issue however remains on the anvil as formal step though would surely raise the wrath of Moscow and be seen as a geopolitical power play. It is pointed out that it is obvious that if Finland and Sweden join NATO, which is first of all a military organisation, it will entail serious military-political consequences, which would require retaliatory steps by the Russian Federation. Despite this potential difficulty Nordic neutrality is clearly seen to be wavering as is borne out by the fact that Sweden and Finland have effectively ended their neutrality by sending military aid to Ukraine. TW