The key to the balance of powers on the continent lies in its center
On the 13th and 14th of May, 2015 at NATO Ministerial Meeting in Antalya a decision was adopted to deploy permanent allied ground forces near the Eastern border of the European Union (including the Baltic States and Poland). It was yet another sign of the changing role of Central Europe in the balance of power on the continent in recent decades. It was Henry Kissinger who, in 1990, during his visit to Warsaw, recognized that Central Europe was back in the geopolitical center and started his speech by saying: “I’m delighted to be here in Eastern, I mean Central Europe.”
The key for the geopolitical transformation of these countries was their route towards democracy and market economy. They are not what they used to be after the Second World War. They are now members of the EU and NATO. However, what elevated their position first and foremost, was the choice of common standpoint and cooperation after the fall of the USSR.
During the Iraqi crisis in 2003 Donald Rumsfeld described Central Europe as the New Europe which meant that these new democracies have developed vastly, acquiring important economic, military and geopolitical meaning for the U.S.
And nowadays again, these countries have a specific role to play. In the light of recent developments in Ukraine and the unpredictable foreign policy of Russia, the role of these countries turns out to be essential in assuring that the European values are the core of the EU and that the democratic principles will remain the key for development in the region.
Democratic Principles vs. Authoritarianism
Current foreign policy of Russia is aimed not only against the sovereignty of post-Soviet countries but also at undermining the stability of the EU on this path. It is important to note that, at present, Western Europe is not in jeopardy to the same extent that Central Europe is. One of the reasons is that it is geographically further, the other reason is that both societies and authorities of Western Europe do not carry the burden of the Soviet legacy and have more stable and developed political institutions.
But what one needs to understand is that Russian foreign policy undermines the European values, creating the belief that they do not matter and that it is the military power that makes the difference. Current foreign policy of Russia is also trying to penetrate the inside of the CE countries and plant a seed of doubt on whether the EU was ready for the enlargement of 2004 as well as the new challenges that it brought about.
Furthermore, Moscow aims at showing that the rest of the world keeps it in isolation and under sanctions, in order to avoid the inevitable breakdown of the European Union. In reality it is attempting to reintroduce the old model of politics in which empires used to come to agreements and divide smaller states among themselves.
And in fact, the most disturbing thing is that Russian propaganda and these attempts of destabilization work in some cases. For example, Victor Orban repeatedly stated his plans to deepen Hungary’s ties with Russia, and voiced his oppositions against EU’s sanctions against Kremlin.
On the 9th of May, President of Czech Republic Milos Zeman visited Moscow, where he attended the World War 2 Victory Day celebrations and met with Vladimir Putin, contrarily to the general boycott of the event by most other European leaders.
New Central Europe
The abovementioned examples are disturbing and can create divisions on the level of the EU as well as social cleavages within member states. Vladimir Putin’s actions forced the EU to regard it as a threat. And even if previously the EU and NATO were trying to negotiate with Russia, listen and come to agreements, current Russian line once again raised the importance of Central Europe.
NATO’s decision to send a permanent contingent to Central Europe is probably the first assertive response to recent Moscow’s actions. Moreover, it shows that the region became a reliable ground for other sides of the Treaty. Its role has once again become globally strategic. Through these developments, CE countries have truly become NATO members.
Hasmik Grigoryan is an analyst at the Analytical Centre on Globalization and Regional Cooperation.
Photo by UK Ministry of Defence | Flickr