Academic journal article Romanian Journal of Political Science

Challenges at EU's New Eastern Frontier Twenty Years after USSR's Fall

Academic journal article Romanian Journal of Political Science

Challenges at EU's New Eastern Frontier Twenty Years after USSR's Fall

Article excerpt

I. Russia and the European Union--parallel evolutions in the last two decades

The fall of USSR has been accompanied and followed by a series of processes: from independence movements and declarations to breakaway attempts--some of them successful--inside the newly independent states. The end of 1991--twenty years ago--brought with it the disintegration of the large soviet empire. The end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s was a period of change, which brought liberalisation and eventually democratization in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Countries that were previously part of the soviet bloc--the satellites during the cold war--went through a reorientation process in their foreign policy. The need for security, both political and economic, drew them closer to their western neighbouring community, the European Community, in a period of neo-liberalism rise. The European Union--or the Common Market as it was best known during that time--started to be wooed by the newly liberated states which broke free from their soviet satellite status and acquired independence from the decayed soviet empire. The centripetal force of EU as well as the looming prospect of integration into a promising political entity named European Union after Maastricht made the former satellites to be active in their westwards orientation and seek concrete steps to get closer.

Meanwhile, Russia, who inherited most of the assets of the former USSR--for good and for worse--attempted to reorganize its neighbours and keep them close to the centre. The Community of Independent States was formed in December 1991--the same period of time when the European Council was drafting the Maastricht Treaty, to be signed in February 1992. The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) was founded in 1992 at the initiative of Russia, but gathered much fewer former republics than CSI--certainly not Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova. If we follow the evolution in parallel of the two main power centres in Eurasia we may notice that while the Copenhagen Council was defining criteria to be followed and achieved by countries aspiring to become EU members (1993), Russia's top advisors were coining the ,near abroad' concept. In the same year Yeltsin succeeded in having the Duma deputies vote a new Constitution that enhanced considerably the powers of the president, thus creating the premises for a rather de-balanced share of powers and for the reversal of democratisation. And he succeeded that after a bloody episode in Moscow in which hundreds of people were killed or injured. The time of liberalisation and attempted democratisation of the Russian Federation--spanning roughly between 1985--1993--was longer than the one in the beginning of the XXth century, when the first Duma was set up, but lasted less than a decade. Nevertheless, the freedom of Russians increased in comparison with soviet times. Meanwhile, the liberal democratic character of the Russian regime slid from a burgeoning democracy during Yeltsin's first years to a pseudo-democracy in the late Putin's years and Medvedev--to use Larry Diamond's concepts (1996).

While EU strengthened itself in the mid 1990s with the richest wave of enlargement with three neutral countries: Sweden, Austria and Finland, Russia got heavily caught in the first Chechen war. Two years later, the economic crisis that started in South East Asia severely hit Russia and all the countries strongly linked economically with her, including the "near abroad" countries in the western part of CSI, Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. The end of the 1990s brought to power Vladimir Putin and the rise of United Russia, a second mandate for Kuchma in Ukraine and the rise of the Communist Party in the Republic of Moldova. In the same period, the Treaty of Amsterdam was signed and ratified, and preparations for enlargement--a 'big bang' enlargement to the east of the EU--were on their way. The Councils of Luxembourg (end of 1997) and the Council of Helsinki (end of 1999) paved the way to the accession of twelve new countries--most of them either former soviet republics or former soviet satellites. …

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