Monday, March 16, 2015

More about that common foreign policy

One of the most remarkable aspects of the entire Russian/Ukrainian/anyone else who is on the Russian border crisis has been the irrelevance of the EU as an entity. Undoubtedly that is why there are these strenuous efforts being made on both sides of the argument to talk up its role either as the initiator of one particular stage of the crisis (is that hysterical laughter I hear from the Kremlin?) or as the obvious solution to it (and that is definitely the sound of bemused silence).

So, assuming that for once the EU has some kind of an idea of what its policy is (a tall assumption) do we actually have countries falling into line with it? Well, no, since you ask, we don't.

There is the bizarre behaviour of the  Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orb├ín who is playing some kind of a convoluted game with Russia, the rest of the EU and his own people, relying, on assumes on that well-known Hungarian ability to come out ahead in a revolving door even if one went in behind someone. This may be a heresy but I have to admit that I am not sure that always works.

Then there is Greece that every now and then threatens to subvert the sanctions on the grounds that they do not like what the EU is doing to a fellow Orthodox country or because the Germans owe them reparations or because they are just feeling bloody-minded. None of these threats have actually come to anything yet.

Italy is making unhappy noises and, in connection with that let me point to an interesting piece of information in the recent House of Lords Report on the EU and Russia (ch. 2 para. 19):
The exposure of UK banks to Russia is fairly low at $14.2 billion, below that of France ($47.7 billion), Italy ($27.7 billion) and Germany ($17.7 billion), all of which have much smaller banking sectors.
Though there has been "a marked decrease in the exposure of European banks to Russia between the third quarter of 2013 and the second quarter of 2014", these are worrying figures for France and Italy.

We also have a problem with Cyprus. This was discussed in the House of Lords on March 10 when Lord Sharkey asked HMG
what discussions they have had with the Governments of the Republic of Cyprus and other European Union member states about the proposal to establish a Russian military base on Cyprus.
Well, indeed. An interesting problem in view of the EU trying to keep all its little soldiers in one box. Could it be that the member states do not think their interests are quite unanimous?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns replied:
My Lords, we have been and remain in regular discussion with the Republic of Cyprus about security and defence matters, and have been briefed on the agreement signed in Moscow. The Cypriot Government have assured us that these agreements represent a continuation of existing arrangements. We continually stress to our EU partners the need for EU unity in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Lord Sharkey's follow-up question was a little more pointed though, as a matter of courtesy, he ought to have thanked the Minister for her reply:
The fact is that, in return for debt relief, Cyprus has formalised an agreement to let Russian warships use its ports. There is also talk of use of an airbase at Paphos, which is 40 miles from our base at Akrotiri. President Putin has said that this deal should not cause any worries anywhere. Does the Minister agree with President Putin or does she agree with the United States State Department’s comment on the Cyprus deal that now is not the time to be doing business as normal with Russia?
Not quite, said the Minister:
My Lords, I have made it clear in this House before that it cannot be business as usual with Russia while it maintains its position over Ukraine, where it has illegally annexed the Crimea and intervened in another state’s sovereign lands. My noble friend refers to a situation in the Republic of Cyprus that I do not recognise. When speaking to Russian media, President Anastasiades explicitly ruled out the use of Limassol port for military purposes. Foreign Minister Kasoulides also said to the press, after the February EU Foreign Affairs Committee meeting in Brussels, that there was no question of Russian air or naval military bases on the soil of Cyprus. It is a continuation of existing agreements.
Subsequent comments referred to other countries that are falling out of line with no solution to the problem being proposed.

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