Global Europe Brief: Afghanistan blame game

Your weekly update on the EU from a global perspective.

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In this week’s edition: Europe grapples with its response to the Afghanistan withdrawal chaos, Belarus border violations and Crimea in focus.

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Europeans and Western allies are sending military aircraft to Afghanistan as part of ongoing efforts to pull their citizens, and vulnerable Afghans, out of the country as the Taliban tighten their grip on the nation after two decades of war.

One of the most striking things in the past few days has been that the EU’s messaging on Afghanistan has been incoherent.

A large number of Europeans wondered whether the assumption that the West could win ‘hearts and minds’ with military and financial power has been wrong.

It did not help that NATO gave the impression it has largely been completely overtaken by US unilateral decisions and the abandonment of the ‘in together, out together’ principle. Especially, as the alliances’ recently announced strategy for 2030 had listed better political coordination and coherence in its decisions.

And in Europe’s security-conscious East, including non-member but partner nation Ukraine, some even worried whether the US will now walk away from its Article 5 commitment in case of a potential Russia scenario…

Beyond the security disaster in Afghanistan, a refugee crisis is unfolding which could conjure up ghosts of intra-EU tensions from five years ago if asylum-seekers head to Europe in large numbers.

“The worst of the refugee crisis might be avoided, but new tensions and conflict with Turkey and Iran are inevitable – and if these two countries suffer the brunt of the crisis, the resulting instability will reach us anyway,” Bruno Maçães, former Portuguese Secretary of State for European affairs, said.

The danger of renewed terrorist attacks against Europe organized from Afghanistan is an option, he added.

➝ Just coming back from summer break and need to catch up on the issue? Here’s all you need to know:


EU IN THE WORLD

BELARUS BORDER | A dozen Belarusian officers in riot gear illegally crossed into Lithuanian territory this week while pushing a group of Iraqi migrants over the border, Lithuania’s border guard service said.

EU home affairs ministers condemned the move and agreed on the need to strengthen their external borders. But beware of the connection: This came without direct reference to Afghanistan, but uneasiness about the prospect of a surge of Afghan migrants. Between Belarus and Afghanistan, an EU dispute is looming over migration.

SUSTAINABLE TRADE | The EU’s trade agenda has been stalled in recent years by growing public scepticism that proposed agreements with the likes of the United States, Canada and South American countries will either benefit corporations or will lead to lower environmental or social standards.

EU lawmakers must put sustainability at the heart of the bloc’s trade policy or risk losing public support for it – and that means having civil society at its heart, chair of the European Parliament’s International Trade committee, Bernd Lange, told EURACTIV.

ENLARGEMENT LATEST

‘FRIENDLY’ MEDIA | Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić has compared himself to former US President Donald Trump as a politician victimized by Twitter, after the social media took the decision to tag many of the media organisations which support him as “pro-government”.

REFUGEE HOSTS | The migrant crisis five years ago, when hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants travelled via the Western Balkans to Europe, strained relations between EU governments and countries in the region.

Three aspiring EU members in the Western Balkans — Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia were quick to accept a US request to temporarily take in Afghan refugees seeking visas to enter the United States.

EURASIA DIGEST

CRIMEA ZOOM-IN | Representatives of nearly forty countries including a number of EU presidents and foreign ministers are set to gather in Kyiv early next week for the inaugural Crimea Platform summit.

The new initiative aims to refocus international attention on the ongoing Russian occupation of Crimea – its first meeting will coincide with Ukraine’s 30 years of independence.

Still, although “Ukraine has the status of almost a member of the EU and almost a member of NATO. The country already lives by European standards”, the fact that Ukraine is not invited to NATO is underwhelming and sends a negative signal to other candidate countries, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an interview ahead of the crucial summit.

Western assurances seem indeed to be more than necessary in the context of Nord Stream 2 and a continuing war in the east of the country. Plus, one of the most senior Russian security officials questioned Washington’s commitment to Ukraine in light of its rushed exit from Afghanistan, forecasting this week that it would one day abandon its Ukrainian allies in a similarly abrupt fashion.

MERKEL’s DO SVIDANIYA | Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is on her good-bye Osteuropa-tour with stops in Russia and Ukraine.

In Moscow, she and her counterpart President Vladimir Putin are set to hold talks on Friday as the crisis in Afghanistan, Belarus and as Russia’s treatment of opposition politician Alexei Navalny (mind this coincides with the anniversary of Navalny falling gravely ill while on a plane flying over Siberia on 20 August, 2020) and Ukraine remain a source of tension with Europe.

She and Putin, who has served as Russia’s president or prime minister since 2000, managed to maintain an open line of communication over the years despite their many political differences, a Realpolitik relationship which some in the West eyed with suspicion.

NORD STREAM 2 | On another note, a German regional court will decide on 25 August whether EU rules requiring the separation of energy production from transportation and trade must be applied to the controversial gas pipeline. Gazprom, meanwhile, has moved up the gear: Russia’s state company announced it plans to deliver gas via Nord Stream 2 as early as late 2021.

TAIWAN DISPUTE. Lithuania’s ambassador to China said she has been asked to leave the country, one day after Beijing demanded that Vilnius recall its envoy over allowing Taiwan to set up an office under its own name in the EU member state.


WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 

ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT FEW DAYS…

We’ll keep you updated on all relevant EU foreign affairs news, as Europe’s everyday business awakens from summer break.

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin
    | Friday, 20 August 2021 | Moscow, Russia
  • Merkel meets with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky
    | Sunday, 22 August 2021 | Kyiv, Ukraine
  • Nord Stream 2 pipeline scheduled to be completed (date subject to change)
    | Monday, 23 August 2021 | Greifswald, Germany
  • Crimea Platform Summit on ‘de-occupation’ of Crimean Peninsula
    | Monday, 23 August 2021 | Kyiv, Ukraine
  • Tokyo Paralympics opening ceremony
    | Tuesday, 24 August 2021 | Tokyo, Japan

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