by Ann Tsurtsumia-Zurabashvil Marie Curie Fellow at the Institute for International Conflict Resolution And Reconstruction, Dublin City University
The paper explores the non-recognition policy of the European Union by drawing comparison between the non-recognition policies adopted in support of Georgia (2009) and Ukraine (2014).
In 2009, when the EU endorsed the Non-Recognition and Engagement policy towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia[i], the policy was said to have a potential of combining variety of political and economic tools and policy instruments.
In 2010, experts argued that the policy enhanced isolation of Sukhumi and Tskhinvali and allowed further absorption of the entities into the Russian Federation. Furthermore, the EU’s non-recognition policy towards Georgia did not go any further than the initial statement and the basic tenets of the approach did not provide any guidance or roadmap for actions.
Later, a result of the Euromaidan Revolution of 2014 and its repercussions, Kiev has lost control over parts of its internationally recognised borders and quested for recognition of annexation of Crimea in the United Nations.
When the EU adopted the policy of non-recognition towards Crimea, the approach appeared significantly advanced, since Brussels had included broad range of measures to confront the Russian aggression and ensure territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Subsections of the policy paper discuss how the EU’s approach towards supporting territorial integrity of its Eastern neighbours has evolved over time.
By analysing these two cases of non-recognition policy, the paper compares and discusses the EU’s reaction to the events of major crises in its Eastern Neighborhood.
Lastly, the policy paper draws attention to the shortcomings of the policy at the earlier phase and the aspects of the non-recognition policy that were addressed during 2014 crisis in Ukraine. Key research findings focus on the areas of improvement and further policy implications for the European Union.
In the past decade, the EU has faced two major crises in the Eastern Neighbourhood: 2008 Russo-Georgian war and Euromaidan, followed by annexation of Crimea in Ukraine (2014). Both, Georgia and Ukraine are part of the European Neighbourhood Policy and share European aspirations. Noticeably, European aspirations are in contradiction with Moscow’s understanding of spheres of influence[ii]. Thus, the EU’s goal in both instances was to demonstrate support to territorial integrity and independence to the states in neighbourhood. That stance in turn has consequent impact on the EU-Russia relations. In aftermath of the crises in Georgia and Ukraine, Brussels has enacted similar the policy of non-recognition. However, two policies under the same title have demonstrated that the EU’s approach to supporting territorial integrity of its Eastern neighbours has evolved over time. Comparison of these two policies allows to discuss variations in tactics and forms of implementing non-recognition policy, as well as shortcomings of the earlier non-recognition policy that were later addressed during 2014 crisis in Ukraine.
European Union repeatedly condemned the annexation of Crimea[iii] by the Russian Federation, as well refused to recognise the legality of referendums held in Donetsk and Luhansk and remains concerned over the war in Donbass[iv]. However, expectations towards the EU engaging into the armed confrontation with the Russian Federation or supporting Ukraine with arms were slim. Especially, after the 5 day Russo-Georgian war in August 2008, when the EU has closed the Six Point Agreement[v] with Moscow, introduced the term occupation of Georgian territories by Russia in the EU official documents but did little else to confront the Russian aggression policy wise.
On the other hand, the fact that the Euromaidan started with the public demand for more integration into the EU and lessons learnt with Georgia, did not allow Brussels to take similar stance in 2014. In both cases, European Union adopted its non-recognition policy to strengthen the sovereignty of Georgia and Ukraine.
- Georgia – 2009
In December 2009, the EU endorsed the Non-Recognition and Engagement policy[vi] towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Non-recognition policy – as an act or an instance of refusing to acknowledge formally a government or the independence of a country was said the have a potential of combining variety of political and economic tools and policy instruments offered by Brussels, such as European Neighborhood Policy, Eastern Partnership, European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument, Instrument for Stability into its common conflict resolution and confidence building approach.
Enactment of the policy of Non-recognition and Engagement towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia coincided with the Lisbon Treaty entering into force. In such circumstances, Brussels was preoccupied with building its External Action Service under the leadership of more powerful High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security.
Due to the political circumstances at that time and lack of Brussels’s readiness to become an instrumental actor in conflict resolution in the neighborhood, Non-recognition and Engagement Policy failed to become a model for the EU’s conflict resolution approach.
The adopted policy was phrased as “engagement and non-recognition” aiming at ensuring respect to territorial integrity of Georgia and at the same time engaging with the people in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and avoiding claims on further isolation of entities.
In 2010 Alexander Cooley and Lincoln Mitchel[vii] argued that the policy enhanced isolation of Sukhumi and Tskhinvali and allowed further absorption of the entities into the Russian Federation. Furthermore, the EU’s non-recognition policy towards Georgia did not go any further than the initial statement and the basic tenets of the approach did not provide any guidance or roadmap for actions.
- Ukraine 2014
Five years later, when the EU adopted the policy of non-recognition towards Crimea,[viii] the approach appeared noticeably advanced, since Brussels has included broad range of measures to confront the Russian aggression and ensure territorial integrity of Ukraine. The commitment not to recognise the annexation of Crimea was first made at the European Council in March 2014 and later it has transformed into the actions demonstrating the EU’s refusal to accept the illegal annexation, using tangible measures in addition to regular political and diplomatic action.
Worth noting that Russia’s actions in Georgia and Ukraine also received different assessment, if Tbilisi had to direct its diplomatic effort to introduce the term occupation in official documents, the case of Crimea is established as annexation as a forceful and illegal absorption of a territory into the aggressor state. Secessionist conflicts in Georgia exist since early 90ies, early before 2008 when Tbilisi succeeded to document Russian involvement in the conflict. Also because, annexation of Crimea did not create the threat of recognising it as an independent state, the foreign policy of Ukraine was shaped as less aggressive compared to the foreign policy of non-recognition of Georgia.
Variety of support offered to Ukraine in the light of non-recognition policy differs from what Georgia received since 2009. Unlike in case of Georgia, the EU has put unprecedented number of sanctions on the Russian Federation as part of its non-recognition policy towards Crimea. If in Georgian case, the EU has included the pillar of engagement alongside with non-recognition in order to avoid further isolation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and moreover to demonstrate the responsibility of offering European prospects to the local Abkhaz and South Ossetians, the approach to the residents of Crimea look rather restrictive.
Restrictions for Crimea and Sevastopol itself include ban on import for goods originating from Crimea without Ukrainian certificate, as well as ban on the EU investments on the territory of Crimea, banning EU ships, including tourist cruise lines to call on the peninsula. Furthermore, the non-recognition policy puts Schengen visa restrictions on the residents of Crimea as well as freezing assets for Russian businessmen and sectorial, so-called economic measures are also part of the policy.
On July 1, 2016, the EU extended economic sanctions[ix] against Russian Federation until January 31, 2017. In response, Russia has also prolonged the ban on the import of European goods until the end of 2017. The EU first imposed economic sanctions against Russia in July 2014 in reaction to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. Brussels hoped that targeting Russia’s financial, energy and defence sectors, along with a number of government officials, businessmen and public figures would be an efficient measure against Moscow’s actions in the Europe minded neighbourhood.
Apparently, the EU’s official stance is not fully shared by all member states. In 2016 the Cyprus senate, Italian provinces, the French Senate and Austrian high officials have expressed the will to lift economic sanctions against Russia as it damages the EU economy. Reasonably, the EU citizens are concerned about the loss in incomes caused by sanctions.
Key Findings / Conclusions
Analysis of the EU’s approach to non-recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (2009) and Crimea (2014) has led the research to several findings:
- In these two cases, the EU did not demonstrate the existence of a well-thought strategy or plan about the long-term implementation of its non-recognition policy and moreover it has demonstrated lack of ability to keep the pace of the earlier policy (Georgia) similarly to the new one (Ukraine).
- Policies and tactics of non-recognition have rather ad hoc character.
- The two-pillar policy did little for the political engagement of de facto states but mainly focused on non-recognition pillar. Later, the policy towards Ukraine does not include engagement at all.
- Brussels has refrained from using economic sanctions and other strict measures as part of its non-recognition and engagement policy, while it did not fear confrontations with Russia over the annexation of Crimea. In this light, EU’s approach to its Eastern neighbours should be considerate of the context of the EU-Russia relations. Notably, countries in the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood regard European integration as a major tool to distance from Moscow’s sphere of influence.
- Until now, there are no precedents of non-recognition policy resulting in conflict resolution or the restoration of effective control over the territories in the context of post-Soviet space. However, the comparison of these two non-recognition policies demonstrate that the EU’s approaches differ depending on the political context and timing but also have a potential to develop further.
- Consistent evaluation of the policy is necessary to address the new challenges and political circumstances.
[i] Abkhazia and South Ossetia, de facto states in the South Caucasus proclaimed independence in early 90ies. However, Georgia retains claim on these territories as part of its internationally recognised borders. Abkhazia and South Ossetia were first recognised by the Russian Federation in 2008 and later by the limited number of UN member states.
[ii] Spheres of influence – After the fall of the Soviet Union, the countries of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia that became independent were often portrayed as part of the Russian Federation’s “sphere of influence”.
[iii] In both regions, Russia has sponsored referendums in order to justify its actions under the intention of protecting Russians and their free will. In 2014, the controversial referendum in Crimea was decided with 96.77% votes in favor of joining the Russian Federation. The next day Russia recognised independence of Crimea, and on March 18, 2014 Moscow annexed the peninsula.
[iv] Crimea was not the only region in Ukraine where the pro-Russian movements emerged. Demonstrations and unrest in Donbass region (uniting Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts), clashes between pro and anti-Maidan supporters escalated into an armed conflict leading to the War in Donbass. On May 11, 2014, Donetsk and Luhansk held referendums asking local residents if they were in favor of independence of the region. Vast majority of voters voted in favor of Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics.
[vi] Sabine Fischer. The EU’s non-recognition and engagement policy towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Seminar Reports. 2010.
[vii] Cooley, Alexander, and Lincoln A. Mitchell. “Engagement without Recognition: A New Strategy toward Abkhazia and Eurasia’s Unrecognized States.” The Washington Quarterly 33.4 (2010): 59-73.
[ix] Russia: EU prolongs economic sanctions by six months. https://europa.eu/newsroom/highlights/special-coverage/eu_sanctions_en