Europe needs a new plan for Belarus and Eastern Europe

The EU should drop the illusion of a reset with Russia, and extend Nato membership east

Arseny Yatsenyuk August 29

Opposition activist Nina Baginskaya struggles with police during a Belarusian opposition supporters rally at Independence Square in Minsk, Belarus, in August © Dmitri Lovetsky/AP

The writer is a former prime minister of Ukraine and now chairman of the Kyiv Security Forum

The civil uprising in Belarus has summoned a vast sense of solidarity from around the world. But in practical terms, what is urgently needed is a comprehensive new western strategy towards Europe’s east and those nations unprotected by EU and Nato membership.

Currently, the formula that the west uses when treating Europe’s east involves the notion of maintaining a certain “social distance” — whatever sophisticated political name this distancing is actually given, be it “EU association agreement” or “eastern partnership”.

Europe’s east is a very large region, and its most far-flung eastern borders reach up to the Caucasus. However, since the late 1980s several extraordinary processes have taken place across it. There has been a revival of national identity that has overcome postcolonial heritages; a growing awareness of civil liberties as well as the creation of institutions to maintain them; and a search for progressive models of economic development and security protection.

Unlike the west, Russia has a comprehensive vision of our region and its importance. Whether in Moldova, Ukraine or Belarus, Moscow seeks to establish effective control and create new bridgeheads there to help it expand its influence westwards. This is how Russian president Vladimir Putin envisages the path towards the recreation of the Soviet Union that he so desires.

There are no magic remedies that can properly cure this “Russian problem”. But, as a realist, I believe there does exist a sequence of practical steps that can be taken. All that is required is the political will to implement them. Recent events in Belarus alone, and the chance that the country may fall under Russian influence indefinitely, requires action from the west and Ukraine. It is time to act, not to hesitate.

Most important, I urge the EU to treat the civil uprising in Belarus as an integral part of the European process and perspective. To be clear: this requires the EU to reconsider its general attitude to our region. Don’t look at your closest European neighbours as part of a friendly but exotic eastern partnership. Instead, replace your “outstretched hand” approach with a “give-a-hand” approach.

In practice, this means giving Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine the clear signals that EU and Nato membership is achievable and, if a clear action plan to membership is followed, that it is also realistic.

As part of this process, western Europe should give up any illusions it may have about a possible reset of Russian relations. No such reset is possible while the country is governed by Mr Putin’s authoritarian and corrupt regime. Instead of trying to reset relations with Russia with diplomatic gimmicks, it is more important and urgent to increase pressure, and to reset the overall process of peaceful resolution of armed conflicts that Moscow has instigated in our region.

In Ukraine, we should abandon the illusion that we can make peace in Donbass while leaving Crimea under Russian occupation. These issues cannot remain separated. In Donbass, the Kremlin is trying to wear down Ukraine and the west by offering minor, tactical concessions with the expectation that Kyiv will give in. But the occupied territories of Donetsk and Lugansk will not be free until Crimea itself is liberated. That is the correct position, not vice versa.

We also need a more comprehensive approach to the peace processes in Georgia and Moldova. I call on the Ukrainian government and its western partners to convene a high-level meeting to bring a new approach to resolving the frozen conflicts in our region.

As for economics and business, our region needs investment and funding support from western partners, which is a kind of intervention. Our countries should be invited to join EU country groups such as the Three Seas Initiative, and other infrastructure programmes. A regional fund that helps counteract anti-western propaganda and protect freedom of speech should also be established.

Last, we need the US and the EU to support our region via a shared sense of solidarity. To do this, I call on our partners to create a high-level joint mission to defend freedom and democracy in Europe’s east. The guiding aim of this mission should be to create a unified vision about how best to continue Europe’s historic processes of unification, and liberation from the threats of authoritarianism, external aggression and disregard for human and national freedoms.

We need a new plan for eastern Europe. This is in the interests of eastern Europe and all western nations as they seek to maintain their own stability in an uncertain world.


  1. Good article by Arseny and not a bad pitch for a return to his old position!
    However, I took issue with one part:
    ‘In practice, this means giving Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine the clear signals that EU and Nato membership is achievable and, if a clear action plan to membership is followed, that it is also realistic.’
    I think he was mistaken to bracket those four nations in that way. Ukraine and Georgia absolutely; yes. But Belarus is not the same: there is no indicator that it even wants to be free of putlerstani vassal status. Very much the opposite in fact.
    As for Moldova, it deserves a special status and a strategy of its own. It often appears in articles where the writer sneers about it being ‘the poorest country in Europe’, without any attempt to explain why this is. There was even a popular book and TV series: ‘Playing the Moldovans at Tennis’, by the comedian Tony Hawkes, which strengthened this stereotype by encouraging people to laugh at the decrepit state of the country.
    Moldova is dying. Its educated young can’t wait to get out and move to Italy or Romania. The fastest growing demographic is pensioners. The country splits into 3 factions : those who want to rejoin Romania and those who want to be an independent nation free of Russian interference and integrated into the EU and Nato. Then there are the laggards: retards who are nostalgic for the old days and want to be part of the roosky mir.
    Somehow that lot need to be reconciled, which is a major task. As long as ‘Transnistria’ remains occupied, the place will continue to wither and die.
    Edit point : it has just been pointed out to me that Tony later made it into a movie (which I have not seen) and put £4m of his own money into a school for mentally handicapped kids in Moldova. So I withdraw any criticism of Tony himself.

  2. “We need a new plan for eastern Europe. This is in the interests of eastern Europe and all western nations as they seek to maintain their own stability in an uncertain world.”

    Nope, what we need is a set of leaders willing to stand up to the short bastard. Grovelling to this terrorist, and appeasing his many atrocities will get you nowhere.

    A couple of quotes from Churchill, that the so called leaders in the West should look at.

    “One ought never to turn one’s back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half. Never run away from anything. Never!”

    “Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last. All of them hope that the storm will pass before their turn comes to be devoured. But I fear greatly that the storm will not pass. It will rage and it will roar ever more loudly, ever more widely.”

    • The great man still speaks to us eloquently! We should also remember that he was ridiculed for years when he repeatedly warned about the severe danger of fascist imperialism and the need to re-arm.

        • Indeed they are. I have long debated that fascism is a left ideology: Hitler/Mussolini/Stalin/Mao/the Kims/the Castros/the Mullahs of Iran, putler, the Asshats etc are essentially birds of a feather: vicious, dynastic, supremacist, greedy, Jew-hating, control freaks who create imaginary enemies in order to keep their population cowering.
          Hence the chicoms use the norks as their junkyard dog and the putinazis use Iran, Syria, Khadirov, Luka etc for the same purpose.

          • Hitler joined politics when he joined the German Workers’ Party, a leftist party. To later become head of the National SOCIALIST Party. All anti-democrats are nothing else than extremist lefties. Racism is also like communism, it’s a planned race, like a planned economy and society. None of them allow people to breathe.

            • Exactly. Putler was a Marxist-Leninist like his hero Stalin. Then he added nationalism into the mix when he got hold of power (thanks in no small measure to that bastard Abramovich) and became a national socialist.

  3. I think Nato membership is obligatory for Ukraine. The people should vote in a referendum what solution they support for Donbas and the Crimea, the same goes for full EU membership. This is not about RuSSia or the EU trying to inherit Ukraine, while tearing her apart like Yugoslavia. This is about future Nato member Ukraine making her own independent decisions. Eastern Europe must no longer be the battlefield for the imperialst games between RuSSia and the West, it should be independent, democrotic, non-corrupt, prosperous and free to wisely choose what to do. Neither RuSSia, the EU or the US Congress will be allowed to decide what Ukraine will do, in particular concerning the Crimea. Only ukrainians and crimeans will decide their future. I hope after the Rada elections and a landslide victory for Yulia’s Fatherland Party and Poro’s Solidarity Party – Ukraine’s reform process will be back on track again. Ukraine’s worst enemy remains a corrupt and non-reformist government!

What is your opinion?