Last week, I attended an event at the Brookings Institution, "Europe's Eastern Frontiers: A Conversation with Javier Solana." The former NATO Secretary-General and EU foreign policy chief discoursed on the European Union's relationship with its neighbors to the East, and also touched on a few other topics of significance in international affairs today.
Solana began by talking about how after the enormous tragedy of World War Two, European nations tried to pull together to work on difficult issues. Once the EU was formed, it was later able to absorb many formerly Communist countries from Eastern Europe. Solana spoke about a few specific cases in regards to the EU's "eastern neighborhood." He stressed that Turkey is an important country which would bring "vitality" to the EU if admitted as a member. In Russia, where former president Vladimir Putin was recently elected to a new six-year presidential term after serving as prime minister instead for the past four years, Solana said that while Putin may not have changed in the time since he left the presidency, Russia itself has, as recent protests against Putin's return to power reveal. Russia's recent entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2011 shows that, like China before them, they are at least attempting to play by international rules. Turning to Georgia, which fought a brief war with Russia in 2008 over the breakaway territory of South Ossetia, Solana emphasized that the EU and Georgia have a "close" relationship and an association agreement.
Finally, Solana described the situation in Ukraine, once a bright spot for emerging democracy in the region, as one of "great frustration." The hopeful time after the Orange Revolution in 2004 did not last, and democracy and justice have backslid recently in the country, as evidenced by the trial and imprisonment of former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko. Solana lamented that Ukraine could have done much better in many respects. However, his attitude towards the Eastern European region remains one of "realistic optimism." As he pointed out, things are still much better in this part of the world than they were 10 years ago.
During a question-and-answer period, one participant asked how Russia would react if a war breaks out with Iran in the near future. Solana replied that while such a scenario has not happened at this time, he believes that Russia would stand with the other P-5 members of the U.N. Security Council should war involving Iran occur, as they don't want a nuclear-armed Iran any more than other nations do. Syria, however, is a more complicated situation (as evidenced by Russia and China's repeated vetoes of Security Council resolutions on the government's crackdowns and violence against its own civilians). Solana said it is necessary to find a common position with Russia on this matter. He said that he'd prefer to solve problems with Iran with Russia's help, but if that is to occur, other nations would most likely have to give something to Russia in other areas, most likely on missile defense.
Finally, speaking about Asia, Solana noted that in a way the region is copying the EU's example through the creation of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations). He used this point to underline the ways in which regions around the world are beginning to work together more closely, sharing sovereignty, and as a result, making the idea of global governance easier for the future.