Intermarium: The East European – Turkish “thorn” in Russia’s Side
- By defencematters
Moscow’s attack on Ukraine and annexation of Crimea has not only intensified existing feelings of mutual solidarity within Eastern Europe. It has also brought Turkey into the East European game.
The only feasible partial solution for Ukraine’s and Georgia’s mounting security problem is reviving an old inter-war Polish idea - "Intermarium"- about an alliance of Central and South East - European states located between Scandinavia in the north and Asia minor in the south, and between Germany in the west and Russia in the east. These countries could ally themselves in a so-called “Intermarium” bloc, an association of the lands in between the seas.
By Andreas Umland, Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, Kyiv
Many in the West think that the future security of Eastern Europe and the Southern Caucasus is an issue to worry about solely for such countries as Ukraine or Georgia. Yet, the question of these states’ institutional consolidation and international embeddedness touches upon core European and Eurasian security interests. In the worst case scenario of an escalation in Moscow’s confrontation with Kyiv, for instance, the destiny of Ukraine’s four nuclear power plants – among them Europe’s largest one in Zaporizhzhya – would be of interest not only to Ukrainians. Millions of East Europeans and Southern Caucasians could turn into potential refugees to the EU, if their states continue to be undermined by Russian subversion policies and hybrid warfare. While eagerly dismissed by many European observers as non-Western issue, a sustainable solution for Ukraine’s and other post-Soviet republics’ fundamental security problems is in the interest of all of Europe, and deserves full Western support.
Alas, neither NATO nor the EU will be, in the near future, able or/and willing provide comprehensive security assurances to Kyiv, Chisinau or Tbilisi – in spite of these states’ dire need for them. These post-Soviet countries may have had a chance to join one of the accession tracks used by other former republics of the Soviet bloc. Yet, Ukraine’s, Moldova’s and Georgia’s political and economic reforms progressed much slower than those of the Visegrad or Baltic countries. Unlike once equally insecure states such as Estonia or Latvia, they thus missed the window of opportunity that had opened for a brief period of time, during the early 1990s to early 2000s.
The socio-political systems of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are today still far away from being suitable to be considered for inclusion into NATO’s and EU’s structures. Worse, Russia has taken due advantage of their limbo situation, purposefully deepened their internal divisions, covertly invaded their territories, and transformed them into failed states. At the same time, Moscow’s escalating confrontation with the West has increased the stakes of a possible integration of these nations’ rump territories into Western organisations. Many citizens of Western Europe are today afraid of World War III with Russia, and would thus be strictly against NATO’s further eastern enlargement. For these reasons, Ukraine and Georgia will not only remain outside the major Western institutions for many years to come, but also not included in any of their accession procedures, like the EU’s candidacy negotiations or NATO Membership Action Plan, any time soon.
Against this background, the only feasible partial solution for, above all, Ukraine’s and Georgia’s mounting security problem, with at least some chance of being realised, is reviving an old inter-war Polish idea about an alliance of Central and South East European states located between Scandinavia in the north and Asia minor in the south, and between Germany in the west and Russia in the east. These countries could ally themselves in a so-called “Intermarium” bloc, i.e. in an association of the lands in between the seas.
This early 20th-century plan could today imply an entente cordiale or mutual aid pact of the countries in between the Baltic and Black Seas, i.e. of those states which perceive Moscow as a threat to their national sovereignty, territorial integrity and core interests. The Intermarium concept has reappeared in Central East European political and intellectual discourse, after the dissolution of the Soviet bloc and Union. It has its deepest roots in Poland and been most explicitly promoted by former President Lech Kaczynski, and current President Andrzej Duda.
The purpose of Intermarium’s mutual assistance guarantees would be to
(a) improve its member countries’ national security, international embeddedness, institutional coherence and political self-confidence,
(b) deter Russia from attacking its member countries via traditional, hybrid, information, trade or other warfare,
(c) increase the freedom, range, weight and impact of the actions of its member countries on the international arena.
A modern day Intermarium would – unlike in the inter-war period – not imply some deeper union, federation or full-scale alliance. Instead, it could be a limited and single-purpose defence treaty of a group of countries ready to assist each other against hybrid warfare conducted by foreign powers against them. This anti-imperial pact could include those countries of Europe that are ready to commit to some degree of military and other cooperation in confronting Moscow. Many states across Russia’s Western and Southern borders are already, to one degree or another, affected by the Kremlin’s information, trade, cyber, cold or/and hot wars. Their coalition of the willing may include both members and non-members of the EU and NATO in Eastern and Southern Europe as well as Western Asia. Intermarium’s mutual assistance obligations could remain below those of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, yet still be far more robust than those of the OSCE.
The signatories of an Intermarium security pact could unambiguously announce to the Kremlin their willingness to actively and multifariously assist each other in their hitherto bilateral conflicts with Russia. The fields of Intermarium’s members’ cooperation could include
- multilateral coordination of economic and other sanctions,
- mutual lethal defensive weapons deliveries,
- enabling cross-border movement of volunteer troops,
- collaboration in matters of energy security and transportation,
- mutual assistance in combat training and arms modernisation,
- sharing of strategic, counter- and other intelligence,
- joint military industrial and dual technology ventures,
- logistic help in resisting hybrid warfare measures,
- joint international counter-propaganda initiatives,
- exchange of military advisors and other experts, or/and
- support for establishing transnational NGOs in the Intermarium.
It could also include implementation of other targeted projects in a variety of secondary, yet also relevant spheres ranging from think-tank and university collaboration to international tourism and cultural exchange.
As Ankara’s relations to Moscow have recently been affected by tensions reminiscent of those experienced in many East European capitals, a modern day Intermarium could go beyond the former Soviet bloc. It could include Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Ukraine, Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. It might also include the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Belarus should the domestic political configurations there change. Many politicians and intellectuals, in these countries too, perceive Russia as a threat, have memories of anti-imperial resistance against Moscow expansionism, and/or may be motivated to support Kyiv, Chisinau and Tbilisi in their disputes, with the Kremlin, over their territory and sovereignty.
Partly, an informal Intermarium is already evolving, and – whether acknowledged or not – already becoming a problem for Moscow. On a bilateral basis, such cooperation is taking place between, for instance, Ukraine, on the one side, and Poland or Turkey, on the other. There is also some nascent multilateral cooperation between the countries of Intermarium, for instance, within the joint Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian brigade. Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova are members and Turkey as well as Latvia are observers of the GUAM Organisation for Democracy and Economic Development. After the Orange Revolution in 2005, the Community of Democratic Choice was established by nine East European countries (Estonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Latvia, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Slovenia, Ukraine) and eight observing delegations (Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, United States, European Union, OSCE) to promote democracy and the rule of law. The NATO member Turkey and Eastern Partnership country Azerbaijan concluded in 2010 an Agreement on Strategic Partnership and Mutual Support which provides for, among others, military and military-industrial cooperation. Since 2012, Turkey, Romania and Poland are conducting yearly trilateral special meetings at which they consult on strategic and security issues.
Such already existing multilateral collaboration illustrates that there would be considerable political support for an Intermarium bloc among the elites and populations of its potential core member countries. The perception of both, a common destiny and a shared risk is strong in the lands of, what is in Germany sometime’s called, Zwischeneuropa (In-between-Europe). For most people in the West, the provinces of South Ossetia, Transnistria or the Donets Basin are merely far away regions – or simply unknown. In contrast, in the nations of the Intermarium, there has always been acknowledgement of a common destiny vis-à-vis, first, the German and Tsarist/Soviet empires, and, today, the Russian Federation.
Moscow’s attack on Ukraine and annexation of Crimea has not only intensified existing feelings of mutual solidarity within Eastern Europe. It has also brought Turkey into the East European game, as the Crimean Tatars are closely related to the Turks and strongly resist their inclusion into Russia. Over the last 25 years, the Crimean Tatars become ardent supporters of Ukraine as a sovereign state and their preferred home country. At the same time, according to different estimates, the number of Crimean Tatars living in Turkey ranges from 150,000 to 6 million. German-Azeri historian Zaur Gasimov writes that, moreover, “a not inconsiderable part of Turkey’s leading historians are of Crimean Tatar descent. […] As authors of best-selling books and as public intellectuals, they frequently comment on issues in Turkish politics, historical interpretation and religion.” (Osteuropa, Nos 5-6, 2014)
These and other factors had, even before the more recent escalation, led to cracks in Turkish-Russian relations. For a while, the negative effects of Moscow’s new foreign adventurism were mitigated by Turkey’s economic interests in Russia. Since autumn last year, the schism has, however, been widening, especially after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet on 24 November. As a result of the Kremlin’s intervention in Syria and economic sanctions against Turkey, relations between Moscow and Ankara are now deeply damaged. The decline of the Russian economy contributed to Turkey’s changing perception of Russia as a reliable partner.
While it is thus no surprise that Ankara’s empathy for Kyiv has recently increased, the magnitude of Turkey’s new engagement with Ukraine is noteworthy. Not only has the Turkish leadership, since December 2015, taken some ad hoc measures to support Kyiv, such as delivery of military hospitals to Ukraine. During a visit of President Petro Poroshenko to Ankara in early March 2016, Ukraine and Turkey signed a 21-point Joint Declaration that includes cooperation concerning economic, cultural and consular issues, as well as in security affairs ranging from cooperation in weapons production to military education. Turkey and Ukraine hope to conclude in 2016 their ongoing negotiations for the creation of a free trade zone.
To be sure, currently Turkish-Russian relations seem to be improving again. Yet, Moscow and Ankara will remain at loggerheads for years to come in Syria with regard to Assad, on Crimea with regard to the Tatars as well as militarisation of the peninsula, and in Azerbaijan with regard to Nagorno-Karabakh. In addition, Russia’s support for the Kurds and her competition with Turkey in Central Asia constitute potential sources for future tensions. It seems thus unlikely that the recent détente between Ankara and Moscow will go deep.
These and numerous further recent tendencies across Russia’s Western and South-Western borders have created preconditions for the formation of an Intermarium. A more formal and official alliance of the already cooperating countries would not only be in their national interests. It could also help the EU and NATO to acquire more stable Eastern borders and partners while, at the same time, avoiding the issue of further Western commitment in the post-Soviet space. Intermariums’ likely core countries Ukraine and Poland (as well as, perhaps, Romania) should engage in special efforts to include Turkey in such a possible bloc. For instance, they could offer to Ankara holding the foundation meeting, and locating Intermarium’s secretariat, in the city of Istanbul.
Proposals such as the here presented one may sound like daydreaming. Yet, both Ukraine’s recent past experience and likely future prospects represent warnings against inaction. The under-institutionalisation of Zwischeneuropa caused a sudden collapse of the European security system in 2014. In connection with the concurrent devaluation of the Budapest Memorandum, it also led to a dangerous subversion of the world’s nuclear non-proliferation regime. A Ukrainian future without some security framework could lead to more unexpected damages to the international system. There is little reason to believe that continued exclusion of such countries as Ukraine and Georgia from effectual transnational security structures bodes well for the future of Europe.
A new defence pact of non-nuclear states located between NATO’s founding countries and Russia, based on the Community of Democratic Choice, and modelled on the Turkish-Azeri agreement on mutual support would not principally change European geopolitics. Yet, it could help to deter Kremlin adventurism, and thus make these states more secure. It would also assist in decreasing tensions in the West’s relations to Moscow by refocusing Russia’s attention away from the US and EU. Europe’s current security structures have shown to be insufficient while effective frameworks other than an Intermarium are not on offer. A reconfiguration of East European inter-state relations is overdue. The emergence of an Intermarium coalition would demonstrate not only to the Kremlin, but also to Russia’s population that Moscow’s growing foreign adventurism is detrimental to Russian national interests.
Andreas Umland, Dr. phil., Ph. D., is Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation in Kyiv, and General Editor of the book series “Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society” published by ibidem-Verlag in Stuttgart, and distributed, outside Europe, by Columbia University Press.
Photo: Polish President Andrzej Sebastian Duda