Associated Trio’s Ignominious End

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Vladimir ROTARI
The friendship of the Eastern Partnership standouts did not stand the test of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Apparently, Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia will now pursue their European dream separately
The creation of the Associated Trio was one of the notable events of the political season last year, we even included it in our editorial top. Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia, being the most active participants of the European integration movement in the post-Soviet space, decided to team up and on May 17 in Kyiv documented their union. And already in July, Georgia hosted the first summit of the leaders of the countries participating in the Trio, following which the Batumi Declaration on aspiration to the EU was signed. In theory, the new format, through coordination and synergy of the actions of the three countries, was supposed to help bring the program of their cooperation with the European Union beyond the framework of standard Association Agreements, strengthen dialogue with European institutions and attract additional assistance. In practice, the Associated Trio was supposed to breathe life into the de facto stalled process of European integration of the EU Eastern European periphery. By the beginning of last year, the Eastern Partnership’s former luster and attractiveness had finally faded turning it into a white elephant. Brussels, more engaged in the integration of the Western Balkans, did not dare to seal up the European prospects for the project participants, but suspended them in a rather uncertain status, making it clear that the transition to a new stage of interaction in the foreseeable future is practically impossible. The Eastern Partnership dissolution was largely due to the mismatching composition of its participants, where Belarus, for example, completely dropped out of the contenders for privileged relations with the E.U., and Armenia and Azerbaijan to a certain extent kept their distance. In this sense, creating an alliance of the most active Eastern Partnership members was an attempt, even somewhat desperate, to seize the initiative, to isolate itself from an obviously failed project into a new group with a more tangible European future. One might say that Chisinau, Kyiv and Tbilisi wanted to jointly “put pressure” on Brussels to encourage it to reconsider its Eastern European policy and offer the three republics that demonstrate the greatest devotion to the European dream something more than “pats on the shoulder” and occasional financial “handouts”. Apparently, the “program maximum” was intended to provide a clear and formalized European integration perspective with appropriate bonuses. Now, assessing the results of the Moldovan-Ukrainian-Georgian cooperation, we can admit that ambitious goals have not been achieved, to put it mildly. Firstly, from the very beginning, Brussels reacted rather coolly to this idea, not publicly criticizing it but also not expressing any real support for it, except benevolent statements. Secondly, it seems that the trilateral coalition itself has not been able to come up with something innovative beyond the traditional statements about its European aspirations. Moreover, this format was created at a time of the changing regional and geopolitical realities, associated with the vivid manifestation of the Russian factor, as well as internal political and socio-economic problems in Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia, which equally failed to demonstrate any particular success in internal reforms. As such, the European Union generally ignored these countries’ attempts to get closer to it and offered none of them anything new. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has only emphasized the frailty and futility of the Trio, whose participants at the crucial moment preferred to act in their own interests. And despite the public condemnation of the Russian aggression, Chisinau and Tbilisi have wisely refused to join the Western sanctions campaign against the Russian Federation, citing potential economic losses and security risks. Certainly, this “betrayal” did not escape Kyiv’s attention who complained that such a position does not meet the partnership relations of Ukraine with Moldova and Georgia. Another nail in the Associated Trio’s coffin was the situation with the E.U. membership applications. It is quite natural that the war in Ukraine has drastically changed the context, especially in terms of the Russian threat factor which has turned from something hypothetical into more than real one. This enabled Kyiv to launch a powerful information campaign to lobby for its own fast-track accession to the E.U. as a country that has suffered directly for its Euro-Atlantic aspirations. Already on February 28, Volodymyr Zelensky signed a corresponding statement with a request to grant Ukraine membership in the E.U. Of course, in normal conditions Ukraine could in no way qualify even for a candidate status, not to mention a full admission. But the “force majeure circumstances” that resonated in Europe with a wide wave of sympathy for Ukraine are now being used by Kyiv to put pressure on Brussels which is facing a rather difficult situation. There is little doubt that the E.U. will be able to evade the Ukrainian application in any case – it is already doing this via its various representatives who express a desire to delay the consideration of the issue at least until the end of hostilities. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian application put other Trio members in an interesting position, who themselves were not averse to taking advantage of the situation to claim a similar status with Ukraine. This is where Kyiv’s behavior was “not in the spirit of partnership”: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba responded without much diplomatic niceties, accusing Moldova and Georgia of “an attempt to attach their two cars to a high-speed Ukrainian train that is moving to Brussels.” This apparently has completely ruined the joint path of the three countries to the “European dream”. Thus, the Associated Trio is becoming a thing of the past, and it is not particularly possible to regret that. Right from the start, this format was a “thing in itself”, creating rather a beautiful picture for the population but not charged with a real meaning and content in terms of its tasks. As a result, it did nothing to bring its participants closer to the E.U. and, perhaps, as all the circumstances suggest, it couldn’t do that. Anyway, when the hostilities are over, Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia will proceed with their European integration with varying success, but they will do it singly. P.S. By the way, when this material was about to be published, reports came that the applications of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova for E.U. membership will be considered separately. Which, in general, once again and almost officially records the demise of the “Trio”.