The reasons for the Central and Eastern Countries (CEECs) joining the European Union were not purely financial, they were also seeking security. Funds from the EU and the invitation to join the customs union as an equal partner were most definitely at the forefront of CEEC thinking in the 1990s but so was defence.
With the collapse of Communism, the USA had less reason to station so many troops in Europe and began a process of withdrawal. Furthermore, the First Gulf War demonstrated clearly that America’s interests were as much economical as political, and so could not always be depended on for security. Russia had suppressed the area for over 40 years and still maintained a massive military. By tying themselves to the EU the CEECs could enjoy the security afforded to them by an alliance with the Western European powers.
Resources from the area, which typically would have been directed to Russia in the period 1945-1990 were now being channeled away from the east and now towards Western Europe to Russia’s detriment. Moreover, the accession of the CEECs into the EU represented a brain drain reversal for Russia, as traditionally highly educated workers from the region would have tended to move to the Russian cities to exercise their skills, further undermining her economic base.
In 1999 Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic further confirmed their antipathy towards Russia by joining NATO, and were followed in 2004 by Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania. This completely reversed the geo-political map of the region, and placed former allies as potential enemies on Russia’s doorstep who were in the midst of a period of down scaling and de-nuclearizing their military. The prospect of American missile defences, a system that was viewed as being a first strike and therefore hostile weapon by Russia, escalated the tension.
The EU is now stoking tensions with Russia by beginning candidate status negotiations with mineral rich Ukraine, a vast country sat on Russia’s doorstep. The country is due to begin preliminary candidate procedures after the signing of an agreement in Vilnius next month. Russia has already begun flexing its muscles to dissuade them of this by using their favoured tactical weapon in the region: gas supplies. As EUBusiness reported:
“Russia on Tuesday slapped Ukraine with a gas bill of nearly $1 billion and threatened imminent sanctions in apparent anger at Kiev’s bid to strike a partnership deal with the EU. Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller said the Russian state-owned gas exporter had already extended the deadline on $882 million (640 million euros) in debts owed by Ukraine’s state gas company until October 1”
By encouraging the Ukraine to join its club the EU is stoking tensions not just for the Ukraine, but inevitably for any other country that depends upon Russian oil and gas. An extremely high price to pay.