Essential assistance? Operation EUBAM Moldova/Ukraine and its impact on the management of the fragile border

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KAMIL ŁUKASZ MAZUREK, CII petersberg series
EUBAM cooperation (border control)source: EEAS

EUBAM cooperation (border control)
source: EEAS

The European Union Border Assistance Mission to the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine (EUBAM Moldova/Ukraine) is, at present, one of the largest ongoing European Union (EU) civilian operations. The mission, unlike other EU operations in Eastern and Southern Europe, has not been of particular concern to European policy makers, even at the outset. At the same time, thanks to its longevity and – to a large extent – technical character, the mission has the potential of making real progress in the field of Ukraine-Moldova border cooperation and providing positive value added to the Transnistria problem. EUBAM demonstrates EU’s commitment to the resolution of this issue and shows that the Union will not tolerate this illegal quasi-state forever. Concomitantly, the fact of running a longstanding, non-military, expert-technical-style mission indicates EU’s bottom-up approach to resolving the problem – gradually and without unnecessary hastiness.

The European Union sees Ukraine-Moldova border as one of the main focus points for containing and exerting pressure on the regime in Tiraspol. Frozen conflict between the internationally recognised authorities in Chisinau and the Russian-backed illegal government of Transnistria is treated by the EU as the sole important reason for instability, corruption, organised crime and a myriad of other pathologies in the region. European governments are convinced that this issue cannot be resolved by force or coercive diplomacy and only longstanding, low-profile presence may have an impact in the long term.

The Mission’s characteristics

EUBAM Moldova/Ukraine was established on 7th November 2005 by the Council Joint Action amending the mandate of the European Union Special Representative for Moldova. In a joint letter to the EU, the presidents of Ukraine and Moldova requested technical support from the Union to create an effective system of border control in its Transtnistrian part. After short negotiations, all three sides decided that the best way to aid customs authorities of both states will be to launch a petersberg operation with more than 100 European experts and customs officers, supported by another 100 officers from the host countries.

The primary goal of the mission is to provide assistance and advice to Ukrainian and Moldovan border and customs authorities. Additionally, its mandate places the following tasks on mission’s personnel:

  • to reform customs control practices according to the EU standards;
  • to develop mutual cooperation of customs authorities;
  • to work against smuggling and illegal trade, especially in the Transtnistrian part of the border;
  • to organise training and provide technical support to the local customs services;
  • to develop capabilities for risk analysis of border management.

Moreover, as Javier Solana and other EU officials affirmed – EUBAM activities are especially important in the common, European struggle to find a reasonable solution of the Transnistia conflict.

Officially, the mission is a Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) initiative supervised by the Council. In practice however, it is financed mainly by the European Commission, what in turn allowed EUBAM to become a stable component of the Moldova-Ukraine border. At the same time, the Council’s engagement provides high profile political support, which is so much needed in international operations of any kind. Such a “division of labour” is not a common idea for petersberg operations, which makes EUBAM a sort of a test ground for future civilian missions run by the EU.

 Successes and failures

Reports on the results of the mission almost unanimously indicate that until now, EUBAM may be regarded as a model operation of its kind. Mission staff have engaged not only customs authorities of Ukraine and Moldova, but also several European institutions (such as OLAF, Frontex, and EUROPOL) in order to provide better results of their activities. Joint operations of border control carried out by Ukrainian, Moldovan and European officers (such as AKKERMAN, PHENOMENA and Megara – to name only a few) have provided evidence that EUBAM’s presence is important and makes the difference. Mission personnel successfully exercises its training activities as well. Advisory and good practices provided by the Europeans motivated Moldovan authorities to create, in 2007, an academy where border officers can study according to western standards. One year later, a similar institution was created in Ukraine. Until now, more than 5000 officers have received proper training in risk analysis, vehicles searching, anti-counterfeiting skills, as well as interpersonal communication.

On the other hand, from a political point of view, EUBAM results have been mixed at best. Even though some successes are visible – such as a relative weakening of the regime in Tiraspol (thanks to the tightened border control) and resuming two railway connections (from Moscow to Chisinau and from Chisinau to Odessa) through the Transnistrian territory – it is obvious that the secessionist republic will not collapse from such actions. Because of the powerful and rich Russian protectors, EU’s (including EUBAM) initiatives are not very credible and the regime in Tiraspol does not need to make any serious concessions.

Beside the lack of real successes on the top – political level, there are also evident problems in the generally successful technical field. Both the European officers working directly on the border, as well as their superiors in Brussels, are conscious about a number of problems which are still unsolved. The relatively weak border tightness, prevalent corruption, lack of state-of-the-art equipment are only examples of many issues that need to be tackled if EUBAM is to become an indisputable success.

Can we do it better?

When it comes to the assessment, some people are always dissatisfied with the results, expecting the impossible. Nevertheless, such opinions are also helpful and provoke decision makers to reform and adapt the ongoing initiatives, so that they can fulfil their tasks even better. Such an adaptation also can be made with EUBAM, in order to provide even more effective assistance to Ukrainian and Moldovan customs and border personnel.

First of all, the EU and its member states should provide additional political support to reassure EUBAM personnel that they are not left on their own at the time of a possible crisis. Secondly, if Brussels really thinks about solving the Transnistria issue (and getting rid of the illegal traffic between the two countries), it should expand the mission quantitatively – 100 officers are definitely not enough to provide – at the same time – training, assistance and protection on such a long border. And last but not least, in order to obtain real effectiveness, the European Union should provide greater funding and supply additional equipment, for both EUBAM staff itself and their Ukrainian and Moldovan counterparts. Only real engagement (which requires more money, personnel, material and above all – political will) can make a longstanding difference, not only in purely technical areas, but also in dealing with this pathological situation Europe has been witnessing for about 20 year, where the territorial integrity of an EU candidate state is torn apart by some post-soviet thugs.


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Kamil Mazurek

Kamil Mazurek (Koordynator CII Petersberg Series) - absolwent kierunku nauki polityczne na Wydziale Dziennikarstwa i Nauk Politycznych Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego (2011). Obecnie doktorant na tym samym wydziale. Stypendysta programu Erasmus na Uniwersytecie w Southampton w Wielkiej Brytanii (2010/2011). Członek Centrum Inicjatyw Międzynarodowych, koordynator projektów „CII Petersberg series” i „CIM Advanced Studies”, a także redaktor naczelny biuletynu „Analizy CIM”. Współpracownik Ośrodka Analiz Politologicznych Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego oraz portali „uniaeuropejska.org” i „stosunki.pl”. Autor artykułów naukowych w obszarach obronności, bezpieczeństwa i Europy, a także monografii na temat Europejskiej Agencji Obrony. Główne zainteresowania badawcze: przemysł i rynek zbrojeniowy (szczególnie w Europie i w USA); bezpieczeństwo międzynarodowe i obronność (zwłaszcza Wspólna Polityka Bezpieczeństwa i Obrony UE); system instytucjonalny UE; stosunki międzynarodowe oraz bezpieczeństwo w Azji Wschodniej i na obszarze postradzieckim; metodologia badań. kontakt: kamil.mazurek(at)centruminicjatyw.org

4 komentarzy on "Essential assistance? Operation EUBAM Moldova/Ukraine and its impact on the management of the fragile border"

  1. Kamil Mazurek

    Yes, you are right – formally it is not an EU candidate state. However it is well known idea that Moldova is considered of being a part of the Union in the future (although distant one) by both – the EU and Moldovan authorities. Anyway, it was a mental shortcut, but thanks for being vigilant :)

  2. Kamil Mazurek

    I cannot agree with you on this. There is lack of political will among Member States and the EU itself to clash with Transnistria protector – Russia, not to settle the problem. Resolution of this frozen conflict isn’t important enough to the EU and its Member States to pay the price of annoying Moscow. Such action (for instance blocade of all transfered goods from and to Transnistria) is, in my opinion, extremely improbable and only constant (and growing) pressure made by Moldova, Ukraine, the EU and its Member States using such instruments as EUBAM can, at some point, force authorities in Tiraspol to start negotiations with Chisinau

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