Global Europe Brief: A security dimension for the Eastern Partnership?

Your weekly update on the EU from a global perspective.

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In this week’s edition: Eastern Partnership security, Beijing boycott and trade war deterrents.

Except for Belarus, every country in the EU’s Eastern Partnership has a territorial conflict on its soil. Russia plays a central part in most cases, either by escalating tensions or positioning itself as an arbiter in an attempt to remain relevant in the outcome.

The format, launched in 2009 to support Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan, has no military dimension when it comes to hard security.

Partly overshadowed by the Belarus crisis, Russia’s worrying troop build-up around Ukraine and the recent flare-up in the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, EU leaders and Eastern counterparts this week will aim to raise the alarm on ‘continuous destabilisation’ in Europe’s East during their joint summit on 15 December.

“We remain deeply concerned about the continuous destabilisation and violations of the principles of international law in many parts of the EaP region, including the Black Sea area,” according to an early draft communiqué previewed to EURACTIV.

Over the past years, the EU has fallen short of providing instruments or gathering political will among its member states. This has resulted in a failure to initiate steps in negotiating peace in the regional conflicts or offer a clear membership perspective to the most advanced members, the Associated Trio.

“If you really want the EU to become an important geopolitical actor, it should also be playing a role not only in Africa but especially in its Eastern neighbourhood – also through security and defence,” Lithuania’s deputy defence minister, Margiris Abukevičius, told EURACTIV last week, voicing a position echoed by a significant number of primarily Eastern European member states.

But as things stand, many EU diplomats believe no security help provided by the bloc would prepare some of its EaP partners for a possible Russian attack.

Experts, however, think that through well-targeted support measures and eradicating countries’ particular vulnerabilities, the EU could make any Russian military aggression much more costly and far less likely. 

When asked about the EU’s security role in the future of the Eastern Partnership, Lawrence Meredith, the director responsible for the region at the European Commission’s neighbourhood directorate, said, “the EU has signalled its strong willingness to step up its engagement on the unresolved conflicts.”

“I think we’re ready to step up that engagement – and we’re looking at exactly that and how best to do it”, Meredith told an event this week, pointing out the Associated Trio would be the place to start. 

“Here, I would see, nonetheless, the particular potential for deeper engagement with the associated countries. I think it’s important to be clear that on the security side, that’s evident”, the EU official added. 

In the past few months, movement indicates at least some willingness to consider supporting some members in the Eastern Partnership with their security, notably Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova.

Under the European Peace Facility (EPF), a recently adopted EU instrument that opened the door for the bloc to deliver military aid to partner countries and finance the deployment of its military missions abroad, the EU will start providing security aid to Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova from next year.

At the same time, the EU is considering a so-called military advisory training mission for Ukrainian officers as relations between Kyiv and Moscow remain tense. Still, not many details about the timeline and scope have been agreed upon.

After the request from Ukraine in July, a fact-finding mission by the EU’s diplomatic service (EEAS) was set up in September to draw up a needs assessment on possible EU support. This was carried out in October, the European Commission told EURACTIV.

“Our assessment highlighted that there was space for EU support,” EU’s lead spokesperson for foreign affairs, Peter Stano, told EURACTIV.

He added that discussions on possible EU assistance are ongoing to determine the best way to support Ukraine in reforming its Professional Military Education (PME) sector. 

“While there are a number of options that could be considered, discussions to determine possible support measures are ongoing among the member states, who have the final say in these questions,” Stano said.

This week, EU foreign ministers will discuss Moscow’s military build-up and the movement of troops and equipment at the border with Ukraine, followed by an EU summit where Russia is likely to take centre stage.

Commenting on the prospects for the upcoming meetings, MEP Petras Auštrevičius, one of the leading EU lawmakers on the Eastern Partnership in the European Parliament, said it’s time “for more creative political thinking on the EU side”. 

“If we’re not ready yet for full-scale CSDP military missions in Ukraine, keeping assisting Ukrainian military forces for defence and other operations in mind, let’s also do it if it’s a civilian mission,” Auštrevičius said.

“And probably the time is right now before Christmas, to make a political commitment (…) our political messaging is not enough, especially for Ukraine, to secure its future”, Auštrevičius concluded.


RUSSIA ON THEIR MINDS | Russia is set to feature high on the upcoming week’s EU foreign policy agenda with foreign ministers discussing the matter on Monday and EU leaders on Thursday. On the menu are talks about a potential response to Moscow should it invade Ukraine, including how sanctions could play a role in this.

“Aggression needs to come with a price tag, which is why we will communicate these points ahead of time to Russia,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday.

The EU will for sure sanction Russian private military contractor Wagner Group, three other entities and seven or eight individuals on Monday, a senior EU official told reporters.

At the same time, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg rejected Russian demands to rescind a 2008 commitment to Ukraine that the country would one day become a member of the Western military alliance.

“NATO’s position when it comes to our relationship with Ukraine remains unchanged, it is a fundamental principle that every nation has the right to choose its own path…including what kind of security arrangements it wants to be part of,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.

“NATO’s relationship with Ukraine is going to be decided by the 30 NATO allies and Ukraine, no one else. We cannot accept that Russia is trying to re-establish a system where big powers like Russia have spheres of influence, where they can control and decide what other members do.”

BEIJING BOYCOTT | EU foreign ministers meeting on Monday will also attempt to find common ground on whether to join the US-led diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics in February.

Although the EU has taken “no decision” on whether to send any of its representatives to Beijing, “a common European approach would be highly, highly recommended”, a senior EU official said, predicting the talks could likely ‘get messy’ due to differing views between member states.

Although the agenda item was initiated by France and the Netherlands, Lithuania is likely to lead those in favour of making noise for a stronger EU approach towards China against the backdrop of its recent trade feud with Beijing over the country’s Taiwan policy, in which Vilnius has asked for EU’s help.

TRADE WAR DETERRENT | Speaking of geopolitics, the European Commission proposed a powerful new trade instrument that lays out a process by which the EU’s executive can take countermeasures if the EU or a member state is suffering from ‘coercive measures’ by third countries such as China, or even the US.


CLIMATE TALKS | The EU’s proposed carbon border adjustment mechanism is a “legitimate” instrument to consider, and the United States are “exploring it” as well, US Special Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, told EURACTIV in an interview.


SCHENGEN DREAM | EU governments agreed earlier this week agreed for Croatia to join the bloc’s passport-free Schengen travel area after Zagreb convinced Brussels that it was able to effectively manage its section of the bloc’s external borders. Meanwhile, some say Zagreb has been overzealous in showing the EU it can stop undocumented migrants crossing into the bloc.

BACK TO SCHOOL | The EU should move on outstanding promises of enlarging the bloc while leaving the two frontrunners in the waiting room, Serbia and Montenegro, to ‘do their homework’, Serbia’s Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue Gordana Čomić told EURACTIV.



We’ll keep you updated on all relevant EU foreign affairs news, as Europe’s looks towards a busy end of the year. Here’s what’s coming up next week:

  • Foreign Affairs Council on Russia-Ukraine-Belarus, Central Asia, Varosha
    | Monday, 13 December 2021 | Brussels, Belgium
  • Washington’s top diplomat for Europe and Eurasian affairs in Kyiv, Moscow and Brussels 
    | Mo-Thu, 13-16 December 2021 |
  • European Parliament plenary session
    | Mo-Thu, 13-16 December 2021 | Strasbourg, France
  • EU-Eastern Partnership summit
    | Wednesday, 15 December 2021 | Brussels, Belgium
  • EU summit on Russia, Strategic Compass, energy prices, COVID-19
    | Thursday, 16 December 2021 | Brussels, Belgium

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