The Brief – With Russia, the worst is yet to come

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [Britannica]

The tensions between Russia and the West are increasing. Unfortunately, we have reason to suspect that the worst is yet to come.

World War II ended with 75 million deaths. The Cold War ended without any such toll. However, the end of the Cold War resulted in territorial changes bigger than those after WWII.

The Soviet Union lost huge territories before it collapsed and its successor state became the Russian Federation.

In parallel, the West enlarged NATO with countries that were previously were part of the Soviet bloc – Poland, Czechia and Slovakia (the former Czechoslovakia), Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, with three former Soviet Republics – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, with four former Yugoslav states  – Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, and North Macedonia, and the successor of the autarchic Albania of Enver Hoxha.

Moreover, NATO has half-opened its door to Georgia and Ukraine, who have been granted the “aspirant country” status.

Other Soviet republics became independent states: Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the collapse of the Soviet Union the biggest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.

Under Putin, Russia is trying to undo some of the changes.

Moscow claims NATO should have not have enlarged after the end of the Cold War. But try telling that to the countries from the post-Soviet space that made the choice to join NATO to guarantee their security.

Initially, Russia was too weak to do anything about it, but as it became more assertive, it tried to avert the NATO membership of countries in its sphere of interest by pulling strings where it thought it had local friends, especially in Montenegro and North Macedonia. It failed.

In Ukraine, Russia has friends in the Eastern part of the country, and this is why it has established a puppet regime in Donbas. Kyiv doesn’t control these territories.

Russia annexed Crimea largely because of the fear that the peninsula might become a NATO playground in a most sensitive place – the Black Sea. Yes, Russia feels besieged. It has a huge territory, but it is hard to protect.

With Joe Biden in the Oval Office, Putin anticipates that Ukraine will become a NATO member and is taking what he believes are appropriate measures. He has amassed huge troop numbers at the borders, prompting the US president to give him an anxious call. The situation was defused, but it’s only a short episode, not the epilogue.

Putin also assumes that the Biden administration and the CIA are behind Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny as part of a push to challenge his rule. He is probably wrong, but many of Putin’s supporters believe it, and this is what really matters.

If the US continues to encourage Ukraine to become a NATO member, it is easy to forecast that Russia would seize new territories around Crimea, even at the price of a local war.

This would damage EU interests, as doing business with Russia would no longer be possible for a long time, and Russia would have no other choice than to further cosy up to China.

Also, Russia would take advantage of the ensuing mess to push harder for its interests in Moldova and Georgia, possibly also to destabilise Montenegro and North Macedonia, to the detriment of these countries and the EU.

Is there anything the EU can do, except sit back and watch?

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron seem too busy with their internal agendas. Ursula von der Leyen said her Commission would be ‘geopolitical’, but we have yet to see any proof of that. Even Charles Michel has been more active than her on the foreign field…

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The Roundup

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EU countries have been much slower to spend structural funds aimed at reducing regional and social inequalities than in the previous seven-year budgetary period, figures from the European Commission show.

Energy efficient building renovation is not enough to lessen the climate impact of residential buildings, according to one sustainability expert, who is calling for a limit on the living space allocated per person in residential homes. EURACTIV France reports.

The majority of EU countries should be technically ready for COVID-19 certificates by the first week of June ahead of their official launch expected by the end of that month, an EU official told EURACTIV.

The Conference on the Future of Europe is an exercise in democracy, and at the same time, the main theme of the Conference is European democracy. But the problem is broader: democracy itself is in crisis, Herman Van Rompuy and Žiga Turk write in an exclusive OpEd.

Look out for…

  • Vice-President Timmermans meets with Ministers Giovannini, Di Maio and Cingolani and delivers a speech at Conference on the Future of Europe in Rome.
  • Commissioner Dombrovskis speaks at EU-US Dialogue of the European Climate Foundation and Center for American Progress.
  • Commissioner Kyriakides delivers a speech at European Cancer Research Summit 2021.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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