April 1, 2014
The reactions of countries in Central and Eastern Europe to the potential consequences of the Ukraine crisis are restrained by the relationships between more powerful entities – namely, by the dynamics of EU-Russia, NATO-Russia and U.S.-Russia relations. The EU cannot afford to implement meaningful sanctions after Russia’s intervention in Crimea. In the Common Declaration of the Weimar Triangle meeting on March 31, the ministers of Germany, France and Poland noted diplomatically that the Eastern Partnership doesn’t mean Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia need to chose between Russia and the EU. They even proposed that “EU-Russia talks with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia about the consequences of the EU-Association Agreements with Eastern European Partners for both sides.” The German media today explained that Steinmeier’s plan for Eastern Europe aims to include Russia in the discussions. Der Spiegel noted that free trade agreements should be compatible to those already existing with Russia, to avoid a situation where the eastern countries have to choose between Russia and the EU. T-Online mentioned a “partnership for modernization” of the Eastern European countries, where there exists a “positive agenda” in which Russian and EU interests can be bundled.
The next country to be on the spotlight is Moldova. Chisinau will sign a free trade agreement with the EU – what will Russia’s reaction be? A potential second Russian military intervention, this time in Moldova, has been mentioned in the international media. This is improbable because of two basic factors: geography and costs calculation. Geography shows the limits of a military operation. There are Russian troops in Transnistria but, in the event of an intervention, they would need to be supplied through hundreds of miles of Ukrainian territory. If Ukraine refuses to let Russian transports through, then Russia needs to either invade Ukraine or leave its forces in isolation. Russia is also not interested in creating another enclave. And Moscow has other ways of influencing Moldova – it doesn’t need a military intervention.
Russia wanted a neutral state in Ukraine, and Russia wants a neutral state in Moldova. Therefore, the question is not whether Russia will intervene in Moldova, but it is how Moscow will work to keep Moldova away from the influence of the EU. While it can do little in theory until June (by projecting pressure from Transnistria or Gagauzia, or through the trade sanctions against Moldovan wines), it is likely to increase pressure on Moldova after June, especially in the lead-up to Moldovan elections this fall. And that leads us to another question: Will trade sanctions and other measures (pressures coming from Transnistria and Gagauzia) imposed by Russia, combined with potential protests against the EU FTA, convince Moldovans to rethink their path toward greater integration with the EU? Which leads us to the question of how Moldovans rethink their foreign policy choices, and what “public support” actually means in Moldova.
Considering all of the above, and the clear resurgence of Russia as an active player in the region, whatever actions NATO takes to ensure support for member states in the region will define the kind of organization NATO will be in the future. U.S. demonstrations of support are closely watched by the countries in the CEE – Romania and Poland in particular. Based on how Washington demonstrates its support to these countries, they will seek to balance their foreign policies toward finding alternatives to Western protection.
This is a time when strategic partnerships are important. When it comes to the two major players in the region — Romania and Poland — it is important to mention that these countries see each other’s interests through different prisms. Poland looks at Moldova through the prism of Ukraine, and Romania has been looking at Ukraine through the prism of Moldova. This approach to regional problems means that both countries exercise restraint — and in a way, it also proves that a certain degree of distrust exists. That said, what role will regional alliances and partnerships play?
Editor: Joel WeickgenantAntonia Colibasanu