New Moldovan president in Brussels: Underlining geostrategic uncertainty
New President of Moldova Igor Dodon embarked on a visit to Brussels last week, meeting with highest representatives of EU and NATO. The President, who assumed office in December, ran a strongly pro-Russian campaign, and criticised Moldova’s Association Agreement with the EU during his meeting with European Council President Tusk. During his first state visit to Moscow in mid-January Dodon said the Agreement has done Moldova no good (contrary to economic indicators) and expressed interest to join the Russian-led Eurasian Union (EEU) instead. Dodon also wants to postpone the opening of the agreed NATO Liaison Office in Chisinau and urged NATO to officially recognize Moldova’s neutrality. The president has largely symbolic powers, but having been elected in fist popular vote in two decades, he highlights deep divide in the Moldovan society and big influence of pro-Russian media. Moreover, all could change already in the 2018 parliamentary election. If the Socialist Party wins, Moldova could follow the story of Armenia which opted for EEU instead of the EU Association Agreement in 2013, resulting in economic recession.
Economic troubles lie ahead as British Parliament approves Brexit negotiations
In early February, British parliament supported triggering Article 50 and start of negotiations about Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. Terms of Brexit will be decided in negotiations which are to start no later than the end of March. In a largely symbolic move, the Parliament of Scotland rejected triggering the Article 50. Although Scottish parliament has no legal authority to veto the decision of British parliament, it was an important gesture. Were there to be another Scottish independence referendum, this resolution might be central in the campaign. European officials warn that the UK could face up to €60 billion exit-charge as part of Brexit. And the financial troubles do not end there; British government’s financial watchdog warns that additional £6 billion are needed for defence acquisitions planned before the Brexit vote, mainly due to fall in the value of the pound against the dollar and euro. From the EU perspective, Brexit negotiations are not only the issue of Brussels but of all member states. Central European countries especially should strive for European unity because it ultimately determines European security.
Putin and Orban discuss energy, sanctions in Budapest
Hungarian PM Viktor Orban welcomed Russian president Vladimir Putin on official visit in the beginning of February, discussing energy and economic sanctions. Hungary is seeking to expand its only nuclear power plant Paks and Russia is offering financial aid if Hungary signs a deal with the Russian national champion Rosatom. The Paks power plant already supplies close to 40 % of electricity in Hungary. The project still needs confirmation from the European Commission. Orban is also a vocal critic of the sanctions against Russia. He mentioned that the sanctions cost Hungary more than €6 billion in lost exports and that they have not contributed to solving the Ukrainian conflict. Orban maintains that “non-economic problems cannot be handled with economic means.” In the past, the Hungarian PM was criticised by the EU and the US for his authoritarian style of governance and positive relations towards Russia. According to some analysts, Russian investment is often used for geopolitical goals, especially in the sphere of energy. Moreover, there is a question whether easing sanctions should be discussed now with fighting in eastern Ukraine intensifying.
Latest developments in eastern Ukraine
The end of January saw newly intensified fighting in eastern Ukraine between the government and Russia-backed rebels. Here are the key developments:
- The surge of attacks began only hours after the phone conversation between Trump and Putin. Some, including Senator McCain, said that Russia is testing the resolve of the new US President. The Senator recommended that the US should provide lethal weapons to Ukraine.
- During their trip to the battleground in 30-31 January the OSCE monitors recorded 10 330 explosions, the highest number they have ever registered.
- The US has caused quite a stir by its word choices following intensification of violence. The White House said it will “help restore peace along the border.” The fighting is, however, nowhere near Ukraine’s internationally recognised borders but deep in its territory.
- In the meantime, Russian State Duma deputy from Crimea Pavel Shperov urged Moscow to seize “eternal Russian lands” of northern Kazakhstan, and referred to countries neighbouring Russia as “so-called countries”.
- While politicians from all sides continue to blame each other for the escalation, the fighting is producing a new humanitarian catastrophe especially in an around the town of Avdiivka.
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a biweekly basis provides short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into broader context. Responsible editor Ondřej Zacha.
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