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Eastern neighbours & Russia

The Eastern neighbourhood is of strategic importance to the EU: although the Union’s relations with the states of the region vary significantly, the EU and its Eastern neighbours maintain high levels of interdependence in several different spheres, from trade and energy flows to the joint management of security challenges and migration.

The EU has long developed its policies in the region and its relations with Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership.

Association Agreements containing provisions on the establishment of deep and comprehensive free trade areas, form the cornerstones of EU engagement. Such agreements have been signed and are implemented by Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia.

 Eastern neighbours & Russia 2.0

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine reshaped demographics, geoeconomics, and geopolitics in the Eastern Partnership states. It also prompted the EU to innovate its engagement with the countries of which it consists. Security has become a key emphasis in addition to trade, energy or migration The EU and Member States provide Ukraine with substantial support that includes military assistance and training, while security cooperation with Moldova has been upgraded and the EU has engaged in mediation between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

In a dramatic change to the existing paradigm, the enlargement agenda has been expanded to the Eastern neighbourhood. Russia’s war on Ukraine encouraged the ‘Association Trio’ of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia to formally apply for EU membership. The three states were granted the European perspective in return - Ukraine and Moldova received candidate status in June 2022, while Georgia was recognised as a potential candidate. Relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan also see developments outside of the enlargement track.

Over the coming years, the newfound momentum of the EU’s engagement with Eastern neighbours needs to be sustained by political will and sufficient resources. The EU’s success in the neighbourhood will depend to a great extent on its actions in the security realm – not only in Ukraine, but also in Georgia, Moldova, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, given that Russia’s war and other trends in the regional security altered the status quo of protracted conflicts in these countries, creating also new needs for humanitarian assistance. Progress in the enlargement process will also be a major driver of positive change in the region, together with the easing of remaining trade barriers, encouraging good governance and regional connectivity conducive to peace and prosperity in the region.

Until 2022, the EU and Russia were bound by a dense web of political, economic and people-to-people contacts. Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has fundamentally reconfigured the EU’s relationship with Moscow. The EU's response to Russia's war on Ukraine now dominates the mutual relationship, with Russia subject to multiple rounds of restrictive measures and the economic and energy relations having undergone a significant decoupling. 

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    28October 2015

    This Alert shows how disquiet in the West about Russia's use of hybrid tactics has elevated concern about the phenomenon to the strategic level, in particular due to fears that hybrid operations may undermine the credibility of deterrence.

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    22October 2015

    This Alert, written in the wake of the presidential elections in Belarus which saw Alexander Lukashenko win a fifth term in office, examines the dilemma facing the EU as it alternates between carrot-and-stick tactics in its relations with ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’.

  • 22October 2015

    The second meeting of the EUISS Task Force on Russia’s Futures took place on the 22nd of October 2015 in Brussels.

  • 24September 2015

    On 24 September, EUISS launched a Task Force on Russia's futures. The Task Force aims to explore the horizon 2020–2025 by creating a core group of experts on Russian politics who will then generate a report about key trends by the end of next year.

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    24September 2015

    This Report, the outcome of an EUISS Task Force on sanctions, offers valuable insight into a practice that is now part and parcel of the Union's ‘security’ policy toolbox. It aims to shed more light on an EU policy area that is still under-researched at a time when sanctions are becoming more important in terms of their number, scale and political salience.

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    18September 2015

    The recent appointment of Mikheil Saakashvili – a restless yet error-prone reformer – as governor of Odessa is a gamble for Ukraine. Will he be able to introduce or force through the reforms the country so desperately needs? Or does he have his sights set on an even bigger prize?

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    18September 2015

    Ukraine is fighting two wars simultaneously: a hybrid conflict in the east and a war against itself – a struggle against its own dysfunctionality and endemic levels of corruption. What progress has been made? And are the country’s political elite likely to scupper or support further reform efforts?

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    03July 2015

    Moldova is in the middle of a debate over whether it is the falling star of the Eastern Partnership or if it can still regain some of its shine. Its politics is messy and corruption is high. Yet, its progress over the last few years has been rather impressive. Now the task is to consolidate achievements, while dealing with its failures.

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    17June 2015

    The Arctic region is currently undergoing major and rapid transformation, both environmentally and economically. This report, the outcome of a EUISS Task Force, examines how these changes carry significant political implications, and highlights the new security challenges that are emerging in the region.

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    12June 2015

    This Chaillot Paper looks at CSDP operations and missions, and explores how they fit into the broader crisis management environment and multilateral efforts towards international peace. It highlights the inherent constraints facing CSDP and how these inevitably limit its overall impact or degree of success. The paper also examines the EU’s added value and the extent to which CSDP is moving forward at various levels.

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    04July 2014

    Although Moscow appears to have achieved its short-term goals in Ukraine, what about its long-term objectives? This Alert demonstrates how, despite the domestic boost for Russia’s president, the destabilising of country on its doorstep hardly counts as a Russian victory.

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    28May 2014

    This Brief assesses the array of challenges facing Ukraine as it attempts to maintain territorial unity and reform its oligarchic economy. Despite the turmoil that has plagued the country in recent months, can its new president, Petro Poroshenko, now embark on a mission to save the state?

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    04April 2014

    This Alert weighs up the costs and benefits of Putin’s recent military venture in Crimea, and demonstrates why, in the context of the foreign policy race between the Russia and the West, the latter may have to up its step.

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    21March 2014

    This Brief examines the attempts by the Kremlin to establish a rival to the European Union in the post-Soviet sphere. But given Russia’s overwhelming dominance, do other post-Soviet states wholeheartedly share Moscow’s vision? And what can the EU do to ensure that the country adheres to the rules of the WTO and respects its neighbours’ political sovereignty?

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    14March 2014

    This Alert explores the international crisis in Crimea from China’s perspective. While it is clear that China disapproves of the Russian military intervention in Ukraine at several levels, Chinese interests in eastern Europe remain too small for Beijing to take an open and vocal stance – at least for now.

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    07March 2014

    Following Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, this Alert offers three possible scenarios on how developments in Crimea will play out. Are we witnessing a ‘Transnistrisation’ of Crimea? And what is at stake for both Putin and the West?

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    07February 2014

    The third in a series of EUISS Alerts focusing on the prospects for Afghanistan in 2014, this Alert evaluates Russia’s current policy towards Afghanistan and how it may evolve in the future. In particular, it shows that Russia’s overall approach is still mainly determined by issues relating to America’s military presence there rather than by its bilateral relations with Kabul.

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    07February 2014

    As the 2014 Winter Olympics get underway, this brief looks at what Moscow hopes to gain from its $51 billion Olympic investment. The 2008 Beijing Olympics are seen as a model for hosting successful games that showcase national development. But with global headlines dominated by stories of corruption, human rights abuses, anti-gay laws and the very real threat of terrorist attacks, one might be forgiven for wondering whether the Russian government regrets its decision to bid for the games.

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    30January 2014

    What does 2014 have in store for the EU’s eastern neighbourhood? This alert provides a succinct overview of the major political events and developments likely to shape the agenda this year.

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    17January 2014

    With the next EU-Russia Summit fast approaching, this brief assesses the cooperative, yet competitive, nature of the relationship between Brussels and Moscow. With the ongoing spats over the countries in the EU’s eastern neighbourhood – and the absence of grands projets – how is it possible to deepen relations further?

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