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 along 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.
Russia’s war on Ukraine prompted this ‘Association Trio’ to formally apply for EU membership: Ukraine and Moldova were granted candidate status in June 2022, while Georgia was recognised as a potential candidate. Relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan are also advancing but outside of the enlargement track.
Beyond the Eastern Partnership, Russia remains the EU’s biggest geographical neighbour. Until 2022, the EU and Russia were bound by a complex network of political, economic and people-to-people contacts. Yet, Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has halted many aspects of the EU’s relationship with Moscow: European attempts at curtailing Russian aggression on Ukraine have come to dominate a relationship which once was mostly built on fostering trade and energy cooperation.
Eastern neighbours & Russia 2.0
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has reshaped demographics, geoeconomics, and geopolitics in the Eastern Partnership states, prompting the EU to take radical decisions in its engagement with its eastern neighbourhood, made up of Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Whereas prior engagement focused on trade, energy, migration, and security, the EU has started channelling funds to supply Ukraine with heavy weapons, while it has extended the enlargement process along its eastern border.
Over the coming years, the newfound momentum of engagement needs to be sustained and backed up with resources. Ultimately, the EU’s success in the neighbourhood will largely depend on its actions in the security realm – not only in Ukraine, but also in Georgia, Moldova, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, given that Russia’s war has altered the status quo of protracted conflicts in said countries. Among other factors, support for refugees, easing of remaining trade barriers, improving regional connectivity, and progress in the enlargement process will co-determine the EU’s success in the neighbourhood in the period to come.
Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has halted many aspects of the EU’s relationship with Moscow: EU attempts at curtailing Russian aggression on Ukraine – through sanctions on Russia and weapons deliveries to Ukraine – has come to dominate a relationship which once was mostly built on fostering trade and energy cooperation, a security dialogue, and visa liberalisation.