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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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    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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    10June 2015

    Although President Putin enjoys a remarkably free hand abroad, he still operates within constraints. Over the last nine months, Russians have become increasingly hostile to ‘foreign adventures’ as economic problems have mounted. What effect, if any, will this have on Russian foreign policy?

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    05June 2015

    With the five BRICS countries continuing to expand and institutionalise their cooperation on key international issues in an attempt to further increase their global clout, this Brief takes a look at the EU’s response to their rise. Should the BRICS be treated individually or as a group by the Union?

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    13May 2015

    Putin’s inner circle have tried to evade the US and EU sanctions imposed on them and have been amply compensated for their losses by the state. But with intra-elite tensions on the rise and sanctions depressing Western lending across the board, their effect on Russia’s strategic calculations should not be underestimated.

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    24April 2015

    This Brief seeks to draw out the lessons learnt from the sanctions imposed on the Soviet Union during the Cold War. What parallels are there with Putin’s Russia? Are they effective foreign policy tools or simply blunt instruments which harm the West as much as the Kremlin?

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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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    06December 2013

    This alert assesses the state of play of politics in the Union’s eastern neighbourhood in the aftermath of the Vilnius Summit. How should the EU proceed with Ukraine following its dramatic refusal to initial an Association Agreement? And how can it ensure the other Eastern Partnership countries stay on track in the face of both domestic and foreign pressure?

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    29November 2013

    This brief analyses what impact the five BRICS countries are likely to have in global politics in the years to come, and what future trajectory the grouping might take. The BRICS ‘club’ may or may not last – in its present or another formation – but its rise is a wake-up call for the EU to deepen its bilateral relations with individual BRICS and possibly reconsider its own position in the emerging system of global governance.

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    22November 2013

    With an increase in the number and scale of acts of vigilantism by semi-organised nationalist groups, the Russian authorities now find themselves –and their political system – under serious pressure. But in addition to a significant mutation in Russian nationalism, what wider trends are at play? And what effect will this rising xenophobia have on Russia’s foreign policy goals?

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    18October 2013

    This alert explores the reasons behind Armenia’s shock decision to give up on its association and free trade deal with the EU and highlights the possibilities for the Union to enhance its relations with states in the eastern neighbourhood. Are we now witnessing the formation of a ‘two-tier’ Eastern Partnership?

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    19September 2013

    As the EU negotiates the final phase of the Eastern Partnership process, this alert explores how the Union might consider launching an ‘EaP interim solidarity package’ to offset potential economic losses incurred by eastern-partner countries due to external pressures.

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    06September 2013

    As the EU and most of its eastern partners enter the final phases of signing Association and Deep and Comprehensive Free-Trade Area agreements, this alert highlights the pitfalls that can still derail the process, as Russia steps up economic pressure on countries like Armenia and Ukraine.

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    05September 2013

    With the G20 summit underway, this alert explores the reasons for continued Russian intransigence on Syria. If support of the Assad regime is not simply designed to irk the West, what other, deeper considerations are at play in this unlikely partnership?

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    30August 2013

    Russia’s recent step to essentially block imports from its neighbour marked the opening salvo in a dispute that may still escalate into a full blown trade war. However, with the prospect of further Ukrainian economic integration with the EU in the form of an Association Agreement looming on the horizon, might Moscow’s actions prove, once again, self-defeating?

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