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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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  • 03May 2017

    In 2017, for the third year running, the EU-Russia Forum was co-hosted by the EUISS and supported by the EEAS. The forum convened senior officials and experts from across Europe, Russia, and the United States to evaluate the current state of EU-Russia relations and propose ways forward.

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    29March 2017

    This Alert looks at Azerbaijan’s autocratic and assertive domestic turn, and explains the potential risks of the rebalancing of its foreign policy priorities by the ruling elites.

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    29March 2017

    Following recent constitutional changes, Armenians are set to go to the polls on 2 April to vote in parliamentary elections. What role does Russia play in the country's politics? And is there room to expand relations with the EU?

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    15March 2017

    Much of the current analysis of future US-Russia relations is focused on Trump’s presumed instincts and intentions towards Moscow. This Alert argues that the president’s policies towards China, Iran, energy and defence are all likely to present Russia with a difficult dilemma.

  • 08March 2017

    On 8 March, the EUISS and DG NEAR jointly organised a Seminar on building resilience in the EU’s surrounding regions. The Seminar brought together experts from Europe’s Eastern and Southern neighbourhoods, as well as European institutions to explore the challenges and opportunities in building resilience in the EU’s surrounding regions.

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    15February 2017

    This Chaillot Paper sets out to evaluate the scope and the actual implementation of the ‘pivot to the East’ announced by Moscow in the wake of its confrontation with the West over Ukraine. The paper highlights the areas of convergence and divergence between Moscow and Beijing, the asymmetries in interests and resources, and their wider implications for Russia’s policy in Asia – thus providing an insightful and balanced assessment of bilateral relations and their ‘systemic’ impact.

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    09December 2016

    In summer 2016, two unexpected events brought the issue of power transition to the top of the agenda in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. This Alert analyses how both transitions entail risks for Central Asia’s stability, but also potentially open up opportunities for further domestic liberalisation and regional cooperation.

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    09December 2016

    Russia’s recent actions in eastern Europe and significant military build-up along its Western border and in the enclave of Kaliningrad has rattled many nerves. This Brief explores how, as a consequence, all the countries in the Nordic-Baltic region are now rearming.

  • 25November 2016

    On 25 October, the EUISS, in collaboration with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the EU External Action Service (EEAS), gathered analysts and experts in a workshop to discuss the challenges and dilemmas of Russia’s political agenda.

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    03November 2016

    This Alert looks at how and why Russia is developing alternative historical narratives. Moscow hopes to achieve two goals: to propagate a black-and-white version of the past that it can deploy in foreign policy and, more importantly, to minimise the chances of domestic unrest by inhibiting freedom of thought.

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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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    10April 2015

    Russia’s information war in Ukraine is rooted in military theory. Drawing on a Hobbesian vision of the world as an arena of incessant inter-state conflict, this theory sets out techniques that aggressors can use to subvert the information space of its adversaries. In Ukraine, Russia turned theory into practice.

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    18March 2015

    President Putin has scored a decisive victory on the home front of Russia’s information war: official media have convinced the people that Putin alone stands between Russia and a return to chaos. But with the economic outlook deteriorating, for how long can appearances continue to diverge from reality?

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    17February 2015

    The decline in military cooperation with Ukraine, defects in the Russian defence industry and a contracting economy have blown Moscow's rearmament plans off course. With a reallocation of resources no longer feasible, the Kremlin now risks compounding its economic problems and deepening its isolation.

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