Snapshot: Crisis in Eastern Europe
Migrant crisis, mobilization of troops on the Ukrainian border and energy coercion. Read the latest coverage on recent Euro-Russian hot spots in Eastern Europe.
You could be forgiven for thinking that today’s headlines come straight from the height of the Cold War. Border crises in Eastern Europe, Russian troop movements, reciprocal sanctions between European powers and Russian allies, and flashpoints in the Black Sea.
In recent weeks, Russia has relied on four key pillars to strengthen its bargaining power in Eastern Europe, weaken the European economy and increase its regional influence.
- Destabilization: militarization of the community of migrants illegally crossing from Belarus to Poland;
- Threats: mass troops on the Ukrainian border, with an allegedly imminent invasion;
- Influence projection: strengthening the relative power of their Serbian and pro-Serbian allies in the Balkans;
- Economic and energy coercion: taken hostage by Europe on the use of Russian gas.
Indeed, the symbiosis of the four key pillars of Russian foreign policy provides a perfect storm for NATO and the European Union. Across Eastern Europe, from the Polish border to Serbia in the Balkans, NATO faces a vast threat environment characterized by the full spectrum of conflicts: kinetic, non-kinetic and gray area activities.
George Barros and Kateryna Stepanenko analyzed Russia’s major foreign policy tools in the Russia in review, published by the Institute for the Study of War.
In recent days, extensive media coverage has drawn attention to the border crisis between Poland and Belarus. Throughout the crisis, migrants from the Middle East attempted to enter Poland illegally via Belarus, accused of facilitating large movements of people through Belarus and Russia as a tool to destabilize Poland and the United States. Western Europe.
“On November 8, Belarusian security personnel ordered around 2,000 migrants to cross the Kuźnica-Bruzgi border post in Poland, providing them with instructions and tools to destroy the fences. Belarusian staff began facilitating migrants’ travel to Poland and the Baltic States in June 2021, but the number of single-day crossings remained below a few hundred, ”the couple wrote.
“The Kremlin allows, if not directly controls, the escalation of Belarus against Poland to pressure the EU and support disinformation claiming a NATO campaign to destroy Belarus. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov called on the EU to provide financial assistance to Belarus to encourage it to prevent migrants from entering the EU, saying the EU should financially support Belarus in the same way. way that she supported Turkey with Syrian migrants in 2016. ”
Just hours ago, it was reported that the European Union has stepped up sanctions against Belarus in response to the migrant crisis.
While actively destabilizing Europe by attacking national borders, Russia also undertook a troop build-up on Ukraine’s border, raising analysts’ fears that Russia was preparing for an invasion of the country. The two men note, however, that although the posture of the Russian military has changed, little evidence remains that the country will undertake an invasion. However, the threat signals from the Kremlin have been read loud and clear.
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“The Russian military began carrying out several anomalous troop movements near the Ukrainian and Belarusian border at the end of October 2021. The ISW does not assess from available sources that recent Russian movements are preparing for imminent offensive action against Ukraine. However, these movements are part of a larger shift in the posture of Russian forces to move additional forces west and can support preparations for offensive operations against Ukraine in the spring of 2022, ”the couple noted.
This aggressive posture was recently reinforced when Russia sent paratroopers to Belarus to undertake a military exercise – although media have now reported that the paratroopers have returned to Russia, having finalized their exercises with two soldiers dead after their parachutes. got tangled in the wind.
Russia’s strategy to project dominance over the entire eastern border of Europe has extended to the Balkans by actively supporting their Serbian allies and by continuously undermining pro-European peacekeeping efforts in the region. .
“The Kremlin has politically weakened the Office of the High Representative (OHR), a key international institution supported by the US and the EU and dedicated to upholding the 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the 1992 Bosnian War -1995 “, note the two men.
“The Kremlin seeks to end the EU peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, to expel NATO headquarters in Sarajevo and to increase Russian influence in the Balkans.
To strengthen their influence, Russia has also come to the aid of pro-Serbian secessionist movements in the Balkan region, including threats from pro-Serbian Bosnian politician Milorad Dodik.
“Dodik asserted on October 8 that the army, tax administration and judicial system of Republika Srpska would separate completely from the central government of Bosnia and Herzegovina by the end of November 2021. The Russian Foreign Ministry (MFA ) condemned international criticism of Dodik’s secession declarations as ‘demonization of the Serbian people’, ”note Barros and Stepanenko.
In addition to the hard power wielded by Russia and its regional allies, Russia has stepped up its economic coercion on its European adversaries and forged alliances with neighboring countries by supplying cheap gas.
Indeed, the energy crisis came to a head this week as Belarus threatened to cut off gas supplies to the European Union as it headed into winter in response to the Polish-Belarusian migrant crisis, prompting a brutal response from Prime Minister Boris Johnson that Europe must either choose cheap Russian gas or support their liberal European allies in the East – but not both.
“And we hope that our friends will recognize that a choice will present itself soon between keeping more and more Russian hydrocarbons in giant new pipelines and defending Ukraine and defending the cause of peace and stability, allow me to put it that way, “Prime Minister Johnson said. would have said.
Despite using gas as a threat to its western neighbors, Russia has used gas to spur new and reinvigorated relations in Armenia and Moldova, despite the latter having elected a theoretically pro-Western government.
“The Kremlin seeks to integrate Armenia into bilateral and regional organizations such as the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and economic agreements to consolidate its influence in the Caucasus,” the couple notes.
“Armenia and Russia have agreed to a new unspecified price for Russian natural gas supplied to Armenia, although several issues (including maintenance of power plants) remain unresolved as negotiations continue on the Russian energy supply in Armenia. “
Meanwhile, Barros and Stepanenko demonstrate that “the Kremlin has succeeded in taking advantage of Moldova’s energy dependence on Russia to limit the new Moldovan government’s program of integration into the European Union (EU). Western-oriented and forced Moldova to sign a new five-year gas supply agreement with Russia in October 29 “.
Despite the relative weakness of the Russian economy, it remains unclear whether the European Union and NATO will be able to overcome such a wide conflict environment marked by kinetic, non-kinetic and gray area activities. From Poland to the Balkans, coupled with economic and energy coercion, one cannot be shocked if Europe makes more concessions in the crisis than it wins.