Alexander Lukashenko, who used to take offense at not being invited to the Eastern Partnership summits, declined an invitation to last month’s summit. This clearly demonstrates that the initiative has lost its value even in the eyes of its members, but it doesn’t mean that closer cooperation is impossible for Belarus and the EU. Both parties are simply coming to the realization that quick breakthroughs won’t happen.
The conflict in Transnistria is far from both resolution and explosion. Convergence of international players’ interests in maintaining peace and high levels of connectivity between the Moldova and Transnistria has resulted in stability. But a conflict management strategy that relies upon a sub-optimal equilibrium is hardly enough—more needs to be done to prepare for a settlement in the long term.
Despite a large-scale visit by the Croatian leadership to Russia, we shouldn’t expect breakthroughs in bilateral collaboration, or to see Croatia turn into a close Russian ally. Sanctions, falling oil prices, and long-term stagnation in both countries can’t be overcome by presidential meetings, and real economic ties between the two countries are still modest.
To prevent further escalation, international actors should not play into Moldova’s divides. They must stop seeing Moldovan politicians as either friends or foes, and instead promote greater competition in the country’s politics. Otherwise, while pursuing their own geopolitical interests, Russia and the EU could both fall victim to manipulation by local politicians.
Despite all the reputational risks posed by its war games with Russia, Minsk is trying to reap diplomatic benefits from them. The Belarusian military can show Western observers that Minsk’s guarantees can be trusted. On the other hand, it can convince Moscow that the country isn’t “going down the Ukrainian route,” because it isn’t afraid, despite the West’s concerns, to carry out major exercises with Russian forces.
Former president Yevgeny Shevchuk’s flight from Tiraspol may signal the culmination of Sheriff’s consolidation of power in Transdniestria, giving the country’s leaders a chance to devise a strategic development program for the first time in twenty years.
The dispute over newly established security zones on the Russia-Belarus border reveals that Moscow no longer sees Minsk as a reliable defense partner.
Moscow’s support for Moldovan President Igor Dodon doesn’t mean that it is trying to pull Chisinau away from the EU. The Kremlin realizes that its options in Moldova have become more limited in recent years, and it has tempered its expectations accordingly. Now, the Kremlin is trying to find a way to let Moldova enjoy free trade agreements with both the EU and the CIS.
The main cause of the latest crisis in Macedonia is neither Russia’s machinations nor enmity between ethnic Albanians and ethnic Macedonians: it is the EU’s unfulfilled promise that Macedonia has a European future.
The West’s reaction to the crackdown on protests in Belarus has so far been muted. Brussels noticed that Belarusian siloviki showed at least some restraint in their response, which indicates that all is not lost. Western diplomats don’t want to throw away years of progress toward convergence with Minsk because of something that could be written off as a brief spark of rage.