What’s Happening in Eastern Europe? Online Event.

August 2, 2021
We have selected the key quotes of our speakers during the online discussion "What’s Happening in Eastern Europe?".

Danylo Lubkivsky

Over the last decade, Eastern Europe has become more sound and visible in international relations.

Key trends in Eastern Europe over the last years

  • First and foremost, the region continues to overcome the destiny of the gray zone between Western Europe and Russia (Western Asia). Be it Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia or Belarus, our nations re-entered the international scene, appearing as one of the most important geopolitical discoveries of the 21st century.
  • Second. We witness many important, sometimes extraordinary in their historic significance, internal changes in the countries of the region that show how promising is the vital energy of this part of Europe. It is a nation-building transformation. It continues the national and liberal revolutions of the West and encompasses the complex of national, democratic, and future-oriented changes.
  • Third.The political and economic conflict between liberalism and illiberalism, democracy and autocracy, free-market and oligarchy, past and future.
  • I see the signs of the democracy belt in Eastern Europe. A lot depends on Ukraine.
  • Fourth. Russia has not and will not change its attitude towards the region. It considers it the buffer zone and the sphere of own interests. The aggression and constant attempts of the Kremlin to regain Russia’s dominance over the region remain one of the most dangerous tendencies of the last decade.
  • Fifth. The strategic indecisiveness of the West.** The West continues to keep a certain “social distance” - whatever sophisticated political name this distancing is actually given, be it “EU association agreement” or “eastern partnership”.
  • Unlike Russia, the West still lacks a comprehensive vision of our region. In practice, this means giving Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine the clear signals that EU and NATO membership is achievable and, if a clear action plan to membership is followed, that it is also realistic.
  • However, we should also acknowledge that the level of the Euro-Atlantic engagement in our region is unprecedented. Never before we saw this scope and weight of the Western support. No anti-Western hysteria.

General Points

  • The West should give up any illusions about a possible reset of Russian relations.
  • Instead of trying to reset relations with Russia, it is more important and urgent to increase pressure and to reset the overall process of peaceful resolution of armed conflicts that Moscow has instigated in our region.
  • We need a morecomprehensive approach to the peace processes in Georgia and Moldova. The Ukrainian government and its western partners should initiate a high-level meeting to bring a new approach to resolving the frozen conflicts in our region.
  • Our region needs investment and funding support from Western partners. Our countries should be allowed to join EU country groups such as the Three Seas Initiative, and other infrastructure initiatives.
  • A regional fund that helps counteract anti-western propaganda and protect freedom of speech should also be established.

Andrew Wilson

  • Russia has shifted from trying to recruit pro-Russian activists toward technologies, not acting directly, but through proxy voices in the region.

Katsiaryna Shmatsina

  • Belarusian journalists and think-tankers have to flee from their native country due to criminal cases being opened against them. This is the environment Belarusians live in;
  • Even if we do not see massive protests in the streets, it does not mean that the protest movement faded — it just went underground waiting for another chance;
  • Lukashenka used to have a very harsh rhetoric towards Russia. He was saying that Russia was trying to stage a “color revolution” to bring him down. However, since the protests started, Lukashenka sought closer ties with the Kremlin;
  • Simultaneously, Russia has become increasingly vocal in its support of Lukashenka, and thus cemented his dependence on the Kremlin;
  • Russian officials, including Russian Embassy in Belarus, used a very disrespectful rhetoric towards the Belarusian opposition, and thus destroyed the illusion it might take the opposition’s side;
  • Belarusian security services brutally detain people who dare to speak against the Lukashenka regime;
  • Opposition media are being labeled as “extremist.” Such media are forced to close, journalists working there have to flee from Belarus;
  • Protests are the ultimate form of opposition, but it is unlikely that mass-scale protests will repeat any time soon in Belarus. However, the public frustration with Lukashenka regime is not going anywhere;
  • There are no adequate opportunities to get to know the public opinion in Belarus, since there are no independent pollsters.

Hanna Shelest

  • We are not in the security vacuum. We have chaotic security in the region, and this is a problem. Security is built for years.
  • Politicians’ statements can ruin the trust between strategic partners.
  • We’ve talked about energy, economic and social security. However, now we are back to the discussion on classical hard security. At the same time, political security can influence other types of security.
  • What we see in Belarus, what we could expect to happen in Moldova, but luckily elections prevented that development of events, what we observe in Georgia after the last elections. These are the questions of political security, but they influence national security that much that the risks become not less dangerous than the Russian aggression.
  • On the one hand, we increase the security, on the other hand, we are decreasing the capabilities to guarantee national security. This is the biggest challenge for all countries of the Eastern Partnership.
  • The West lost its interest in Nagorno-Karabakh some years ago. The West allowed Turkey and Russia to play their roles in the region. It’s not the increasing role of Russia. Azerbaijan-Russia relations have been developed very well during the last years.

Sergi Kapanadze

  • There is a trend towards reversing authoritarianism within the Eastern Partnership region. Russia has been more assertive and influential in the region.
  • We see the strategic indecisiveness of the West. The West has not used its power in terms of conditionality towards Georgia in the last years. A high percentage of pro-Western, pro-EU and pro-NATO people in Georgia is the biggest asset to the West.
  • The movement towards the democratic processes is the common trend for Georgia and Armenia in terms of population’s uprising.
  • The balance of power in Nagorno-Karabakh has shifted dramatically. Azerbaijan is now more assertive and stronger than never. Armenia is felt down on its knees. Turkey gained leverage in the region. Russia is as assertive as ever in the Caucasus region. At the same time, the West is not considered to be seen there. It suits Russia pretty well. Moscow may try to exclude the West from the democratic processes in other regions.