A focus on the latest developments in Eastern Europe

CEPS Brussels, 8th October 2019


On 8th October, CEPS held a public conference to discuss the current developments happening in Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and Armenia. The whole discussion was split into two main topics, the first part analyzed each countries’ autonomisation in terms of democracy while the second one focused on their current conflict’s struggles.

First of all, the similarities and differences between the three countries should be outlined. All of them are experiencing the potential or immediate threat of military action and have lost control of significant parts of their territory. This is due to the direct involvement of Russia, which maintains military bases in formally or informally annexed territories while militarily supports secessionist entities, as well as carries out various forms of economic blackmail, sanctions, and embargoes. Said countries are not only suffering from a lack of trust between their frustrated inhabitants and marginally competent governments, but also have experienced significant out-migration, which has caused both a brain drain and, at the same time, the arrival of important financial remittances. They all have signed Association Agreements with the EU as well as have benefited from preferential treatment in trade (through Deep and Comprehensive Free-Trade Agreements) and a visa-free regime within the Schengen zone. Both Ukraine and Moldova share widespread corruption, which is causing mass frustration among their citizens. In Georgia and, especially, Moldova there is a high poverty rate, which is also present but to a lesser extent, in Ukraine. Georgia lost a five-day war with Russia in August 2008 and, actually, two of its secessionist territories, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, are recognized as independent states by Russia, which supports the regions financially and militarily.

Nonetheless, there are many differences between these three countries. For instance, Ukraine represents a different paradigm, above all due to its size, economic potential and the ongoing military conflict in Eastern Ukraine in which Russia is leading a hybrid war in which has formally annexed Ukranian Crimea. Moldova and Ukraine have common borders with EU member states, unlike Georgia; while Moldova, in contrast to Ukraine and Georgia, has no common border with Russia however, up to a third of its population hold Romanian passports.

In view of these latest episodes of mass mobilization, Richard Youngs, from Carnegie Europe, recognized the existence of various trends that influence political patterns. In his opinion, “the concept of democracy itself is suffering but not in a dramatic way”. In addition to the many challenges ahead, those countries are facing plenty of obstacles in comparison to West Europe, in terms of government’s role, high corruption level and international lack of support. Currently, the EU’s capacity to influence the security-related resilience of these three countries is rather limited, both due to disagreements within the EU regarding its partnership policy and to its lack of hard power amid concerns over the security of its own member states, such as the Baltic countries.

Afterward, the speaker Ghia Nodia, from the ILy State University, shed light on Georgian democracy development. He called into question whether the government had been willing to be changed or defected, despite the fact that it was already very weak and “internally disorganized”.

A different perspective was delivered by expert Denis Cenusa who presented the Moldova political trends. The current oppositions are both supported by Russia and by people’s willingness to defeat the government. Furthermore, Denis showed how those forces are trying to “clean” the internal institutions and the public sector widely corrupted since the last government. He used the term “depoliticization” in order to describe the process of getting rid of the previous political elite. According to the expert view, the democratic process would be easier by applying long-term reforms to the system especially those on the justice area. This area addresses most of the concerns and it needs to be fairly managed.

Ukranian democratic context seems to show a more positive situation according to Artem Remizov’s view, the speaker from the Institute for Economic Resource. He assumed that there is some “ground of optimism” for the new political elite since they seem to be willing to cooperate in the fight against corruption. In addition, several changes have already been made in terms of transparency, particularly in the court’s procedures and judge’s selection process. In a like manner, those positive connotations co-exist with negative ones that include a general mutual distrust and the nationalization of private banks.

In order to underline common features and challenges, like corruption, government’s mistrust and the growing of political oppositions, it is vital to understand the context in each country. They all play a major role in influencing the democratic process, but Jerzy Pomianowski highlighted some further elements of influence such as the role of the press and social networks. In fact, he accused them of supporting authoritarian regimes and hatred speeches.

The second crucial point of the conference focused on some of the unresolved conflicts in Ukraine, Moldavia, and Georgia. The speaker Thomas de Waal from the Carnegie Europe presented the key countries contended by Georgia and the troubling relations between Russia and Ukraine. The persistent presence of Russia is a hot topic that all the speakers agreed on during their speeches. Nowadays it is still hard to deny its influence.

Andrey Makarychev accused the EU of its weak responsibility and its neutral role, whereas Dirk Lorenz tried to conclude all the speaker’s opinions in considering each conflict with its “own merits and responsibilities.”

Generally speaking, conference discussion foresaw a common understanding of growing democracies, as well as their own diversities and approaches. Existing conflicts still represent a big challenge for their democratic development but unprecedented achievements have already been recognized.

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