A migrant crisis, troop mobilization on the Ukrainian border and energy pressure. Read the latest coverage of the latest Euro-Russian trouble spots in Eastern Europe.
You’d think today’s headlines came straight from the height of the Cold War. Border crises in Eastern Europe, Russian troop movements, mutual sanctions between European rulers and Russia’s allies and hot spots in the Black Sea.
Russia has relied on four main pillars in recent weeks to strengthen its bargaining power in Eastern Europe, weaken the European economy and increase its regional influence.
- Destabilization: armed violence against the migrant community illegally entering Poland from Belarus;
- Threats: increase in troops on the border with Ukraine, suspected invasion imminent;
- Influence projection: strengthening the relative power of their Serbian and pro-Serb allies in the Balkans;
- Economic and energy constraints: holding Europe hostage for using Russian gas.
Indeed, the symbiosis of all four cornerstones of Russian foreign policy offers a perfect storm for NATO and the European Union. Across Eastern Europe, from the Polish border to Serbia in the Balkans, NATO faces a broad threat environment characterized by the full range of conflicts: kinetic, non-kinetic and gray area activities.
George Barros and Kateryna Stepanenko this month analyzed Russia’s comprehensive foreign policy instruments Russia in retrospect, published by the Institute for War Research.
In the last few days, considerable media coverage has drawn attention to the border crisis between Poland and Belarus. During the crisis, Middle Eastern migrants attempted to enter Poland illegally via Belarus on allegations that the great human movement was facilitated by Belarus and Russia in order to destabilize Poland and Western Europe.
“Belarusian security personnel instructed about 2,000 migrants to cross the Kuźnica-Bruzgi border crossing in Poland on November 8, and provided them with instructions and tools to destroy fences. Belarusian staff began facilitating migrants’ travel to Poland and the Baltic states in June 2021, but previous one-day crossings remained in the low hundreds, ”the two wrote.
“The Kremlin is enabling, if not directly, the escalation of Belarus against Poland in order to put pressure on the EU and support misinformation claiming a NATO campaign to destroy Belarus. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov called on the EU to provide financial aid to Belarus to prevent migrants from entering the EU and called for the EU to support Belarus financially, as it supported Turkey with Syrian migrants in 2016. “
Just a few hours ago it was reported that the European Union had increased sanctions against Belarus in response to the migrant crisis.
While Russia is actively destabilizing Europe by attacking national borders, it has also been building troops on the border with Ukraine, leading analysts to fear that Russia is preparing to invade the country. However, the couple note that while the attitude of the Russian military has changed, there is little evidence that the country will invade. However, the threat signals from the Kremlin were read loud and clear.
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“The Russian military began conducting several abnormal troop movements near the Ukrainian and Belarusian borders in late October 2021. The ISW does not estimate from available sources that the recent Russian movements are preparing an imminent offensive against Ukraine. However, these movements are part of a broader change in Russian troop holdings to move additional forces west and may aid preparations for offensive operations against Ukraine in the spring of 2022, ”the couple said.
That aggressive stance was reinforced recently when Russia sent paratroopers to Belarus to conduct a military exercise – although media now reported that the paratroopers have returned to Russia after finishing their exercises with two soldiers who died after their parachutes hit the wind got tangled.
Russia’s strategy of projecting supremacy over the entire eastern border of Europe has expanded into the Balkans, actively supporting its Serb allies and continually undermining pro-European peace efforts in the region.
“The Kremlin has politically weakened the Office of the High Representative (OHR), an important US and EU-backed international institution dedicated to upholding the 1995 Dayton Accords, which ended the 1992-1995 Bosnian War,” he said the couple.
“The Kremlin is trying to end the EU peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, to evict NATO headquarters in Sarajevo and to strengthen Russian influence in the Balkans.”
To strengthen its influence, Russia has also come to the aid of pro-Serb secessionist movements in the Balkans, including threats from pro-Serb Bosnian politician Milorad Dodik.
“Dodik claimed on October 8th that the army, tax administration and judicial system of the Republika Srpska would completely separate from the central government of Bosnia-Herzegovina by the end of November 2021. The Russian Foreign Ministry (MFA) condemned the international criticism of Dodik’s declarations of secession as ‘demonizing the Serbian people’, “say Barros and Stepanenko.
In addition to the harsh power exercised by Russia and its regional allies, Russia has increased its economic coercion on its European opponents and bought alliances with neighboring states by supplying cheap gas.
Indeed, the energy crisis escalated this week when Belarus threatened to halt gas supplies to the European Union in response to the Polish-Belarusian migrant crisis, leading to a blunt response from Prime Minister Boris Johnson that Europe is either going to take cheap Russian gas or theirs Support liberal European allies in the East – but not both.
“And we hope our friends will see that there is soon an election to get more and more Russian hydrocarbons in huge new pipelines and stand up for Ukraine and work for peace and stability, let me put it this way,” said Prime Minister Johnson should have said.
Despite using gas as a threat to its western neighbors, Russia has used gas to foster new and revitalized relations in Armenia and Moldova, even though the latter have elected a theoretically pro-western government.
“The Kremlin is trying to integrate Armenia into bilateral and regional organizations such as the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and economic agreements in order to consolidate its influence in the Caucasus,” said the couple.
“Armenia and Russia have agreed on an unspecified new price for Russian natural gas to be supplied to Armenia, although several issues (including power plant maintenance) remain unresolved in the ongoing negotiations on Russian energy supplies to Armenia.”
Meanwhile, Barros and Stepanenko demonstrate that “The Kremlin has successfully used Moldova’s energy dependency on Russia to limit the integration agenda of the new, western-style Moldovan government in the European Union (EU), and forced Moldova to adopt a new one in October Five-year gas supply contract with Russia to be signed 29 “.
Despite the relative weakness of the Russian economy, it remains unclear whether the European Union and NATO will be able to negotiate such a broad conflict environment, characterized by kinetic, non-kinetic and gray area activities. From Poland to the Balkans, coupled with economic and energy pressure, one shouldn’t be shocked when Europe makes more concessions in the crisis than it wins.