Eastern Europe in 3-Way Tug of War with EU, US and Russia

As COVID-19 payments begin disbursement throughout European Member states, the EU Commission has found renewed interest in the affairs of Eastern European states. Additionally, as the EU seeks to establish its viability, and replace the gaping hole left by the United Kingdom, greater attention is being given to those states. According to an official European Union release,

On 22 Tuesday 2020, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Union Commission, Joseph Borrel is scheduled to meet with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Borrell is slated to meet with several other high ranking officials in Kyiv to discuss matters on security/defense, Foreign Affairs and civil society among other issues.

It was only in 2014 that the Ukrain was involved in a controversial coup (Euromaiden Revolution) that ousted its democratically elected president victor Yanukovych and overthrew the entire government in the process. Yanukovych, like many Eastern European leaders then and now were Russia-leaning for many reasons, that made membership to the EU less attractive. It was only after the Ukrainian coup that the nation joined the DCFTA with the EU, deepening ties.

For Eastern European states, like Ukraine and Bulgaria, determining where to align has become increasingly important. Obviously the EU is seeking to prove its viability and sustainability against the Kremlin. Most recently in a show of force, it issued sanctions against Libya, according to an official EU Release on Monday, September 21st. But in recent times, its contest for allegiance may compete with US interests. According to CEIC Data, the Ukraine had a debt to GDP ration of about 43 percent in 2019, and that is up this year by about 10 points. Even if the spike is due tot he COVID-19 pandemic, that still makes the Ukraine’s debt to GDP ratio well below many older more established EU Members.

Eastern European states could also choose to align with the US and its new aggressive lone-wolf policies, even as it withdraws from major international agreements, like the JCPOA for the purpose of reinstating sanctions on Iran–the US has turned its sites on many of its own allies. However, it is unclear for many Eastern European states like the Ukraine, whether the US will remain loyal should they choose Washington over the Kremlin and over the weakening European Union. Lately, America has been short on loyalty to former partners and even allies, as it decouples from China, its longtime trade partners and deepens a cold war with Russia sparked by 2014 Ukraine coup tensions.

Even Bulgaria, whose Prime Minister once once courted the US for visa waivers and purchased expensive energy equipment, may find themselves looking for a new administration by US backed demonstrations in Bulgaria seeking the premier’s removal (as reported in a July 13, 2020 Politico article, one of America’s leading political rags).

It leaves Eastern European states to question their new affiliations and fall back on more familiar alliances. These states may prefer the the straightforward deal-making of the East over the mixed messages of the West. Particularly, as scarce energy resources, economics and geopolitical positioning take center stage in the scramble for the BalkansRe-Start: European Union; many Eastern European nations have cause to pause. Other similar scenarios in Syria, Afghanistan, Congo and Iraq are a grim reminder of the possibilities that a step in the wrong direction can cost. Doubtless other US allies like India, Taiwan and Hong Kong have had to evaluate possible outcomes for their own affiliations. As the world continues to order itself, the fate of the Balkans and Eastern Europe may hang in the balance; as many seek security and financial stability post pandemic.