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In this week’s edition: Belarus-Ukraine fears, Dushanbe talks and stalling EU accession.

Russia seems to be up to its old tricks, and events in and around Belarus have become closely linked to the security situation in Ukraine.

Suddenly the oddly-phrased article, published by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on the Kremlin government website earlier in July this year, makes sense (as it did already then to many Eastern Europeans wary of Moscow’s intentions).

“Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians are the heirs of ancient Russia, which was the largest state in Europe,” Putin wrote, emphasising the “historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians”.

NATO members and the government in Kyiv accused Moscow of stoking tensions in those same countries, today independent states, by deploying large numbers of troops at the border.

In March, Russia pulled together thousands of soldiers, armoured equipment, naval ships, and air force craft near the Ukrainian border and near the annexed Crimean Peninsula in a massive flex of military muscle.

The situation has intensified over the last few weeks, leading many in the West, and the East, for that matter, to fear the worst.

Moscow seems to believe the EU, US, and NATO would not step in to protect Ukraine. As a non-EU and non-NATO member, options are indeed limited but not inexistent.

Just ahead of the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Riga, likely to focus prominently on Russia-Ukraine-Belarus, NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg warned Russia there would be ‘costs and consequences’, marking an intensification in the alliance’s tone.

“There’s no certainty about the intentions of Russia, but what we do know is that they have used military force against Ukraine before,” Stoltenberg told EURACTIV when asked about concerns the Kremlin could use the Belarus border crisis as a smokescreen to prepare military action against the country.

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“Russia will run like a red thread through the meeting, and let’s be honest, all other things have to stand aside in light of the situation we’re facing,” a NATO diplomat told EURACTIV.

The meeting will feature sessions including arms control and US-Russia strategic stability talks, joint discussions with Ukraine and Georgia, and a session on the Western Balkans, together with non-NATO members Finland, Sweden, and EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell.

“We can expect that, especially in the Georgia-Ukraine and Western Balkans discussion, Russia will loom large, you can’t separate that, and we shouldn’t have the illusion that we can,” another NATO diplomat said.

The problem with trying to defuse tensions at the moment is that no official channels are available. Since Russia shut down its mission to NATO and ignored NATO’s call to come to the table for talks at the NATO-Russia Council, it has been thrown back to contacts outside the structured dialogue.

At the same time, interestingly, one can see more EU-NATO coordination on the issue.

In a joint visit, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will travel to Lithuania and Latvia on Sunday.

EU member states are currently divided between those who want a tough stance and potentially more sanctions and those, particularly Hungary, who want a softer approach and cooperation with Russia.

But according to EU diplomats, a response with potential additional Russia sanctions seems unlikely to happen quickly.


EURASIA DIGEST

DUSHANBE TALKS | EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell and Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen asked Afghanistan’s neighbours to prevent human trafficking into Belarus, a reach out that according to them has been ‘fruitful’ in the region.

In Dushanbe, the high-level EU delegation had attended an EU-Central Asia meeting with their counterparts, where the situation in and around Afghanistan has been topping the agenda, with security and migration dominating the bloc’s concerns vis-a-vis the region.

EU-KAZAKHSTAN | Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev paid a rare official visit to Belgium on Thursday and Friday in an effort to present his country as a reliable partner to the EU and open the door to new opportunities.

EU IN THE WORLD

ETHIOPIA COLLAPSE? | As European governments urge their citizens to leave Ethiopia and critical diplomatic staff are expelled, the EU is becoming increasingly concerned that the escalating civil conflict there risks unravelling the country entirely.

DEFENCE CORNER

NUCLEAR SHARING | Germany will remain part of NATO’s nuclear sharing agreement under its new government, according to a coalition deal agreed this week, a move that will prevent a rift in the Western military alliance at a time of rising tensions with Russia.

SEABED MUNITIONS | Tonnes of dangerous chemical and conventional munitions were dumped into Europe’s seas following the end of the world wars in the previous century, and today they pose a risk to marine life and seafarers.

Greater deep-sea economic activities increase the risk of harm from munitions and chemical weapons dumped into European seas during the first and second world wars, EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius has said.

ENLARGEMENT LATEST

ACTING CAREFULLY? | Partially attributing his party’s crushing defeat in the recent municipal elections to the stalling EU accession negotiations, North Macedonia’s justice minister Bojan Marichikj told EURACTIV the government in Skopje would be more careful in the future.

BOSNIA WOES | Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi travelled to Bosnia and Herzegovina this week in an effort to defuse the ongoing political crisis in the country that is once again cracking along ethnic lines after a bloody 1992-95 war.

ASYLUM SEEKERS | More than 1,400 Albanians sought asylum in EU member states in August 2021, a 46% increase compared to July and more than double that of June, reverting to a pre-pandemic trend, according to EU data. This comes as reducing unfounded asylum cases is one of the conditions for EU accession that the Commission claims Albania has met.


WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 

ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT FEW DAYS…

We’ll keep you updated on all relevant EU foreign affairs news, as Europe’s looks towards a busy end of the year. Here’s what’s coming up next week:

  • NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg and European Commission President von der Leyen visit
    | Sunday, 28 November 2021 | Latvia, Lithuania
  • Iran nuclear talks set to resume
    | Monday, 29 November 2021 | Vienna, Austria
  • US-Taliban talks set to resume
    | Monday, 29 November 2021 | Doha, Qatar
  • Union For The Mediterranean foreign ministers meet
    | Monday, 29 November 2021 | Barcelona, Spain
  • European Parliament’s SEDE Committee meets debates Strategic Compass with Commissioner Breton
    | Monday, 29 November 2021 | Brussels, Belgium
  • Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons holds annual meeting of member states
    | Monday, 29 November 2021 | The Hague, Netherlands
  • Court holds hearing on closing Memorial Human Rights Centre
    | Monday, 29 November 2021 | Moscow, Russia
  • NATO foreign ministers meet on Russia, Belarus, Strategic Concept
    | Tue-Wed, 30-1 December 2021 | Riga, Latvia
  • European Commission presents EU Global Gateway Initiative / Revision of Schengen Border Code
    | Wednesday, 1 December 2021 |  Brussels, Belgium
  • European Parliament’s AFET Committee meets on Ethiopia, Azerbaijan and Armenia
    | Wed-Thu, 1-2 December 2021 | Brussels, Belgium
  • EU–Western Balkans Ministerial Forum on Justice and Home Affairs
    | Wed-Fri, 1-3 December 2021 | Brdo, Slovenia
  • Russia, ASEAN hold first-ever joint naval drills
    | Wednesday, 1 December 2021 | Medan, Indonesia
  • OSCE Ministerial Council
    | Thursday, 2 December 2021 | Stockholm, Sweden

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