The last time the EU Eastern Partnership Summit took place, it was 2013, and we lived in a different world. The results of that meeting, with former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych choosing to go with Russia’s offer of a $9 billion development fund in exchange for EEU association over an EU Association Agreement, sparked the EuroMaidan protests that led to the current Ukrainian civil conflict. Today, the results are less exciting and more sobering – the EU leadership has reassured its six Eastern European partners that they continue to support them, but the subtext behind every statement was the competition between Russia and the EU to attract client states.
EU President Donald Tusk said, “The Eastern Partnership isn’t a beauty contest between Russia and the EU. But let me be frank, beauty does count.” The partnership program extends to Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Belarus. Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova are lobbying for membership but Armenia and Belarus are now official members of the EEU and Azerbaijan is nominally interested in both but technically faces a number of challenges associating with EU members due to its human rights record.
Last-minute changes in the wording of the draft text released by the EU have shown more optimism that at least some of the partners will be able to join the EU, and strong statements from key members of Ukraine’s government in particular have showcased a desire to establish a more robust association with the European bloc, likely to deter any further Russian interference in their affairs.
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- Russia is now threatening to ban Google, Twitter, and Facebook over so-called extremist content, a letter from the head of Russia’s communications oversight agency said on Monday. The actions could affect a variety of social media platforms, which are mostly consolidated under the three company’s banners – Instagram for instance being owned by Facebook and Youtube being owned by Google. The law that the agency is enforcing is a controversial one that requires bloggers to register their real identities with the authorities, a stipulation which many say will curb free speech.
- The Afghan government is completely split over a potential intelligence sharing plan with Pakistan. A memorandum of understanding signed earlier this week between the two countries has promoted fresh disagreements between Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and President Ashraf Ghani. Abdullah was apparently angered at the “lack of transparency” over the deal and in particular the wording on the part of Pakistan which named the Taliban a “separatist movement” rather than a terrorist organization.
- The OSCE reported yesterday that captured fighters in Ukraine have confessed to being Russian Army volunteers, sent to reinforce faltering pro-Moscow separatist forces. Russia was quick to deny any cooperation with the report’s contents and repudiated any affiliation apart from diplomatic and humanitarian aid with the Ukrainian separatists.
- The IMF released a tentative prediction of an upturn for the Russian economy in 2016, despite a forecasted 3.4% contraction in GDP this year. The report, which emerged from a three month long mission to Moscow, was revised upwards on recent news of the strengthening of the ruble and improved economic data. The report praises the handling of the economic crisis, in particular noting the deft maneuvering with the value of the currency. However, the CBR plans to soften the value of the ruble in the coming months, and it remains to be seen how the market will take this development.
- Despite breaking the monumental bottleneck negotiation with Rio Tinto Group on the Oyu Tolgoi copper mine project, Mongolia’s government is still nearly insolvent and has been relying on Chinese largesse in the form of debt swap agreements to whether the storm – with an economy based almost purely on mining and commodity pricing, Mongolia is incredibly vulnerable to boom and bust cycles, and while the Oyu Tolgoi deal shows progress, its benefits may not be realized for months.
- Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambaev finally officially signed the documentation to join the Eurasian Economic Union at a signing ceremony yesterday. Kyrgyzstan’s entry must now be approved by other member states’ Parliament, which at this point is only a formality. The accession will tie Kyrgyzstan’s prospects more permanently to those of Russia’s – but Atambaev touted the benefits of the arrangement, specifically citing the Kyrgyz-Russian Development Fund which would soon reach $1 billion.