Eastern Europe Géeopolitical Watch – from February 12 to February 18, 2022

Eastern Europe Watch Team : Olga Chekhurska, Khava Doudoucheva, Victor Martin, supervised by Clélia Frouté

02/14/2022 : U.S. State Department asks citizens to leave several Eastern European territories – Victor Martin –

On February 14, the U.S. State Department asked its citizens to leave Belarus and Transnistria, a secessionist region in eastern Moldova, as a matter of urgency and asked them not to travel to Moldova. These decisions are justified primarily by the health crisis that is violently affecting these territories, but also and above all by “the unusual and worrying activity of the Russian army around Ukraine”. In the case of Moldova, the frozen conflict in Transnistria was also mentioned.

The State Department’s alerts highlight the inability of the United States to assist its citizens in these territories, because of the ban on U.S. representatives to travel to Transnistria and the lack of U.S. personnel on the ground, but also “arbitrary application of the law” according to the U.S. State Department in Belarus.

In addition, 17 countries have called on their citizens to leave Ukraine: the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Belgium, Greece, Israel, Canada, Latvia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Northern Macedonia, Finland, Montenegro, Estonia, Japan and South Korea. 

02/14-15/2022: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Kiev and Moscow. – Olga Chekhurska-

On February 14, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz travelled to Kyiv to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to continue diplomatic negotiations and show Berlin’s solidarity with Kyiv. Ahead of his visit, Olaf Scholz said he was “urgently awaiting signs of de-escalation from Moscow“. “Further military aggression will have very serious consequences for Russia,” he added. During a joint press conference with Volodymyr Zelensky, Olaf Scholz called for “direct negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow” and said that “the common goal is to avoid escalation”. Before his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on February 15, the German Chancellor assured that he was ready to impose serious sanctions against Russia if it violated Ukraine’s territorial integrity again. Both in Kyiv and Moscow, the German Chancellor said he was “deeply concerned” by the “deployment of Russian troops” on the border with Ukraine and urged Russia to take “clear steps to defuse the current tensions”. He also assured that France and Germany were trying to find a diplomatic solution to the “difficult situation” and therefore intensified their efforts for a new round of talks between the advisers of the leaders of the four countries in the Normandy format.

According to some Ukrainian and Russian media, during his visit to Kiev, the German Chancellor tried to convey to the Ukrainian authorities the idea of ​​abandoning, at least temporarily, the idea of ​​NATO membership, which would contribute to allay Russia’s concerns and promote de-escalation. In Moscow, Olaf Scholz said NATO’s further expansion to the East, including admitting Ukraine, was “not on the agenda“.

At a press conference in Kyiv, the President of Ukraine actively raised the issue of the introduction of new, including preventive, sanctions against Russia. Volodymyr Zelensky notably insisted on the inadmissibility of the commissioning of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which Kiev qualifies as a geopolitical weapon. “If it is a military aggression against Ukraine, we will start to act, and it will be very large-scale measures, which will seriously affect the Russian economy,” promised Olaf Scholz in response, adding that Germany is on Ukraine’s side and has already provided it with financial aid amounting to 2 billion euros. The Chancellor also promised to grant another 150 million euros in loans to Ukraine soon. About Nord Stream 2, the opinion of Berlin does not quite coincide with the opinion of Washington and Brussels. Finally, Olaf Scholz declared that “the Ukrainian president assured him that draft laws on the special status of Donbass and local elections will be discussed” while this point arouses opposition from the Ukrainian authorities.

02/15/2022: Vote of a resolution in the Russian State Duma on recognition of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. -Olga Chekhurska-

A draft resolution on recognition of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics submitted to the State Duma on January 19 by the Communist fraction and its leader Gennady Zyuganov, was voted on 15 February. This resolution invokes as justification the referendum that took place in 1994 in the Donbass during which the absolute majority of the inhabitants of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions voted in favour of federalism and bilingualism. As a reminder, the inhabitants of Donbass had again organised a referendum in 2014 which had resulted in the formation of two de facto states: the “People’s Republic of Donetsk” and the “People’s Republic of Luhansk”. The authors of the resolution denounce in this text a de facto economic blockade of the two republics by Ukraine which, according to them, would have committed “genocide”. According to the Communist Party, Ukraine does not respect the Minsk agreements and refuses to execute them. Therefore, “Duma deputies consider the recognition of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic to be morally justified,” the document says.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba said that if the resolution is approved by the Russian president, this gesture would mean a withdrawal from the Minsk agreements by Moscow, with “all the consequences that flow from it”. Also, on the eve of the decision of the Russian Parliament, the Ukrainian Parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, adopted an appeal to NATO, the UN, and the EU to continue to support the non-recognition of the two republics. Olaf Scholz also reacted to this resolution during his visit to Moscow. According to the Chancellor, such recognition would be a “violation of the Minsk agreements” and a “political catastrophe”. In response, Vladimir Putin said that the Minsk agreements still have potential: “We hope that our partners both abroad and in Europe, mainly Germany and France, will exert appropriate influence on the current authorities of Kiev, and this solution will be found,” the Russian leader said, recalling that Kiev has not yet taken any steps to implement its own obligations.

02/15-16/2022: Visit of the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister to Moldova.  – Victor Martin –

On February 15, Moldovan Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and European Integration Ruslan Bolbocean and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko met in Chisinau to discuss Russian-Moldovan relations. Both representatives stressed the need for economic cooperation between Russia and Moldova and the protection of Moldovan citizens in Russia. The Moldovan representative also stressed the need for the departure of Russian troops deployed in Transnistria.

Andrei Rudenko was also received by Nicu Popescu, the Moldovan Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration (MFAEI). Both men stressed the importance of resuming the so-called “5+2” negotiations between Moldova and Transnistria as well as Russia, Ukraine, the European Union, the United States and the OSCE regarding the frozen conflict in Transnistria, the eastern part of Moldova.

After his visit to Moldova, Andrei Rudenko went on February 16 to Tiraspol, the main city of the secessionist territory of Transnistria. During a press conference, the Russian deputy foreign minister said that Moscow intends to develop the capacities of the Russian consulate in Tiraspol. This statement engered a strong reaction from the MFAEI, which said that “the tone and emphasis of the Russian diplomat’s public messages are a source of deep disappointment“.

02/17/2022: The British Foreign Secretary visits Ukraine as part of efforts to prevent a Russian invasion. -Khava Doudoucheva –

After visiting Moscow, where she held talks with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Foreign Minister Liz Truss travelled to Kiev on Friday in the context of the country’s current crisis. She delivered a speech, calling on Russia to live up to its rhetoric of de-escalation and insisting that Ukraine’s sovereignty must be respected. The Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Office (FCDO) reported that during her visit Liz Truss met with Ukrainian and Polish foreign ministers to demonstrate unified support for Ukrainian sovereignty and warned that if Russia decided to pursue aggression, it would have to pay the price of massive consequences that would result in significant economic costs and “pariah” status for Russia. According to excerpts from her speech released by her office, Liz Truss urged Russia to “engage in diplomacy” and announced that her country was “ready to talk“. 

The British government believes that Vladimir Putin will continue to threaten Ukraine in the coming months with disinformation. Meanwhile, British tanks and troops are heading for Estonia, while helicopters and military aircraft are also being deployed to Eastern Europe to try to persuade the Kremlin to back down from the threat of invasion. British diplomats are highly sceptical of the Kremlin’s claims that it would withdraw its troops from the border region with Ukraine, as Western intelligence indicates that numbers are increasing rather than decreasing. Lieutenant General Sir Jim Hockenhull, head of defence intelligence, said that additional armoured vehicles, helicopters and a field hospital had been spotted despite claims of withdrawals. He said that “contrary to its claims, Russia continues to build up its military capabilities near Ukraine“. 

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