• In Kyiv and Chisinau, Citizens Thirsty for Reform But the Governments Aren't

    On December 1, the European Union withheld payment of €600 million to Ukraine for falling short on four reforms. The deal is conditional, and this final tranche is on hold until Ukraine follows through on its commitments.

    Meanwhile, one week before, at the Eastern Partnership Summit, the EU agreed to provide Moldova with €100 million in macro-financial assistance. Unfortunately, it’s all too possible that the Moldovan government will travel along the same road that Kyiv has, loudly broadcasting its intention to enact deep and comprehensive reforms while in reality avoiding any significant changes that could prove painful to entrenched stakeholders.

    After all, despite incentivizing positive actions, a government that is fundamentally unwilling to change will find a way to sabotage reforms while still receiving the funds. The process may be indefinitely prolonged through a variety of excuses that will drag reforms into a new electoral cycle, and then a new government has to start over.

    This process is currently occurring in Moldova.

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  • Which Will Be Europe’s Poorest Country? Ukraine or Moldova

    A year ago, I expressed my hope that “2017 should be the year when Ukraine’s economy takes off.” It should have been, but it was not. In the last quarter of 2016, Ukraine’s GDP grew by 4.8 percent. Alas, in each of the ensuing four quarters, the growth rate declined and GDP grew by only 2 percent in 2017, slightly less than the cautious official projections. Ukraine is actually growing more slowly than the EU economy, and certainly slower than the global economy. Therefore, it is difficult to be optimistic about Ukraine’s economic growth in 2018.

    After a combined GDP fall of 17 percent in 2014-15, which was caused by Russian aggression, a swift recovery to 6-7 percent growth should have been natural. Instead, Ukraine is competing with Moldova for the title of Europe’s poorest country. In 2007, Ukraine’s GDP per capita in current US dollars was 160 percent larger than Moldova’s. Now it is only 8 percent larger according to IMF statistics, and Moldova is growing by 4 percent a year.

    The worst part is that Ukraine’s economic shortcomings in 2017 were preventable.

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  • Does the EU Even Care about Eastern Europe Anymore?

    If you missed the European Union’s Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels on November 24, you are not alone. It was a forgettable event, but it tells us quite a bit about the EU’s state of affairs in Eastern Europe.

    The proud start of the EU Eastern Partnership was the Prague summit in May 2009, instigated by Foreign Ministers Carl Bildt of Sweden and Radoslaw Sikorski of Poland. These heroes of East-West integration are out of office, and we feel their absence keenly.

    In 2009, the essence of the joint declaration between the six members of the Eastern Partnership, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, was “that the Eastern Partnership will be based on commitments to the principles of international law and to fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, and the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as to, market economy, sustainable development, and good governance.” Today, little remains but threadbare slogans.

    The Eastern Partnership advanced until the Vilnius Eastern Partnership summit in November 2013, as Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine negotiated association agreements, including deep and comprehensive free trade agreements. In Vilnius, Ukraine was supposed to sign its association agreement, but Russia’s President Vladimir Putin persuaded Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych not to do so. He had already done so with Armenia’s President Serzh Sargzian in September 2013. Only Georgia and Moldova held fast and signed their EU agreements.

    The next Eastern Partnership summit in Riga in May 2015 marked the decline. The fault did not lie with Latvia but with the EU’s lack of strategy.

    It is easy to ridicule this latest Eastern Partnership summit, and sadly there are good reasons for doing so.

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  • What Can Ukraine Learn from the Balkans?

    Ukraine wants to join the European Union, but the level of support among many EU member states is low or nonexistent. Many are afraid of Russia’s reaction and lack a clear understanding of both the climate in post-Euromaidan Ukraine and the country’s strong commitment to Western integration.

    The situation is challenging in all aspects. War still raging along the demarcation line in the Donbas, US policy toward the EU and Ukraine is unclear, Russia is strongly opposed to Ukraine’s entrance into the EU, and Ukraine itself faces the twin challenges of war and reform. Only EU and NATO accession can provide a lasting framework that allows Ukraine to master all of the challenges at the same time. The model has been proven through the accession of central European and southeastern European countries and will most likely be similarly successful in the third wave occurring in Eastern Europe.

    If the EU does not allow the country to have realistic European hopes, post-Maidan Ukraine could fail, just as the Orange Revolution did, with all of the related tragic consequences. But how can one ensure a credible EU perspective and increase progress toward EU accession in all sectors simultaneously? To achieve this, Ukraine requires a new strategic approach and an alliance of friends, partners, and allies composed of countries with similar interests.

    In the nearby neighborhood are eight countries—Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Serbia—that had similar traumatic experiences with war and destruction in the 1990s, and that now have seventeen years of reconstruction and pre-accession behind them. They have shared a similar strategic objective of joining the EU and NATO, and some have achieved it: Croatia joined NATO in 2009 and the EU in 2013, for example. Those that are already inside can help the others that are still on their way and facing similar challenges with domestic reform and the EU’s enlargement fatigue.

    The reform and transition experience of the Balkans matters for Ukraine.

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  • More Solidarity with Ukraine Needed, Say Speakers at the Kyiv Security Forum

    The Tenth Kyiv Security Forum—an important foreign affairs conference conducted annually by the Open Ukraine Foundation—occurred on April 6-7. Headed by Ukraine’s former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and his wife Terezia, the conference underscored an important message: the need for the West to stay engaged and maintain security in the borderlands between Russia and Central Europe, particularly in Ukraine, the most important country in Eastern Europe between the Baltic and Black seas.

    This year, the tenth anniversary event was titled "Old Conflicts and New Trends: Strategies for a Changing World.” For Ukraine today, security challenges are defined by the continuing war in the east, the occupation of Crimea, the new US administration’s efforts to find its own voice, and Europe’s ongoing crises and weaknesses.

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  • Moldova Elects a Pro-Russia President

    While not as globally consequential or shocking as the US presidential race, won by Donald Trump on November 8, the result of Moldova’s presidential runoff election does have significant ramifications for the future of democracy and economic reform in Eurasia.

    On November 13, Moldovans elected Socialist parliamentarian and former Economy Minister Igor Dodon as president with just over 52 percent of the vote over former Education Minister Maia Sandu who leads a new European-oriented political party called Action and Solidarity. This was the first direct election of the president since 1996. A constitutional court ruling in March struck down the previously implemented indirect election of presidents through Parliament.

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  • Moldova at a Crossroad

    Moldova will hold a historic presidential election on October 30 that could determine whether this country of less than three million tilts toward Europe or Russia.

    It is Moldova’s first presidential election in twenty years in which voters will get to directly decide the outcome. In March, a court ruled unconstitutional a revision of the constitution in 2000 that called for indirect election of the president through parliament. Under the revised presidential election process, if no candidate receives 50 percent plus one vote on October 30, a runoff will be held between the top two vote getters on November 13.

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  • Moldova’s Prime Minister Committed to a Pro-Europe Path

    Moldovan Prime Minister Pavel Filip said his government is committed to European integration and expressed the hope that the country’s next president will share that same commitment.

    Moldova will hold its first direct presidential elections on October 30. Like in past elections, this one has split voters between pro-Europe and pro-Russia candidates.

    “I hope that the next president will fully understand the need for keeping Moldova’s EU ascension on a smooth and stable path,” said Filip.

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  • Herbst Joins RFE/RL to Discuss Moldova

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  • The Long Arm of Russian “Soft” Power

    Anxious about losing ground to Western influence in the post-Soviet space and the ousting of pro-Russia elites by popular electoral uprisings in the early 2000s, the Kremlin has developed a range of proxy groups in support of its foreign policy. This network of pro-Kremlin groups promotes the Russian World (Russkiy Mir), a flexible tool that justifies increasing Russian actions in the post-Soviet space and beyond. Russian groups are particularly active in Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine—countries that have declared their desire to integrate with the West.

    Russia employs a vocabulary of “soft power” to disguise its “soft coercion" efforts aimed at retaining regional supremacy. Russian pseudo-NGOs undermine the social cohesion of neighboring states through the consolidation of pro-Russian forces and ethno-geopolitics; the denigration of national identities; and the promotion of anti-US, conservative Orthodox, and Eurasianist values. They also aim to establish alternative discourses to confuse decision-making, and act as destabilizing forces by uniting paramilitary groups and spreading aggressive propaganda.

    The activities of these proxy groups—combined with the extensive Russian state administrative resources and security apparatus, as well as the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church, pro-Russian elites, mass culture, and the media—may seriously damage fragile political transitions and civil societies in the region.

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