Maybe China. It has plenty of reasons to develop a presence in eastern Europe, ranging from trade to geopolitics. It has expressed interest in buying Estonian Air (currently up for sale by SAS, its owner). That would give China a “domestic” European Union airline and access to a low-cost airport. Or imagine that China lends Ukraine some money to pay next year’s gas bill; perhaps in exchange for a favourable privatisation of some asset long-coveted by the Kremlin.
The result of such moves would be to place a conspicuous foot in Russia’s front yard. From a Chinese point of view, that is potentially provocative, but also perhaps quite satisfying. It would also have other benefits. Beijing would be glad to have some more allies inside the EU or in its waiting room, in addition to the ones it already has, such as Cyprus. A NATO country would be a bonus. Eastern Europe could also be an attractive low-cost manufacturing base to increase market share inside the EU, dodging protectionist pressures, higher transport costs and other impediments to feeding the European desire for cheap goods directly from China itself. (photo: People’s Republic of China)