Russia used assertive behaviour in some breakaway regions to put pressure on Eastern Partnership countries not to sign agreements with the EU at the Vilnius EaP summit. The EU had no means to answer in a meaningful way.
2013 brought no breakthroughs in the resolution of protracted conflicts in the post-Soviet space. Tensions increased in Nagorno-Karabakh, where Russia seemed to support both sides of the conflict by selling arms to Azerbaijan and signing an agreement on military-technical co-operation with Armenia. In September, Russia used Armenia’s military dependence to blackmail the country into joining the Russian-led customs union and refraining from agreements with the EU. The Minsk Group (the OSCE conflict-resolution mechanism supported by the EU) remained ineffective, mainly due to the parties’ intransigence. Elections in Azerbaijan also had a paralysing effect.
The EU’s helplessness was also exposed in South Ossetia, where the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) could do nothing but protest in the face of the aggressive Russian tactic of installation of fences along the administrative boundary (and allegedly also moving the boundary deeper into Georgian territory). That said, the presence of EUMM remains crucial at a time when both Russia’s and Georgia’s security-related concerns and consequently tensions increase ahead of the Olympics and the G8 summit, both in Sochi.
As the year ended, Transnistria stood out as the biggest potential source of new tensions. Moscow is likely to try to use the region as leverage to prevent Moldova from signing an Association Agreement with the EU – something that the EU, in turn, is trying to speed up. Russia has already increased its military presence in Transnistria. In December, Transnistria’s president, Yevgeny Shevchuk, proposed a draft law that would bring Transnistria into Russia’s legal system if Moldova signed an Association Agreement with the EU – a countermeasure that mirrors the EU’s suggestion that Moldova harmonise its regulations with those of the EU.