Week in Review: Taking Stock and Reassessing

As the war in Europe’s east trundles miserably on, countries in south-east Europe are recalibrating and reassessing everything, from defence spending to the potential impact on the economy.

As part of the European solidarity effort with Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, there have been calls within the European Union to offer Ukraine formal EU candidate status, or even to fast-track its membership. On February 28, Kyiv submitted a formal membership application, which was soon followed by those of Moldova and Georgia.

Yet while the Russian invasion of Ukraine may have breathed new life into debates on enlargement, these debates are yet to translate into tangible policy and actions. The recent Versailles Declaration adopted by EU leaders merely referred to Ukraine belonging to the ‘European family’. In their opinion piece for Balkan Insight, Piotr Buras and Kai Olag Lang look at a more realistic and tangible medium-term strategy for how to reinvigorate the EU’s relationship not just with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, but also with the Western Balkans.

Read more: EU Should Make Ukraine, Moldova and Western Balkans a New Offer (March 17, 2022)

Rethinking Defence

Polish Army battle tank P-91 during the international military exercise Crystal Arrow 22, on March 11 2022. Photo: EPA-EFE/TOMS KALNINS

In light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Europe may come to see the last three decades which followed the end of the Cold War as a ‘golden era’ of security and stability on the continent. The years in which European countries could enjoy the benefits of the ‘peace dividend’ – the term once coined to describe the benefits of being able to channel public spending away from defence – now seem to be coming to a close.

After years of military under-investment, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe are now reassessing their public spending priorities. Yet many also face tough dilemmas about where to find the badly needed cash for additional military spending.

Read more: Russian Invasion Prompts Region to Rethink Defence Spending (March 16, 2022)

Moldova’s Frozen Conflict

Moldovan Police and Volunteer Units fighting in the Dubasari District, around the village of Cosnita. Photo: The archive photo published in the newspaper “Independent Moldova” at the beginning of April 1992.

This March, Moldova remembers the sparks which, 30 years ago, ignited the war in the country and its breakaway region of Transnistria. What started off as a political dispute rapidly turned into war in the early days of March 1992.

In his opinion piece, Keith Harrington recalls the events in the area around the town of Dubasari, which became one of the most contested areas of the country in the brief separatist war. It is a timely reminder – in an area that is partly controlled by Moldova and protrudes into separatist-controlled Transnistria, many wonder whether Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could re-ignite local tensions long frozen.

Read more: Three Decades On, the Spark that Ignited War in Moldova (March 17, 2022)

Bracing for Impact

Empty tourist boat in Boka Kotorska Bay in Montenegro. Photo: BIRN/Samir Kajosevic

Across the Balkans, countries are bracing for the economic impact of the war in Ukraine. Although perhaps furthest from the conflict, Montenegro – and its tourism sector – seem set to be hit hard.

The country’s tourism industry accounts for roughly a quarter of its GDP. The coronavirus pandemic decimated it. With Russian and Ukrainian tourists accounting for almost 40% of overnight stays and cancellations already flowing in, those in the tourism industry are dreading the coming season.

Read more: Montenegro Banked on Tourism Rebound, Until Russia Invaded Ukraine (March 14, 2022)

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