3rd Dec 2020

EU fears Russian action in Ukraine and Moldova

French and UK foreign ministers have voiced fears Russia may be planning Georgia-type scenarios in EU neighbours Ukraine and Moldova, amid rising tension between Ukraine and Russia and fresh calls for independence by Moldovan rebels.

"I repeat, it [Russia's action in Georgia] is very dangerous, and there are other objectives that one can suppose are objectives for Russia, in particular the Crimea, Ukraine and Moldova," France's Bernard Kouchner said on Europe 1 radio on Wednesday (27 August).

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  • A peace mural in Stepanakert, Azerbaijan: Russia's action have emboldened separatists across eastern Europe (Photo: Wikipedia)

The remark comes after Russia this week formally recognised two rebel enclaves in Georgia - Abkhazia and South Ossetia - as independent states, following a Georgian attack on South Ossetian capital Tskinvali, to which Russia responded with a military incursion into Georgia.

Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova all broke away from Russia's sphere of influence in the past five years to seek integration with NATO and the EU.

But in Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, 58 percent of people are ethnically Russian and hundreds of thousands hold Russian passports, with some groups calling for the territory to split from Ukraine. Crimea is also home to Russia's Black Sea fleet.

In Moldova, the Russophone Transniestria region gained de facto independence after a civil war in 1992. The strip of land still houses 1,300 Russian troops.

UK foreign minister David Miliband on a visit to Ukraine on Wednesday shared Mr Kouchner's concern, urging Kiev "not to provide any pretext for Russian actions because, of course, the Russians have used those pretexts in the Georgian case."

The British foreign secretary said the war in Georgia marked "the end of the post Cold War period of growing geopolitical calm in and around Europe."

"Ukraine could be the next target of political pressure by Russia," EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn told a meeting of Finnish ambassadors in Helsinki the same day, AFP reports. "It is important from a stability point of view that the EU sends a clear political signal that Ukraine's integration into the [European] Union is possible."

Crimean confrontation

Ukraine-Russia relations worsened on Wednesday as President Viktor Yushchenko condemned Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and revealed plans to raise the price for the Russian navy's land lease in the Crimea port of Sevastopol.

Violation of Georgia's territorial integrity "fuels tensions, not only in the Caucasus," he said, Interfax reports. "Fundamental agreements and principles of trust ... can be lost via thoughtless steps, when diplomacy and the policy of peaceful settlement are replaced with a policy of force."

The Sevastopol lease move comes after Mr Yushchenko earlier threatened to ban Russian ships used in the war against Georgia from returning to port. Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Wednesday warned the president against enflaming pro-Russian feeling on the peninsula by targeting the fleet.

"If we don't change the position on Crimea, if we don't harmonise relations with the Black Sea fleet, we will be in for very serious problems," she said.

Transnistria next?

Russia's recognition of the two regions also raised the temperature in Moldova on Wednesday, with Transnistria separatists predicting their turn will come next.

"As regards the recognition of Transnistria, this is a matter of time," the rebels' military chief Vladimir Atamaniuc told Russian newswires. "It is Moldova that should be the first to recognise us," said Oleg Gudymo, a member of the internationally unrecognised Transnistrian parliament. "If they want to live in peace with us they have no other option."

Earlier this week, Russia's ambassador to Moldova, Valeri Kuzmin, also used threatening language on the frozen conflict. "Moldova should draw its own positive conclusions after the conflict in South Ossetia," he said. "I believe [Moldovan] leaders will use their wisdom ... to not allow such a bloody and catastrophic trend of events"

Stepanakert statement

While Russia is still waiting for any of its allies to join it in recognising the Georgian separatists, the Russian-backed breakaway republic of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan yesterday gave its support.

"This fully meets the principle of the self-determination of nations and fundamental norms of international law," the Nagorno-Karabakh "foreign ministry" in Stepanakert said, warning Azerbaijan that any use of force would end in a Georgia-like "humanitarian catastrophe."

EU and US-ally Azerbaijan is a growing exporter of oil to Europe via a pipeline bypassing Russia and aims to ship natural gas to the west through the EU's future Nabucco pipeline as well.

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