New Strategy Center are plăcerea de a vă prezenta un nou produs: un newsletter lunar prin care încercăm să evidențiem cele mai importante evenimente care influențează regiunea extinsă a Balcanilor și Mării Negre, evenimente care au potențialul de a afecta nu doar stabilitatea regională, ci și pe cea europeană. Produsul furnizează o vedere de ansamblu asupra contextului regiunii și este destinat atât specialiștilor cât și tuturor celor interesați de dinamica din regiunea Mării negre și a Balcanilor.

Sperăm ca 2B Brief Newsletter se va dovedi o resursă valoroasă pentru dumneavoastră.

MAIN TAKEAWAY OF THE MONTH

This month, the most heated warzones in Ukraine were Bakhmut and Soledar. Despite Russian bombardments, Ukraine has shown an increased capacity for intercepting aerial attacks. Meanwhile, increased Russian military activity was reported in Belarus.
Vladimir Putin made new appointments, namely a new Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian War and a new Chief of Staff of the Russian ground Forces. Tensions have been registered between the Russian army and the Wagner Group, increased by the Soledar battle. After April 1st, 2023, the conscription age in Russia will range between 18 and 30 years, from the previous upper limit of 27. Furthermore, propaganda and crackdown on opposition media and human rights groups surges.
Ukraine benefited from an increasing wave of help from the Western countries: from tanks, Bastion armored vehicles to Bradley Fighting Vehicles. After extensive talks, Germany agreed to send Ukraine ”Leopard 2” tanks.
In the Balkans, while Bulgaria, Montenegro and Turkey prepare for elections, secessionist tensions within Bosnia and Herzegovina have been amplified by Republika Srpska’s decision to implement a new state-property law. In Serbia, President Vucic has shown his opposition towards Wagner recruitment attempts. This month also revealed Bulgaria’s secret efforts of supplying Ukraine with gas and weapons, during the tenure of the Kiril Petkov government.

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MAIN TAKEAWAY OF THE MONTH

No side made major military advances in the Ukraine war during December. The weather conditions and the increasing weapons’ shortage made kinetic warfare difficult. However, Russia continued targeting Ukrainian critical infrastructure, which resulted in leaving the country without heating and electricity for most of the month. Meanwhile, Kyiv has proved its ability to strike far beyond Russia’s borders, with strikes in the oblasts of Saratov, Ryazan, Kursk and Bryansk. In Russia, while Vladimir Putin declares he wants to intensify the fight in Ukraine, the public support for the war seems to be dwindling, with recent polls showing an increased interest in peace talks and more and more deserters being reported. At the same time, The Kremlin has imposed additional authoritarian legislative measures, while Western companies are being replaced by Chinese competitors on its internal market.

Also in December: The European Union (EU) has imposed a price cap on Russian oil, but its effectiveness in limiting Russian profits is being questioned and Russia announced it  considers retaliatory measures. The EU’s current success in reducing its gas demand is augmented by several initiatives aimed at reducing reliance on Russian gas. Croatia’s application to join the Schengen area was accepted by the EU while those of Romania and Bulgaria were rejected. The EU needs to have consensus over decisions of expanding the Schengen area and while Austria has vetoed Romania’s accession, the Netherlands has previously announced that it will block Bulgaria’s accession. This decision has boosted pro-Russian propaganda in Bulgaria, where the internal political crisis seems to be leading into another snap election. It could also help the rise of eurosceptic parties in Romania. In the Western Balkans, regional leaders gathered in Tirana for a summit to discuss the prospects for the region’s integration into the EU. Meanwhile, tensions remain high between Kosovo and Serbia (who have still to resolve their Northern Kosovo car plates crisis), while Kosovo has sent its formal application for joining the EU and Bosnia and Herzegovina has finally been granted candidate status by the EU member states.

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MAIN TAKEAWAY OF THE MONTH

Kherson was liberated this month. However, Russian shelling of Ukrainian energy infrastructure continued, resulting in widespread blackouts. Fears of a military escalation increased mid-month, when a missile reached Poland and killed two people, marking the first time that a NATO country has been directly affected by the war since it began. However, the conflict hasn’t escalated – instead, it continued in a similar manner, in Ukraine, towards the end of the month, with no major events taking place. Meanwhile, Kyiv has continued to receive international funding for resisting the invasion, while Russia relies on Iranian military aid to maintain its offensive.The grain corridor in the Black Sea was almost disrupted when Russia’s abruptly withdrew from the agreement at the beginning of November. However, with the assistance of Turkey and the United Nations, the agreement was reinstated and extended for 120 days.

In Russia, reports point to poor morale existing among newly mobilized Russian soldiers as their expectations do not match the realities of the battlefield. As a result, an increasing number of Russian troops are refusing to fight. Instead, they complain about poor training and combat conditions. With internal protest against the war in Ukraine intensifying, social unrest appears to be is on a growing trend in Russia. However, the Kremlin is actively fighting back as it is increasing control over the media inside the country.

Finally, the Balkans have experienced some political turmoil in Montenegro and Bulgaria, while a Kosovo-Serbia agreement brought an end to months of tensions (even if temporary).

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MAIN TAKEAWAY OF THE MONTH

Russia’s war in Ukraine continues to put pressure on the regional and international stability, as this month, the Kremlin declared martial law in the captured Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson, and Zaporozhizhia. Moscow also announced the start of training of its strategic deterrent forces, raising concerns of a possible nuclear escalation of the crisis. The Western nations continue to provide Ukraine with military and financial support, while also moving away from the Russian gas dependency. Meanwhile, Russia has announced the suspension of the UN-brokered grain deal, emphasizing its readiness to send 500.000 tons of grain for free to the poorest countries and to replace Ukrainian grain with its own.

In the energy field, OPEC announced that it will reduce its oil production, increasing energy prices. Russia is considering using Turkey as an alternative third party for gas deliveries in Europe, while expanding its gas deliveries to Asia. Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) is working on introducing a dynamic price cap and has filled 94.3% of its gas reserves. Romania is working on expanding regional energy projects, including projects involving Moldova, which is struggling with its dependence on Russian energy.

In October, the Balkans witnessed post-election protests in Republika Srpska, a lingering political crisis in Bulgaria, and the potential resumption of tensions between Kosovo and Serbia. Nonetheless, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been recommended for candidate status by the European Commission.

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MAIN TAKEAWAY OF THE MONTH

In the midst of a tumultuous month, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a controversial partial military mobilization, prompting protests and attempts by Russians to flee the country. The Kremlin has formally announced the annexation of Kherson, Luhansk, Dontesk, and Zaporizhzhia, following so-called referendums in Ukraine’s occupied territories. In response to this move, Ukraine has declared its formal application to the NATO Alliance on September 30th. Meanwhile, four leaks on the Nord Stream pipelines have been identified in the Baltic Sea, causing international outrage and accusations of sabotage, fueling fears of infrastructure attacks and a new stage of a hybrid war just ahead of the winter season. Bosnia & Herzegovina and Bulgaria both headed for elections on October 2nd, while Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro have all been faced with an increased risk of cyberattacks.

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MAIN TAKEAWAY OF THE MONTH

This month has seen new developments in the Russo-Ukrainian war, with the Ukrainian Army actively targeting logistical objectives, particularly in Kherson Oblast and Crimea. In addition, with the assistance of the international community, Ukraine has resumed its maritime exports of crops and agricultural products. Meanwhile, military tensions have risen around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant, with Europe fearing a nuclear disaster. The European energy sector has been severely affected by the conflict in Ukraine, considering the impact of Western sanctions on Russia, and the severe drought across the continent. Some European countries are considering financial assistance policies in their attempt to fight back rising energy prices, while others are looking at policies meant to cut down gas consumption. An extraordinary meeting of European energy ministers will be held in Brussels during the following month to discuss options for fighting the energy crisis.

In the Balkans, Serbia and Kosovo continue to fight over vehicle license plates and identity documents, Serbia, Albania, and North Macedonia have agreed to assist each other in energy matters as part of the Open Balkans Forum. At the same time, North Macedonia has declared a 30 days nationwide state of emergency in electricity supply starting Sept. 1, joining Kosovo who has done the same the last month – for 60 days.

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MAIN TAKEAWAY OF THE MONTH

As Russia’s offensive in Ukraine continues, efforts to unblock grain shipments in Ukrainian ports have resulted in an UN-backed agreement signed by Kyiv and Moscow. The first such shipment took place on August 1st when a ship carrying Ukrainian grains left Odesa for Lebanon. Meanwhile, international efforts to support Ukraine’s war efforts continue, with the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and the European Union pledging additional support, either in the form of security or military assistance or as an aid in the investigation of war crimes. In July, the Russian-EU energy standoff prompted Gazprom to reduce gas supply through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. Meanwhile, EU energy ministers have approved a plan to reduce natural gas consumption until March 2023. The diplomatic dispute between Bulgaria and Russia has heightened tensions in the Balkans, following Sofia’s decision to expel 70 Russian diplomats. Unrest has also risen between Serbia and Kosovo following a contested new decision from Pristina regarding vehicle license plates, which has sparked outrage among the country’s Serb minority. The escalation of tensions has resulted in protests and reports of gunfire. This will be monitored also in August, considering recent news.

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MAIN TAKEAWAY OF THE MONTH

While the Russian offensive in Donbas continues, Moscow’s forces appear to be achieving minimal progress at a high cost. Russia confirmed its withdrawal from the strategic location of Snake Island in the Black Sea on June 30th, but the embargo of Ukrainian ports remains, forcing Kyiv to seek alternate routes through Poland and Romania. Although the Romanian port of Constanța has become an important transit point for Ukrainian grains, shipping attempts are nevertheless hampered by technical challenges. Meanwhile, the European Union has officially given candidate status to both Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova. With expensive energy sources and the impact of Russian gas sanctions, countries are seeking for alternative solutions to ensure or diversify their supplies. Romania, one of the region’s least reliant countries on Russian gas, is launching production of natural gas collected from the Black Sea. Other nations, such as Croatia, are trying to enhance their LNG supplies to help the economy and households. In the Balkans, Bulgaria’s PM Kiril Petkov’s government has been ousted, and the feasibility of a new working coalition is doubtful. Meanwhile, Bulgaria has lifted its veto on the start of accession discussions with North Macedonia. Tensions between Greece and Turkey also remain high, exacerbated by ongoing disputes in the Aegean Sea.

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MAIN TAKEAWAY OF THE MONTH

The Russian offensive in Donbas continues, with significant fighting taking place in Severodonetsk, which is virtually almost fully under Russian control. Meanwhile, millions of tons of grains remain stranded in Ukrainian ports as Russia maintains its blockade of the Black Sea, jeopardizing not only Ukraine’s economy but also the global food supply. Tensions also continue in the energy sector, as Russian energy giant Gazprom has cut off gas deliveries to several countries, following refusal to pay in rubles. Discussions at the EU level about a sixth package of sanctions, which would include an embargo on seaborne Russian oil and refined products, are now stalled due to Hungary’s concern that the new sanctions will harm landlocked countries. In the Balkans, Serbia has agreed to a new gas deal with Russia, while Albania is still at an impasse regarding the election of a new president. Moreover, the month of May saw little movement in terms of the Western Balkans’ eventual European course.

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MAIN TAKEAWAY OF THE MONTH

The withdrawal of Russian forces from northern Ukraine has uncovered evidence of crimes committed in places such as Bucha, causing an international outcry and a determined call for an investigation. Russia has regrouped and is now focusing its efforts in the eastern region of Donbas, attempting to surround Ukraine’s forces and seize control of the strategic port city of Mariupol. Aside from the refugee issue, regional tensions are building as a result of a series of explosions in Transnistria, the breakaway region of the Republic of Moldova, which has sparked worries of a possible spillover of the conflict. Tensions in the energy sector have been exacerbated by Russia’s decision to suspend gas deliveries to Bulgaria and Poland, a move that Europe has labeled as “blackmail” and has caused nations to seek alternative supply sources. The Balkans remain split in their approach to the Ukraine situation, with pro-Russia rallies erupting in Serbia after the government’s decision to distance itself from Moscow. Meanwhile, the Balkan states’ European future remains unclear, as Bulgaria continues to block North Macedonia’s accession.

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MAIN TAKEAWAY OF THE MONTH

Considering the Ukrainian resistance to Russian invasion, the war in Ukraine has become a protracted war, as most Russian advances appear to have been halted. Negotiations have been ongoing between the two sides, little substantial changes have taken place, with the Russian side promising to reduce its forces near Kyiv, while airstrikes still continue. Meanwhile, Western nations look to coordinate their efforts and impose further sanctions on Moscow while finding ways to reduce their reliance on Russian gas. At its turn, Russia has asked that its clients pay in rubles for energy – something that countries such as Germany and France have rejected. At the same time, tensions remain high in the Balkans, with elections being scheduled for April 3rd in Serbia and for May 24th in Albania, as well as a deadlock in Bosnia and Herzegovina over Russian-EU alignment in what regards its strategy and even its future as a country.

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MAIN TAKEAWAY OF THE MONTH

Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine only days after recognizing the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics. Ukraine has been under intense assault since February 24th, with hundreds of thousands of people leaving the nation and the government forced to order a general mobilization and organize the armed resistance of forces. Despite the start of preliminary talks between the two parties, Russian forces have continued their heavy strikes. In a more concerning move, Putin has placed his nuclear deterrent troops on “special alert.” Meanwhile, the West has slapped severe and unprecedented sanctions on Russia, specifically targeting its banking, trade, and aviation sectors. For the first time in its history, the EU has agreed to provide military aid and weapons, while Germany will increase defense expenditure to more than 2% of its GDP. Major corporations are also ceasing business with Russia. The Western Balkans’ reaction has been mixed, with some supporting Western sanctions and others abstaining, while emphasizing the necessity of preserving nations’ territorial integrity.

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MAIN TAKEAWAY OF THE MONTH

NATO has committed to provide reinforcements for the Eastern Flank with Allies are mobilizing troops and equipment in the region, while tensions between the West and Russia remain high, considering the situation at the border, in Eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, Ukraine has been struck by the biggest cyber attack in four years, which targeted government websites. Russia has denied any involvement. Considering the perceived mounting tensions, the US, the UK and Australia have announced that unessential staff along with staff dependents would be evacuated from Ukraine. At the same time, the US has advised and is providing assistance for all its citizens to leave the country. Talks with Russia have started this month but no significant progress has been achieved in de-escalating the crisis. Russia’s security demands, which include removing troops and equipment from the Eastern Flank, were firmly rejected by the US and NATO. The crisis is also placing a strain on the energy industry, particularly the controversial Nord Stream 2 project. Germany has warned that if Moscow launches an attack against Ukraine, the pipeline project would be hurt as part of the sanctions Russia will face. Meanwhile, internal divides continue to plague Bosnia and Herzegovina, as the separatist rhetoric of the Republika Srspka gains support.

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MAIN TAKEAWAY OF THE MONTH

Increased tensions along the Ukrainian border with Russia have been the most important source of concern for European stability and in particular for NATO’s Eastern Flank. Russia’s most recent demands include a guarantee that NATO will not expand further and that it will cease military operations in Eastern Europe. While the military threat of Russia invading Ukraine has reached a minimum at the beginning of January, negotiations are ongoing between Russia and the West. Talks between Russia and NATO on the matter are scheduled for January. A video call between the U.S. President Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin is said to be held later, in February. All in all, the Ukrainian crisis and its reverberations is likely to dominate the first quarter of 2022.

At the same time, the problems at the border between Poland and Belarus aren’t going away. NATO and the EU are working in close cooperation to address a potential threat coming from a renewed migration crisis affecting the region and Europe. In the Balkans, the Bosnian Serb lawmakers have voted to withdraw from state-level institutions, bringing the Serb entity closer to secession, and sparking concerns about a possible regional destabilization.

More on the above as well as recent updates about Nord Stream 2 and other notable events having an impact in our regions can be found below, in our newsletter, which we hope you’ll enjoy! Let us know your feedback and any further question you may have regarding the wider regional stability.

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