Existential threat: Why Russia instrumentalizes conflict


Civil society groups in Central and Eastern Europe are wary of an imbalance between economic recovery and democratic development in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a position paper, the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EaP CSF) welcomed the release of the EU’s Joint Staff Working Document (JSWD), ‘Recovery, resilience and reform: post 2020 Eastern Partnership priorities.’  “However, due to the challenging circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the previously existing social, economic and political problems of the EaP region have worsened, with apparent democratic regression also in play,” it cautioned.

The region is also threatened by Russia’s instrumentalization of conflict, driven by a desire to thwart the “existential threat” of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, according to a new analysis.

The protracted conflicts in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova are vehicles for Russia to establish and maintain a sphere of influence over its neighbouring countries and to prevent their NATO and/or EU integration, John Zachau writes in Russia’s Instrumentalization of Conflict in Eastern Europe – the Anatomy of the Protracted Conflicts in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova:

Russia’s behavior violates international law and the European security order, based on OSCE principles and commitments, including principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the right of each country to choses its own security arrangements. These conflicts therefore have implications for European security at large and its normative basis.

Underlying this is a desire to thwart the spread of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, which is seen as an existential threat, Zachau adds.

It was Vladimir Putin who most notably revived measures in the early 2010s to attack NGOs working in Russia, adds the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), an international human rights NGO of 192 groups from 117 countries. As early as 2012, legislative measures mentioned the established term “foreign agents”, to implicate those suspected of carrying out an activity considered as “political,” it observes in a new report (above, right). Several Russian NGOs have been prosecuted under this legislation, and some have been forced to disband. FIDH’s member in Russia, Memorial Human Rights Centre, for example, is regularly confronted with this.

The foundation for a policy of full accountability is strategic patience, as well as intra-EU and transatlantic unity, Zachau adds. There can be no “business as usual” until Russia respects the commonly agreed rules. In parallel, the affected states need to be supported in their efforts at conflict resolution in line with the European security order, and also with their democratic and economic development. RTWT

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