The Guest Blog

Guest post by Bogdan C. Enache, former Bucharest journalist.

Russia’s involvement in the Ukrainian crisis, followed by the annexation of Crimea in March 2014, as well as its increasingly belligerent behaviour in its neighbourhood, and even overseas, has rightly generated considerable anxiety among Eastern European countries.

Although covered by the collective security arrangement provided by the European Union and members of the North Atlantic Alliance, Central and Eastern European countries are much more exposed, both physically and culturally, to Russia’s aggressive foreign policy than their Western and North American counterparts.

Despite this common awareness, the attention is unequally distributed between what can be called the East’s North and East’s South.

The Great Northern War at the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century, which brought early modern Russia access to the Baltic Sea, had as counterpart what retrospectively may be called a contemporaneous “Great Southern War”, actually made up of several wars and campaigns that brought Russia access to the Black Sea.

This geopolitical division of Eastern Europe along North and South, although it dates from the era of Peter the Great, describes almost perfectly the geopolitical situation we’re in today as well, not only from the Russian standpoint, but also from the standpoint of the main countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE).

Eastern Europe’s North is today made up of Poland and the three Baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia), but it also extends into the wider Baltic region encompassing Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. The existence of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad undercuts the geographical cohesiveness of this pole, but the increased Russian threat in the aftermath of the Ukrainian crisis has actually led to its political and security consolidation, given Sweden and Finland’s recent NATO rapprochement and even talk of full of membership in the alliance.

Things are very different in Eastern Europe’s South, where most of the critical events generated by Russia’s new assertive foreign policy have in fact occurred in the last decade. Given the relative insulation of the middle group of CEE states (composed of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary), this pole is actually made of only three countries : Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, the last of which is a member of NATO but not of the European Union.

No political or military consolidation took place or is expected to take place here in the aftermath of the ongoing Ukrainian crisis, in fact the pole’s regional political and security environment has deteriorated significantly after the nearby events, given the internal political gridlock and economic crisis of the Republic of Moldova, which gives ample room for more pernicious interference to Russia, as well as renewed diplomatic cooperation between Moscow and Belgrade in the Western Balkans; because of Bulgarian objections to a three country joint Black Sea NATO fleet; and, last but not least, because of president Recep Erdogan’s authoritarian turn in Turkey.

The current divide between Eastern Europe’s North and Eastern Europe’s South – originated in the region’s Soviet reshaped borders at the end of World War Two – is not only geopolitical but also cultural. Consequently, there is a great need for increased political and security coordination between Eastern Europe’s two poles, but also for increased cultural and social cooperation between the countries belonging to the one and the other.

When it comes to Russian expansionism, political revisionism and military agression, three centuries of history teaches us that the individual national destinies of the region, up from the Baltic and down to the Black Sea, are inextricably linked to each other.

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