The New Strategy Center publishes the December edition of its monthly newsletter, where we assess the most relevant information and events in or impacting the Black Sea and Balkan region.
The EU summit in Brussels on 14-15 December paved the way for the start of accession negotiations for Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, despite Budapest’s opposition, especially towards Kyiv. Although Ukraine has made this progress on European integration, it has faced military and financial aid blockages from Western partners: first in the US legislature, where radical Republicans blocked a $110bn aid package, including $50bn for Ukraine, and then Viktor Orban blocked a €50bn EU package.
On the front, the first part of the month saw minimal progress, with Ukrainian attacks on Russia’s depots and railway infrastructure and Russian bombing of Ukraine’s port infrastructure, along with a particularly noteworthy massive cyber attack on Ukraine’s main telephone operator. Later this month, however, due to relatively low aid, the Ukrainian army was forced to ration its military resources, affecting its deployment on the frontline. Nevertheless, the United States has adopted a Black Sea security strategy with a significant long-term impact on Ukraine and other littoral states.
Meanwhile, the European Union has imposed its 12th package of sanctions against Russia, with the West simultaneously seeking new ways to legally use Russian assets frozen on their territory. As for the blockades created by truckers’ protests on Ukraine’s western borders, they persist in Poland, now including farmers’ unions, but have stopped in Slovakia.
In Russia, Vladimir Putin has announced his candidacy for the presidency in what would be his fifth term. Elections will be held between 15 and 17 March 2024. In an annual television broadcast, Putin praised Russia’s favorable economic indicators, but other estimates contradict his optimism, including images of Russians queuing for eggs and poultry, whose prices have soared. The number of raids aimed at bringing new recruits into the Russian army has risen sharply this month, and relatives of conscripts protesting conditions on the front are under pressure from the authorities. On the foreign policy side, Putin met with the leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, while Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin paid a visit to China.
A new national defense strategy has been adopted in Moldova, with Russia identified as the main threat to the country. In addition, Chisinau is seeking to increase its air defense capacity, the first step being the purchase of an air surveillance system. In energy, a memorandum of understanding between Moldova and Romania aims to improve connections to the natural gas and electricity networks.
In the Balkans, an agreement on joint demining of the Black Sea between Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria is due to be signed on 11 January. Meanwhile, Bulgaria is joining the EU’s joint air defense initiative and Ukraine is proposing to reverse gas flows through the Trans-Balkan pipeline. Meanwhile, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić has consolidated his power following his party’s victory in early parliamentary elections on 17 December, amid accusations by the opposition and some international organizations of electoral fraud.