Long before Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, it was accused of waging an economic war on its neighbors.
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The Kremlin’s campaign, which included bullying, persuasion and direct threats to block access to the Russian market and cut off natural gas supplies, was intended to persuade the former Soviet satellites to stay outside the influence of the European Union, writes the British newspaper The Guardian.
Wednesday’s recommendation by the European Commission to start EU accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova was the last straw for the Kremlin in its efforts to secure its own economic supremacy, or at least competitiveness in Eastern Europe.
In 2013, the then-Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, Dmitry Rogozin, suggested that Moldova’s pursuit of a trade and association agreement with the EU could lead to the loss of territory, restrictions on migrant labor and disruption of natural gas supplies. “Energy is important, winter is on its way. We hope you don’t freeze this winter,” he said at the time.
Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister at the time, described threats to cut off natural gas supplies to Moldova as “economic warfare.” “What we have seen in the last few weeks is brutal Russian pressure against partner countries that we have not seen in Europe for a very long time,” Bildt told reporters at the time.
Once unthinkable, now necessary
Russia’s actions of February 2022 opened the way for Moldova to Europe.
“We want to live in peace, prosperity and be part of the free world,” Moldovan President Maia Sandu said less than two weeks after launching the invasion of Ukraine and announcing Moldova’s formal bid to join the EU. “While some decisions take time, others must be made quickly and decisively, given the opportunities presented by a changing world.”
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Ukraine and Georgia also used the war as a springboard to apply for accelerated EU membership. On Wednesday, EU officials unveiled their push to speed up Ukraine’s entry into the bloc by shortening the usually two-year process. In this case, the incorporation of EU law into Ukrainian law could take as little as six months.
Such a course was unthinkable before the start of the invasion. For example, Turkey has been waiting decades for its entry into the EU. But the war in Ukraine made it clear that there is a need to secure the eastern borders of the Union.
Now that the war is threatening to spread to Europe, the previous barriers to joining the EU have fallen. Even in Georgia, where the EU’s decision appears largely symbolic, it was hailed as the latest confirmation that Moscow has lost its grip on its neighbours.
Georgia’s Prime Minister, Salome Zourabichvili, announced on Wednesday that Georgia’s future is not with Russia.
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