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Escaping the Bear Hug

PRAGUE – Three former Soviet republics – Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine – have now signed association agreements with the European Union, despite Russia’s sometimes brutal attempts to obstruct the process. This is certainly a promising development for these countries, all of which have struggled to achieve stability since the Soviet Union’s dissolution. But it would be naive to think that Russia will give up so easily.

As Ukraine’s ongoing crisis has demonstrated yet again, former Soviet republics that attempt to make geopolitical decisions without the Kremlin’s assent do not remain intact for long. In Georgia, the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have had de facto independence since receiving Russian recognition in 2008. Today, the prospect of their return seems more distant than ever.

For its part, Moldova has been struggling for two decades to assert control over the breakaway Transnistria region. Moreover, in February, the tiny autonomous region of Gagauzia, with its indigenous Turkic population, announced through a Russia-backed referendum that it has the right to secede if Moldova “loses its statehood.” The danger now is that pro-secession leaders may twist the loss of sovereignty supposedly inherent in association with the EU into precisely such a claim.

Beyond discouraging former Soviet republics from pursuing deeper ties with the EU, Russia has created a sort of “EU” of its own: the Eurasian Economic Union. In May, the leaders of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan established the EaEU by signing a treaty that will enter into effect next year, assuming that all three countries’ parliaments ratify it.