Navanti News Regional Forecasts | Eastern Europe | 2021 |

Navanti News Regional Forecasts | Eastern Europe | 2021 |

Much of Eastern Europe, which includes the Baltics, the Balkans, the Black Sea states, and the Caucasus are in a state in flux due to the COVID-19 pandemic, facing a region-wide economic downturn and dueling geopolitical interests. What follows are a list of key trends that are worth monitoring closely going into 2021.

 The Balkans

Internal power shifts will alter the course of many Balkan countries while the constant stressors of geopolitics at the crossroads of East and West will shape futures.

  • National elections: Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina held elections in 2020, upending several powerful parties, and Kosovo and Croatia will hold elections in 2021. The new dynamics caused by changes in governance will likely lead to stronger alliances as the regions’ progressive elements rise in power.

  • COVID-19: Vaccine distribution will be a major priority for all the region’s governments. Countries will be looking to the EU, China, or Russia for assistance. Influence will be won and lost through the provision of vaccines, and Russia and China are making considerable inroads.

  • Migrant crisis: The Balkans have become a major way station for migrants crossing into Europe. The region does not have the social or material infrastructure to accommodate the influx and this will erode regional stability unless the US, EU, or UN step up to provide meaningful aid.

The Baltics

The Baltic states are facing a region-wide fight against corruption, COVID-19, and economic downturn with a slate of new leadership.

  • New leadership: In 2021, Estonia will be led by its first female prime minister, who will take over from a ruling party mired in corruption. Lithuania’s new female-led government will have to contend with the nation’s emigration issues. In Latvia, party shake-ups in the capital shifted power away from the Russian speaking party in the political landscape. These changes indicate a greater shift away from Russian influence, though at the risk of alienating the Russian speaking population of the Baltic states.

  • Belarus: The proximity to the unrest in Belarus has led the Baltic states to take the initiative in responding to the situation that will certainly continue to play out in 2021, accepting political refugees and providing a haven for Belorussian IT companies. The economic and security ramifications of Belarus’s instability will present both opportunities and challenges for its neighbors.

  • COVID-19 and economic recovery: The Baltic states continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and will seek assistance from the EU and the US with vaccine distribution and economic assistance. The states will struggle with economic recovery even in the wake of the pandemic, as the Baltic states all face high emigration rates and an aging population.

The Black Sea States

Eastern European countries are often defined by the geopolitical interests of their leaders. Those interests will continue to shape policies in the coming year specifically as they relate to COVID-19, fighting corruption, and countering external aggression.

  • COVID-19: Geopolitics come into play as non-EU members Moldova and Ukraine look to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine. Ukraine has asked the EU for help, while pro-Russian factions inside the country have pressured the government to purchase the Sputnik vaccine, leading to internal strife. Ukrainian reliance on Russia is increasingly likely going into 2021.

  • Corruption: In Bulgaria, protests against the Boyko Borisov government have continued since July 2020 over allegations of rampant corruption. The restive citizens will likely seize the chance for political change in the March parliamentary elections. In Moldova, newly elected pro-reform President Maia Sandu will push the anti-corruption agenda she campaigned on.

  • External aggression: Russia will continue to strive for influence in the Black Sea region. President Maia Sandu has expressed interest in replacing Russian troops in Transnistria with OSCE observers — a decisive statement in an ethnically divided country. While this is unlikely to occur, it indicates Sandu will take a stern stance towards Russia. This could be vital as she will likely continue to face pressures from Russia over her European integration agenda. Tensions will also continue in Eastern Ukraine, as the conflict enters its seventh year without any clear prospect of resolution.

 The Caucasus

Entering 2021, the South Caucasus nations will contend with the repercussions of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the pandemic, and political infighting.

  • Nagorno-Karabakh: The six-week conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh sent the region into renewed turmoil, presenting opportunities for Russia and Turkey to vie for influence. The presence of Russian peacekeepers in the contested areas will be a test for Russia’s relations with the two belligerents.

  • Political unrest: Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan faces a strengthening opposition and calls for resignation following what many allege was as a lackluster performance in the Karabakh war. In Georgia, recent parliamentary elections were riddled with fraud and disinformation leading to opposition protests and bitterness among voters. Continued pressures on these governments could force high level changes sooner rather than later.

  • COVID-19: The pandemic and its economic impacts will act as another avenue for foreign powers to exert influence in the region. Azerbaijan has turned to China for a vaccine, while Armenia and Georgia have struggled to afford a limited contract with the WHO-backed COVAX. Both countries are floundering in their response to the virus and have been largely neglected by Western aid organizations. This will inflame the dissatisfaction with these governments and may precipitate a push for the Russian vaccine.