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Security Brief: EUCOM Week of May 17, 2021

Week of Monday, May 17, 2021 | Issue 32

Flavien Baumgartner, Kaitlyn Vlahoulis, EUCOM

Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discuss the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in August 2018[1]

Date: Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Location: European Union

Parties involved: Various European countries

The event: Governments around the European Union (EU) continue to ease COVID-19-related restrictions due to advances in the vaccine campaign, as well as lower rates of infection. This week England, Portugal, and France reopened their borders to tourists while restaurant terraces were allowed to open in France. A further easing of restrictions is expected in the coming days and weeks in these countries and across the European Union.

The implications:

  • With the easing of restrictions and the reopening of borders, particular attention needs to be given to infection rates in the next few weeks. Furthermore, the reopening of borders will have to be accompanied by measures such as the EU-wide sanitary passport project. While this passport is not ready yet, each country continues to decide which individual precautionary measures they will keep in place, leading to confusion and difficulties in cross-border commerce and travel.

  • As the sanitary passport project remains contested across various countries, protests, like those seen in Paris this week, are likely to continue. Vaccination centers also need to be continuously monitored as they remain at increased risk of attack, as previously seen in Germany and the Netherlands.

Date: Thursday, May 20, 2021

Location: Germany

Parties involved: Germany, United States (US), and Russia

The event: German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the Biden administration’s decision to waive sanctions on German companies participating in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The pipeline is a key point of contention between the US and its German ally, as it bypasses the Ukrainian and Polish economies while promoting German reliance on Russian natural gas.

The implications:

  • The decision has faced intense bipartisan criticism from the United States for giving a free pass to Russia, notwithstanding that the Russian firms involved have been levied with a new round of sanctions by the US State Department. Despite the congressional backlash, this event is positive for both Germany and the US as the project is nearly 95 percent complete, and stopping construction remains unlikely. Therefore, the Biden administration has made a relatively cheap gesture of goodwill towards its most significant European partner because it anticipates that the project is likely to be completed with or without US interference.

  • During the Trump administration, Germany and the US were faced with increasingly strained relations, including over the initial US decision to sanction German firms over Nord Stream 2 and the unwillingness of US President Donald Trump to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin over security issues, such as alleged Russian bounties on US troops in Afghanistan. With this gesture of goodwill, the German government will likely be more amenable to cooperating on other regional and Russia-related issues, like bolstering Ukraine, because of a renewed trust in their relationship with the US.

  • The initial decision to sanction German firms over the pipeline elevated the issue from a security concern to a question over German sovereignty. By waiving sanctions on German firms, the tension between the two historic allies has been deescalated, allowing for future discussions about licensing and operating the pipeline, even after it has been completed.

Date: Thursday, May 20, 2021

Location: Balkans

Parties involved: Russia, Serbia, and Northern Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members

The event: Serbian and Russian forces gathered outside of Belgrade to conduct military exercises as NATO forces conducted the Defender Europe 2021 joint exercises across Europe, including the neighboring states of Estonia, Bulgaria, and Romania.

The implications:

  • By holding the Russian-Serb exercise simultaneously as the NATO drills, Russia is signaling its willingness to confront incursions into its sphere of influence in the Balkans. Combined with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent remarks that Russia’s enemies “will have their teeth knocked out,” Russia is almost certain to continue its use of provocative maneuvers.

  • The imprisonment of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny has stirred up significant domestic discontent. Thus, military exercises like this one divert domestic attention to Russia’s many perceived opponents who seek to undermine its sovereignty and hegemony while highlighting Russia’s military and leadership prowess. This diversionary tactic allows President Putin to ignore domestic criticism to better deal with “external” threats.



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