The West Seeks Strength Against Putin’s Next Term

Democratic Security Outlook 2024: March 18-24

18 March 2024

Western allies made steps to shore up Ukraine’s faltering defences against Russia but remain divided on money and the scope of their direct involvement, while President Putin secured another six-year term in a sham election.

Upcoming on Visegrad Insight:

  • Matej Šimalčík looks into the impact of the European Union’s investigations of TikTok’s activities under the Digital Services Act.
  • Zsuzsanna Szabó analyses why energy security should remain at the forefront of the region’s policy-making.
  • Jules Eisenchteter writes how anti-migrant rhetoric rears its ugly and familiar head as Czech populists capitalise on the population’s fears.

EU/REGIONAL

  • Thousands of Russians braved threats of long jail terms to manifest their opposition to the war with Ukraine and an escalating crackdown on democracy and civil rights by rallying at polling stations at noon on Sunday during the sham presidential election cementing Putin’s hold on the country.
  • Several incidents of destroying ballot boxes and spoiling ballots were reported across the country, with the Kremlin angrily blaming “Ukrainian diversion” and threatening to punish “traitors” who dared to defy Putin with jail terms of up to 20 years.
  • In Germany and other Western nations, many Russians showed up in big numbers at polling stations at Russian embassies. In Berlin, Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny, murdered in a penal colony last month, was cheered as she showed up. Before his death, Navalny urged Russians to protest the staged election, in which Putin had no rivals, by coming to polling stations for “Midday against Putin” demonstrations.
  • The leaders of France, Germany and Poland held a summit of the Weimar Triangle in Berlin on Friday, seeking to project a united front and reaffirm their commitment to arm Ukraine after splits between France and Germany over the extent to which the West is ready to assist came into the open in the last few weeks.
  • While the leaders were at pains to stress unity and Polish PM Tusk signalled the revived tri-lateral format woould coordinate the response to Russia’s aggression, no specific steps were announced.
  • President Emmanuel Macron’s sudden hawkish stance on Russia was seen as vindication across CEE, but some sceptical voices suggested it was yet another example of the French leader’s penchant for grabbing attention.
  • “Instead of more grandiose Macron speeches and Berlin rebuttals, I would prefer actual European leadership, Paris-Warsaw-Berlin, that delivers weapons for Ukraine and prevents a looming Russian breakthrough – not attention seeking rivalling leadership claims while UKR barely holds,” Council on Foreign Relations expert Liana Fix wrote on X.
  • Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders abandoned his quest to form the government after narrowly winning last year’s election as mainstream parties without which he would not secure a majority in parliament refused to cooperate.
  • Wilders’ failure shows the limit of what the fragmented and often internally divided extreme right might be able to achieve in the European parliament elections.
  • Farmers across Europe, including in CEE, will stage the latest protest against the Green Deal and Ukrainian grain imports on 20 March, even as the Commission promised Polish leader Donald Tusk to ease some of the earlier ambitious targets.
  • The European Commission agreed to reimburse member states to the tune of 500 million euros for arms delivered to Ukraine, with Germany sweeping the biggest share reflecting its deliveries.
  • The EU moved towards “sustainability” product certification, which could impact supply chains by probing human rights and environmental issues from third countries, including China. It also adopted a proposal on plastic packaging from third countries, which could impact Chinese exporters.
  • The EU adopted the Media Freedom Act aiming at protecting journalists from political pressure and spying.
  • The EU agreed to provide a massive 4.7 billion euro aid to Egypt as part of efforts to curb illegal migration.
  • The European Commission adopted a negotiating framework for Ukraine and Moldova.

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