The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly become the biggest one. Whatever the dynamics of the coronavirus spread is, the crisis of national health care systems, discussions about the feasibility of vaccination, economic problems associated with the COVID-19 have become real and serious problems. The segmentation of the region, which is plain to see and is caused by the collapse of the globalization project, can be referred to as a spillover problem.
The political vacuum created by the coronavirus (by the way, it was not found in the Balkans, where Northern Macedonia managed to become the NATO member in the midst of the spring pandemic) led to the increased Russian hybrid influence. The Kremlin is combining the usual methods of disinformation by means of the carpet bombing, and promotion of the Russian pseudo-vaccine Sputnik-V against coronavirus. On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the World War II end, the Russian leadership is directly in charge of the process of the Holocaust hybridization. The nuclear power plants created under the Russian project in the countries of the region (Belarus, Hungary, Bulgaria, Turkey) resemble the source of the propaganda signal about the “greatness of Russia”.
The continued occupation of the Crimea by Russia is causing a constant escalation of tensions in the Black Sea basin. The Kremlin is determined and does not hide its desire to turn the Baltic-Black Sea region into a “weak point” of the EU, thus breaking into the operational space in terms of restoring either the Russian Empire or the influence of the Soviet Union. The rise of conservatism and xenophobia in the countries of the region favour Putin. It is significant that the 2020 election campaigns in the Baltic-Black Sea region (presidential elections in Poland, Belarus, Moldova, parliamentary elections in Georgia) were further extended in the form of political crises, which resulted in the increased authoritarian tendencies and doubts about the effectiveness of the democratic procedures.
The best way to fight Russian influence in the region is to act according to the well-known principle “many hands make light work”. This is about formation of the common economic interests (in particular, in the framework of the Three Seas Initiative project), ensuring energy independence and creating the basis for economic recovery in the region after the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, it is also essential to create a narrative that will be able to compete with the imperial narrative of the Russian Federation, and promote the Central European identity. The key to the success of the efforts undertaken by the regional players is to simultaneously resist Russia’s hybrid influence in the region and promote awareness-raising for people in the Baltic-Black Sea axis about their neighbors, as there is a considerable lack of information on this issue.
The 2020 challenges will not become less relevant for the Baltic-Black Sea region this year, and the struggle for leadership will intensify time after time due to the Kremlin’s desire to strengthen its own positions. However, as well as the countries of the region, the United States having changed the president can effectively counteract these intentions.