by Raluca Viman-Miller, Assistant Professor, University of North Georgia

Nowadays we are completely overtaken by the COVID-19 global pandemic and our focus seems to almost exclusively be on counting infections, comparing rates of evolution or devolution of the disease and following on the good, and bad, domestic, and international policies meant to see us to the end of the event. Still, politics goes on as usual in the background and relations among states continue to develop. Central and Easter Europe (CEE) is no exception to the ‘life goes on’ rule and besides COVID small and big powers continue to push for influence in the area. China seems to have had a great deal of success with its economic investment initiative 17+1 until the beginning of 2020 when its CEE partners seem to have fallen out of love with the Chinese unfulfilled promises.  The 2020 meeting has been postponed indefinitely hiding behind the global pandemic. In its place the Chinese proposed a video conference but there were only three countries out of the 17, Serbia, Hungary and Greece that did not refuse to participate.  Could it be the broken promises or maybe the new authoritarian legislation introduced in Hong Kong that gave CEE countries a déjà vu of Communism? Or maybe a combination of all lead by pressure from Washington easily exemplified by Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, and Estonia’s refusal to allow economic Chinese giant Huawei to build up their 5G infrastructure. Romania went further and rescinded a contract with a Chinese company that was meant to build reactors 3 and 4 to a preexisting nuclear power plant arguing that one reactor can be built by the domestic agents and a ‘cooperation with a NATO partner would be more welcome’ (economy minister Virgil Popescu Jan 2020).

In the meantime, European Union is battling an image crisis triggered by misinformation and mediatic war portraying it as the least helpful when it comes to running to the rescue of its members during the top of the COVID-19 pandemic.  During the same time, China was shown delivering goods and services to the countries in need rivaled by the Russian militarized medical interventions in the hard-affected areas. The Serbian president Vucic lamented in March 2020 that the European solidarity was nonexistent, but that China was a friend and a brother of Serbia. Both powers soon to retreat and continue to men their domestic needs especially Russia which was soon going to face its own pandemic crisis.  Without missing a beat, Russia continues to push for more control and increased energy dependency partners in the European market. Its interest in the Black Sea is double folded since a large deposit of natural gas was discovered and western companies using the Romanian territorial waters have proposed a plan for exploitation. Recently, the Russian controlled company Lukoil has inquired and made reference to potential purchase of a majority package just to be bluntly refused by the Romanian prime minister who expressed preference for NATO/EU partners investments in the region. Romania seems willing to play with a stick in the lion’s cage as in June 2020 in its “National Defense Strategy 2020-2024” defined Moscow as an ‘aggressive threat’ motivating this by the offensive Russian policies in the Black Sea region where NATO holds a great deal of influence (Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania).

USA does not sit idle, it seems ready to use part of the $1 billion approved by Congress in 2019 for energy infrastructure projects in CEE as it holds hearings this July in the House of Representatives. Also, as of August 2020 it is clearly contemplating adding to the already existing military personnel in Romania. As US removes a large military contingent out of Germany (some argue as a punishment for Germany’s delinquencies in its NATO spending) about half of those troops are expecting the ‘go’ signal to relocate on the Eastern border of NATO, Western border of the Balkans and close to the Middle East, in Romania. In the meantime, Bulgaria is rife with anti-government protests, Albania’s Socialist controlled parliament changed the electoral law system removing the right of political parties to compete in elections as coalitions and Poland and Hungary’s leaders are using the pandemic to consolidate power of governments that are considered to have triggered serious democratic backsliding in these nations.


Dr. Viman-Miller is an assistant professor at University of North Georgia, Georgia USA.  She has a PhD from Georgia State University, a master’s degree from Georgia Southern University and she completed her undergraduate work at “Babes-Bolyai” University in Cluj-Napoca Romania.  She has completed research and published on issues such as: the impact of migration on political behavior, political communication, regional and bilateral relations with implications on the European security. She teaches classes on Global Issues, Comparative Politics, European Politics, International Relations and American Government at undergraduate and graduate level.