Ryhor Nizhnikau is a Senior Research Fellow at the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood and Russia program at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.
The factors that saw 2020 become a ‘perfect storm’ for Russia and the CIS region will continue to shape mobility in 2021. The traditional regional drivers — EU–Russia geopolitical competition and domestic vulnerabilities — were aggravated by new developments that jeopardized stability and disrupted mobility flows.
First, the Covid-19 pandemic significantly upended mobility in the region. Existing visa-free agreements were suspended and access to key labor and travel destinations were restricted. Second, socio-economic and political tensions of varying scales erupted across the region, including the humanitarian and financial crisis for Central Asian migrants, electoral crises in Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, the popular revolt in Belarus, and the Nagorno–Karabakh war. Consequently, domestic upheavals increased geopolitical tensions and migration pressures on neighboring states. For instance, in late 2020 Belarus and Russia jointly accused western countries of interfering in Belarus’s domestic affairs, while thousands of Belarusians have fled the country since August 2020.
It is expected that when the pandemic crisis begins to ease there will be a gradual removal of temporary restrictions and normalization of travel and labor migration. However, the conflict between Russia and the West will continue to curb the potential for improvements in mobility. The Belarusian crisis is likely to remain unresolved, which may further destabilize the region and even cause EU–Russia relations to deteriorate. China’s geo-economic presence will expand, particularly in Ukraine and Uzbekistan. In these circumstances, Ukraine is a country to follow. It will regain visa-free travel to the EU and gain access to several new destinations.
China’s geo-economic presence will expand, particularly in Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
A demand for labor in Central Eastern Europe and Germany will continue to increase, which will trigger further migration outflows. More importantly, its booming trade with China and proactive attempts to expand its role in the Belt and Road Initiative and boost political and economic cooperation with Asia will create new risks and opportunities.