After between Russia and the West following

After a brief period
of normalization of relations between Russia and the West following the Cold
War era, tensions have started growing yet again between the two sides. As
Western alliances, such as NATO and the EU, attracted most of the former Eastern
bloc and some of the ex-Soviet republics, Russia expanded its trade and
diplomacy with the rest of the world. However, numerous global conflicts, such
as the ongoing Ukraine crisis and Syrian Civil War, have provoked strong and
opposing responses and have renewed tensions between Russia and the West. This
has left regions like Central and Eastern Europe, which are in close proximity
and have former ties to the Soviet Union and current ties to the EU, especially
vulnerable. My country Bulgaria, an example of an ex-Soviet ally and current EU
and NATO member in Eastern Europe, also possesses a coastal line on the strategically
important Black Sea. Thus, it is affected to a great extent by the outcomes of
the growing tensions between the two spheres of influence. The effects on
Bulgaria, Central and Eastern Europe, and the EU as a whole are of
psychological, political, judicial and economic nature, and in order to
effectively address the problem one should take in consideration all these
aspects, how they have evolved, and how they influence each other.

               The growing deterioration in
Russia and the West’s relations has numerous effects on a regional, local and
national level. From a psychological perspective, the conflict has amplified
and brought back to the surface European people’s affinity towards one of the
sides. In Bulgaria, typically the older generation is more prone to take a
pro-Russian stance, due to the former Soviet ties and the view of Russia as the
liberator of our nation from Ottoman rule. This is in contrast with most of the
younger generation’s pro-Western position, resulting from modern European influence
and adoption of European ideals. However, other factors, such as the EU’s
current migrant crisis, the aftermaths of the 2008 financial crisis, recent
terrorist attacks, and the seemingly inescapable poverty of our country have
led to a lack of sense of security and stability, further division, and growing
Euroscepticism in Bulgaria and other EU countries alike. This absence of unity
and sense of direction has also made and impact on the political scene both in
the vulnerable region of Eastern Europe and throughout the rest of the
continent. It has created divisiveness in governments, and in many countries,
such as Bulgaria, has resulted in weak and unstable coalitions with differing
views. This creates ground for the rise of populist parties, and alleged
Russian influence and propaganda spreading throughout Europe. The rising
Russian support is evident in my country’s politics, following the election of
a pro-Russian president, backed by the Bulgarian Socialist Party, and the resignation
of the pro-EU Prime Minister. Thus, Bulgaria, similar to various EU countries
and even the US, is questioning its ties to both Russia and the West. This has
started showing its influence on international law, with nations moving against
the ideas of their unions and organizations. In 2016 Bulgarian Prime Minister
Boyko Borissov condemned both NATO’s and Russia’s militarization of the Black
Sea (Reuters). In the same year, most Central and Eastern EU countries shut
down their borders and in effect the Schengen free movement area itself.
Furthermore, the Hungarian PM strongly opposed the EU’s migrant quotas,
demanding a change to the constitution after his failed referendum against the
policy (Bos). Most notably, however, the United Kingdom voted in June 2016 to
leave the EU, and in this way set the path to an unprecedented judicial and
legal situation, further increasing instability and uncertainty, and inspiring
similar movements across the continent. As a result, Western alliances are more
vulnerable than ever from foreign influence. Finally, the growing tensions
between Russia and the West have initiated a process of freezing of economic
cooperation between the two sides. This is a significant problem to European
countries, whose trade depends mostly on other Western countries, Russia and
China. Eastern Europe in particular is to an immense extent reliant on Russian
energy, and thus is susceptible to damage from current sanctions and potential
“economic blackmail” by Russia (Steinhauser). It is evident that the problem of the
worsening Russia-West relations has significant psychological, political,
judicial and economic effects.

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               In order to find solutions to the
multi-faceted problem, it is important to examine it from all aspects and see
how changing or solving one of them influences the others. As a first step, EU
countries, including Bulgaria, should focus on their internal problems, like
the migrant and economic crises, and strengthen their relations and alliances
with other Western countries. This will provide stability and security to the
population and create a more favorable view of the Union and the West, leading
to greater unity, strength, and a more concrete identity and direction.
Politically, it will reduce divisiveness, as well as the popularity and
credibility of anti-EU parties and potential propaganda or foreign influence.
However, in order to soften the tensions between Russia and the West, increased
communication and diplomacy is crucial. Through frequent discussions between
the sides, common ground could be found and disputes solved. This would
probably require compromises, but does not mean that one side should be too
compliant or too uncooperative to the other’s wishes. As far as international
law goes, radical or populist politicians, who rely on strong emotional support
and seek the breakup of established alliances, will become less popular due to
the newfound stability, while politicians who are ready to evolve and improve
alliances in order to respect the views of their members will be more
successful. Finally, apart from finding a way to deal with its slow economy,
high unemployment, and the aftereffects of the 2008 financial crisis, the EU
should also strive to diversify its energy imports. This is with the aim to limit
reliance on Russian energy and thus its influence over the EU. However, the EU
and the West’s actions must not be isolative or aggressive, as this will only
further the conflict, but rather in the most optimistic of cases should strive
to strike mutually-beneficial deals with Russia.

               Overall, the issue affecting my
region can be solved by looking at it from an interdisciplinary lens and
finding solutions to the broader and main problem – deteriorating Russia-West
relations. The overall solution is for the West to build itself up and be
united, strong, peaceful and cooperative, and in case of Russian aggression –
prepared. However, in order to achieve the needed unity and stability, it first
has to solve its various current challenges.

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