Through its enlargements and the launching of the Eastern Partnership the European Union (EU) approached Russia’s so-called near abroad. The shared neighbourhood is spotted with ‘de facto states’ such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, Donetsk and Luhansk, which proclaimed independence from their ‘mother states’: Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Ukraine respectively. In the absence of international recognition, however, these self-proclaimed republics depend on the support of their patrons: Russia and, in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia.
This translates into particular legal implications for those regions: while they are formally perceived to remain integral parts of their mother states, the latter do not exercise an effective control there. Since the EU is tightening its bonds with the Eastern Partnership countries, the question arises how it engages with these de facto states. The EU’s interaction with the ‘unrecognised states’ in the Eastern Partnership is shaped by both international and EU law. While Brussels respects the international legal framework limiting its engagement (e.g. the obligation to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the mother states or the lack of competence to grant recognition or establish diplomatic relations), it has found pragmatic ways to interact with the de facto states. The Union addresses those self-proclaimed republics by shaping the recognition practices of its member states, by enabling the EU Delegations and Special Representatives to have contacts with the de facto authorities, by highlighting its adherence to the principles of international law in its political statements and jurisprudence, and by pursuing a Non-recognition and Engagement Policy.
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