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One armed conflict was active in Europe in 2019: the low-intensity internationalized, subnational armed conflict in Ukraine between Ukrainian Government forces and separatists backed by Russia. This armed conflict has led to about 13 000 deaths (at least 3330 civilians and approximately 9670 combatants) since April 2014. However, since 2018, combat-related deaths have been much lower than in earlier years. In 2019 there were an estimated 405 combat-related deaths, down from 886 in 2018.
Political changes in Ukraine during 2019, and especially the presidential victory by Volodymyr Zelensky and his acceptance of the so-called Steinmeier formula for resolving the conflict, created a new opportunity for further negotiations. Among other things, the formula would involve holding local elections in separatist-controlled districts in eastern Ukraine, which could result in the implementation of special self-governing status for these territories.
In December 2019 at the first Normandy Format meeting for more than three years, the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine endorsed the Steinmeier formula, and agreed to implement a ‘full and comprehensive’ ceasefire by the end of the year and to hold further talks in the first half of 2020. Despite this promising new opening, fundamental disagreements endured among the parties about the nature of the conflict and their involvement in it, as well as about the sequencing and implementation of the formula.
Although most of Europe has seemed peaceful for about two decades, various tensions remain, including: (a) persistent tensions between Russia and large parts of the rest of Europe; (b) long-standing conflicts that have not yet been resolved—especially in the post-Soviet space, the Western Balkans and Cyprus; and (c) the security response to problems on Europe’s southern flank, which encompasses several European states’ involvement in armed conflicts in Afghanistan, the Middle East and North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa. In Cyprus, for example, a political settlement to the conflict remained elusive in 2019, with oil and gas discoveries, maritime border disputes and regional power rivalries adding to tensions.
There were 18 multilateral peace operations active in Europe in 2019, all of which had been active in the previous year.
Two issues that have been at the forefront of European security thinking in recent years—irregular migration and terrorism—both have a strong connection to developments in the south. The European Union (EU) has been at the forefront of managing irregular migration to Europe, and it is an issue that has been a prominent driver in EU engagement with Libya and Turkey.
Terrorism continued to constitute a significant threat to security in Europe in 2019, although trend reports suggested
that the risk is declining. Dealing with returning foreign fighters remained one of Europe’s main counterterrorism challenges.