NIAS Europe Studies

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NIAS Europe Studies
100 days of the Ukraine war: What next for Europe?

  Padmashree Anandhan

The Ukraine war has pushed the eastern European countries and the Nordic to rethink their security posture. This means the buffer between Europe, NATO and Russia is slimming.

24 February marked the start of the Ukraine war; it also marked the end of Europe’s diplomatic efforts taken since the 2014 Crimean annexation. From peace treaties to the Minsk agreements to the Normandy format talks held with Russia to prevent the invasion from being nullified. Since then, NATO, the EU member states and the UK have been on a continuous spree in imposing sanctions on Russia, supplying Ukraine with war equipment, weapons, anti-tank missiles, intelligence reporting, and financial aid and have been accommodating the influx of refugees.

The effects of the Ukraine war and the stance against Russia’s oil imports are causing an irrecoverable loss to the EU's economy and energy sector. Although Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Lithuania have tried to alternate their oil imports from Russia through new extraction sites, speeding up the existing energy hotspots within the region and supplies from the US. Most dependent member states such as Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are still struggling to close the gap. A larger question remains on how long will they be able to sustain without harming nature.

With the war escalating in different directions from eastern Ukraine to the far west border where Moldova, Finland and Poland are present, solidarity has been achieved across Europe to counter Russia using sanctions, defence and support to Ukraine. On the other hand, the sanctions have also had a reverse effect in shooting up inflation at the economic and eurozone levels. The IMF and European Central Bank warned about how the sanctions affected the eurozone economy.

The recent development post 75 days of war is NATO’s renaissance; the Nordic countries which prioritized the neutrality principle have stepped from their historical practice and have applied for NATO membership. Denmark also reversed its opt-out to engage with EU’s defence cooperation. While Russia is gaining territory in Ukraine, NATO is expanding in eastern and northern Europe, with further access to the Baltic Sea and the Arctic Ocean.

What are the issues?
First, the energy insecurity. For Europe aiming to phase out Russian oil and meet its set climate goals, the growing energy demands are becoming a major challenge. With the speeding up of planned projects such as the Lithuania-Poland gas pipeline and Netherland-Germany oil pipeline, the long-term dependency is promising. Although Europe seeks to balance the supply from the US and hopes to get support from the Middle East, the current scenario of the rising energy demands and prices has led to inflation and frustration amongst the people.

Second, the impact of sanctions. Various sets of sanctions packages, from state-owned to private companies, banks to individual investors covering mining, space programme, central bank, commodities, oligarchs, and shipping routes, have been imposed by Europe. The recent one was the oil embargo deterred by Hungary’s vote. The cut-down of businesses has resulted in a threefold increase in eurozone inflation and skyrocketing energy and commodity prices. The continuation of sanctions and war will not only challenge the economic recovery of the EU, but it will also risk the union’s unity which has gained ground due to the Ukraine war.

Third, increased threat due to NATO expansion. The Ukraine war has pushed the eastern European countries and the Nordic to rethink their security posture. This means the buffer between Europe, NATO and Russia is slimming. With Finland and Sweden growing close to NATO, Balkan states such as Turkey have threatened to be invaded or face the consequences. Under such provocation, Russia may not strike the European countries, but militarization will occur. The Nordic stepping front for membership will bring more pressure on NATO to counter Russia. This also creates a space for doubt and chaos on NATO’s capabilities amongst the EU member states due to fear of Russian aggression.

Fourth, the rise of odd member states. Before the Ukraine war started, the EU faced a challenge in the migration issue phase in bringing Poland and Belarus under control. Similarly, with the Ukraine war on set, Belarus, Hungary, and Turkey are seen as the member states creating a barrier in the decision-making process of the EU. Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko has completely stepped out from the EU order by supporting Russia in launching attacks on Ukraine, and Hungary has blocked imposing the oil embargo on Russia. In contrast, Turkey, previously the mediator of talks between Ukraine and Russia, has now turned against Finland and Sweden joining NATO. The count of the opposition may increase with rising economic pressure and lack of funds from the EU, threatening regional peace and cooperation.

What next?
First, on the energy front, Europe is far behind in meeting the immediate energy needs of the region. Although the Ukraine war was unforeseen, the energy alternates and measures to cut down on Russian energy imports must have opted soon after the 2014 annexation. The balance may be established after five years for Europe, and Germany might take longer, but Russia’s Rouble rule and increased energy prices will cost Europe’s economy.

Second, if Europe continues to keep the region bound by sanctions might lead to internal chaos, economic unrest and pressure to divert the European exports which were previously sent to Russia. In the upcoming months, Europe has to be even more tactical in imposing sanctions and its military spending on Ukraine, considering the long-term impact on its economy and subsequent economic crisis, which may lead to a split amongst the member states.

Third, on the military and financial aid, the EU, NATO, and UK have deployed arms and promised to strengthen their member states. It has been supplying weapons and has upgraded to sending the missile system to Ukraine, hoping to bring the war to standpoint soon. When comparing the amount of military and financial aid with economic aid to Ukraine and member states, significantly less measure has been taken in terms of economic aid and protective measures. Suppose the war extends to become a long-standing conflict. In that case, Europe must be prepared both militarily and economically. In the long run, the effect on the economy because of the war spending and sanctions will have an adverse effect on the recovery period, for which Europe remains unprepared.

About the author
Padmashree Anandhan is a Research Associate at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. 

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