The Russian invasion instead of an easy win has brought significant losses for Moscow both on the battlefield and in international politics. Russia now faces not only deepening isolation, but also a more determined and resilient West that aims to increase its military capabilities, diversify energy imports and shrug off any ambiguous connections to the Russian state.
Paweł Paszak, War Studies Academy
Before the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the EU lacked a unified stance on many strategic issues, including Russia, China, and also the United States. The EU has been criticized for inaction, ambiguity, and lack of political coherence that hampered its strategic initiatives and undermined credibility on the international stage. These complexities were symbolized by transatlantic and intra-European divisions over Nord Stream 2 Pipeline, a German-Russian energy project that would increase reliance on natural gas from Russia. Uneven defense burden sharing was another issue within NATO that proved to be a bone of contention between the US and its European allies.
What could not be achieved through discussions among the partners on both sides of the Atlantic was achieved due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Kremlin’s decision has pushed Europe to deeply revise its security and economic assumptions and build a true resilience to external pressures. It took the EU a long time, but it eventually brushed off criticism of inaction with a resolute decision to support Ukraine through a broad package of sanctions aimed at Russia and military and financial assistance to Kyiv. The most significant changes could be observed in Germany, which committed to spending 2% of its GDP and establishing a special 100 billion euro fund to modernize its military.
As a result of Russia’s revisionism, NATO and the US are likely to further enhance their military presence on the Eastern Flank, with ten thousand US soldiers already deployed in Poland. The US is likely to assist the modernization of regional military forces reaping substantial benefits for its defense industry. Only Poland has recently passed the law that will enable the government to spend 3% of its GDP on defense on top of modernization programs, including the $6 billion purchase of 250 Abrams M1A2 SEPv3 tanks, $4,75 billion Patriot Missile, and IBCS deal as well as $4,6 billion F-35 deal. Such military modernization plans show that the declining Russia will face an increasingly difficult security environment, and any attempt to attack a NATO country is beyond its capabilities. Furthermore, recent struggles of the Russian army in Ukraine have broken the myth of its prowess on the battlefield and have exposed its serious deficiencies and limitations.
These groundbreaking developments wouldn’t be possible without profound perceptive changes. In the past, Germany and France- the EU’s two most powerful militaries and economies have been showing a greater degree of skepticism towards initiatives aiming to decrease the EU’s reliance on Russia. It is not surprising given that those two countries have proportionately invested the largest resources in Russia and built many personal connections between the lines of politics and business, exemplified by ex-French PM Francois Fillon and ex-chancellor Gerhard Schroder. Until the Ukraine invasion, Poland and Baltic states bordering Russia were seen as Russo phobic and paranoic. Now, Western Europe admits its mistake.
Among the EU political elites and expert echelons, many doubted Russia’s intent of full-scale war. Many expected a limited military aggression centered around the Eastern Part of Ukraine in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. However, an all-out invasion was perceived as a non-rational move undermining everything left of the EU-Russia relationship. From a strategic and moral point of view, promoting EU-Russia or US-Russia rapprochement has become indefensible.
In the economic realm, the EU recently announced the REPower plan to make Europe independent from Russian fossil fuels well before 2030, starting with gas. After years of deepening the EU’s reliance on Russian imports, member states are now compelled to find a short and long-term fix to cover its demand. In the long-term perspective, Moscow’s international economic position and its ability to exert influence on Europe will be undermined as the role of the US as a crucial LNG provider will be strengthened.
The invasion generated a momentum strong enough to support an unprecedented set of sanctions, transatlantic unity, and many other processes that will eventually result in a stronger, more resilient, and autonomic West. The conflict validated the worth of the EU and NATO as the most valuable alliances and proved internal doubters wrong while undermining all pro-Russian parties in the EU.
Paweł Paszak is a PhD Student at War Studies Academy in Warsaw. He is also a China foreign policy and Indo-Pacific analyst for Institute of New Europe and Warsaw Institute.