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The war in Ukraine opens a new chapter in the history of NATO and the EU. It is a chance for Poland and for Ukraine

przeczytanie zajmie 9 min

Not only the fate of Ukraine, but also of entire Central Europe, and possibly the future of imperial Russia is being decided, and so in consequence, also the future of the world. The attitude towards the war in Ukraine divides countries of the West and draws a line of divide in its both main organisations – the European Union and NATO. There is no return to Europe as we knew before 24 February 2022. The eastern flank wants Russia’s defeat in battle and opening of the Western structures to Ukraine. Whereas, Germans, French and Italians simulate help in means of warfare, while they seek to bypass sanctions imposed on Russia and postpone the perspective of Ukraine’s EU membership. The war in the Ukraine changed the U.S. policy. The U.S. role in ensuring safety of the Old Continent once again proved to be irreplaceable. An extensive strengthening of Polish and Ukrainian relations offers an opening for creating a new regional force pole in Europe, that can become a natural centre for consolidation of the EU eastern flank.

A full-scale Russian aggression on Ukraine, started on 24 February 2022, was a beginning of a culmination period of the war between Russian and Ukraine lasting since 2014. It is the largest armed conflict in Europe since 1945. The scale of this war, in terms of both its already effected and expected consequences, exceeds what has been happening on our continent since the end of World War II. In their weight, these events are similar only to possibly equally deep, but definitely less dramatic changes of annorum mirabiles of 1989–1991. As the focus of observer’s attention on the fronts of the waged war, natural in these circumstances, the political influence of this clash on the shape of the West, both the EU and NATO, is sometimes overlooked. Meanwhile, today it is on the Dnieper, the Donets, the Desna, and the Boh where not only the fate of Ukraine, but also of entire Central Europe, and possibly the future of imperial Russia is being decided, and so in consequence, also the future of the world. The attitude towards the war in Ukraine divides countries of the West, and so it also draws a line of divide in its both main organisations – the European Union and NATO. Let us take a closer look at this last area.

The war changes the European Union

A strong tendency for autonomisation of the European safety, understood as becoming independent of the U.S., has been marked in the heart of the European Union since 1991, i.e. already in its “prenatal” period. France was its champion, continuing in this regard traditions reaching back to the times of General de Gaulle.  Since the times of Gerhard Schröder, loosening of trans-Atlantic relations has also become a characteristic feature of the German policy. First, the opening, under the slogan of Deutscher Sonderweg (German special way), and then more refined in terms of the tactics, but not the strategy, during the days of Angela Merkel, minimising tensions in relations between Berlin and Washington, what was not done by her predecessor from SPD.

Loosening of trans-Atlantic relations was a natural consequence of the end of the cold war, and removal of existential threat to Western Europe in form of a mass Soviet invasion. The fear of Moscow was replaced with the will to cooperate with it and include Russia into the political system of the West, as a partner of Germany and France in their activities to limit American influences, and not as an enemy. Both superpowers of the EU core are united with Russia in their pursuit of the “multipolar world”, understood as a breakdown of an unipolar system developed after 1991, based on the U.S. dominance, the sole global superpower after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

After 1991, there were many attempts to autonomise the European security (European Security and Defence Identity of 1994, European Security and Defence Policy with the Helsinki Headline Goal of 1999, Headline Goal of 2010 and the European Defence Union of 2003, PESCO, and the European Intervention Initiative of 2017). They all ended in a fiasco, or performed much below expectations of their creators. French ideas, born under influence of these attempts and included in the European Strategic Autonomy (ESA) concept in 2017, together with similar German plans forming a part of the programme of the ruling SPD-FDP-Greens coalition of autumn 2021 in form of the European Strategic Sovereignty (ESS) actually required “partnership with Russia”. Moscow, with its brutality and possessiveness, did not facilitate for Berlin and Paris the actions aiming at pushing the United States out of Europe, but before 24 February, attempts to cooperate with Kremlin were not associated with such high political and image costs as after that day, and were relatively easy for both superpowers of the EU core.

This situation started to change at the beginning of 2021, following a visit of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell in Moscow (4–6 February 2021) that was disastrous for the EU prestige. Nevertheless, Germany and France still went on with their policy of opening to Russia, refusing supplies of weapons to Ukraine (what was officially done by the Federal Republic of Germany on 1 June 2021, through the lips of its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Heiko Mass), persisting with construction of Nord Stream 2, attempting to invite Putin to the EU summit in June 2021, and condemning in October of that year the use by Ukrainian army of the Bayraktar drone purchased in Turkey, to destroy the Russian howitzer shelling Ukrainian positions in the Donbas. The outbreak of the full scale war in February 2022 did not change the earlier position of Germany and France, but significantly increased its political costs and made hiding its nature difficult.

The German refusal or delay in supplying weapons to Ukraine, as well as preventing actions of third countries in that respect, combined with a pressure on alleviating Western sanctions imposed on Russia concerning import of energy resources, Berlin’s refusal to consent to exclude two main Russian banks, Gazprombank and Sbierbank, from the SWIFT system (only in the last , sixth package of sanctions agreed on 31 May it was possible to impose sanctions on the second of those banks), and a role played by Germany and France in arming Russia in earlier years, ruined the prestige of those two countries in the eastern flank of the EU and NATO and, of course, in Ukraine.

A symbol of this phenomenon are jokes on German 5 thousand helmets and surface-to-air missiles “Strela” from the GDR military surpluses, delivered to Ukraine in small quantities in rotten boxes, when Berlin, under the pressure of its allies, finally withdrew from its policy of an embargo on supplying weapons. A declaration of Christine Lambrecht, German Minister of Defence, of 19 March that Budneswehra had already exhausted its possibilities to supply weapons to Ukraine and a consent of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, after his discussion with Putin, to “experts of both parties to analyse a possibility to pay Russia for gas in roubles” (thus to bypass bank sanctions that do not allow Russia to settle transactions in foreign currencies) complete the picture of this situation.

Newspapers in the U.S. print titles like “Is Germany still our reliable ally? Nein”, and headlines in Sweden announce “Germany should be ashamed of itself”. Meanwhile, Germany and France (which on 22 February 2022, still had its three satellites launched by Russian launch vehicles supplied by Roscosmos “to make Europe independent of the U.S. space systems”) push on changing the EU decision-making system concerning the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Previously, unanimity was required in this field. This enabled Poland, the Baltic and the Scandinavian States, the Netherlands and Romania to block the above-mentioned idea of Germany and Russia to invite Putin to the EU summit in June 2021. Currently, a strong pressure on changing the system to the majority one is highly probable.

It is also easy to foresee that those who will oppose this concept, will be put under pressure as “bad Europeans who destroy, and in the circumstances of the Russian aggression on Ukraine, the much needed unity of the EU and block improvement of its decision-making processes concerning security”. The decision-making process within ESA and ESS based on qualified majority of votes, proposed by Germany and France, would mean an absolute domination of Berlin and Paris. Under the Lisbon system, the strength of votes depends on the number of citizens. A coalition of 84 millions of Germans and 67 millions of French would therefore have a crushing force in relation to the eastern flank of the EU. And its consequence would be a mild attitude of the EU towards Russia. To block this proposal we need everybody who want to oppose it, including Hungary, which has a policy of openness towards Russia. This example shows the complexity of the game played in this area. However, it is visible that Berlin and Paris’ chances for succeeding in it decrease rapidly.

Bankruptcy of German foreign policy

The war in Ukraine resulted in the bankruptcy of the political line of Germany. It wanted to dominate in western part of Central Europe, including in Poland and in Czech Republic. Not having a potential to dominate in the entire region, it willingly agreed to Russian domination east of the EU and NATO borders. The power of Moscow, hanging directly over borders of Poland, the Baltic States and Romania, would be a constant “disciplining threat” for Poles, Balts, and Romanians, showing them the lot of Ukrainians, Belarusians and Moldovans, as an alternative to obedient submission to the will of Berlin, weakening Paris, and to Brussels, compliant to their wishes.

Until autumn of 2021, Biden’s administration supported that vision, confirming the thesis that the United States wanted to reduce their involvement in Europe, entrust Germany with responsibility for relations with Russia, and focus on their competition with China. In this situation, acknowledging domination of Berlin and Brussels would become the sole possible way for seeking protection of the West by nations of the eastern flank of the EU threatened by Moscow. However, the military action of Ukrainians made those assumptions invalid. It showed that Russians would not take Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius within 48 hours, and Warsaw in three days, as it was commonly threatened before 24 February.

The EU became clearly divided. Poles, Balts, Czechs, Slovaks and Scandinavians support fighting Ukraine with weapons, ammunition, and military equipment. They want Russia to be defeated in the battlefield and opening of the Western structures to Ukraine. Whereas Germans, French and Italians try to convince Kiev to territorial concessions to Russia, “to save Putin’s face”. They simulate help with warfare resources, bypass sanctions imposed on Russian and postpone a perspective of the Ukrainian EU membership ad calendas Graecas. In consequence, the EU prestige is irreversibly damaged, because it can no longer be perceived as a potential structure able to oppose a large-scale military aggression. Furthermore, the moral ability of Germany and France to lead the European Union is also collapsing, especially in respect to its foreign policy. In this situation, nations at risk of the Russian expansion seek their protection in NATO, and the fact that Americans and British did not withdrew from our region but, on the contrary, strengthened their military presence here, confirms that this attitude is correct.

Strengthening of the U.S. position in Europe, NATO expansion and increase in Poland’s importance

The war in the Ukraine changed the U.S. policy. From the beginning of 2021, Joe Biden’s administration has looked to Germany as its ally, which, according to Washington illusions, was to relieve the United States in Europe by ensuring peace by arranging relations with Russia and through the EU solidarity with Americans in their competition with China. And it was for this purpose that Biden agreed to Nord Stream 2. However, he achieved nothing. Germany did not support the United States in their Chinese policy, and were not able to arrange relations with Russia, which nature it completely misunderstood, as it now officially admits. Poland and the Baltic States were right, for a long time warning against Moscow’s imperialism. Germany, demonstrating its demilitarisation, and France, playing its own game symbolised by Macron repeatedly calling Putin, cannot become the leaders of Europe facing the Russian threat.

The entire eastern flank of NATO “is clinging” to the U.S., and Sweden and Finland applied to join the Alliance, recognising the EU membership alone as an insufficient guarantee of their security. And Poland is the largest and the best armed country of the eastern flank of NATO. The country, whose diagnoses of Russia proved to be correct, and who is now ending its dependence on Russian energy sources, due to its policy conducted since 2015.

Furthermore, Poland, by welcoming over 3 million war refugees from Ukraine, undermined the previous opinion about alleged xenophobic nature of Poles and the RP government. No other government is as active in terms of material and diplomatic assistance for fighting Ukraine as the Polish one. And relationships between Poland and Ukraine flourish in a way unprecedented in their history. The example of Poland is followed by other countries from the region, as evidenced by the joint visit of prime ministers of Poland, Czech Republic and Slovenia to attacked by Russians Kiev  Against it, the behaviour of leading EU politicians, with their mouths full of declarations about their commitment to “European values”, is unconvincing.

Conclusions

There is no return to Europe that we had known before 24 February 2022. A successful resistance of Ukraine destroyed the prestige of the Russian Army and show to the United States a way to weaken China, alternate to the previously pursued. Before, successive resets of American and Russian relations were Washington’s attempts to reduce the political position of Beijing by breaking Moscow’s cooperation with it. To achieve this, the U.S. were actually ready to “pay” Russia by de facto acknowledging its sphere of influence in Central and Eastern Europe. That game was based on the conviction of military power of Kremlin and weakness of nations that were threatened by it. However, the reality proved to be different. A perspective to weaken China not by breaking Russia’s alliance with it, but by breaking the Russian ability for expansion, and by reducing the value of Moscow as an ally in the eyes of Beijing is currently a very probable, and therefore more attractive for the U.S. solution for the “alliance” between China and Russia, than “bribing” Moscow with concessions to its imperial ambitions.

NATO, or in fact its Anglo-Saxon core (the U.S., Great Britain, and Canada), strengthened by countries of the eastern flank of the Alliance determined to weaken Moscow, with the support of Sweden and Finland, proved to be the only common defence organisation in the region that was able to act and effectively scare Russia. The U.S. role in ensuring safety of the Old Continent once again proved to be irreplaceable, while the EU, as the military security structure proved to be non-existent, as nobody really counts of it, as it is clearly demonstrated by actions of Scandinavians.

An extensive strengthening of relations between Poland and Ukraine offers an opportunity for creating a new regional pole of power in Europe. If it was established, it would reduce the influence not only of Russia, but also of Germany and France. It would become a natural centre for consolidation of the eastern flank of the EU, exposed to an existential threat of Moscow. That last reason would be decisive, as it already is, for the strongly pro-Atlantic attitude of such group, and would eliminate German and French ideas of distancing themselves from the U.S. and opening to Russia. Of course, post-Putin Russia, which could be recognised as “democratic” in Berlin and Paris, with the announced “new opening” in relations with the country “that at least since 1815 has always been a part of the European system”, forgetting that it entered it by conquering the Republic of Poland as well as Finland, that is, today’s Baltic States, Belarus, Ukraine, and Poland. Therefore, the division of interests is clear, and this allows us to foresee further events – an increasingly closer cooperation between Ukraine and countries of the eastern flank within NATO/EU with the U.S. and Great Britain, an intensifying dispute between that group and the core of the European Union (France and Germany), and paroxysms of bloody warfare on the side of the dying Russian imperialisms, with which no compromise is possible, and which must be combated in the battlefield. There will be no peace in Europe without meeting this condition.  

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The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of the official positions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland. Public task financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland within the grant competition „Polish-Czech Forum 2022”.