The Brief – Getting ready for a long war

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA-EFE/STR]

On 24 February, Russia invaded Ukraine. The next day, EU leaders gathered for an extraordinary summit. At that time, they thought the war would only last a few days…

This seems like ancient history now.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke to EU leaders at that summit via video link. Shortly after, the author of this Brief met with Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, who said leaders reeled in shock because Zelenskyy’s video call seemed like a final goodbye.

“One shudders because this man who is asking for help and support may not be alive in the next 48 hours”, Petkov said.

Since then, it has become apparent that the Russian army was not as efficient as we thought, and Ukrainian resistance is not only heroic but potent.

Arms started to arrive in Ukraine, Kyiv became safe enough to receive visits from foreign officials, and Zelenskyy addressed parliaments across the world.

Russia re-hashed its strategy, abandoning plans for total dominance via a puppet government and concentrating on territories in the east and south of Ukraine that it still hopes to capture and retain.

Chances for a ceasefire are linked with a scenario in which one of the two sides is close to capitulation. But as long as both sides harbour other ambitions – Ukraine to regain most of its territory and Russia to obtain full access to the Black Sea – it is unrealistic to imagine a peace agreement.

Besides, the West now looks set to offer Ukraine whatever weapons it needs, while Russia has no other option but to fight because a defeat is simply not an option for President Vladimir Putin. The main risk factor remains that Putin might be tempted to use arms of mass destruction at some point.

But if this war remains conventional, as we hope, it is safe to assume that it may last a very long time. And if this is the case, we must concede the war will transform Europe and possibly the world.

The EU was blind to internal developments in Russia during the run-up to the war, which sought to restore “the glory” of the USSR by force.

Meanwhile, the EU remains over-dependent on Russian oil and gas and vulnerable to Russian propaganda and policy of sowing divisions.

In hindsight, we can say that the most naïve country was Germany, perceived until recently as our Union’s leader. Conversely, perhaps the most alert country was Poland, who has been fighting a rule-of-law war with the European Commission – a dispute that looks rather unhelpful in the current context.

When Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in 2019 that she had ambitions to lead a ‘geopolitical Commission’, she could not know that she would have no other choice three years on. EU policies are changing, taboos are disappearing, and bureaucrats are being pushed out of their comfort zone.

If, for example, the EU cannot reach an agreement on sanctioning the oil imports from Russia, it should abandon the unanimity rule, which serves nobody else but Putin. This would also significantly reduce the power of nuisance leaders like Viktor Orban.

It should be up to the Commission to make sure that detractors are excluded from specific funding and opportunities. This is part of building the EU’s resilience.

While the war drags on, it is safe to bet that the EU will change more than it has done in decades.

It is good for Europe that the French President Emmanuel Macron has won a second mandate and that in Slovenia, Eurosceptic Janez Janša was badly beaten.

If the mainstream politicians take the social challenges in their countries seriously, the far-right politicians, who have already lost Putin as an icon, will be squeezed into the corner.

Europeans are capable of solidarity and will show the best of themselves and perhaps Europe will have a new generation of war leaders, as it did after World War II.

The Roundup

With the ongoing French EU Council presidency and the upcoming parliamentary elections, Emmanuel Macron will enjoy no grace period in his second mandate and the opposition, both on the left and the right, is more determined than ever to strip the newly re-elected president of his parliamentary majority.

Twitter Inc is nearing a deal to sell itself to Elon Musk for $54.20 per share in cash, the price that he originally offered to the social media company and called his ‘best and final’, people familiar with the matter said.

If you want to read up on how Slovenia fared in its parliamentary election on Sunday, we’ve got you covered: Conservatives are out, a progressive government is in.

Europe’s market for hydrogen-powered taxis is becoming increasingly competitive, with French company Hype, which has developed them in Paris since 2015, being among the frontrunners.

The EU and India are set to announce closer cooperation and an imminent relaunch of negotiations for a comprehensive trade agreement on Monday, as part of Western efforts to help decrease the world’s second-most populous country’s dependence on Russia.

Look out for…

  • European Economic and Social Committee holds public hearing on encouraging engagement of young people towards achieving sustainable development.
  • Council of Europe holds conference on ‘Speaking Human Rights Online’.

Views are the author’s.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Alice Taylor]

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