Nargiza Adilov; Marta Grosso; Anne Jouve; Virginia A. Nardelli; Yasmin Sidhu; Philip Stark
When Russian troops entered Kyiv on Thursday, February 24th, the invasion of Ukraine shook Europe to its core. As the events unfold, international politics has taken unprecedented directions but has also confirmed trends in security and defence policies. Being students in the field, here is what we expected and what surprised us the most.
The Ukrainian crisis has raised the pressure on the international arena, both within NATO and the EU and, more broadly, on European soil. This has led to absolutely unforeseen attitudes that highlight the unpredictability of future fallout from the conflict. Historically neutral countries, such as Switzerland and Ireland, have taken measures against Russia, in an overturning of what has been known to be their policy for decades. Both countries, in fact, have agreed to economic sanctions against Russia, with Switzerland banning Russian businesses from creating new enterprises and freezing Russian assets to avoid the circumventing of European sanctions. In addition to this, Switzerland and Ireland have both agreed to the closure of the airspace to both civilian and military airplanes, therefore increasing the isolation of the Eastern superpower even further. Although Ireland will provide exclusively non-lethal aid to Ukrainian forces, such as helmets and medical supplies, Sweden and Germany have broken their historical stances on foreign policy and agreed to send military aid in the form of anti-tank missiles and weapons to support the invaded country. Furthermore, Switzerland has also promised to send lethal forces to the borders as a form of support and defence, in an unmatched shift from neutrality. In addition, countries and leaders that had been, until now, extremely close to Vladimir Putin (e.g. Miloš Zeman in Czech Republic, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, and French nationalist leader Marine Le Pen) have agreed to the imposing of the sanctions, breaking with their closely allied position to the Russian leader. Finally, a Yle (i.e. Finnish government broadcasting network) poll suggests that 53 percent of people in Finland would support an application to join the NATO military alliance. Even though this does not necessarily mean it would happen, it is a reminder of how Putin’s move is slowly strengthening the Western alliance.
Another unprecedented decision is that of Europe regarding Russia’s Central Bank; although economic sanctions do not appear out of character for the Union, the implementation of asset-freezing against the Central Bank and the blocking of Russian access to SWIFT, through which international payments are conducted, represent stern measures that break with what has been the traditional European response.
In any situation of crisis, the media plays an extremely crucial role by not just delivering the news, by framing a narrative the world will most likely adopt as well. In this case, the western media has gone a step ahead to become blatantly racist while covering the conflict. Phrases like, “people like us with white skin and blue eyes” and “these are civilised people unlike Afghanistan or Syria’’ have been put to use by renowned journalists. This has added another gloomy angle to the entire war, especially with regard to the mass number of people fleeing from Ukraine.
Last, but not least, the European unity reached on the matter of sanctions represented a novelty in the decision-making process. Although initially divided on what the right course of action would have to be (a division that is most often present in the EU, as different economic and political interests come into play), a common path has been reached in a fairly quick fashion, with sanctions being implemented less than 48 hours after the attack. The fast pace adopted can arguably have been created thanks to the specific characteristics of this attack, considering the actors in the play (with a known nuclear superpower invading a much smaller neighbouring country) and their closeness to European borders.
As mentioned above, the newly exploded crisis did confirm some of the existing trends in international politics. For example, the European Union’s plan of action fell in line with what is known about the EU’s way of action in crises situations. Almost immediately after the entrance of the Russian troops, European leaders and representatives responded condemning the action through social media, followed by the convening of an extraordinary meeting of the European Council to discuss economic sanctions. The Union’s implementation of sanctions is not a new phenomenon in times of crisis: being that the EU does not have an official army and being its military capacity heavily dependent on the Member States’ willingness to provide troops, economic sanctions are the most immediate and effective tool available to the Union. Furthermore, considering that Ukraine is not a member of Europe and does therefore not fall under the Clause for Mutual Defence (Article 42.7 TEU), immediate military action would have been out of character considering the EU’s cautious approach to military means in Security and Defence policies.
Another response that did not come as a surprise was that of the Biden administration: in line with the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan last July, the U.S. position on the Ukrainian crisis was similar to the European one, with economic sanctions implemented against Russia, as well as the closure of airspace, avoiding military intervention for the time being. According to the White House’s declarations, no troops will be sent to fight in Europe unless Russia were to attack one of the NATO countries, hence activating Article V for Collective Defense of the North Atlantic Treaty.
Having considered what has happened, it is now time to look at what the consequences of such a crisis may lead to. We identified three possible fallouts, in regards to both Europe, the U.S., and China.
Firstly, it is a known fact that the European Union’s integration is often triggered by times of crises like this, in what has been called the “Failing forward theory”. The remarkable unity that characterised the EU’s actions against Russia, with internal divisions being solved rather quickly and the historical turnover of alliances and neutralities, may become a learning experience on joining efforts on matters of CSDP and crisis management, thus increasing the “Union” part of the EU.
Secondly, it is not just the relationship between European countries that may change: the fundamental aid that American institutions played (for example with intelligence bodies warning the EU about Putin’s plans in advance of the attack) shows how the Union is still heavily dependent on the U.S. for its military capabilities. Indeed, this might highlight the importance of the Transatlantic Alliance, strengthening the relationship through NATO, in an awakening of an organisation many had seen as dormant in the past few years.
Finally, it is crucial to turn our attention to what the conflict may represent for other countries: China may in fact be looking closely at the international response to the crisis, being ready to follow the example of its closest ally on the matter of Taiwan.
It is not easy to foresee what will happen in such a fast-moving scenario, but many lessons are to be learned from the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its consequences. As history unfolds, one thing is certain: the handling of this crisis will set the stage for the next steps in the international order and will possibly be a turning point on the path of diplomacy and international relations.
This piece is the result of a discussion among students of the EU Foreign and Security Policy module, supported by the selection of news items from different sources such as newspaper articles and social media.
Bradsher K. and Swanson A. (2022). Before Ukraine Invasion, Russia and China Cemented Economic Ties. The New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/26/business/china-russia-ukraine.html (Updated Feb. 28, 2022)
Hennigan W.J. (2022). Exodus Grows as Nearly 370,000 People Flee Russia’s Ukraine Invasion. Millions May Follow. Time. Available at: https://time.com/6151809/russia-ukraine-refugee/ (Accessed on 01/03/2022)
Herszenhorn D.M., Bayer L. and Von der Burchard H. (2022). Germany to send Ukraine weapons in historic shift on military aid. Politico. Available at: https://www.politico.eu/article/ukraine-war-russia-germany-still-blocking-arms-supplies/?utm_source=POLITICO.EU&utm_campaign=ee9085bbe6-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2022_02_28_05_02&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_10959edeb5-ee9085bbe6-190942174 (February 26, 2022 2:21 pm)
Karnitschnig M. (2022). How Putin made the EU great again. Politico. Available at: https://www.politico.eu/article/the-end-of-europes-putin-illusion/?utm_source=POLITICO.EU&utm_campaign=ee9085bbe6-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2022_02_28_05_02&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_10959edeb5-ee9085bbe6-190942174 (February 27, 2022 11:51 pm)
WION (2022). Gravitas: Western media’s racist reportage on Ukrainian refugees. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBRwmTVVKQk (28 Feb 2022)
YLE NEWS (2022). For first time, Yle poll shows majority support for Finnish Nato application. Yle. Available at: https://yle.fi/news/3-12337202?utm_source=POLITICO.EU&utm_campaign=c73fb5a875-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2022_03_01_05_51&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_10959edeb5-c73fb5a875-190942174 (Updated 28.2. 14:18)