Russia’s invasion of Ukraine transforms Europe
The war in Ukraine is one of those landmark events that happened precisely when most believe the historical trajectories were charted and the outcomes largely predetermined. such wars are forging new fault lines that are shaking governments to the core, forcing them to re-examine the first principles of their foreign and security policies. They result not so much from a sudden miscalculation, but rather from a fundamental misinterpretation of structural power shifts that have been in the works for years. And when they have run their course, the geopolitical landscape they leave behind bears little or no connection to what existed before – think of the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, the two world wars of the 20and century, the end of the cold war. More importantly, system-transforming wars lay bare the true distribution of energy in key theaters and reset the clock of great-power competition, with new azimuths that were difficult to understand months ago, now blatantly obvious. Today, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has already set in motion the forces that will reshape Europe for the coming decades.
First, Ukraine’s stubborn resistance has brought the importance of national sovereignty to the fore. After three decades of post-Cold War institutionalism and globalism, we have returned to the fundamentals of national security: only a sovereign Ukraine can offer its citizens a safe homeland. International institutions could not prevent Putin from invading Ukraine. Second, there is no substitute for hard power, and no nation can remain secure if it lacks a strong military, whether or not it belongs to a military alliance, because NATO still has a times is lacking in the United States to secure Europe. Third, peace should not always be the first priority in a conflict. As the Ukrainians showed us when they were attacked, the goal should not be to reach a compromise as soon as possible, but to defeat the aggressor and liberate the territory of the nation. Fourth, Germany and France, the two biggest powers on the European continent, failed to lead, once again proving the adage that being big is not the same as being strong.
There was a visible hesitation in Germany and France in the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, despite repeated public affirmations of solidarity with kyiv. The war forced Berlin and Paris to disavow three decades of their Russian policy which sought to “manage” their relationship with Moscow through a combination of economic and political means. In his keynote speech in the Bundestag on February 27, Chancellor Olaf Scholz openly recognized that German policy was bad towards Russia. President Macron has since muted his efforts to engage with Putin. More importantly for German policy, the war all but exploded the central assumption of its “clean energy” approach as devoid of national security considerations, and invalidated the naïve maxim of “Wandel durch Handel”, i.e. that is, the belief that more trade would push Russia (and China) toward a freer and more open political system. In fact, Berlin’s decision to get the EU to switch from coal and nuclear to Russian gas as a gateway to renewables, embodied in the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline projects, has only made Europe dangerously dependent on Putin for energy. He did nothing to democratize or restrict Russia.
More importantly, the war has shaken the foundations of established electricity distribution in Europe and, pending Ukraine’s victory, could reshape it for decades to come, shifting the heart of Europe from west to south. center of the continent. A rebuilt and prosperous Ukraine, with its population of some 44 million, its wealth of natural resources and its fertile agricultural land, would displace Europe’s center of gravity, whether or not it joins the EU. A free and prosperous Ukraine would all but ensure a rapid implosion of the Lukashenka dictatorship in Belarus and, aligned with Poland, Romania, Finland and the Baltic states, would give the Baltic and the Black Sea intermarium unprecedented economic and political influence. With a combined population of approximately 120 million for the intermarium, this new configuration would fundamentally alter the overall balance of power in Europe. Last but not least, it would force Russia to accept the reality of its post-imperial status. This would force him to address the fundamental question of what the “normal” Russian nation-state should look like.
This war also reforges existing alignments in Central and Eastern Europe, creating new ones. The most significant change concerns relations between Poland and Ukraine. The outpouring of support for Ukrainian refugees and the spontaneous help provided by the Poles are creating a qualitatively new relationship between the two countries. Meanwhile, the crimes committed by Putin’s army against the Ukrainian population have transformed the once friendly Ukrainian attitude towards Russia into one of implacable hostility. Second, Finland’s and Sweden’s decision to seek NATO membership will fundamentally reconfigure the Baltic-Scandinavian region, bringing significant geostrategic depth to Allied defenses there. Last but not least, in cooperation with the United States and the United Kingdom, Poland has become both the key country on NATO’s eastern flank, but also the linchpin along the border, much like the West Germany during the Cold War. Although the debate in Washington over forward defense and the nature of future US deployments in Europe is unresolved, it is reasonable to expect US military assets along the flank to increase over the next decade. Poland’s military potential, fueled by the acquisition of new long-range rocket and artillery systems, air defenses, 32 of the F-35 aircraft, combined with Poland’s purchase of 250 M1A2 SEPv3 tanks the most modern, will modify the military balance in the East. Along with this transformation comes increasingly close US-Polish political and military cooperation, as America plans for the next decade in Europe as NATO rearms.
The war in Ukraine lays the foundations for a new electrical distribution in Europe. The failure of the Russian policy pursued for three decades by Germany and France has left a void of leadership in Europe. For Germany to reclaim it, notwithstanding the country’s dominant economic position in the EU, it will now have to earn the right to rule. The key question facing Europe in the future is what role the UK will play in NATO, and in particular what role Poland will play in both NATO and the EU. EU. The navy will remain Britain’s strong suit, especially as competition between the great powers in the Indo-Pacific intensifies. For Poland, the ground forces will be the centerpiece of its military power. But none of them, independently or together, can assume the leadership position in Europe without a clear decision from Washington to endorse and materially support such a reconfiguration on the continent. In the past, the United States has twice looked to Germany to lead the continent, first at the end of the Cold War and then more recently when the Biden administration agreed to lift its sanctions on North Stream 2. In each case, Germany succeeded instead of leading, focusing on political and economic tools, and only reluctantly allowing the military dimension to enter into the calculation of global power. Washington may still decide that three times is Germany’s charm and flaw again, but the realities of the war in Ukraine, the most brutal war in Europe since World War II, and the resulting military demands put all the chances on their side. . The question then is what Europe will look like once the firing in Ukraine has stopped. This question is not who wants to lead Europe, for there are old and new aspirants; rather, it is fundamentally about who can. We will find out soon enough.
A collaborating editor from 1945, Andrew A. Michta is Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch, Germany. He is also a former professor of national security affairs at USNWC and a former senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis in DC.. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, the United States Department of Defense, or the United States Government..