Five directions of strengthening Europe to confront Russia

Russia’s unprovoked and insane invasion of Ukraine forced European countries to remember what the European Union was created for. The long years of comfortably turning a blind eye to the strategic threat could not be forgotten. The thought that this could happen to them and society’s anger triggered irreversible changes.

Natural resources dependence

The statistics pushed Brussels to confront its entrenched, expensive reliance on Russian oil, gas, and coal, which had hitherto been hidden under the rug.

The EU spent €71 billion on crude oil and processed goods from Russia in 2021. With a few nations in the East topping 90%, it was estimated that 40% of all gas exports depended on Russia.

Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, was still defending the contentious Nord Stream 2 pipeline as a private, commercial initiative in December 2021 while Russia continued to amass soldiers along the Ukrainian border in full view of the world.

The present status quo wasn’t regarded as unsustainable, and the need to reduce this dependency became a top political goal until bombs began to rain on Kyiv.

The EU started a race against time to diversify its energy mix. Russian oil and gas, along with Russian coal, were quickly phased out and replaced by Norwegian pipelines or LNG ships from the US, Qatar, Nigeria, and Algeria.

The European Commission simultaneously created ambitious plans to accelerate the use of renewable energy sources and encourage energy efficiency.

The decision came with a hefty price tag and charges that the wealthy EU kept developing nations out of the LNG market because it was so competitive.

Now, the EU imports about 12% of its gas required from Russia.

Confiscation of the assets 

The EU and its allies have imposed an ever-growing list of international sanctions on Russia since February 24 to impair the Kremlin’s capacity to fund its war machine.

The G7 price ceiling on Russian crude oil, which is thought to be costing the Kremlin more than €160 million per day, is one example of the many of these sanctions that have been highly extreme and unheard-of.

Nevertheless, one specific measure the West took, essentially freezing half of the $643 billion in foreign reserves held by the Russian Central Bank, was highly audacious.

With a plan to invest these frozen reserves and redirect the yearly proceeds into the rehabilitation of Ukraine, the EU is now prepared to venture farther into new terrain.

Due to the fact that the currency reserves are considered to be state property and are given extra protection under international law, which all nations are obliged to abide by, the proposal is unprecedented and has been dubbed “seriously problematic” by legal experts.

Brussels, though, is adamant that it is still possible to create a narrow but legal path and use the frozen reserves as a steady source of income.

Von der Leyen stated, “Russia must pay for the destruction inflicted and for the blood spilled.”

In addition, the group is preparing plans to seize the private property owned by Russian oligarchs, such as yachts, homes, and artwork, and sell it to raise more money for Ukraine.

Weapons supply

To the dismay of the White House, by the early 2020s, most European nations were noticeably below the NATO benchmark that requires them to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense. Propositions to create a joint EU army remained largely abstract in think tanks rather than cabinet talks.

Three days after the Kremlin began the invasion, the bloc decided to finance the purchase and delivery of terminal equipment to a country under attack. However, the shock and horror of Russian tankers breaking through Ukraine’s borders opened a window of opportunity that had previously remained closed.

First time ever, money from EU taxpayers would be used to purchase weapons.

Afterwards, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said, “This is a watershed moment.”

To cover the expenses of the military assistance and operational support that each capital commits to providing to Ukraine, the bloc used the European Peace Facility (EPF), a newly established off-budget mechanism.

Member nations have contributed €3.6 billion to the EPF during the war’s first year. They also organized a military assistance mission to train Ukrainian forces on EU land, which set a new precedent. The total amount of military aid given by EU member states is believed to be roughly €12 billion.

Nevertheless, compared to the more than $44 billion the United States already pledged to Kyiv, the EU’s military assistance is insignificant.

Expansion of the alliance

After Croatia joined the bloc in 2013, there was a noticeable lack of interest in adding members to the existing 27. When Von der Leyen joined the Commission, she vowed to bring expansion back to the forefront, but the COVID-19 outbreak caused her to lose focus.

But Russia’s war flipped the script and gave Brussels the political justification for enlargement it had been missing: solidarity in the face of aggression.

At a time when many in the West believed Kyiv would soon buckle, Ukraine’s President Volodymr Zelenskyy rapidly capitalized on the momentum and signed his nation’s application to join the bloc four days after Putin launched the attack.

Due to a persistent PR campaign by Zelenskyy and his officials, Ukraine’s proposal evolved from unattainable to doable in just four months. During that time, EU members underwent a gradual change of heart and ventured to discuss enlargement after years of silence openly.

The momentum reached a peak on June 23, when Ukraine and Moldova were unanimously given the coveted status of candidate countries—the formal precursor to accession talks—by the European Council.

The mechanism of reception of refugees

It would be an understatement to argue that the EU’s immigration policy is the root of its difficulties.

Even if the migratory crisis of 2015 is well behind us, Brussels’ decision-makers and diplomats continue to feel its specter. After numerous attempts, finding common ground on immigration and asylum policy among the 27 member states remains too tricky and volatile.

Nevertheless, when many Ukrainians started to flee the Russian assault, the EU realized the tried-and-true model of the previous migrant crisis would fail.

The Temporary Protection Directive, an obscure rule from 2001 that had never been utilized, was dusted off by the bloc in a desperate attempt to find a workable solution.

The Temporary Protection Directive’s activation on March 3 was hailed as “historic,” but some activists and organizations criticized it for revealing the racial bias ingrained in the EU’s immigration policy.

Throughout the EU, four million Ukrainian migrants have relocated, with Poland and Germany taking in almost one million each.

Next expected level of sanctions

Notwithstanding the firm decisions made over the last year, the EU has failed to break certain essential taboos, such as the prohibition of penalties on Russia’s nuclear industry because of safety concerns that some Eastern European nations raised.

A prohibition on Russian diamond imports due to Belgium’s economic ties to Antwerp’s diamond district and the expulsion of Gazprombank, the Russian bank responsible for energy payments, from the highly secure SWIFT system are also off the table.

Image: «Ukrainian Military Center» Public Organization

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