Russia’s ongoing military assaults on Ukraine follow a familiar pattern of arbitrary aggression against its neighbours: the 2008 invasion of Georgia, the 2014 annexation of Crimea and other destabilizing efforts in Europe, including relentless election interference and an all-out information war against democratic societies. This is a dramatic assault on the basic principles of the European security order and on the Europe – whole, free and at peace – that replaced the Cold War order a generation ago.

Russia’s aggression is crystallizing a dangerous precedent whereby territorial conflicts are designed, orchestrated, and resolved using brute force leading to the potential contagion of war around the world. Russian recent actions are not limited to Ukraine: the steady and significant build-up of forces in Belarus, the escalation of disinformation efforts in Europe as well as repeated violations of territorial waters and airspace of Sweden and the Baltic states by Russian military units point clearly to a wider effort by Russia to challenge the security architecture in Europe.

Russia’s current aggressive actions will result in an unnecessary and protracted long-term conflict, casting a dark lingering shadow on the security architecture in Europe. This timely expert discussion will address the consequences of Russia’s illegal action against Ukraine, its immediate neighbourhood, and the broader world and the way forward from here. How can we immediately support Ukraine? What should European allies do to stop and deter continued Russian aggression?

Participants:

  • Charles Powell,Director, Elcano Royal Institute
  • Ivan Mikloša former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of the Slovak Republic, a former Chief Economic Advisor to the Ukrainian Prime Minister
  • Alessandro Minuto-Rizzo, ISPI senior advisor, a former Deputy Secretary General, and interim Secretary General of NATO

Led by: Alena Kudzko, Vice President of GLOBSEC & Director, GLOBSEC Policy Institute, Slovakia

This event took place on 25th of March, one day after Russian President Putin invaded Ukraine. GLOBSEC in cooperation with Elcano Royal Institute in Spain and Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI) promptly organized a talk about the newest developments in the Ukrainian crisis. Despite the uncertainty of Putin´s action prior to the invasion, it was obvious that Putin will do something – it was just not certain what exactly is it going to be. This was the opening statement of the former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of the Slovak Republic Ivan Mikloš, who was as surprised as many when he found out that the crisis escalated into a full-blown war. It was however necessary and sensible to get ready for the worst case scenario.

What does the war in Ukraine mean for CEE countries?

First and foremost, the situation has shown how important it is for CEE countries to be a part of NATO. Membership is the key, and it is the only guarantee for protection from Putin´s imperialist ideas. Particularly in Slovakia there is a strong support for Russian propaganda and people tend to believe in conspiracy theories. Only two weeks before the war started, a public opinion poll has shown that more than 40 percent of Slovak people were convinced that the parties responsible for tensions on the Eastern flank are USA and NATO. This narrative therefore must be combated with education and awareness spreading. Despite all the efforts of European institutions to combat disinformation, it is still at the heart of Russia’s policy towards Europe in the next decades. The EU thus needs to step up its investment into combating misinformation spread.

How to help Ukraine?

CEE countries must support drastic sanctions against Putin. Even though they will not stop him, the sanctions are an unavoidable step. Mr Mikloš stated that as neighbors, Slovakia must help in any way it can – by providing financial, humanitarian, and military aid. The last point of course does not suggest getting directly involved in the war since Ukraine is not a NATO member, but the countries should provide the military equipment to the Ukrainian government. It is therefore important that the EU as an institution and also the individual member states of EU are providing aid in whatever capacity they can.

There is also a concern around the question of refugees. Between 3 to 5 million of refugees are estimated to flee from war-torn Ukraine and seek shelter elsewhere in neighboring countries. This is a tricky question for the EU since in the last couple of years it has been unable to redefine the workable refugee and asylum policies. If the most pessimistic scenario takes place and Russia completely takes over Ukraine, Ukrainian people will need safe havens abroad. Countries in the immediate neighborhood, including Slovakia, will play a crucial role in facilitating this.

How long can Ukraine resist?

Ambassador and a former Deputy Secretary General Alessandro Minuto-Rizzo opened his statement by saying that international community reacted to the war in a proper way. It has shown a unity, perhaps something that Putin has previously underestimated. Sanctions are indeed inevitable, but this is not the only surprising move. The real surprise are the political reactions from leaders all over the world who quickly condemned the war in unity and rather quickly confronted the situation. Putin thus has made a strategic mistake and even his allies, like China, have turned away from him.

The impression of the internal situation in Russia points to the fact that President Putin has decided on this dramatic step even against opinions of some of his top advisors, continued ambassador Minuto-Rizzo. Russia, despite its important leverage role in the energy market, remains a weak country from an economical point of view. Putin seems to not have figured out what his concrete steps are, and this might be dangerous. Just like with 9/11, once the emotions take over, it is hard to predict what will happen next.

Director of Elcano Royal Institute Charles Powell was less optimistic about the unravelling of Ukraine war than his colleagues stated that the most likely scenario is that Russia is going to take out Ukrainian government and install puppet regime in its place. This would require a massive military exercise on Russia’s part but seeing the quick developments, Mr. Powell is afraid that it is exactly what is going to happen. Russia has doubled their national reserves in terms of gold and foreign currency and just shutting down SWIFT is not anywhere near enough of punishment, since Russia has Chinese alternatives for bank transfer that could and will replace SWIFT.  Russia has been selectively decoupling itself from the rest of Europe and this is the bottom line that needs to be discussed among EU states. How far are they willing to go with decoupling from Russia? This question is rather difficult to answer now and only time will tell.

*The summary is published withinGLOBSEC GEOPE—Geopolitical Europe: Are the Member States Ready for It? Project supported byJean Monnet Actionsof the EU’s Erasmus+ program.

*The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.