THE ONE-YEAR MARK
For US national security, December 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and September 11, 2001, are dates that quickly come to mind. February 24, 2022, will be one that lives “in infamy”, for Ukrainians and many others. The past year has witnessed a fundamentally changed global political and economic landscape, with the impact on individual countries, regions, and multilateral institutions as varied as the entities themselves.
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has retraumatized European countries already haunted by World War I, World War II, and the Cold War. The post-1945 international system had been faltering for some time but its failures have been more evident recently. Unsurprisingly, the countries that shaped the system interpreted Russia’s violation of international and humanitarian law as a direct threat to global stability and their own security. For some of those countries the threat remains existential.
At this transitory moment in the international system, the war heralds a turning point, or “Zeitenwende”, particularly for the transatlantic community. Defense spending and material acquisition became a policy priority after a long period of neglect. The West curbed, if not severed, its sometimes close economic relations with Russia. Global energy patterns irreversibly shifted. The extent of Russia’s malign influence was revealed.
Support for Kyiv from other countries, however, many of which faced the fallout from the war in terms of food insecurity and high energy costs, has been lacking, despite important UN General Assembly votes that sent a clear message in favor of the UN Charter. Still, prolonged neutrality, while perhaps attractive in a difficult geopolitical environment, weakens the very system that protects and supports these same countries.
There are also nations and institutions, neutral or not, that recognize and seize the emerging regional and economic opportunities that accompany all crises and try to use the current state of affairs to seek more prominent and influential international policy roles, or benefit in other ways.
Whether internationalist, opportunist, authoritarian, or neutral, policymakers everywhere are confronting a global environment that is shifting more rapidly and radically than desired. Read on for more on some of the key strategic (re)calculations made over the last 12 months and those that must be reckoned in 2023 and beyond.
Introduction by Heather A. Conley
Poland: Leading the Way
February 24, 2022, marks an entirely new chapter in European history, one that Poland’s society, political class, and government strives to shape. That should be unsurprising, given the profound impact of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine on Poland's security, economy, and position in Europe and the transatlantic community.
Poland has become a bridge to Ukraine. More than 80% of military and economic support transits Polish territory, as have many refugees. Since the outbreak of conflict, 9.4 million Ukrainians have entered Poland, 2.3 million of whom have stayed. The refugees have become a vital part of Polish society without the significant rise in social tensions that can coincide with such large migration flows. Children joined schools, families became eligible for social benefits, and between 60% and 70% of adult refugees found employment. The vast majority of Poles even extended a helping hand. They privately donated an estimated $2.5 billion, with a similar amount coming from local governments and another $1.5 billion from the national government.
Poles quickly understood after the invasion that Ukraine is fighting not only for its own survival but also for European peace and security. That led Poland to deliver to the Ukrainian armed forces $2 billion in T-72 tanks (more than 250 of them), modern Krab howitzers, and ammunition, thereby becoming the third-largest provider of military assistance to Ukraine. Poland has also assumed a leading role in successfully pressing other NATO member states to increase their aid. Polish pressure helped push Germany to provide its own Leopard tanks and approve the transfer to Ukraine of those in Poland and other NATO countries. The campaign has revealed Warsaw’s strengthened role in the transatlantic alliance, and the upcoming visit of US President Joe Biden to Poland, the only American ally to host him twice in the past 12 months, reflects its greater prominence. Europe’s center of gravity has shifted eastward.
In the war’s second year, Poland will remain a staunch supporter of Ukraine. Their fight is Poland’s fight, and the country will continue to provide weapons and ammunition while pushing other allies to transfer more advanced weapons systems such as fourth-generation aircraft. Poland will also be the key proponent of fortifying NATO’s deterrence and defense ahead of the alliance’s July summit in Vilnius. Warsaw’s aim will be a brigade in each country on NATO’s eastern flank. Finally, Poland will likely formalize its already close political and military cooperation with Ukraine with a new treaty while remaining a key supporter of Ukrainian EU membership and reconstruction as outlined in GMF’s Modern Marshall Plan for Ukraine.
Turkey: A Balancing Act
Contradictions characterize the Turkish position on the war in Ukraine. Researcher Galip Dalay describes it as “pro-[Kyiv] without being overtly anti-Moscow”. In line with domestic public opinion, Turkey is trying to maintain a mediator role, having scored considerable success with the implementation of deals on grain exports and swapping prisoners of war.
Turkey condemned the invasion and voted for UN resolutions condemning Russia. It supplied drones to Ukraine, which played a key defense role, particularly early in the war. It closed the straits connecting the Black Sea and the Mediterranean to warring parties, as the Montreux Convention of 1936 permits, preventing Russia from reinforcing its Black Sea fleet. This proved an especially serious problem for Russia after several of its naval vessels, including the fleet’s flagship Moskva, were sunk or badly damaged.
But Turkey refrained from joining Western sanctions and continues to trade with Russia. Turkish exports to its northern neighbor jumped 87% in a year, leading some to conclude that Turkey has turned itself into a trade hub between Russia and the West. Russian oligarchs and ordinary citizens, justifiably seeing Turkey as a safe harbor, moved assets into the country.
Turkey’s balancing act is unsustainable in the long term, and its policy will need to evolve. Future events will dictate how that happens. Perhaps the most critical factor will be the upcoming Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections. They could usher in a new government that ends the balancing act between the West and Russia by pursuing closer relations with the United States and Europe, especially if their unified support for Ukraine persists. Alternatively, any indication that Western opposition to Russian aggression is weakening would lead Ankara to be more prudent in its relations with Moscow.
Developments on the ground in Ukraine will also play a role. Further military setbacks for or a rise in domestic instability in Russia would be other reasons for Turkey to tilt toward the West. A Russian victory, however, would make the Kremlin an attractive geopolitical partner.
Romania: Active on Many Fronts
The war in Ukraine War has tragically confirmed Romania’s long-standing recognition of Russia as a security threat. Romania’s wariness is a legacy of Russia’s occupation during World War II and its subsequent imposition of a communist regime. This history shapes current Romanian foreign policy and public opinion. For decades, the country’s policymakers, whether in Bucharest or Brussels, were unsettled by German, French, and Italian efforts to strengthen economic ties between the EU and Russia.
Romania strongly supports NATO and its increased security engagement in the Black Sea region. Its political commitment to Ukraine in particular is reflected in a presidential statement that offered support for “as long as it takes”, government assistance for more than 3.5 million Ukrainian refugees, and the provision of military supplies. Romanian civil society has also been active in supporting the neighbor to the east. More than 300 of the country’s NGOs operate in Ukraine, and countless volunteers assist the refugees. Romania was initially considered a transit country, but many Ukrainians have begun making new lives for themselves. They have found employment, purchased or rented homes, and registered children for school. They attend local churches that offer services in Ukrainian.
Romanian support also extends to bilateral and multilateral economic commitments. Regarding the former, the Romanian government and private sector have facilitated Ukrainian grain exports to the EU. This was a hard political decision in the face of domestic farmers’ opposition. In contrast, an “inter-governmental agreement on interconnection and increased cooperation in the energy field” among Romania, Ukraine, and Moldova is universally seen as a long-sought opportunity for Romania to become a regional energy hub. Multilaterally, Romania has firmly supported the European Council’s and the European Parliament’s €18 billion macro-financial assistance (MFA+), in the form of loans, for Ukraine.
Russian threats for decades have taken many forms: military, economic, political, and informational. Romania continues its strong push for comprehensive and regional responses, in concert with Ukraine and Moldova, to bolster stability. Trilateral cooperation, however, can also attract private investment and facilitate Ukrainian and Moldovan EU accession, a Romanian priority. In 2023, Bucharest will continue to act to advance that process by sharing its experience as a country that had to overcome significant hurdles to join the bloc. Romania will also encourage its civil society organizations to promote the exchange of best practices, especially for independent media, anticorruption measures, and environmental protection.
Romania will remain active in a wide range of formats and sectors to strengthen Ukraine’s resilience and establish a foundation for its eventual recovery and reconstruction.
Germany: A Sea Change in Slow Motion
When the going gets tough, the Germans get “Zeitenwende”. If only it were that simple.
Zeitenwende, or “turning point”, is one of those German composite terms to describe an intellectual concept in a single word. ("Weltschmerz” and “Fremdschämen” are examples of others.) In this case, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz introduced the concept in a speech on February 27, 2022, three days after the start of Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine. Three elements of German policy, he announced, needed to change: energy dependence on Russia must decrease; the German armed forces, in a state of disrepair, must become a modern, credible deterrent force; and relations with Russia must adapt to President Vladimir Putin’s neo-imperialism. Implicit in his plan is the acknowledgement that Germany’s primary assumption about international relations—that economic interdependence helps to preserve peace—proved to be wrong.
A year later a decidedly mixed picture has emerged. On one hand, Germany can claim “mission accomplished”. It imports no Russian coal, oil, and gas, probably the most dramatic trade U-turn ever seen in an industrial society. It was achieved without an energy crisis but with remarkable determination and credible leadership, and at significant social and economic cost.
On the other hand, the country’s defense infrastructure did not confront an equally decisive about-face, despite initial signs it would. Scholz announced in his speech that Germany would spend 2% of its GDP on defense “from this year on”, but the country’s 2023 budget belies that plan. Germany is slow to allocate Scholz’s “special investment”, and neither procurement reform nor expanded military production capacity is underway. The failings were so painfully obvious that his defense minister resigned under pressure in early 2023.
Also, although the change of perspective on Russia is hard to overlook, caution and restraint remain guiding principles. The need for a post-war relationship with Russia seems to influence Berlin’s thinking on ending the war on favorable terms. The absence of a new strategy may explain the drawn-out spectacle of German reluctance to supply battle tanks to Ukraine, even if that hesitation eventually gave way. As Germany’s new (and first!) national security strategy is still unpublished, the Zeitenwende’s consequences for China also remain unclear.
Critics ask whether Zeitenwende is real or a public relations stunt, but that grossly simplifies the issue. Zeitenwende represents a sea change, albeit one in slow motion. New Defense Minister Boris Pistorius got it right when he noted that Zeitenwende “has only just started”. It is now his job to accelerate the process and close the gap between Germany’s “yesterworld” and today’s reality that Putin has created.
France: Safeguarding Its Own Role
France aimed in 2022 to balance numerous foreign policy interests and goals, leading to occasional confusion. It acted rapidly and assertively to impose EU sanctions on Russia and to reinforce NATO deterrence on the eastern flank by becoming a NATO “framework nation” in Romania. French leaders and diplomats also worked with African and Asian partners to further isolate the Kremlin and alleviate the consequences of its war in Ukraine. The quantity of French military equipment to that country may be unclear, but Ukrainian officials have praised its quality and impact.
France has nevertheless largely missed the opportunity to lead European security and defense at a strategic turning point for the continent. French President Emmanuel Macron’s public speeches, and his efforts to maintain a direct channel of communication with his Russian counterpart, triggered criticism and concern from allies that could not reconcile the tough rhetoric of his September 2022 UN General Assembly speech with his talk of “security guarantees” for Russia and the need to avoid humiliating the country.
These mixed messages reveal a deeper problem. While some European partners reacted to the fundamental geopolitical shift brought on by the Russian invasion by overhauling their foreign policy principles, but France undertook no such “Zeitenwende”. Paris’ 2022 National Strategic Review highlights the magnitude of the transformation in global security, but policy changes remain modest at best. Regarding the long-term relationship with Russia, the future of European security, and the transatlantic relationship, the French vision is based on principles that long predate the war in Ukraine. Close relations between some French politicians and the Russian leadership, for example, remain largely ignored.
This, however, should not prevent France from increasing its support, alongside its European and American allies, of Ukraine in 2023. The French decision to provide AMX 10-RC tanks to Ukraine was designed to position Paris more centrally in the transatlantic debate and pressure Berlin to act more forcefully. The French foreign and defense ministers have promised further military contributions, especially in air defense and artillery, and Macron will continue to rally global support for the West’s stance. Willing to be an “exemplary and demanding ally”, France has also announced a significant increase in its defense budget. The government has also signaled more openness to advancing issues that have long been taboo in Paris, such as EU enlargement. France will act to remain relevant in an evolving geostrategic environment.
The Baltic States: Facing an Existential Threat
In 2022, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were Ukraine’s leading advocates in the EU, NATO, and elsewhere worldwide. The trio has the moral authority to set the agenda for countering renewed Russian imperialism. They, like Ukraine, have experienced Russian and Soviet occupation, and anticipated an expansionist Kremlin. They fear another invasion unless Russia is stopped in Ukraine.
The Baltic states join Poland in providing Ukraine with, in terms of GDP, the greatest amount of assistance. Estonia and Latvia have each given around 1% of GDP to the cause, but all three have led diplomatic efforts to drum up additional aid and sanction Russia. Estonia and Lithuania have also, if unsuccessfully, advocated for lower price caps on Russian oil. All these efforts nevertheless contribute to an eastward shift in the European foreign-policy center of gravity, especially as “old” powers such as Germany move hesitantly.
The Baltic states’ task in 2023 goes beyond maintaining Western support for Ukraine. Another priority is getting delivery of the military support that NATO promised them at last year’s Madrid summit. The threat to the three countries is evident. The Russian foreign ministry made clear in a December 2021 letter that Moscow’s ultimate aim is pushing NATO back to its pre-1997 borders. Threats to the Baltics are now rampant in Russian media. Pundits, such as Vladimir Solovyev, portray the Baltic states’ independence as a mistake to be rectified, mimicking an essay in which Russian President Vladimir Putin argued that Ukraine was rightfully part of his country.
Ahead of this summer’s NATO summit in Lithuania, the Baltic states must continue to push their allies to take practical steps to safeguard the trio’s independence. That means prepositioning on their territory sufficient equipment and rotating or stationing a sufficient number of NATO troops to keep any Russian move at bay. The Madrid commitment to move from battlegroups to larger brigades is paramount, as is the need to supply air defense systems and other weapons (e.g., HIMARS) that have proved essential in the current war. Achieving that goal will not be easy given the challenges of supporting Ukraine. But NATO’s failing its Baltic members could lead to an existential catastrophe for the entire alliance.
The Nordic States: On Guard
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine dramatically altered strategic considerations in Northern Europe, pushing Sweden and Finland to apply for NATO membership. The two countries consider themselves a package deal for the alliance; they also joined the EU together in 1995. Such a leap into NATO seemed unlikely before the outbreak of conflict, even if the two formerly neutral nations had been inching toward greater integration. The transatlantic community now awaits final approval of the applications, which may be more difficult than anticipated. In the meantime, 2023 is also the year in which the Nordic states need to respond to the Kremlin’s changing posture and tactics in the North by bolstering their defense through, in part, deeper military integration.
For Finland, recent events brought back to the fore memories of the 1939-1940 Winter War against the Soviet Union. Many families still recall the conflict, but history’s repeating itself was deemed largely unimaginable. As that false sense of security dissipated, public support for joining NATO surged from 53% to 81% between February and September 2022. Finland’s neutrality now seems to have been less a choice than a practical necessity given its long border with Russia.
In Sweden, the decision to join NATO was more difficult. Without a land border with Russia and spared the experience of the Winter War, Sweden had a greater attachment to neutrality. Still, 76% of Swedes said last September that they supported joining the alliance.
Whether they can, however, is likely to be decided in Ankara. For now, Turkey is balking, angry at Sweden’s asylum process for certain Kurds and the recent burning of a Quran in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm. Sweden, like Finland, has in the meantime security assurances from the United Kingdom and the United States. Both NATO applicants are also more integrated into transatlantic defense alliances than ever before.
The big issue for 2023 is not when Turkey will assent to NATO expansion. It is, rather, integrating Nordic defense more deeply into the alliance, which must bolster deterrence across the North while assessing the evolution of Russia’s military posture there. The Kremlin’s consistent Arctic naval and air presence and the increase in its espionage along the border with NATO member Norway show that the Kremlin has the North in its crosshairs. The Nordic states, whether new to the alliance or not, need to plan and prepare for potential aggression from their large neighbor to the east.
The Western Balkans: The Conflicts Within
The war in Ukraine awoke Europe to the vital need of securing its territorial, political, and cultural integrity while NATO realized the necessity of securing its entire European eastern flank. Both developments were welcome in the Western Balkans, but it was the EU’s immediate acceptance of Ukraine’s and Moldova’s membership applications, without applying the usual strict conditions, that raised eyebrows in the region. For the countries outside the bloc, Brussels’ unexpected move also provided hope for their renewed and faster accession process, delays to which dented EU credibility and gave Russia and China an opening to exploit.
All three powers, and the United States vie for influence in the Western Balkans, where the war in Ukraine has again exposed the fragility of economic, political, and ethnic relations related to Russian energy imports, China’s economic influence in other sectors, and unresolved tensions stemming from regional conflicts in the 1990s. Serbia has tried to balance its competing interests, keeping one foot on the path to EU membership while maintaining good relations with Russia. Belgrade denounced the invasion of Ukraine but has not adopted sanctions on Moscow. Serbia has also become a sanctuary to 140,000 Russians fleeing Kremlin control and a refuge to 20,000 Ukrainians fleeing violence.
An outsider may see the course of the events in the Western Balkans in 2022 as business as usual. But developments merely reflect unfinished business in the region, which has started to display many of its bad old habits as the United States and the EU remain preoccupied with Ukraine. Rising economic grievances are leading to a significant brain drain, Bosnia and Herzegovina is again paralyzed by complex government structures, NATO members Montenegro and North Macedonia suffer from internal political instability brought on, in part, by an uncertain EU accession process, and tensions between Serbia and Kosovo are so high that urgent damage control has been needed.
For all Western Balkan countries, EU membership is the ultimate goal. It would contribute significantly to economic and, therefore, social and political stability. Getting there means diversifying energy sources, investing in clean energy, and opening liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, as Greece has recently done. It also means adhering to the rule of law and EU values, and implementing political, economic and social reform.
For Serbia and Kosovo, it also requires normalization of their bilateral relations. Brussels and Washington have been clear about these requirements, and they have sent several envoys to push both sides to accept a Franco-German proposal for resolving their many disputes and to implement previous agreements.
These challenges will remain priorities in 2023, with the war in Ukraine taking a back seat. Long-festering regional challenges must be sorted before Western Balkan countries can play a significant role in the great-power tussle nearby.
United Kingdom: At the Vanguard of Support
Ukraine has staunch supporters in the government and people of the United Kingdom. Fully 88% of the British public backs London’s response to the war, even if many also see the Russian invasion as the biggest contributor to the current cost-of-living crisis.
The United Kingdom has contributed £2.3 billion of assistance to Ukraine, and the government has vowed to match or exceed that amount in 2023. London has donated anti-tank weaponry, anti-air missiles, ammunition, and armor. It will this year send Challenger 2 tanks. And the British armed forces are training their Ukrainian counterparts. But a weak link in the UK’s efforts is its slow visa regime. As of January, the country had granted only 215,800 visas to Ukrainian refugees, compared to more than 1 million issued by Germany.
Russia is seen as the UK’s most acute threat. The year ahead will see continued British support for Ukraine, though depleting arms stockpiles are an increasing concern. Many members of parliament are calling on the government to increase spending for war-fighting capabilities after decades of defense cuts. An update to the country’s foreign and security strategy, last released in February 2021, is due in early March.
Euro-Atlantic security will remain a key focus of that plan, and British troops will stay stationed in Eastern Europe. London will continue to invest in NATO and the UK Joint Expeditionary Force, which comprises troops from Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Norway. The UK’s two main political parties also want the country to be more present in the Indo-Pacific and protect the region’s undersea cables and infrastructure. Some members of parliament are also calling on the government to harden its stance against China.
Still, a hike in defense spending will not be easy to implement. Although only 3% of UK gas imports came from Russia in 2021, British households and industries have faced some of Europe’s highest gas prices, mainly due to increasing global demand for non-Russian gas and limited UK supplies and storage capacity. The average household’s energy bill could spike to about £2,500 per year, nearly double the £1,300 pre-war average, once a government support scheme ends in April. The war in Ukraine has also put more pressure on pre-existing supply chain issues caused by Brexit and COVID-19, one factor behind an inflation rate that is the highest in G7 countries. Ukraine will remain a top British priority, but one on par with the many domestic challenges to economic growth and social stability.
United States: Resolutely Committed
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has jolted geopolitical and geoeconomic security, and meaningfully changed US relations with partners for decades to come. A constant among all the change, however, will be unwavering American support for Ukraine as long as the Kremlin’s military aggression continues.
A year ago, the Biden administration and a bipartisan Congress mobilized a whole-of-government approach to provide Ukraine with timely and essential assistance. This includes establishing in April 2022 the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, or “Ramstein Group”, led by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, to coordinate military assistance. The administration has also implemented far-reaching economic sanctions to isolate Russia and severely weaken its economy, and it has made Ukraine the biggest beneficiary by far of US aid. Washington has provided $27 billion in security assistance and billions more for fiscal, humanitarian, and other support.
US public support for Ukraine, however, has waned as Americans cope with inflation and competing political concerns. In response, the administration must ramp up messaging at home. It must explain to Americans the reasons for continuing and prioritizing support for Ukraine, including the provision of more advanced weapons and funds for reconstruction and recovery. President Joe Biden must make clear the direct threat Russia poses to the security and economic well-being of the United States and the world’s other democracies.
The administration also faces in 2023 a stiff challenge to its Ukraine policy from the new Congress. Partisan feuding could impact administration efforts to secure additional rounds of funding for Ukraine once current resources run dry. Capitol Hill legislators will ask if the US and global economy can withstand the conflict’s economic fallout. They will also want to know if US allies will maintain their levels of assistance. Some already have doubts on both fronts. Yet billions more will be needed for Ukraine’s military, battered economy, and humanitarian challenges.
The road ahead is unpredictable. The United States, Ukraine, and their partners will need to plan for all possibilities, including a decision by Moscow to deploy nuclear weapons and Kyiv’s launching a successful counteroffensive to recapture Crimea and restore its full territorial integrity. What if Ukraine wins and Russia loses? Will the Biden administration be able to keep NATO out of direct conflict with the Kremlin as the war drags on?
Despite the many potential headwinds, the United States will not pivot away from Ukraine. The risks may increase, and domestic American political debate will heat up as the 2024 presidential election approaches. Still, Russia should not count on a floundering US commitment to Ukraine and Eastern Europe.
NATO: A Transformation Underway
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a transformative moment for NATO, prompting the most significant rethinking of European security and US foreign policy since the alliance’s founding. NATO is adapting its primary task of collective defense by, in part, strengthening its military posture on its eastern flank. Europeans are confronting the hard reality that they can no longer ignore geopolitics. They need to assume greater strategic responsibility for their own defense while preparing for a future of persistent confrontation with Russia that stokes instability in their immediate neighborhood. Most European NATO member states are now on track to spend 2% of their GDP on defense by 2024, but the eastern and Baltic states are already pushing, ahead of the alliance’s next summit in July in Vilnius, to raise the benchmark to 2.5% or even 3% of GDP.
Military escalation, meanwhile, has marked the start of 2023, and NATO member states have responded with commitments to provide tanks, armored vehicles, and longer-range rockets to Ukraine as expectations of a renewed Russian offensive grow. The coming months appear to be a ”now-or-never” moment to support Ukraine. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is stressing that the allies need to increase weapons and ammunition production, and rapidly replenish stockpiles. But after a year of fighting and emerging production challenges, NATO is also looking to Asian partners (notably Japan and South Korea) to provide military support to Ukraine. In fact, the security of Europe and Asia are connected. The United States and its European allies want their support of Ukraine and imposition of sanctions on Russia to show the price China would pay if it invaded Taiwan, which Washington deems possible in four years’ time.
But NATO’s trickiest challenge this year may be the intersection of domestic politics and foreign policy. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to score points at home in an election year by frustrating Sweden’s application to join the alliance feeds the perception that his country is an unreliable and disruptive ally at an especially critical time. The alliance needs to help Stockholm and Ankara find a convergence of interests. Success will be difficult but decisive.
The key longer-term question is whether NATO member states will sustain their new defense commitments and direct them toward shared strategic goals. This is especially important for the alliance’s European members as they continue to question the staying power of US leadership ahead of the next presidential election, whose results could undermine the alliance. Also, as Washington’s long-term strategic focus remains on China, Europeans must update their contingency plans and establish strategic autonomy by strengthening their territorial defense capabilities while playing a wider security role on the European periphery, especially in the south where the United States and NATO may not be engaged.
The European Union: An Expansion of Powers
The war in Ukraine is another watershed event that has prompted EU institutions to act with unexpected speed and, in the process, acquire new political and economic powers.
With responsibility for trade, the EU has been principal implementer of sanctions against Russia. But mustering the required unanimity for action was hard. Several member states were highly dependent on Russian energy exports and Hungary’s frequent political alignment with the Kremlin regularly complicated efforts. Yet, EU sanctions have largely mirrored, with only occasional minor delays, those of the United States, whose trading relationship with Russia is relatively small. The EU’s political capacity to levy sanctions on a major trading partner, despite the accompanying self-inflicted material economic costs, set a precedent in Brussels. The bloc will use economic sanctions more often in the future.
The EU did not craft a uniform energy policy response in response to Russia’s weaponization of natural gas supplies. This was due to vastly different national energy supplies, varying degrees of Russian energy dependence, and disparate levels of seasonal demand. Instead, member states agreed looser coordination among national efforts aimed at reducing natural gas demand, enacting fiscal measures that primarily benefit lower income groups, and ensuring cross-border energy flows. The EU has nevertheless managed, in the aggregate, to reduce natural gas demand by roughly 20% since the beginning of the war. That success, along with greatly accelerated construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals and improved access to global gas markets, has been key to eliminating Russian gas dependence and liberating the EU from persistent threats of Kremlin energy blackmail.
The EU has traditionally not had any explicit military role, but Russia’s invasion has compelled it to redirect parts of its common budget toward the purchase of billions of euros of weapons for Ukraine. This, combined with the acceptance of Ukraine as an EU candidate country, a first for a nation at war, will fundamentally change the bloc’s nature by giving it a permanently larger role in European national security affairs.
The war’s budgetary impact will accelerate in 2023, when the EU issues about €10 billion in new common debt to provide more financial assistance to Ukraine. The ongoing support will spark a far larger debate about the EU’s ability find the hundreds of billions of euros that post-war Ukrainian reconstruction will require.
China: Holding Firm With Russia
By Andrew Small
China, and President Xi Jinping personally, provided an enabling backdrop to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The “no limits” partnership that Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin announced during the Beijing Winter Olympics was a forceful demonstration of political support, not least due to its unusually explicit backing for Moscow’s positions on the European security order.
Like most other governments, China’s expected a quick Russian victory rather than a drawn-out war. Beijing has instead spent much of the last year navigating the fallout. It has faced reputational damage in Europe from being seen as firmly in the Kremlin’s camp, and it has had to carefully maneuver around the complexities of Western sanctions so that Chinese companies avoid taking a hit as well.
But Beijing has recently discovered a political formula for trying to improve its image. Instead of the crude denunciations of NATO to which it resorted in the early months of the invasion, China now seeks to portray its close economic and military relationship as a potential asset for Europe. Beijing claims that the ties afford it a moderating influence over the Kremlin, rather than being a factor contributing to its resilience. In late 2022, for instance, China learned that, given Russian threats of deploying a nuclear weapon, repeating its boilerplate opposition to such a move could placate and accrue political credit in Europe. Beijing has since also expressed general concerns about the course of the invasion and dangled hints that it could assume the role of peace broker.
China can do this at no cost to its relations with Russia. Bilateral trade rose significantly last year with a huge boost in energy transactions, and discrete Chinese exports of semiconductors, helmets, and bullet-proof vests. Beijing has also engaged in an increased number of joint military exercises and allowed its supertankers to transport Russian oil. The help has not, and will not, be paired with any effort to influence Moscow’s approach to the war, let alone any pressure to end it. Beijing sees a partnership with Russia, even a weakened Russia, as an asset in a wider struggle with the United States and world’s other liberal democracies. China is, therefore, unwilling to abandon its northern neighbor.
This position indicates that hopes, particularly in Europe, for exploiting differences between Russia and China are misplaced. The coming year will show if Beijing can extract political gains from these persistent illusions. The Chinese government will continue to hint of a more constructive role in the Ukraine crisis if ties with the West improve—even if it has no intention of playing such a role.
India: Maintaining a Low Profile
By Garima Mohan
Indian criticism of the war in Ukraine has been muted, sidestepping publicly pinning any blame on Russia. But throughout 2022 New Delhi issued progressively stronger statements of concern, underlining support for territorial integrity, respect for international law, and protection of civilians. It has “unequivocally” condemned horrors such as those in Bucha.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has maintained channels of communication with the Ukrainian and Russian leaders, while providing humanitarian aid to Kyiv. He delayed taking a public position on the conflict until last September’s meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Samarkand, when he told Russian President Vladimir Putin that “today’s era is not the era of war”. India ended the year by playing a key role in bridging the gap between the West and the Global South at the G20 summit in Bali. The gathering’s final statement condemned the war and stressed its negative global consequences, which include “constraining growth, increasing inflation, disrupting supply chains, heightening food and energy insecurity, and elevating financial stability risks”.
The Indian G20 and SCO presidencies in 2023 will be important factors in the country’s Ukraine policy development. New Delhi will continue to pursue consensus building to ensure its hosting of the G20’s annual summit is successful. India will work to keep the meeting focused on mitigating the war’s economic fallout, particularly on food and energy security. This will require a delicate balancing act to guarantee that Russia and China participate and do not play a spoiler role by scuppering any final agreements. India’s public position on the war is unlikely to change, but it will play an active diplomatic role behind the scenes in both forums.
Still, India’s ties to Russia, despite continued purchases of its oil, are on a downward trend. Russia is emerging as a weaker and unreliable partner regardless of the war’s progression and outcome. Indian diplomatic interactions with the West far outnumber those with the Kremlin. India is also working hard to reduce its military dependence on Russia by procuring armaments from other partners such as France, Israel, and the United States.
India will continue to engage Russia, at least in the short term, because China represents the bigger security threat and because an isolated Moscow playing junior partner to Beijing is also a major concern.
The Global South: Functional Nonalignment
One year on, countries across the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America—the “Global South” is inadequate shorthand—remain ambivalent about the Ukraine war and policy toward Russia. Responses to the war range from wary alignment with transatlantic partners to tacit, or sometimes explicit, support for Moscow. No uniformity of approach exists, but a few elements shape perceptions and policies across the South.
With the notable exception of close Russian partners, such as Syria, Venezuela, and a few African countries, major actors, including Brazil and South Africa, tend to oppose Russia’s aggression on legal and moral grounds (although this has not stopped South Africa from planning a naval exercise with Russia and China). Successive UN General Assembly resolutions reflect this. There is also a keen awareness of the costs the conflict has imposed in terms of energy and food insecurity, the effects of which have been especially pronounced in parts of the Middle East and Africa.
The Ukraine war has upset long-standing assumptions about the exposure of rich and secure societies to instability and conflict emanating from the south. There is now a strong sense of southern exposure to major conflicts emanating from geopolitical struggles in the Global North. Foreign policy elites in Brazil, for example, tend to see the Ukraine war as a troubling, distant development to be held at arm’s length.
The left in Africa and Latin America has, as some European quarters do, a fair amount of nostalgic sympathy for Russia. Across the political spectrum in those regions, a reflexive discomfort with getting too close to the policies of former colonial powers also persists. And concerted Russian efforts to promote the Kremlin’s narrative in local media bolster such thinking on the popular level. Many across the South are reluctant to see the Ukraine war as emblematic of a wider ideological struggle between democracy and authoritarianism, even if strong opposition to Russian aggression exists.
Finally, many actors across the South are pursuing a kind of functional nonalignment. They condemn the invasion but are unprepared to impose sanctions. They align with transatlantic partners to a significant extent but hedge to preserve their relationships with Moscow. This approach is visible, in different ways, from Israel to South Africa, and from Algeria to the Caribbean. This ambivalence may be difficult to sustain in the face of a sustained conflict and a deepening transatlantic confrontation with Russia.
Georgia: A Cautionary Tale
It would be reasonable to assume that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would instantly ignite steadfast allegiance and courageous solidarity from Georgia. The country has been called the “democracy darling” of the Caucasus, after all, and it is certainly no stranger to Russian occupation. Unfortunately, that assumption ignores Georgia’s democratic backsliding under a Georgian Dream (GD) government, with oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili as its shadow head. Its neighbors may have rushed to Ukraine’s defense, but Georgia gave it a cold shoulder.
GD leaders went out of their way almost immediately after the invasion to object to sanctions against Russia. Rather than quietly and regretfully making the case that sanctions would be too hard an economic hit, as others have ruefully done, they instead angrily attacked any hint of criticism for their position, aggressively hurling insults at EU leaders, NATO, the US ambassador in Tbilisi, and even the Ukrainian government. Georgian leaders appear to interpret requests for support for Ukraine, or even for not supporting Russia as a conduit for sanctions evasion, as “dragging them into war”. GD has had harsher words for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy than for his counterpart in the Kremlin. And although Georgia has opened its borders to Russians fleeing conscription, Russian democracy activists, such as Anna Rivina, and others in the political opposition are denied safe haven.
Some of this reaction is based on a puerile long-standing grudge toward Ukraine for welcoming former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, GD’s arch nemesis, whom the party defeated in 2012. But the war is also testing a deeper, pre-existing dilemma that puts Georgia at a crossroads. If the government were to embrace a westward path, it would have to address its significant democratic shortcomings. These include a stranglehold on the judiciary, an uneven political playing field, opaque secret service forces, and abuse of state resources. These are the very things that keep GD in power, and losing them threatens Ivanishvili and his party. Their concern is warranted. Georgia’s previous transition of power resulted in significant retribution, and Saakashvili is today imprisoned and, according to foreign doctors’ assessments, dying from poisoning.
A non-aligned, agnostic, or frosty stance toward Western demands and democratic standards was previously emerging as the Georgian government’s natural resting place, though it periodically, and unconvincingly, claimed EU-NATO aspirations, when pressed. The war, however, is pushing Georgia to choose a lane. Sadly, Georgia appears to be opting for the one going north.
Russia: Lessons Not Learned
Russia, the aggressor and revisionist power that unleashed last year’s geopolitical and geo-economic transformations, has arguably adjusted the least to them. President Vladimir Putin for the moment has reduced his ambitions from annexing all of Ukraine to just four of its eastern and southern regions, but to accomplish even this he has had to accelerate domestic mobilization to significantly build up his military.
The Kremlin is sticking to its time-worn strategy of weaponizing all the tools at its disposal, including energy and food, and even religion, to amplify worldwide its negative power and influence. Moscow also continues to deploy fear, through unspeakable atrocities and war crimes against Ukrainian civilians, and threats to use of nuclear weapons, in an ever more desperate effort to achieve a victory of sorts. But the more Putin pursues this strategy to “restore Russia’s historic lands”, the further he pushes away others, especially the countries on Russia’s borders (with the exception of Belarus under fellow despot Aleksandr Lukashenko).
These trends will only accelerate in 2023 so that Putin can claim some semblance of achievement for his “special military operation”. On the domestic front, Russia will see continued repression and mobilization for war. Western sanctions will slow the Russian economy further, which will complicate Putin’s need to continue to balance internal forces that seek to advance or protect their own power and economic assets. Despite the brittleness of the Russian system, Putin’s political position is nevertheless secure in the near term.
On the international front, Russia will aim to strengthen its legitimacy by forging new agreements of economic cooperation and creating an “axis of (sanctions) evasion” with Iran, North Korea, and China that will allow for further prosecution of the war. Moscow will continue to use Ankara and, to a lesser extent, Budapest to sow more transatlantic division and try and prevent NATO membership for Sweden and Finland. But Putin’s most important bilateral relationship will remain that with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, whose support to craft a new, anti-American international system is critical. The Kremlin leader would far prefer to be the junior partner in a coalition of authoritarian powers than to see Russia’s neighbors, and ultimately Russia itself, be irreversibly drawn toward the West.