Some recent news stories highlight a variety of European actions and reactions in the current Russian-generated Ukraine crisis.
Ukraine is composed of a variety of ethnic groups, and those ethnic groups are largely from its proximate neighbors. The graph below provides an overview.
The Hungarian government is one of the most-pro Russian states within NATO. And the government highlights its concerns over the Ukrainian government not protecting Hungarian minorities for its stance in the conflict,
According to an article published by EURACTIV, the author underscores that the current Ukrainian government’ minority rights stance limits any support which Hungry can provide in the conflict.
If Ukrainians do not back down from their anti-minority policy, it will very much limit the Hungarian government’s ability to provide any kind of support, even in this conflict, Foreign Affairs Minister Péter Szijjártó said in an interview with pro-government Magyar Nemzet outlet on Wednesday (26 January), Telex reported.
Budapest and Kyiv have been locked in a row over minority rights since Ukraine’s parliament in 2017 adopted the law “On Ensuring the Functioning of the Ukrainian Language as the State Language,” which Budapest says tramples on the rights of the Transcarpathian ethnic minority to study in Hungarian.
The number of ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine, most of whom live in the Transcarpathia region, is estimated at 140,000.
In turn, Hungary continued to block Ukraine’s cooperation with NATO and the holding of Ukraine-NATO Commission talks.
President Macron with France now assuming the rotating presidency of the EU council for the next six months has taken the opportunity in the crisis to highlight his agenda for European sovereignty.
According to an article published on January 20, 2002 in the EUObserver:
Macron in his speech returned to his theme to call for a more autonomous and sovereign EU.
He said Europe needs to set up its own security framework, and further talks with Moscow.
“In the next months, we should come up with a European proposal, building a new order of security and stability, we must build it among Europeans, then share it with our allies in Nato and then propose it to negotiation with Russia,” Macron said.
Then Europe should “propose it for negotiations with Russia”, he added, saying “we need this dialogue”.
Macron also said the EU cannot be satisfied with only reacting to international crises.
He said the EU should better defend its external borders, and promised to push ahead with an EU rapid reaction force, arguing that Europe needs to better equip itself, and “battle against illegal migration”.
Then in an article published on January 21, 2022 by EURATIV, another element of the French position was highlighted:
France’s plan to possibly deploy troops on NATO’s Eastern flank as fears rise of a Russian attack on Ukraine can be seen as a bid to clarify the ‘misunderstandings’ created by French President Emmanuel Macron, who recently called for the EU to forge its own security pact with Russia, experts say.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday (19 January) expressed France’s “readiness to go further, and within the framework of NATO to commit to new missions … in particular in Romania”.
The move was welcomed by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, who on Thursday said this meant “the Romania-France strategic partnership will thus be strengthened on the eastern flank, in the Black Sea region”.
Romania, a NATO member since 2004 and which already hosts around 1,000 US troops on its territory, also said it was ready to welcome more American soldiers.
And in that EURATIV article, a French expert was quoted as saying:
“It is a message we are sending to Romania, which is rather a Francophile and has fairly difficult relations with Russia”, Edouard Simon, research Fellow for European security and defence at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS), told EURACTIV France.
He also noted that this would signify that “Europeans are increasingly interested in each other’s security interests”.
Macron’s plan “is not to replace NATO or to detach oneself from the United States” but to “simply rebalance” the relationship, said Morcos.
Let us hope Putin understands this subtle message.
And a not so subtle message was expressed by the recent head of the German Navy whose remarks made in India were a cause for him to resign.
An article published on Military.com highlighted this event:
The head of the German navy resigned late Saturday after coming under fire at home and abroad for comments he made on Ukraine and Russia.
Speaking at an event in India on Friday, vice admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach had said Ukraine would not regain the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.
Schoenbach also said it was important to have Russia on the same side against China, and suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin deserved “respect.”
The Baltic states are sending U.S.-made anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine.
The defense ministers of the three Baltic states said in a joint statement published January 21, 2022 that they “stand united in our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in face of continued Russian aggression.”
Meanwhile, Germany is blocking such transfers involving German made weapons.
And the Ukrainian defense minister highlighted what he thinks about this as follows:
“They continue to build the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and at the same time block our [purchases of] defensive weapons. This is very unfair,” Ukraine’s defense chief Oleksiy Reznikov stressed in his comments to Financial Times while referring to the Russian gas pipeline that runs through the Baltic Sea to Germany.
The Wall Street Journal provided an overview on the German position seen from the optic of their reliance on Russian gas imports.
Germany’s dependence on Russian gas has left Europe short of options to sanction Moscow if it invades Ukraine—and itself vulnerable should Russia stop gas exports to the West.
A two-decade-old decision to phase out nuclear power and more recent moves to cut reliance on coal in an effort to bring down CO2 emissions mean Germany is now more reliant on Russian gas than most of its neighbors, not just for heating but also for power generation.
This year, the country’s last three nuclear power plants will be closed, just as Germany faces some of the highest energy prices in the developed world. All German coal plants are due to be closed by 2038.
With cheap gas reliably flowing from Russia for decades, successive governments never built an infrastructure to import more expensive liquefied natural gas from major exporters such as the U.S. or Qatar. The country currently has no LNG terminal of its own.
The UK defence minister provided a robust roll back on Putin’s narrative in a statement which the UK government released on January 17, 2022:
I have lost count of how many times recently I have to had to explain the meaning of the English term “straw man” to my European allies. That is because the best living, breathing “straw man” at the moment is the Kremlin’s claim to be under threat from NATO. In recent weeks the Russian Defence Minister’s comment that the US is “preparing a provocation with chemical components in eastern Ukraine” has made that “straw man” even bigger.
It is obviously the Kremlin’s desire that we all engage with this bogus allegation, instead of challenging the real agenda of the President of the Russian Federation. An examination of the facts rapidly puts a match to the allegations against NATO.
And NORDIC cooperation is deepening in response to the crisis, with the most visible aspect of this the revival of interest in both Sweden and Finland in joining NATO.
But whether they join or not, they are key partners in the process of significantly enhanced direct defense cooperation among the Nordic states since the Crimean seizure by Russia.
The crisis has certainly re-affirmed the Finnish decision to buy the F-35 which opens up direct cooperation with a state like Poland which also has the F-35 and is in line to work direct training with the Nordic F-35 states.
In our co-authored book on the return of direct defense in Europe, we highlighted the importance of enhanced Nordic defense cooperation and NORDEFCO as a coordinating forum, and the high probability that the UK post-Brexit would deepened its relationship with the Nordics as they, in turn, deepened their defense cooperation.
The Nordic cooperation piece was highlighted in the 21 January 2022 declaration Nordic declaration on the Ukrainian situation:
The Nordic Ministers of Defence met virtually on 21 January to discuss the deteriorating situation in and around Ukraine. The ministers monitor the security situation in Ukraine closely, and continue to consult with each other through the NORDEFCO Crisis Consultation Mechanism.
The ministers agree on the gravity of the situation, and the need to seek a diplomatic solution to the current situation. The ministers call on Russia to de-escalate through halting and reversing their ongoing military build-up in the region, and engage in dialogue.
The ministers reaffirm their support to Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and its right to decide its own foreign and security policy, free from outside interference. The fundamental principles underpinning the European security order remain non-negotiable.
The Nordic countries welcome dialogue on European security issues in relevant fora, including the EU, NATO, OSCE and the UN. The Nordic countries welcome the United States’ efforts in engaging Russia in resolving the current crisis.
This is what we wrote about the impact of Nordic defense cooperation in shaping a way ahead for the direct defense of Europe in our co-authored book on European defense:
Nordic defense and security cooperation are part of a broader global trend in which clusters of states are working together to enhance their ability to enhance their defense and security against the return of Russia and the rise of China. Clusterization is the next phase whereby liberal democracies do more for themselves in their joint defense rather than simply relying on diplomatic globalization initiatives through organizations like the EU or NATO to do that for them.
“Clusterization” is key to generating enhanced capabilities that can work interdependently with key allies outside of a regional cluster to reinforce the capabilities in a realistic and effective way to deter core adversaries. In the case of the Nordics, clearly the United States is the key outside power, with Brexit Britain and those states within continental Europe which have capabilities which can show up effectively to bolster the underbelly of the Nordic region are the key players that can reinforce Nordic defense.
But at its heart, the Nordics need to bolster their own capabilities as well to work more effectively with their offshore allies and their continental European partners.
But to be blunt: this requires looking more realistically at what the defense of the Nordic region means against the evolution of Russian policies, strategies, and capabilities rather than simply to assume that NATO as a multimember alliance will simply show up.
The Trident Juncture 2018 exercise in Norway is a good example of how a leading Nordic nation is rethinking its policies. On the one hand, Norway is working their national mobilization approach, and on the other hand, they hosted several allies within Norway, and in part, it is a question of what capabilities can be brought in a timely manner that would really make a difference in a crisis.
It is not simply a question of showing up; it is about blending those domestic and allied capabilities into an effective crisis management force against specific and targeted Russian threats.
But providing for enhanced Nordic capability within a broader transatlantic framework remains a work in progress, notably when measured against Russian activities, behavior, and evolving capabilities.
The Ukrainian crisis and the varied European responses underscore the significant differences in commitment to deal with specific crisis dependent on national interest, current government interpretations of those interests, and the proximity to the threat.
Hence, we a getting more realistic read of how the direct of defense of Europe plays out than simply reading NATO communiques of political statements from Washington. This is of course one of Putin’s key objectives as well.