After 600 days of Ukraine war, EU considers long-term strategy

After 600 days of Ukraine war, EU considers long-term strategy

After 600 days of Ukraine war, EU considers long-term strategy
Service members of the Ukrainian armed forces stand next to a tripod-mounted missile system outside Kharkiv, Ukraine. (Reuters)
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As the conflict in Ukraine this week passed the 600th day of a grinding war of attrition, a potentially significant new dynamic is emerging that could change the course of the Ukrainian war effort. The steadfast support of the US for Kyiv appears to be potentially at risk as a result of the political dysfunction in Washington. This might create a critical gap that only Europe and its allies, including Japan, can try to fill, at least partially.
The Biden administration and much of the EU remain closely aligned on Ukraine. Yet, there are growing concerns about Washington’s ability to continue to help finance Kyiv’s war effort in the coming months because of a recent deal struck to avert a shutdown of the US federal government. This month, even President Joe Biden admitted that amid the gridlock in Washington it “does worry me” that US support for Ukraine might be derailed.
This legislative drama would, of course, be only a foreshock of the political earthquake in Washington that would follow the 2024 presidential election if a Republican skeptic of the war in Ukraine takes office. This will especially be the case if former President Donald Trump emerges victorious, given his apparent regard for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his disdain for Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.
Therefore, the current financial shenanigans in Washington might only be a foretaste of what is to come. It is in this context that Europe is thinking about how it might step up to the plate to ensure Ukraine can continue its fight from 2025, should the war still be in progress.
There are real limits on the ability of the EU and other European partners, such as the UK, to fill the massive shoes of the US. For instance, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has warned that the bloc would not be able to completely fill any funding gap created by a US withdrawal of financial support.
The potential for such a significant change is set in the context of a “war of attrition” between Russia and Ukraine that continues apace; Kyiv’s 2023 counteroffensive has achieved some territorial gains but the frontlines have remained stable for much of the year.
The conflict has already resulted in more than 20,000 civilian casualties, more than 5 million people are internally displaced, and more than 6 million have left the country. Meanwhile, more than 17.5 million people require humanitarian assistance.
Certainly, Ukraine has recaptured more than 50 percent of previously occupied territory but Russia still holds around 20 percent of the country. As both sides now dig in for the cold winter months ahead, breakthroughs might become increasingly difficult. Meanwhile, the number of military casualties has reached an estimated 500,000.
So it looks increasingly likely that the war will continue into 2024, and potentially much longer. It is against this backdrop that there is renewed thinking about how Europe can best contribute to the resilience of Ukraine in the medium-to-longer term, including military assistance, security guarantees, and economic support, such as access to the EU’s single market.

There could be significant wider benefits should Ukraine continue to successfully contest a long war with Russia.

Andrew Hammond

The starting point for this continuing commitment is the unprecedented support that Europe has already provided for Ukraine. The EU and its member states have delivered economic assistance of more than €76 billion ($80.4 billion), which is more than the US.
However, as experts from organizations such as the European Council on Foreign Relations have asserted, even more funding will be required to support Ukraine in a long war that continues for years to come. The council advocates for the urgent acceleration of European military assistance, which would necessitate a step change in Europe’s defense-industrial capabilities, and the admission of Ukraine not only to the EU but also NATO.
As part of this future commitment, key EU leaders could also remind Ukraine that during the Cold War, the Western alliance did not recognize Soviet control of the three Baltic states. Ultimately, these countries emerged free and democratic when the Cold War ended. So there are potential parallels with those parts of Ukraine that currently remain occupied by pro-Moscow forces, and these could be strengthened with generous Western security guarantees for Kyiv.
Beyond the war, too, important commitments could be made to reconstruction. The rebuilding of Ukraine will resemble that of Western Europe after the Second World War, Eastern Europe after the Cold War, and the Western Balkans after the breakup of Yugoslavia. It will cost hundreds of billions of euros and be the most ambitious post-war reconstruction effort in the 21st century so far.
These commitments are likely to be very expensive, and the the European Council on Foreign Relations notes that there must also be upside opportunities for Europe to boost its longer-term military production capacities, enhance its geopolitical profile, and make the EU more fit for purpose for the decades ahead by reconsidering its institutions and policies to accommodate a potentially significantly larger membership than the current 27 states.
Moreover, there could be significant wider benefits should Ukraine continue to successfully contest a long war with Russia, including the diminished threat posed by Moscow to future European and global security, thanks to the protection of economies and trade routes.
Putin has shown that further destabilization of the established international order is a core element of his ambition. This would be fueled if he were perceived to have won in Ukraine, and might set a dangerous precedent that encouraged other states with similar extraterritorial ambitions, including some in Asia.
Taking all of this together, significant incentives therefore exist for Europe to plan carefully for scenarios in which US support for Ukraine diminishes before or after the 2024 US presidential election. While it is possible Biden will win a second term, even that might not guarantee continuing strong support from Washington against a backdrop of political dysfunction there that might yet get worse.

Andrew Hammond is an associate at LSE IDEAS at the London School of Economics.

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