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Three strategies of western support for Ukraine: intensification, modification and innovation

The geopolitical salience of the Russia–Ukraine War and the remoteness of Ukraine’s accession to the European Union or NATO call for intensification and modification of, and innovation in, current western approaches.

February 3, 2023 - Andreas Umland - Analysis

Kyiv Pechersk Lavra. Photo: Sergey Muhlynin / Shutterstock

In a recent report for the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies “How the West Can Help Ukraine: Three Strategies for Achieving a Ukrainian Victory and Rebirth,” I argue that there are already a whole range of effective instruments of Ukrainian-Western interaction. These existing tools need to be strengthened and adapted, however certain new ones are also needed to adequately address the new challenges that have arisen for Ukraine since February 2022.

Strategy 1: Intensification 

The simplest approach to providing rapid support to Ukraine would be the fastest. This would consist of the thorough utilisation of already operational treaties, programmes and formats that are suitable in their current form for increasing the country’s resilience. This means an acceleration or extension of, among other things:

  • Cooperation with NATO within the Enhanced Opportunity Programme (EOP), the NATO-Ukraine Commission (NUC), the Comprehensive Assistance Package (CAP), the Platform on Countering Hybrid Warfare and the Joint Working Group on Defence Technical Cooperation;
  • Deliveries of weapons within the Ukraine Defence Consultative (“Ramstein”) Group’s coordination framework of 50 states supporting Kyiv;
  • Implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (AA), Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) and Energy Community (ECSEE) cooperation;
  • Incorporation of budgetary and reconstruction support for Kyiv into EU and member states’ financial planning until Ukraine can become self-sufficient once again;
  • Participation by Ukraine in the EU’s Green Deal to achieve not only its environmental aims, but also sustainable energy efficiency and deeper European integration; and
  • Input from international structures in which Ukraine is a full participant, such as the United Nations and its suborganisations, the various international financial institutions, the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), among others.

Even without modification, Ukraine’s AA and DCFTA are effective instruments for supporting and integrating Ukraine. The AA goes beyond the agreements with the Eastern and Central European states of the 1990s, and the Stabilisation and Association Agreements that the Western Balkan countries signed in 2001–2015. While the latter treaties considered eventual EU membership from the beginning, Ukraine’s 2014 AA did not include such a promise until June 2022. Nonetheless, the AAs for the Association Trio (Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova) have since 2014 been more comprehensive and effective Europeanisation instruments than previous Association Agreements.

The new AAs and DCFTAs are capable of integrating the Association Trio deeply into the European Economic Area and preparing them for EU accession. The EU, its member states and Kyiv should therefore intensify as much as possible implementation of the AA and other existing cooperation and integration programmes. That said, the intensification of existing cooperation will be insufficient to face the new category of challenges and imminent threats in Eastern Europe.

Strategy 2: Modification 

This strategy requires the adaptation, revision or resetting of existing but dated algorithms, programmes or policies to make them appropriate for Ukraine under the radically different circumstances that have existed since 24 February 2022. It would mean, among other things, the: 

  • Extension and hardening of the current Western sanctions regime, especially to hit a wider circle of private and collective system actors in Russia, as well as a wider range of non-Russian companies that provide Moscow with war-related and other critical technologies or services;
  • Introduction of a staged EU accession procedure for the Association Trio, involving their gradual inclusion in various sub-unions, governing organs, regulatory frameworks, branch agreements and special EU programmes before the trio advances to full membership;
  • Addition of a Security Compact to the EU’s Eastern Partnership programme which would, above all, offer the Association Trio tailor-made Western assistance in addressing military and hybrid threats from Russia;
  • Institutionalisation of a permanent Ukraine working group within the new European Political Community (EPC), which would constantly tackle the Russia Crisis as Europe’s most urgent security issue;
  • Relaunch of adapted versions of older bilateral and multilateral Western programmes of support for reform and technical assistance for Ukraine in areas such as security, the economy, governance, mass media, civil society and education. 

A resolute intensification and modification of Western organizations’ existing Ukraine- related programmes and policies would go a long way to meet some of Kyiv’s current needs. Nonetheless, Ukraine’s extraordinary new circumstances and their consequences for the whole European project, as well as the institutional and doctrinal inertia of existing programmes mean that their acceleration and adaptation will also be insufficient. Entirely new tools will be essential to bring about a rapid qualitative change in Kyiv’s ability to not only win the current war but also make the best use of the subsequent peace.

Strategy 3: Innovation 

New international cooperation and integration formats will need to be established to meet the particular challenges of Ukraine’s fight against the Russian war of aggression as well as the reconstruction of the country. Among other things, the following novel approaches are hot topics in the expert community and have already been discussed in various international formats: 

  • A collective multilateral reconstruction scheme for Ukraine, reminiscent of the post-1945 US European Recovery Programme (Marshall Plan), which would engage, in addition to the EU, a variety of relevant aid organisations such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, national development agencies and private foundations;
  • A joint reconstruction platform or coordination centre – as first proposed in a CEPR brief and later expanded upon in a GMFUS report – which would function under the joint auspices of the G7 and Kyiv, as an attuning, auditing and clearing mechanism for multilateral, national and non-governmental actors ready to harmonise their support for Ukraine under a common roof; 
  • A new type of collective Western security guarantee for Ukraine from a coalition of willing states that goes significantly beyond the ineffective assurances previously provided within such frameworks as the UN, the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the OSCE, and so on;
  • A political risk insurance scheme for securing foreign direct investment (FDI) in, and international trade with, Ukraine that insures against war-related damage through the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, the Organisation for European Co-operation and Development or another existing or ad hoc institution;
  • An EU tank initiative to jointly deliver Leopard-2s to Ukraine from various European countries, and to secure their repair and servicing, as proposed in a detailed brief on this matter by the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Berlin office.

This is a non-exhaustive list of possible innovations that indicates the directions in which additional initiatives could go. Initiating and realising each of these and other similarly unorthodox projects will — even more than in the case of the intensification or modification of older programmes — demand considerable political will and political skill.

Dr Andreas Umland is an analyst at the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies (SCEEUS) of the Swedish Institute of International Relations (UI).

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