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Europe and the war in Ukraine: DE-PL-UKR perspectives

A report on the different regional perceptions of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine was recently published by the Jan Nowak-Jeziorański College of Eastern Europe in cooperation with Austausch. It was prepared within the framework of the German-Polish Roundtable on the East.

February 28, 2023 - Adam Balcer - UkraineAtWar

Report cover by DoLasu.

February 24th 2022 will be remembered as a key date in the modern history of Europe with global ramifications. Russia launched a full-scale invasion against Ukraine on that day, however, Kyiv defended heroically its independence and organised successful regional counterattacks. The Ukrainian state, armed forces and nation showed tremendous resilience and continued the fight against the Russian aggression. On the other hand, the Russian invaders suffered striking setbacks and committed terrible crimes on a massive scale against Ukrainian civilians. The EU and NATO proved their vitality by rallying behind Ukraine. They provided Kyiv with large military, economic and humanitarian support and imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia. The West managed also to get the support of important external partners in the UN General Assembly. Nevertheless, the war has been going on for one year now and it does not seem like it will end soon. Russia still occupies above 15 per cent of Ukraine’s territory and the country suffered enormous material losses. The worst case scenario for Europe would be Ukraine’s military defeat, in which the country would survive but lose a huge part of its territory. This could encourage Russia to invade smaller countries in Eastern Europe or the South Caucasus, and even annex Belarus. The best-case scenario would be Ukraine’s victory on the battlefield, the regaining of all occupied territories, and the fall of Putin’s regime which could lead to Russia’s democratisation.

Taking into consideration all these factors, the increased Western support for Ukraine’s war effort represents a crucial issue which will decide the outcomes of the war. Germany and Poland belong to a group of the most important supporters of Ukraine. Consequently, their cooperation with Kyiv, which is deeply rooted in a wider European context, will define to a large degree the conduct of the war. Therefore, The Jan Nowak Jeziorański College of Eastern Europe, together with Austausch, decided to invite prominent German, Polish and Ukrainian experts to write essays approaching the war from various angles and presenting different perspectives. First of all, we assumed that the war is taking place on a great scale also in non-military fields, and that it will have fundamental consequences for all of Europe. Therefore, we placed less emphasis on the conduct of the war on the front and focused more on economic war, Russia’s neo-imperialism, the Kremlin’s propaganda, politics of identity and memory, and Europe’s security, including the impact of the war on German foreign policy.

Our report under the title “Europe and the war in Ukraine: DE-PL-UKR perspectives” begins with Olena Snigyr’s essay “The future of the European security order: Russia’s imperialism versus democracy”. This piece argues that any democratisation in Russia after a regime change would be impossible without the completion of the decolonisation process in this part of Eurasia. Moreover, Russia must finally start to act like a normal state obeying the basic principles of 4 Introduction international law. No more, no less. However, Nedim Useinow in his article “The national question in Russia. What should be the Ukrainian reaction?”, believes that the current conditions in the Russian Federation do not support the idea of the country’s disintegration in the short-term perspective. In his opinion, “Instead of reckless narratives about Russia’s ‘decolonisation’, Ukraine should promote more legitimate, clear and realistic liberation rhetoric.” Indeed, Russia wages its war against Ukraine not only on the battlefield but also in the minds of Russian citizens and through propaganda directed at people around the world. As Jan Piekło writes in his article “Frozen historical trauma – how to deal with it?”, Russia’s narrative“ is a hybrid mix of tsarist Russian imperialism, Soviet mythology and also religious elements connected to Orthodoxy. At the moment, its dominant aspect is fighting “Nazis” and NATO”. Agnieszka Bryc in her text titled “Time to pursue a Zeitenwende on Russia” stresses that Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is not an episode, but a process with profound historical roots grounded in imperial ambitions. In her opinion, the international order needs a profound reshaping so that it will make Russian aggression a highly unlikely scenario in the future. Of course, this is undoubtedly the crucial task for Berlin and Warsaw, which can support Ukraine and thereby take responsibility for Europe’s future sustainable security.

On the other hand, “How real is the Zeitenwende? Explaining the gap between rhetoric and action”, written by Susan Stewart, describes extensively the Zeitenwende, namely a political rethink triggered by Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. It includes essential questions on European and transatlantic security, EU reform and enlargement, as well as military expenditures and economic adjustments within Germany. Mattia Nelles in his contribution “The weak link? Germany and Russia’s war against Ukraine” assumes that most probably the war will continue for many months and that this is why the West, including Germany, must provide Ukraine with all the equipment that Kyiv needs to maintain this high intensity war over the next few months or even years. According to Nelles, Germany’s commitment is considerable but often evaluated as insufficient. Moreover, the German reaction to the war has provoked serious discussions and even tensions within society and the political elite, as well as criticism from other allies.

Certainly, the war brought a dramatic deterioration in the economic situation in Ukraine. Nevertheless, its economy supported by the West has managed to survive and defend itself against Moscow. The condition of Ukraine’s economy after the Russian full-scale invasion is analysed by Yurii Gaidai in his article “The war and Ukraine’s economy: its perspectives and Western assistance”. Finally, Justyna Gotkowska’s article titled “Security in the Baltic Sea region and the Russian invasion of Ukraine”, argues in a convincing way that “the sustained will among NATO countries to strengthen collective defence of the Alliance and to enhance deterrence and defence in the Baltic Sea region represents a key issue which will define the security of Europe in the coming years.”

Our report is published within the framework of the German-Polish Roundtable on the East. Every year in autumn it gathers experts, journalists, scholars, diplomats, politicians, local government officials and NGO activists from Germany, Poland and other countries in order to discuss German and Polish policies towards Eastern Europe. The Jan Nowak Jeziorański College of Eastern Europe, together with Austausch, with the support of the Heinrich Boll Stiftung, the Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation, and the city of Wrocław, have been organising the roundtable since 2018.

The full report can be found here

Adam Balcer is a programme director at the Jan Nowak-Jeziorański College of Eastern Europe in Wrocław.

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