A Changed World – Part 3: The Ukraine Crisis Will Transform Europe

by Jai Menon - May 24, 2022 07:55 PM +05:30 IST
A Changed World – Part 3: The Ukraine Crisis Will Transform Europe (Flickr)
  • The key to strategic behaviour in continental Europe will depend on the answer to one question: Are decision makers in each country more comfortable being aligned to the EU leadership or to the Anglosphere?

On May 14, in Buffalo (New York), 18-year-old Peyton Gendron livestreamed his killing of 10 African Americans. In his online manifesto, a racist and anti-Semitic tract, Gendron had a page titled “What You Need to Know”, with a Sonnenrad (Black Sun) as the base image, clearly an inspiration for him.

The Sonnenrad, a Nazi symbol, can be found on the logo of the Ukrainian Azov Battalion. In the initial weeks of the conflict, they were also seen as patches on the uniforms of many Ukrainian soldiers along with other modified Nazi symbols.

The widely present and visible neo-Nazi element in Ukraine is largely ignored, or denied, in Europe even though Western news agencies had run stories about this issue after 2014. This ideological strain will prove to be contagious and directable in European societies in the years ahead, not unlike how Al Qaida and ISIS or their surrogates have been in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Part 1 and Part 2 of the series “A Changed World” covered: the state of the Ukraine conflict, what awaits the UN in the years ahead, the complexities facing NATO, and the remarkable coherence of the response by individual Asian nations.

Yet the part of the world most affected by this crisis is Europe. To understand its future trajectory, it is necessary to look at Europe as three overlapping zones.

A Changed World – Part 3: The Ukraine Crisis Will Transform Europe

The key to strategic behaviour in continental Europe in the years ahead will depend on the answer to one question: Are decision makers in each country more comfortable being aligned to the EU leadership (Germany/France primarily) or to the Anglosphere (US and UK primarily)?

That, in turn, will be guided by public perception of the conflict in Ukraine, its causes and its consequences. The diagram above describes the expected alignments on major issues.

Scandinavian and Central/East European decision makers will prioritize an Anglosphere umbrella under the NATO framework, while being EU members. The West & South European zone will seek to adapt to EU leadership under Germany and France, while depending on NATO for security for the foreseeable future.

It is important to observe the following: (a) the West & South European zone has an economy nearly five times larger than the other zones combined; (b) Germany alone has an economy bigger than both other zones put together; and (c) Germany and France generate more than double the combined GDP of the other two zones.

By necessity, these alignments will not be rigid. European countries will have to live within the EU and NATO simultaneously. The degree of elasticity and overlap between these zones will depend on how long the Ukraine conflict continues, how it ends and who the net losers will be. The longer it lasts, the more rigid the alignments are likely to be.

The Biggest Losers? Ukraine and The Core EU

However this conflict ends, it is clear the biggest loser will be Ukraine. It will forego a significant chunk of its territory in the east and the south. What is left of it will have no means of independent economic recovery for at least a decade.

It is highly unlikely that anything like internal political stability will come within that period. Depending on how the crisis unfolds, there is even a chance that Ukraine will cease to exist. President Volodymyr Zelensky on May 21 changed his usual tune and stated that only talks can end the conflict.

The next big loser will be the EU as an entity and its core states in the West & South European zone. The outlines of this reality are emerging. A disconnect is visible between the sanctions evangelism of the Brussels bureaucracy under the European Commission and the economic realities of individual member states.

Germany, which is by far the largest economy in the EU, is also the most dependent on Russian energy supplies. Any suggestion that there should be a ban on Russian gas supplies is tantamount to calling for the impoverishment of the German people. Yet that is the central logic underpinning sanctions against Russia.

Berlin doubled its defence budget to $100 billion this year, within three days of the Russian invasion. It is a necessary step in what will over the medium to long-term become a larger, more definitive, voice within NATO and/or the foundation of an EU defence capability. Moves to block this eventuality will only further weaken both organisations.

Meanwhile, this simple reality seems to have evaded the sanctions evangelists. There is no practicable way, in the near future, to replace the 155 billion cubic metres of gas that Russia supplies to Europe with other suppliers or equivalent renewables.

Suggestions that this is possible are fuelled by fantasy rather than fact. The US has proposed to supply 15 billion cubic metres, less than a tenth of the requirement.

The feasibility of even this proposition has been looked at in some detail by Venugopal Narayanan in an insightful 5-Part series of articles in this magazine. There is plenty of room for skepticism.

In the months and years ahead, due to indifference towards the individual realities of EU member states in the Anglosphere, political and economic comfort levels will be tested severely in all zones. Influencers in many of these countries are beginning to realise and articulate the direct and personal costs (quite literally) of their governments’ posture on Ukraine.

They are also starting to question the narrative they were rapidly convinced of in late February, which did not allow time to challenge the instantly imposed sanctions. They are recognising that it does not quite square with the facts and cogent analyses that have been coming to the fore since then - especially on social media – in the face of widespread self-censorship by mainstream media.

On the one hand, in the near term we can expect widening cognitive dissonance due to the steady, grinding progress of the Russian military in eastern and southern Ukraine. On the other, there is inflation, news of potential food shortages, and weakening economic prospects in the years ahead.

It is only a matter of time before the public in the West European & South Europe Zone, which has a $14 Trillion economy next in size only to the US and China, demand that their governments further dilute the sanctions regime. That can only happen if they adjust their policy posture on Russia

In other words, the core EU states – especially Germany and France - will be obliged to flex their muscle over their own strategic direction as a result of public pressure across multiple fronts, arising from economic as well as security exigencies.

Many, if not most, of the West & South European Zone countries will go along with varying degrees of acquiescence – as necessitated by their separate bilateral balancing acts with the Anglosphere.

Such a shift will, in effect, be a direct (though unstated) challenge to the Anglosphere push for the weakening and isolation of Russia. This will strengthen the zonal separations. And that, in turn, will weaken both the EU and NATO.

As internal contradictions within these bureaucracies manifest, we will see calls to remove or dilute processes in both organizations which require unanimity among members. There are some early hints of that already. It is possible that one or more members may exit or be expelled from both the EU and NATO in the coming decade

These outcomes will unfold because of the realities of geography as well as of the economic and security imperatives of the various European national identities. It will be the result of the perception of self-interest of powerful countries in the region and a sense of imbalance in the potential gains, near-term losses and expected sacrifices emerging from ongoing developments in the Eurasian heartland.

An EU citizen of Indian origin, Jai is based in East Africa and is a keen observer of Eurasian and South Asian developments.

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