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The following months are essential for Ukraine not only on the front, but also regarding the support received from Europe, is the opinion of the Professor of Political Sciences at Johns Hopkins (USA), Veronica Anghel.
Thus, it explains how European solidarity will be put to the test and how Russia acts in an attempt to impose pro-Moscow governments on the continent.
At the beginning of this year, Russia’s attack on Ukraine provoked a firm response from Brussels, coordinated by the European Commission, to which Eastern European states in particular joined enthusiastically. With the passage of time, the interest in what is happening in Ukraine tends to decrease, believes Veronica Anghel, who talks about several European crises that overlap at the moment.
In his view, “The European Union is going through several crises at the same time that test its solidarity. In the first weeks of the pandemic, the European Union was slow to take control, but it increased its ability to provide unified leadership soon after. We witnessed an opposite situation in the case of the war between Russia and Ukraine. The pandemic showed a more united European Union, with a conditional solidarity to which the public responded positively. Instead, the war points to a more divided European Union. We observe a situation in which people become more concerned with the direct costs they face than with the world events that caused them”, explains the expert.
At the moment, while the institutions of the European Union insist on maintaining a status quo, it is unlikely that this strategy will be sufficient to withstand the great global challenges that await us.
At the same time, the Europeans’ commitment to fundamental European values is as volatile as that of their governments, are the alarm signals raised by Veronica Anghel.
Thus, “European institutions have an important role to play in both situations, ensuring a central coordination to strengthen the effectiveness of policies. But the tools available to these institutions are not equally suitable to deal with such different crises and the different contexts in which the crisis takes place. The same is true for the member states, which seem strong in one context and in the face of a crisis, but weaker in another context. This is not a surprising conclusion. Not all crises are the same, and Europe is an ongoing project”, adds the Romanian teacher.
The European Commission deserves credit, she says, for coordinating a strong response from the first days of Russia’s attack. And the European Commission also supported Ukraine’s integration into the European Union and the provision of important support.
In his opinion, “When Russia invaded Ukraine, the European Commission played a leading role in coordinating the European Union’s response, especially in terms of imposing sanctions, but also in providing humanitarian assistance and even lethal weapons. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has projected herself at the forefront of the conversation – speaking to Ukrainian leaders, visiting the war-torn country and drawing public attention to the importance of making a firm commitment to Ukraine’s survival and even victory in the conflict. She even advanced the idea of bringing Ukraine into the European Union and thus re-opened the debate on EU expansion”, says the expert.
Instead, taken separately, the most important countries in the West seemed more interested in limiting the proportions of the sanctions against Russia and maintaining certain relations with Moscow. This is especially the case of Germany, a country that invokes dependence on Russian gas.
In the European context, “As the war progressed, the actions of the Commission contrasted with the developments in the member states, especially in France and Germany. French President Emmanuel Macron invested heavily in a reversal of the situation through diplomacy, but which did not register any progress. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz initially procrastinated on whether and how best to respond, and then – once convinced of the need for decisive action – he began to undermine his own public commitments through contradictory administrative decisions”, emphasizes Veronica Anghel. Russia counterattacks In parallel, Russia is acting through all channels to obtain the lifting of sanctions and to increase its influence in Europe. In recent weeks, the Kremlin seems to have achieved some success on this front. Hungary, but not only Hungary, opposed in several cases some sanctions packages and shook European unity. At the same time, pro-Russian parties are very close to taking power in countries like Italy and Bulgaria, whose governments have collapsed, generating political crisis.
Other member states contributed to the divisions. Here, the Hungarian government is the best illustration. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban not only refused to participate in the progressive boycott of Russian energy resources, but also delayed and diluted the sixth round of sanctions. As Italy heads into parliamentary elections, it is possible that nationalist forces currently ahead in the polls in Italy will push for a faster reconciliation with Russia, even if at the expense of Ukraine. Hungary and Bulgaria will be the countries in the region with which EU negotiations regarding the deepening of the EU’s separation from Russia will be difficult. In Bulgaria, the anti-corruption reformist government of Kiril Petkov was ousted by an alliance of political forces that want to maintain the status quo, by Eurosceptic and anti-NATO nationalists”, says Veronica Anghel.
In parallel, Russia tried to cause tensions in the Balkans, especially in Kosovo and Bosnia. However, Veronica Anghel maintains that the situation is currently controllable.
Why China refuses to give full support to Russia In the new Strategic Concept presented in June, NATO said for the first time that Beijing presents a “systemic challenge” to the international order and expressed concern about its partnership with Moscow, recalls Veronica Anghel. On the other hand, China will continue to have a diplomatic position regarding the war in Ukraine and will refuse to openly support Russia.
So, “Indeed, on a global level, Russia and China will work to weaken the foundations of the liberal international order based on the already known rules. However, the Moscow-Beijing axis is far from materializing into a formal security alliance. What we will see is that Russia will continue to support China’s ambitions in the Asia-Pacific in the hope of persuading Beijing to back it against NATO.
However, China is much more restrained in the Ukraine situation in order not to further antagonize the European states with which it has a much better collaborative relationship. Beijing blames Washington and NATO for the war in Ukraine, but will avoid expressing its support for Russia’s actions in order not to alienate European states. China will seek to separate its own disputes with Washington and NATO from economic collaborations with Europe. Beijing does not want Europe to approach the US position towards China”, concludes Veronica Anghel.