From the Baltic to the Black Sea or how to build a European shield

Map of Europe in Vilnius DELFI / Mindaugas Ažušilis

There has been much talk recently about the European prospects of Ukraine and Moldova in the context of the European institutions’ decision to grant the status of candidate countries for EU accession. Undoubtedly, it is an essential step towards the rapprochement of the sides in today’s regional and geopolitical realities. However, the granting of candidate status is largely political. The gesture is a sign of consolidated support for Ukraine from the whole European Union, no matter which part of Europe a particular country is in, which in various ways supports the Ukrainians.

However, the question is, what comes next? What awaits Europe and Ukraine after this status is granted? It is obvious that the future format of the EU and Ukraine’s place in it, as well as the format of Ukraine’s partnership with the European Union in the near future, depends on the outcome and course of the war in Ukraine and the general paradigm of the future continental security system in Europe.

With the military expansion of the Russian Federation in Europe, a vital role in the aforementioned new security system is assigned to the countries of the Black-Baltic Seas axis. Accordingly, the entire area from the Baltic to the Black Sea is a zone of potential military strikes, provocations, manoeuvres, etc., by the Russian Federation. Moreover, after the start of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, there was a real threat of disturbing the balance of power of the entire security perimeter of both EU and NATO countries in the area of the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea.

These circumstances have forced the top leaderships of Finland and Sweden to reconsider their foreign policy orientations towards military neutrality in favour of integration with the Alliance. As a result, Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership on 18 May 2022. Since then, during the NATO summit in Madrid from 28-30 June 2022, almost all members of the Alliance have spoken in favour of accepting the two countries. The circumstances above also forced the EU to change its attitude towards Ukraine and, as a result, effectively granted Ukraine candidate status in four months. Earlier analysts had said it could take several years. Clearly, Russia’s war against Ukraine is forcing a change in the previous approaches that dominated Europe’s bureaucratic system.

At the same time, most military experts in Ukraine and around the world note that military action in Ukraine and Donbass in particular, will continue for the next six months. This is confirmed by the fact that, for example, the negotiating positions of both Ukraine and Russia are currently diametrically opposed, and the Ukrainian side will not negotiate with Russia on its terms soon under any circumstances. In addition, events on the frontline indicate that Russia’s blitzkrieg to seize Ukraine has failed. The Ukrainian army has shown a high level of fighting ability and morale. In contrast, Ukrainian civil society has shown the highest level of self-organisation: countless foundations, hubs, volunteers, and other public organisations have been established without the involvement of politicians, supported by opinion leaders or ordinary Ukrainian citizens.

These factors were not taken into account by the Putin regime when planning the military operation in Ukraine. Just as the steadfastness of the army and the strength of civil society were not taken into account when Stalin planned the military campaign of 1939-40 against Finland. Having realised the failure of their initial tactics, Russia’s top military and political leadership has moved on to terror tactics. The use of Iranian kamikaze drones to attack Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities is a new element of the terror tactics of the Ukrainian population. Despite the lethality of drone attacks, there is no panic among the population of major cities, such as there was in the first weeks of the war when many people fled Kyiv and the territory of Ukraine.

Thus, such tactics by the Russian Federation will not bring the desired results either. Moreover, many Western countries go for increased military and humanitarian support to Ukraine in such circumstances. This, in turn, will contribute to slowing down the military activity of the Russian army and, most likely, from the political point of view, Russia’s war against Ukraine will gradually become more and more senseless for Russians themselves, as the absolute majority of Ukrainians exclude the option of Moscow’s political domination over them entirely. 

Such developments will push the countries of the Black-Baltic Seas axis towards closer cooperation, irrespective of the position on Russia and Ukraine were taken by Western European countries, which are geographically far away from the hostilities. Cooperation between Ukraine, Slovakia, Czechia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Sweden, Romania and Moldova, and possibly Turkey will reach a new level. In other words, a new coalition of countries will naturally emerge, capable of countering Russia’s expansion deep into Europe. Furthermore, the countries above will actively promote Ukraine’s rapprochement with the EU in various political and military formats.

Already for the last eight months, it is visible that, for example, Slovak-Ukrainian, Ukrainian-Lithuanian, and Ukrainian-Polish relations have reached a new qualitative level in all directions – politics, military cooperation, culture and business. Circumstances are forcing other Nordic countries to reconsider their relations with Ukraine. The possible destabilisation of the Baltics by Russia (Lithuania, Kaliningrad, Suvalki corridor) will push the Nordic countries towards closer cooperation with Ukraine because it is the only European country whose army has combat experience in deterring the Russian military machine at the present stage.

The civil societies of these countries have shown great interest and support for the Ukrainians over the past eight months – voting for all pan-European initiatives aimed at strengthening Ukraine’s defence capacity, assistance to and adaptation of IDPs, humanitarian aid and military assistance to the AFU, etc. The activity mentioned above on the part of the above-mentioned EU countries confirms the interest and recognition of Ukraine as a qualitatively new partner in security and political issues.

Andriy Buzarov, Associate Researcher at the Department of Public Administration and Political Science, University of Klaipėda, PhD in Philosophy

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