After Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, Europe’s initial reaction was to throng to the US-led NATO alliance to give support to Ukraine in repelling Russia. Public opinion throughout western Europe swung heavily against Russia, fracturing existing Left formations. These effects led as far as Finland successfully applying for NATO membership and Sweden attempting to complete a parallel bid for membership. NATO itself, meanwhile, further extended its purview beyond the North Atlantic – now all the way to the Asia-Pacific. The war also drove a large increase in defense spending. Military outlays in Europe grew by 13 percent in 2022, with Central and West European countries spending a record $345 billion.
Yet, nearly from the beginning, cracks appeared in the veneer of European unity, and these have widened as the war has persisted. Turkey – not an EU member but a very important member of NATO – hosted negotiations between Ukraine and Russia to end the war in March 2022, only to see them quashed by the intervention of then UK prime minister Boris Johnson. Turkey also continued to hold up Sweden’s NATO membership, not only demanding a more forceful crackdown against the Kurdish Workers Party but also that the US sell it F-16 fighter jets. Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, joined Turkey in opposing Sweden’s NATO bid; his pro-Russian views are well-known. The victor of Slovakia’s election, Robert Fico, has called for an end to military support for Ukraine. Poland, whose hostility to Russia is historically engraved, was initially perhaps the greatest war-hawk in Europe; but its attitude toward Ukraine itself has grown antagonistic owing to a grain dispute and, at least for the moment, Polish military shipments to Ukraine have been halted.
The US recognized the vulnerability of the European front from the war’s start.
Between the early 2000s and 2021 Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, tied itself closely to Russia by becoming ever more heavily reliant on Russian natural gas imports. Months after the war began, the US blew up the Nord Stream 2 pipelines, which were to carry still greater quantities of gas from Russia to Germany. This action resulted, according to investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, “from fears in the White House…that Germany and then NATO, for economic reasons, would fall under the sway of Russia and its extensive and inexpensive natural resources. And thus followed the ultimate fear: that America would lose its long-standing primacy in Western Europe.”
With this act of sabotage against its allies, the US sought, with considerable success, to bring Germany back within the fold. To cope with skyrocketing gas and electricity costs caused mostly by the collapse in Russian gas supplies, Germany announced a “defensive shield” worth 200 billion Euros, to place a brake on consumer gas prices, while the country signed a second 20-year deal with US company Venture Global to import from the US additional liquefied natural gas (LNG).
Yet, German Chancellor Olof Schulz still remains cautious in adopting US/NATO priorities. He has tied the delivery of German Taurus long-range missiles to Ukraine – which some chancellery officials worry could end up moving Berlin “closer to a direct confrontation with Russia” on the grounds that they will require German technicians to operate – to the US’s own delivery of (ATACMS) long-range missiles. Moreover, French President Macron’s policies on Ukraine have been inconsistent.
With considerable trepidation, US foreign policy organs are openly discussing the question of whether Europe and the US will abandon long-term support for Ukraine. The EU is set to approve $53 billion to assist Ukraine; however, the European zone faces an economic slow-down. Germany’s economy, Europe’s largest, is expected to shrink this year, and the country has already announced (in July 2023) cuts to social services and most other parts of its government budget. Considering Europe’s increasingly delicate political and economic condition, continuing aid to Ukraine is not guaranteed. Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden voices his unwavering support for Ukraine; however, a growing number of Republicans, though historically hawkish in supporting US global militarism, oppose providing aid to Ukraine because they are driven by a nationalist ideology of “America first”: last week, they managed to force the omission of additional Ukraine military aid from a measure the keep the US Government running. If the US permanently reduces military support or other funding for the war effort, it is unlikely that the EU will cover the additional expenses.
The EU’s activities and initiatives in the digital sphere exhibit a somewhat less fraught and complicated dynamic. In this critical realm of the political economy, however, the EU is pursuing a genuinely independent policy.