None of the below is a prediction. It is simply a speculation. I’m not foolish enough to “predict” the EU would do the right and courageous thing. But they could always surprise us…
There hasn’t been much to say about Ukraine. They did not get lucky in the summer counter-offensive. So we’re looking at another year of war.
Putin and Russia have still lost. That has been obvious since about 5 days into he war. No amount of goal-post moving will hide that Russia is weaker and less powerful today. Nor does he have a clear exit strategy.
Ukraine “wins” decisively if they push the border back to their pre-war boundaries.
- They have definitely joined “Europe” and avoided the vassal-state status Putin intended to impose. I’m assuming the Ukrainian people will not forgive or forget.
- They would be solidly better off. It isn’t a huge loss if Luhansk and Donetsk – economic basket cases – remain Russia’s problem (for the time being).
- Crimea remains an open question and the most obvious source of future tension. But Crimea itself might decide that life is better in a prosperous “European” state somewhere down the line.
Even today, you could plausibly argue they are in a better position than before the war. Giving up some territory to join Europe might still be worth it. But that’s a narrow and bitter win at best.
So the outlook boils down to
- Can Ukraine take back that occupied chunk north of Crimea, West of Donetsk, and East of the Dnipro? The past 6 months show that won’t be easy. But it is still very possible. They just need a little luck and a lot of artillery shells.
- Will “the West” give them the money and materiel to stay in the war? There are growing questions about the US commitment. There is surprisingly little consideration given to the European commitment…
Will Europe step up if the US Steps Back? Existential Threats Can Focus The Mind…
The “Ukraine support” debate usually focuses on Washington. People assume that Europe lacks the will, cohesiveness, or funding to sustain Ukraine on its own. Putin is on that side of the wager. Based on the EU’s track record, that’s a good bet to make. But it is POSSIBLE (if not probable) that Europe could surprise us all. It is at least worth thinking about.
Lets say I could magically insert a moral and political backbone into Europe. If the will were there, could Europe sustain Ukraine on its own? Probably yes…
- Ukraine needs a lot of money, but Europe is a pretty rich place.
- Ukraine needs a lot of material support, but it is the sort of stuff the EU already produces. Artillery shells, vehicles, drones, and missiles. There is a “European” substitute or supply chain for pretty much all the US military systems Ukraine is using. Moreover, Europe can also buy in gear from the US (or South Korea).
We have seen some encouraging signs. Finland is sending more shells. Germany is shipping in more arms. The UK and France handed over Storm Shadow class missiles that have proven highly effective. The Europeans have supplied a lot of anti-air capability.
So the money is (probably) there. The means are definitely there. The problem is, as always, political will. Could Ukraine prove a catalyst for the EU?
Perhaps and JUST perhaps, the Europeans might come to realize that letting Ukraine fall will just invite deeper Russian encroachment and destabilization. Putin has unmasked himself. Even the most greedy burgher is going to find it hard to pretend otherwise.
Maybe the core European countries act in their own collective self-interest? Ramping up production and digging deep in their pockets to give Ukraine the tools it needs to actually win? Better to draw the European boundary with the rapacious Russian klepto-state at a reasonably prosperous, now rabidly anti-Russian, pro-European Ukraine. Much better than drawing that line along the Russia-friendly Hungarian/Moldovan border.
Note also that the “Europe” that emerged from such a decision is likely to be a more cohesive, competent, unified place. In some possible future, Ukraine’s entry into the EU might also mark the real birth of the EU itself as more unified entity. The dream of European integration has always been pursued by lurching from crisis to crisis. This challenge might mark another major lurch forward.
Enough said. Europe usually disappoints. Especially when it comes to defense matters. They likely will do so again. But it is just possible they act intelligently in their own self-interest (and also do the right thing).