Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his defiance against Russia’s aggression has helped revive the common purposes of NATO countries and the EU.
While Putin was trying to break the unity of Europe and that of NATO with his attack, Ukraine’s brave stand — and especially that of Zelensky — against the invaders had the opposite effect: Europe and NATO acted solidly together.
NATO and the EU acted rapidly as the West took united and unprecedented steps to punish Russia for its aggression.
NATO is not more “brain dead”?
The Alliance’s role had diminished in the years of peace following the Cold War, to the point that French President Emmanuel Macron called it “brain dead.”
During the Ukraine crisis, however, NATO deployed about 40,000 troops to provide land, air, and naval assistance across the alliance.
Although NATO countries will not engage in warfare against Russia unless a member nation is attacked, the Alliance, for the first time in history, deployed parts of its combat-ready response force to Eastern Europe as a precautionary measure. NATO will also continue to send weapons to Ukraine, including air defense, though it did not commit to sending troops to the nation.
The EU imposed massive sanctions not only on the country itself but also on its financial systems operating outside Russia, targeting its economy.
Economic sanctions are already hitting Russia’s currency, stocks, and the wealth of the rich oligarchs. Much worse, it is affecting the lives of poorer Russians at home.
NATO and Ukraine
Moscow has repeatedly called on NATO to cease all military activity in Eastern Europe, while the West blamed Vladimir Putin for undermining security in the region.
After the USSR collapsed, the Alliance is edging ever closer to the Russian borders, while at the same time the EU is expanding eastwards.
Russia alleges that there were verbal commitments that NATO would not expand eastwards. The Alliance denies making such commitments, however.
The Kremlin has repeatedly urged NATO to stop expanding towards Russia’s borders. Ukraine, sharing a border with Russia, applied to begin a NATO Membership Action Plan in 2008.
Plans for NATO membership were shelved by Ukraine following the 2010 presidential election won by pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych who preferred to keep the country non-aligned.
In February 2014, Yanukovych was ousted, however, after the Maidan Revolution for his refusal to sign a political association and free trade agreement with the EU.
His ties with the Kremlin were exposed when he was spirited out of the country to Russia — where he lives now — aided by Russian special operation forces (Spetznaz).
While Russia feels threatened by the expansion of the Alliance in the territory, NATO has been moving forward for Ukraine’s accession.
At the June 2021 Brussels Summit, the Alliance’s leaders reiterated the decision taken that Ukraine would become a member with the Membership Action Plan (MAP) as an integral part of the process, despite Russia’s objection.
“It is Ukraine’s right to determine its own future and foreign policy course without outside interference,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
“Russia has no say in whether Ukraine should be a member of the Alliance. They cannot veto the decisions of their neighbors. We will not return to the era of spheres of interest, when large countries decide what to do with smaller ones,” Stoltenberg stated.
On January 10, 2022, U.S. and Russian diplomats held security talks in Geneva to discuss the military activities of both countries and growing tensions around Ukraine.
The head of the Russian delegation said that Russia needed “concrete guarantees” that Ukraine and Georgia would never become members of NATO.
In turn, Stoltenberg said that NATO will not compromise with Russia on Ukraine’s membership and that Ukraine’s membership in NATO will be decided by Ukraine and its allies.
He also assured that the Alliance helps Ukraine to meet the criteria necessary for membership in the organization.
NATO coming out stronger after Ukraine crisis
According to Article 5 of the NATO treaty, “collective defense” means that an attack on one ally is considered an attack on all allies.
Ukraine wants to join the Alliance eagerly. The same holds for Georgia. After the invasion in Ukraine, their request becomes more urgent.
Sweden and Finland, though neither of them NATO members, joined the Alliance’s emergency summit after the invasion of Ukraine and at this point it appears that they both want to join.
Moscow’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, however, warned both countries of “military consequences.”
“At this rate we have no other option but to join. Finland’s accession would strengthen the Alliance and help keep Northern Europe stable,” former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb wrote on Twitter.
Germany, which has never been involved in postwar armed conflicts and has very little contribution to the Alliance, is gearing up to create a strong military force.
On Sunday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz committed Germany to allocate €100 billion ($112.7 billion) of the 2022 budget for the armed forces. This would make the Alliance stronger.
“In attacking Ukraine, Putin does not just want to eradicate a country from the world map, he is destroying the European security structure,” Scholz said, addressing the Bundestag.
The EU acted swiftly as well
Immediately after the invasion and the Ukrainian President’s call for joining the EU immediately, the union responded swiftly.
First, the EU quickly imposed sanctions to weaken the Russian economy and industry, by blocking Russia from the European financial system and banning the country from the SWIFT system.
The European Parliament called on the European Commission and EU countries to provide further emergency humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.
It also called on the EU institutions to work towards granting Ukraine candidate status immediately.
Sanctions against individuals responsible for high-level corruption in Russia as well as oligarchs and officials close to the country’s leadership were adopted swiftly.
Furthermore, the European Parliament called on the EU and allied countries with residence by investment schemes (“Golden Visas”) to review diligently all beneficiaries of such residence status and revoke those granted to Russian oligarchs, individuals and their families.