Europe Wakes Up How Putin's War Has Spurred the EU into Action

The EU has long found it difficult to find a common policy on Russia. Putin's war of aggression against Ukraine has now brought the bloc together, and Brussels has responded decisively.
An Analysis by Maximilian Popp
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the EU's foreign policy representative Josep Borrell

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the EU's foreign policy representative Josep Borrell

Foto: Stephanie Lecocq / dpa

Less than two weeks ago, the German government was blocking the delivery of East German howitzers from Estonia to Ukraine. Italy was refusing to impose sanctions against Russia to avoid a negative impact on Gucci’s bottom line.

And now?

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz plans to provide special funding of 100 billion euros to the German military. The EU intends to send fighter jets to Ukraine. BP, the British energy conglomerate, has announced it is selling its 20 percent stake in the Russian oil company Rosneft – worth approximately $14 billion.

Dawning of a New Era

Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine has caused bewilderment across the world. In Berlin and elsewhere, it drove several hundred thousand people onto the streets on Sunday. It has also led to one of the most dramatic political reversals in postwar European history.

Regardless of what one thinks of the details of the measures, it’s clear that a new era has dawned in Europe. It is almost impossible to keep track of all the taboos that have evaporated in recent days, of all the principles abandoned by European decision-makers. Politics, economics, diplomacy, military – almost all spheres have been affected by the change.

Ukrainische Soldaten nach Gefechten mit Russland in Kiew: Weltweite Fassungslosigkeit

Ukrainische Soldaten nach Gefechten mit Russland in Kiew: Weltweite Fassungslosigkeit

Foto: SERGEI SUPINSKY / AFP

For years, EU member states have been at an impasse about whether and how refugees should be distributed across the continent. On Sunday, EU interior ministers unanimously decided to grant Ukrainians blanket protection status for three years without first having to go through an asylum process. Even if it raises questions about why similar solidarity does not exist for refugees from Syria or Afghanistan, it is a huge step for the EU. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also spoke in favor of Ukraine joining the EU.

Brussels Suspends Transactions with the Russian Central Bank

EU states have also overcome their misgivings on sanctions. Germany, Italy and even Hungary, which is ruled by the autocratic Viktor Orbàn, gave up their resistance to the exclusion of Russia from SWIFT, the international payment network, over the weekend. Even more importantly, Brussels has stopped many transactions with the Central Bank of Russia. The Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik are no longer allowed to transmit in the EU.

But the most decisive change has taken place in defense policy. The 100 billion euros that the German government wants to spend on armaments is a sum that, even just a few days ago, seemed unimaginable. The EU is intending to deliver arms worth 450 million euros to Ukraine. And even traditionally pacifist Sweden is sending weapons. German Chancellor Scholz justifiably described it in his Sunday speech before a special session of German parliament as a "watershed.”

In the past, the EU has been accused of being divided and phlegmatic. It often reacts late and half-heartedly to crises like the one this past summer in Afghanistan, often resorting to inconsequential declarations of solidarity. In the conflict with Russia, it is now showing a remarkable power to act.

The question is whether it comes too late. It is likely that the determination shown by the internationally community has made an impression on Putin. The Russian president likely considered sanctions in his planning, but probably not to this extent. It remains unclear, though, if that will lead him to break off his military campaign in Ukraine. Putin’s barely veiled nuclear threat over the weekend combined with events on Monday, which saw the Russian military continue bombarding Kharkiv even as "negotiations” between Russian and Ukrainian delegations were being held, made it look like such hopes remain farfetched.

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