The Ukrainian crisis has led to a situation where the voice of the Eastern European countries and, in particular, Poland, is beginning to determine European foreign policy interests. This state of affairs is unique in modern history, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.
The Ukrainian crisis has given birth to new strategic constants. Along with the degradation of the unipolar world order, the conflict has painted a picture of a new balance of power in Europe, which escapes the analysis of Western experts. At the centre of Europe’s new strategic reality is the “inflation of influence” of the Eastern European countries, which was unimaginable 30 years ago.
In its current form, the European Union, whose development, whether economic or political, has been determined by the countries of Western Europe for the past 80 years, has in fact lost its sovereignty. In the early 1990s, at the height of plans for European integration, there was a real possibility that a full-fledged European confederation would be achieved: at the time, the countries of Western Europe wanted to establish their own defence policy, separated from the United States, and follow the path of creating the United States of Europe. This would greatly strengthen European autonomy — not only from the United States, but also from Russia and China. This unique opportunity was never pursued — instead, Western Europe succumbed to the temptation to expand to the borders of Russia. When this expansion took place, it suddenly became clear that the old European core was blurred.
In this context, the position Germany, one of the strategic locomotives of Europe of the outgoing era, is indicative. Berlin has lost its foreign policy initiative. German industry and German citizens are doomed to pay three times what they used to pay for energy. Together with the fact that the Germans have delayed the growth of real wages in their economy for a very long time, it was cheap Russian energy that made the German economy the main beneficiary of European integration. Now these foundations are under threat. There is no more cheap Russian energy. Soon there will be no more opportunities to restrain the growth of wages. They will have to be raised in order to avoid a massive surge in social discontent. This calls into question the viability of the German economic model.
The Ukrainian crisis has led to a situation where the voice of the Eastern European countries and, in particular, Poland, is beginning to determine European foreign policy interests. This state of affairs is unique in modern history. Many historians have always positioned Eastern Europe at the “crossroads” of Europe; it is portrayed as the constant battlefield for rival empires. Today, Eastern European countries are not only acquiring strategic agency, but are also coming to the forefront of European politics. The immediate task of Warsaw is to become the main European militarist, and to create a large military counterweight against Russia on Polish territory in case Ukraine is defeated. Poland is creating points of tension for Russia along the entire perimeter of its borders: military exercises on the border with the Kaliningrad region, and manoeuvres near the borders of Belarus. All of this shows that Warsaw is striving to seize the strategic initiative in the European Union and could potentially become its main actor if the conflict extends beyond the territory of Ukraine.
The strategic landscape of Russian foreign policy planning is also changing. Russia’s key task for centuries has been to exist as a strategically autonomous power, and for the past 300 years, the West has always been the main source of Russia’s problems and opportunities. Today, the vector of Russian attention is still turned to the West, but for the first time in the existence of Russia as a great power, the centre of world gravity is shifting to the East. Russia is now interacting not only with the West, but also with China, India, Turkey, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In all these places, Russia is viewed as an active, autonomous and successful player. In the eyes of many countries in the East, the fact that Russia has withstood Western sanctions for a year clearly demonstrates that resistance to Western hegemony is not just theoretically possible, but is an absolutely viable scenario.To the surprise of many, Russia, with its GDP of 2-3% of the world economy, is successfully competing with countries that represent half of the world’s GDP. At the same time, there is no mass unrest in Russia; even the electoral cycle hasn’t changed in the country. As it became clear that Russia was holding up well against a massive Western strike, confidence in the American strategy began to decline. The Western politicians and generals already are talking a lot about emptying their armouries and supplying the armed forces of Ukraine from their own strategic reserves. The general trend has changed — from a US attempt to crush Russia to its own attempts to contain the multi-polarity that is rising like bread in the oven. This is the key reason for the viability of the Russian strategy.