Blog AnalysisRussia Caucasus Ukraine

[Reflection] Ukraine. Are the Europeans at war with Russia?

(B2) One year after the start of Russia's massive military intervention in Ukraine (February 24, 2022) and the equally massive European support for Ukraine, we can legitimately ask the question today. Reflection elements.

Arrival of vehicles donated by Europeans in Ukraine (Photo: EEAS - Josep Borrell)

To see clearly... let's take the definition of Clausewitz, the modern war theorist: " war is 1. an act of violence whose 2. objective is to compel the adversary to carry out our will (…) To achieve this end with certainty 3. we must disarm the enemy ". War leads to rising to the extremes ", it's about having a job " unlimited strength ", but also to have a " force calculation » necessary and a « measured climbing ».

Are these elements (objective, means, tempo) met? To get to the bottom of it, let's examine the means implemented by the Europeans (and more generally by the Allies).

1. political will. The designation of the adversary is very clear. Russia, its government, are explicitly designated as the initiator of the conflict: " an unprovoked and unjustified war of aggression waged by Russia against Ukraine ", a " invasion according to the established terminology. She is considered responsible for most war crimes, on orders, and even for genocide. And its leaders must be judged for their deeds. Hence the idea of ​​an international tribunal or a special tribunal to judge its leaders.

The objective of compelling the adversary to carry out the will is also clear. Europeans regularly affirm their desire to " increase collective pressure on Russia to end its war and withdraw its troops ". They say to each other just as regularly alongside Ukraine: EU will support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people against [this] war [...]  as long as it takes ».

And the goal of this pressure is also clear: the liberation of all the territory in " its internationally recognized borders ". In other words: all of Donbass, even Crimea. Europeans recalling their " attachment unshakeable to the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within [these] borders ". NB: the quotations, taken from the joint declaration at the EU-Ukraine summit of February 3, will be repeated this Thursday (February 9) at the European summit in Brussels in the presence of Ukrainian President V. Zelensky.

  • A position of the Atlantic Alliance. If the Allies (Europeans and Americans) have designated Russia as an adversary, they have avoided doing so in a too conspicuous way. But this is a political trick. It is indeed the Atlantic Alliance as a political being, linking the various European countries that are members of NATO and related countries (Finland, Sweden, etc.) which is committed today alongside the Ukrainians just as much as the European Union and its Member States. With one singular exception: Turkey.

2. Economic pressure. She is very clear, strong and assumed. With almost ten sanctions packages (the last of which should be presented if not approved by February 24), the objective is not just to send a political signal. It is a question of laying down part of the Russian economic and technological resources. It is about undermining Russia's military capacity to act in Ukraine, or at least slowing down its efforts, by cutting off all European financial and economic flows. In short of the disarm in the classic sense of the term, but by "peaceful" means, soft power: the economy, by cutting off its supplies.

3. Massive military support assumed. This support involves a wide range of equipment: from ammunition to fighter aircraft parts, including portable missiles, tanks, artillery support, air defense, or gasoline, ... Allies have gradually increased, and above all assumed, this military assistance.

The amount today is negligible. We have reached almost €12 billion on the European side alone. That is one billion € per month on average. It is roughly half of the equipment budget of the French army. €3,6 billion of which is jointly financed via the European Peace Facility (EFF).

The recent decision by Berlin and Washington to deliver Leopard and Abrams tanks (read: The Allies will equip a Ukrainian armored brigade. The Leopard Tank Club gets underway), and London the Challengers is not in itself revolutionary. She fits into a continuum which started from the beginning with the delivery of Soviet-made heavy tanks (type T-72, more than 400 delivered).

The novelty lies elsewhere: it lies rather in the media coverage and in the asserted desire to act in coalition. Where before, each country had a varying policy of media coverage — from Latin discretion to Polish-British excess. And where everyone was careful to specify that these were national decisions.

4. Strong support in training of the Ukrainian army. This support is not anecdotal. Europeans and other allies (United Kingdom and USA) want to train several Ukrainian brigades to prepare them in an express time (two months maximum per rotation) for combat.

A massive effort unmatched in modern times! On the European side, the target of 15.000 (by May) at the start has been raised to 30.000 trained men by the fall of 2023. Ditto on the British and American sides. The objective is indeed to provide the Ukrainian forces with the manpower necessary to face a Russian offensive as well as to replenish its troops lost in combat (about 100.000 men dead or wounded out of action).

5. intelligence support. Discretion is required in this area. But it is proven. European (French, German, British) and American satellite resources are used to provide valuable information to the Ukrainian forces.

It is part of the Allied intelligence power placed at the service of the Ukrainians which allows them to have a complete perception of the combat zone, with their own terrain "sensors" (human intelligence in particular), quite effective (of the Ukrainian baba with his mobile phone which informs local sources to analysts). Ukrainian intelligence benefits from European analysts on the spot.

  • Officially there is noground troop commitment. And the Europeans are careful not to deceive them on this point. If there are Europeans engaged alongside the Ukrainians in the troops, these are individual acts. And the presence of special forces, particularly in the context of intelligence or "training" support, remains underground (this is the very principle of these forces: neither seen nor known). But there are "liaison officers" with the Ukrainian forces, not only to facilitate the delivery of materials and equipment, but also to try to coordinate the strategy.

6. Place Ukraine beyond the reach of Russian influence. This political, military and economic pressure on Russia is coupled with a political and economic will to “snatch” Ukraine from Russian domination and influence. A desire that began gently in 2014 with the signing of an association agreement which today is coupled with a promise of membership of the European Union. An accelerated process! With the declaration of the recognition of candidate country in a few months. All accompanied by net financial support (approximately €1,5 billion per month in budgetary support, €18 billion for 2023), via the association of Ukraine at accelerated speed with European instruments. We are thus witnessing an urgent reorientation of the Ukrainian networks (train, electricity, road, etc.) to the European networks, until the insertion of Ukraine into the space of roaming European telephone.

The war... or peace

If we go back to the classic definition of war given by Clausewitz, we see that certain elements are there: the goal of " compel the adversary to carry out our will "The" search for the reversal of the opponent », from the « disarm ", the " calculation of the necessary forces ", etc. But there remains a notable absence all the same: one cannot say that there is an act of " violence "on the part of the Europeans towards Russia nor of will" unlimited use of force ».

Without being belligerent — the notion of co-belligerent is very vague: one is belligerent or not — the Europeans are therefore halfway to belligerency, clearly alongside a party at war (Ukraine), using all the instruments at their disposal (except military force) against its adversary (Russia). Without any ambiguity. But they cautiously stay below the war line, confining themselves to self-defense.

The final objective sought by the Europeans is not the overthrow of the regime in Russia (see box), but its withdrawal from Ukraine. It is thus a singular difference compared to the definition of the traditional war. It would rather be hybrid warfare: use all means, staying below the limit of open warfare. In fact, to the open war launched by the Russians, the Europeans and Allies reacted by hybrid means.

It should be noted, however, that in the history of modern Europe, to my knowledge, never have Europeans committed themselves so clearly and so massively in favor of one country against another. Even during the Yugoslav wars, even if there was support, it remained more or less discreet (especially for military support). The military intervention in Kosovo under cover of NATO is an exception. But it was short and limited in space, and was not marked by confrontation with a member of the UN Security Council endowed with nuclear power.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Nuances on the final objective sought

Between the reduction of Russian power and a return to normal relations

For some countries – the Balto-Polish – it is necessary to put an end to an aggressive Russia, which does not stop intervening in its neighborhood, and to cut off its wings, definitively. Hence their harshness in all aspects of pressure against Russia and in support of Ukraine (maximum economic sanctions, maximum military support, rapid accession of Ukraine to both the EU and NATO). A justifiable position (see below). For others (France, Germany, Italy), it is necessary to limit Russia's ambitions, but to find a new mode of balance with what nevertheless remains a neighbour. A point of view joined, more or less by the USA, which has another strategic imperative: to avoid the constitution of a Sino-Russian bloc and to counter the gentle rise of Chinese imperialism.

Russia intervenes in its neighborhood

Looking back at the list of Russian (and USSR) interventions, it is striking. Russian troops regularly intervene in their vicinity. Two major interventions during the Cold War: 1956 Hungary, 1968 Czechoslovakia. And five interventions since the fall of the Berlin Wall: 1992 Moldova (war in Transnistria), 1992-1993 Georgia for Abkhazia (with more than 20.000 civilian and military deaths) and South Ossetia, 2008 Georgia again for the South Ossetia and Abkhazia, 2014 Ukraine (Crimea and Donbass), 2022 Ukraine (all areas). Or an intervention every ten years on average. And a clear acceleration since 2007 (every six to eight years). Hence the concern of Eastern European countries (Poland, Baltic States and Romania in particular), which is quite understandable.

If we balance this with NATO's interventions in the Russian "neighborhood" (or what it considers to be its neighborhood), we can count three major interventions aimed at regime change (regime change): Kosovo 1999, Afghanistan 2001, Libya 2011. These last two were not really successful. NB: the intervention in Iraq 2003 as in Syria 2012 cannot be considered as neighborhood, but are rather areas of confrontational adversity.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).