Is Ukraine's Accession to the EU a Key to Saving the West from Russia's Aggressive Policy?

Ihor Petrenko

8 mins - 17 de Julio de 2023, 07:00

Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine is a confirmation of Putin's desire to resume territorial expansion. The war launched by Putin against Ukraine is a challenge to the civilizational West, primarily to Europe. Russia is trying to weaken the EU as much as possible by energy and food blackmailing, provoking an influx of refugees, promoting international terrorism, and financing extremist and radical groups in the EU. This is by no means a comprehensive list of the hybrid tools used by the Kremlin to destroy Europe.
The war started by Putin changed the world order, causing political, economic, and security turmoil, the consequences of which are difficult to predict. Putin provokes contradictions in the modern world and aggravates the global socio-economic situation. The EU cannot distance itself from such threats: Russia impacts the growth directly of revanchist, populist, and extremist sentiments in Europe, which increases dissatisfaction and disappointment among Europeans. It may ultimately split the EU, which must respond to the Russian threat and take the necessary steps for its own protection.

In the south-east of Ukraine, which has turned into the largest theater of military operations in Europe after the Second World War, Russia continues brutal fighting. The longer this war lasts, the more Putin is sure of his impunity and the ability to continue waging wars of aggression, including against the CEE countries. The ongoing hostilities allow Putin to achieve two goals: to keep Ukraine outside the supranational institutions of the West and to create a buffer state for further hybrid and, later, military threats to Europe. This is the greatest danger of Ukraine not joining the EU: in the context of the geopolitical revenge of the Kremlin, which manifests itself in the form of a war of aggression, Ukraine, outside of Europe and its supranational institutions, automatically turns into a staging area for the Russian attack on the EU. The world as it was before the full-scale invasion of Russia no longer exists. Ukraine, being a “buffer zone” between the Russian Federation and Europe, will turn into a tool for the gradual destruction of the latter. If Ukraine is part of the EU and NATO, it will be a guarantee of the preservation of the civilizational West and its successful resistance to Russia.

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On February 28, 2022, shortly after the beginning of the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation, Ukraine submitted an application for EU membership, which was supported by the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the European Council. In June 2022, Ukraine was granted EU candidate status. At that time, 91% of Ukrainians supported the idea of joining the EU. This is the highest figure in the entire history of the country's independence. The Russian invasion, which dispelled any illusion about the Kremlin’s real intentions to occupy Ukraine, was a reason of a great support of pro-European views among Ukrainians. This invasion came as a shock to Europeans, who did not expect that Putin were to be capable of a war of aggression in the 21st century, which has been accompanied by mass killings and destruction of settlements. Accordingly, there were pessimistic forecasts of the EU regarding Ukraine's ability to overcome the challenges and threats caused by the war. Thus, it was predicted that in 2022 the fall of the Ukrainian economy would be 50 %, and they talked about the imminent collapse of the banking system and devastating inflation. In practice, Ukraine overcame all challenges: the economic decline at the level of 30 %, not 50 %, the national currency, the hryvnia (₴ Грн), after a temporary fall in 2022, strengthened by 10 % already in the 1st quarter of 2023 amid the ongoing war. The banking sector also survived: during the war, only 4 banking institutions in Ukraine stopped working, 67 such institutions continue to function today, 46 of them finished 2022 with a positive balance. In general, the country managed to keep control over the economic situation. Ukraine surprised Europe and passed the test for the right to be called a strong and sovereign state. In the conditions of a full-scale war, Ukraine preserved the economy, the social sphere, all necessary payments were made, and it managed to save a key segment of industry. Not every country in Europe, being at a hypothetical war with an asymmetrically strong enemy, would be capable of such challenges.

The EU will only benefit from Ukraine's membership, namely, in the field of energy, logistics, industry, digital technologies, food export from Ukraine, etc. The common border between Ukraine and the EU is 1,358 km long with 33 checkpoints. This opens up great opportunities for cross border cooperation.

The energy industry is a priority: since March 16, 2022, the Ukrainian power system has been synchronized with the Continental European network ENTSO-E. Despite the hostilities, until October 2022, Ukraine continued to export electricity to Poland, Slovakia and Romania. In March 2023, Ukraine resumed the sale of electricity to the EU. After the end of the war, Ukrainian electricity may be available to half of the European countries.

The agricultural potential of Ukraine is especially important. Russia aims to cause a global food crisis that will inevitably affect the EU. Ukraine is one of the key producers of food, particularly grain. At the beginning of 2022, in some EU economies, the acceleration of inflation hit a record. In March, there was the “inflation shock” in Europe, which was reinforced by the Kremlin’s “energy blockade” and the blocking of Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea. Russia did this intentionally, but Europe didn’t expect. Unprecedented gas prices led to a reduction in industrial production in the EU, in particular in Germany, which is the flagship among the EU economies. The blockade of Ukrainian food exports provoked an increase in food prices in the EU, hitting the vulnerable groups. Thus, Ukraine as part of the EU will become a reliable supplier of food.

Also, Ukraine has extensive experience in combating Russian propaganda and can help Europe identify and eliminate informational threats. The creation of a digital single market between Ukraine and the EU will promote economic cooperation, which will become a priority for the EU after the end of the war. Currently, the main goal for the West should be the integration of Ukraine into its civilizational space and the localization of the Russian threat within its own borders.

Many years of fear of Russia and reluctance to accept Ukraine into NATO and the EU, so as not to provoke Putin, caused the opposite reaction and played a dirty trick on Europe. The refusal to provide a map for Ukraine during the NATO Summit in Bucharest became the starting point for Putin's wars of aggression, from the invasion of Georgia in 2008 to the occupation of the Ukrainian Crimea in 2014. Western indecision to these blatant acts of aggression in Europe has encouraged Putin to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Now his goal is to create a powerful anti-Western coalition and ultimately to turn the entire Global South against the Global North. Russia uses the above list of hybrid threats against the EU in order to weaken and split this supranational association.

If Russia really provokes a split in the EU, NATO will inevitably weaken and lose its defense capability, which in the medium term threatens the invasion of the Russian military in the Baltic states and Poland. Unlike Europe, Putin ignores demographic and economic losses and is ready to continue the war for years. His dream is to see the Russian army near the English Channel. In 2021, no one believed in the possibility of Russia starting a full-scale war. If Ukraine does not join the EU and NATO, Russian tanks will drive on the streets of European cities. The procedure for accession to the EU and NATO must take into account the current Russian threat, which the West has not known in modern history. Ukraine’s transition in its civilizational space will create a powerful outpost of protection against the Russian Federation and will serve as a factor in preserving the unity of Europe.
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