On the anniversary of the beginning of the conflict, Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska said in a video address before the United Nations on Wednesday that Russia must be held accountable for crimes. “Ukraine’s victory will mean the victory of human rights over lawlessness, torture and destruction. Therefore, justice for Ukraine is justice for the entire world,” she told UN delegates.
A year into Russia’s war in Ukraine, the EU and the US continue to stress that they stand with Ukraine and condemn Russia’s military aggression. United with Washington in supporting Kiev, European leaders are supplying Ukraine with arms. So far, 3,6 billion euro were mobilized under the European Peace Facility. On top of this, there is military training for the Ukrainian armed forces. In total, EU military support for Ukraine – provided by the European Peace Facility and the Member States directly – amounts to approximately 12 billion euros.
Besides, the EU has sought to weaken Russia’s economy with harsh sanctions. In the aftermath of the start of the military operation in Ukraine, the Russian economy seemed on the brink of collapse, crushed by unprecedented Western sanctions: The stock market closed for a month, the ruble exchange rate plummeted and there was the specter of an 8-percent drop in GDP and inflation at 20 percent. Twelve months later, it is clear that Moscow has been hit but has not been brought to its knees or isolated from the world, relying especially on a very strong increase in oil and gas revenues. Although, points out UCLA economist Oleg Itskhoki, as energy prices fall, “the crisis could take its full toll in 2023.”
At the extraordinary meeting of the Council of the European Union, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez warned that the EU could not lower pressure on the Kremlin, while recalling that it was necessary to reinforce the successive packages of sanctions that have been adopted over the last year and close any remaining gaps. Sánchez demanded that the tenth package of sanctions should be launched on February 24.
In addition, Sánchez stressed that it was vital to maintain the unity of the EU in the face of the Russian invasion and to ensure that countries which are not part of the club also support the peace plan presented by the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky.
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said the key word for Ukraine and the West was sustainability: “Sustainability of Ukrainians in their resistance, sustainability of Western aid to Ukraine and sustainability of Western governments to live up to the challenges they are faced with, namely energy prices, inflation, food and keeping of social cohesion in our countries.”
Humanitarian and financial support
In addition to military aid, the EU and most its members have provided extensive financial and humanitarian aid, constantly emphasizing that Ukraine can count on the EU’s support as long as it is needed. Furthermore, for the first time in the history of the EU, the Temporary Protection Directive was unanimously adopted by all EU countries, granting beneficiaries residence rights and access to housing, schools, health care and jobs. So far, around 4 million persons fleeing Ukraine have registered for temporary protection.
Slovenia supports Ukraine with humanitarian, material and military aid. In addition to providing assistance to approximately 8.000 Ukrainian refugees who have so far applied for temporary protection in Slovenia, the country has also announced support in the reconstruction of critical infrastructure as well as demining. According to a recent assessment by Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon, the total value of aid sent to Ukraine from Slovenia so far exceeds 27 million euros.
Since last February, some 1,100,000 Ukrainian refugees have transited Bulgaria. About 150,000 asked for international protection and 50,000 decided to stay in the country, data shared by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees show. Bulgaria granted 240 million euros worth of humanitarian and other aid to Ukraine, the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. Sofia sent military equipment and materials for shelter and self-protection to Ukraine, and received wounded Ukrainian soldiers for treatment. Bulgarian experts also train the Ukrainian military within the scope of the EU Military Assistance Mission.
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Divided over the war in Ukraine
By signing the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the European Union, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) committed to follow the EU’s security and foreign policy, but this causes problems in practice. BiH has not taken a unified stance on the Ukraine war. While the members of the Presidency elected in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Željko Komšić and Denis Bećirović, unequivocally condemn the Russian invasion, the Chair of the Presidency elected in the BiH entity Republika Srpska (RS), Željka Cvijanović, insists that Bosnia and Herzegovina should remain neutral, despite the fact that RS maintains close ties with Moscow.
When the war had already started, Cvijanović and Milorad Dodik, the leader of the Serb political party Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) in BiH, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, assuring him that Bosnia and Herzegovina would not side with the western countries over Ukraine. A delegation from the National Assembly of Republika Srpska, led by Chairman Nenad Stevandić, traveled to Moscow this week, reaffirming that RS would not “join the anti-Russian hysteria”, while condemning any attempt to portray RS as a Russian platform in Europe. “We hope the future will show that our neutral stance was right. Small countries like ours do not have the privilege of interfering in conflicts,” Stevandić added.
This division within the state further fuels fears of a spill-over of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis into Bosnia and Herzegovina, although analysts believe that destabilization of the Western Balkans is not a realistic scenario at present. Nevertheless, the EUFOR forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina received a reinforcement of 500 soldiers last year because of the concern that the crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine could spread to the Western Balkans, particularly to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
New world order?
Russia’s invasion of its neighbor has upended parts of the world order and led to a forming of blocs not seen since the Cold War. The war has intensified conflicts and confrontations, as well as the pre-existing global tendency for countries to form blocs centered around either Washington or Beijing.
“We’ve shifted into a disordered multipolar world where everything is a weapon: energy, data, infrastructure, migration,”said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in December.
“Geopolitics is the vital word, everything is geopolitics,” he added.
Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Balkans, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region have been arenas of competition for influence between powers like China, the EU, Russia and Turkey – be it through financing infrastructure projects or by striking deals on trade, military or diplomatic cooperation.
The war on Ukraine has further shaken things up, weakening Russia’s grip on former Soviet republics in Central Asia and opening a new role for Turkey as a mediator.
“This reorganization is real, but probably temporary,” said Pierre Razoux, head of France-based think-tank FMES. “Inevitably, the end of the war will leave Russia and Europe weakened and worn down, while the two big winners from this situation will be the US and China,” he added.
Real and potential challenges
Although the end of the war is not yet in sight, Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently misjudged Ukraine’s spirit of resistance and counted on breaking the unity within the European Union and NATO. So far, the EU, with some concessions to Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who refuses to send weapons to Ukraine, has still managed to preserve unity and vote in sanctions.
Regarding the dependence of a large number of EU members on Russian gas and oil, almost all of the countries found alternative sources of energy, albeit at significantly higher prices, which aggravate inflation.
The Western stance towards Russia would be complicated if China decided to grant Russia military support. This would put Ukraine in a much more difficult position. The United States and the EU have openly warned Beijing not to do so.
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