The 2022 Russian aggression against Ukraine has left an indelible mark on the geopolitical landscape of Europe, triggering significant and lasting changes. The invasion shattered the long-standing post-Cold War notion of a stable and peaceful Europe. It has led to a reevaluation of security strategies, alliances in the region, and position of many countries. Moreover, the war’s repercussions have underscored the importance of collective defense and cooperation among European nations in the face of emerging security threats, thus reshaping the dynamics of international relations on the continent.
The invasion of Ukraine has not only shifted the European center of gravity to the east, but also thrust the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) into the spotlight, demanding increased attention from the international community. This development changes their situation significantly. There were opportunities, but also threats. Western states had been wrong about Russia’s intentions.
After 2022, however, they stopped accusing their CEE partners of prejudice against Moscow and began to listen to them more carefully. This moment should be used wisely by the CEE countries to make the most of the challenges faced. Additionally, contrary to skeptics, both NATO and the European Union have been successful in their actions. They actively responded to all threats related to the ongoing war.
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Furthermore, the war also brought to light two significant but less analyzed situations. While analyses, journalistic texts, and politicians’ statements often emphasize the role of countries in conflicts, the war highlighted the crucial role played by local governments – regions and cities. The outbreak of war spurred European countries to swiftly bolster their armed forces. And then, South Korea showed up as an important source of non-European support for Ukraine and a significant East Asian partner for Europe.
Poland, but also NATO as a whole, played a vital role in transforming the nature of cooperation between the CEE region and South Korea, elevating it beyond mere economic considerations. Over the course of more than a year of full-scale warfare in Eastern Europe, five crucial lessons have emerged from the conflict. The prolonged duration and intensity of the war have provided a unique opportunity to glean invaluable insights. These lessons hold particular significance for the countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Therefore, they should be carefully analyzed by CEE, as they can shape the future trajectory of the region.
Lesson 1: They Were Right, So What…?
For many years, CEE countries (mostly Poland and the Baltics) have been warning against Russia’s aggressive policy, openly informing their EU and NATO allies that Russia will use various methods to pursue expansion. However, the countries of Western Europe did not take these words into account, believing that the countries of the former Eastern Bloc are prejudiced against Russia, accusing them of Russophobia. Their efforts to strengthen NATO’s presence on the eastern flank, drawing attention to cyberattacks by Russia (like, e.g., in 2007), or criticizing German-Russian energy projects remained unanswered.
Even after the Russian annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas, EU member states disagreed over how to deal with Russia in the future. Time has shown that the CEE countries were right, and now a large-scale war in Europe is no longer fiction, but a reality for millions of people.