Online Commentary

March 01, 2022

DGAP Responds: What’s Next as Russia’s Invasion Continues?

On March 1, 2022, DGAP experts commented on the way ahead for Germany and Europe after the initial shock of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had a chance to set in. Read their assessments here.

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International Order & Democracy

Every step Germany is now taking is driven by trying to prevent even more damage to its economy

Russia’s war in Ukraine has already forced Germany to give up two taboos: supplying weapons to Ukraine and excluding Russia from the SWIFT system. These decisions were not made because Germany and its allies are a step ahead of Russian actions. Rather, they were driven by dynamics on the ground in Ukraine. The longer Ukrainians can resist the Russian invasion, the stronger the moral pressure on Germany to do more for Ukraine. Germany is caught by its past mistakes to appease Putin when it chose not to create a toolbox to deal with a revisionist Russia and become even more energy dependent on Ukraine’s big neighbor. Berlin is not leading Europe in this crisis. Instead, its actions depend on those of the United States and its European partners. Every step Germany is now taking is driven by trying to prevent even more damage to its economy than has already been done by current sanctions. But even if the strongest economic sanctions will not stop Putin in Ukraine, this is a moment of truth for Germany – to start doing the things necessary for sovereign action and no longer be driven by the dynamics that other countries create.

Transatlantic Relations & NATO

Germany – welcome to geopolitics! – should continue to unravel itself from Putin’s (!) Russia in any and every given way

Putin is not the type of guy who looks for off ramps. Instead, he plays with options in the cruelest way. Ukraine’s foreseeable future will be dominated by fighting that will likely escalate. Four factors are worrisome. First, there could be more brutality and war crimes against the civilian population from the Russian army. Second, the war could spill over borders. Belarus, the Kremlin’s new vassal state, has already allowed itself to be drawn in, and Putin might further escalate the situation toward NATO members Poland and the Baltics. Third, Russia could further intensify its measures against the West such as the disinformation warfare that is already in full swing. Fourth, the consequences of the harsh sanctions will lead to a rapid deterioration of daily life for the Russian people; although the sanctions are still a perfectly correct response to Putin’s aggression, this effect could increase the pressure on Putin to succeed more quickly and probably ruthlessly. The West, especially with German help, should maintain and extend the Russian population’s access to free information as well as possible. The prospect for Ukraine to join the EU should be made clear. Germany – welcome to geopolitics! – should continue to unravel itself from Putin’s (!) Russia in any and every given way.

China 

For now, China remains on Russia’s side. The CCP has long called for a new international order, and Putin is drawing strength from its stance

Well before Russia invaded Ukraine, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said: “China and Russia are not allies, but more than allies.” While the ferocity of Russia’s recent attack may have taken Chinese President Xi Jinping by surprise, it has not resulted in any substantial change in messaging by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) he leads. Significantly, China has not condemned Russia. Instead, it has named and blamed the United States for alleged provocation. For now, China remains on Russia’s side. On February 4, Russia and China had issued a call for a “new era” in their relationship. China’s state news service promised “back-to-back strategic coordination” to work “side by side in the face of profound and complex changes in the international situation.” The CCP has long called for a new order – “a new type of international relations” – and there are signs that Putin is learning from its tactics. For example, the CCP is relentless in using its version of history to justify its present-day stance. To Beijing, history “proves” that Taiwan belongs to the People’s Republic of China even though the government of Taiwan and most Taiwanese disagree. Today, Putin makes similar claims on Ukraine.

Privately, Xi Jinping has justified his pursuit of a controversial third term – to be settled at the 20th CCP congress later this year – by arguing that only he can successfully “recover” Taiwan. Similarly, a recent article published by Russian news service Ria Novosti stated: “Vladimir Putin has assumed…a historic responsibility by deciding not to leave the solution of the Ukrainian question to future generations.”

Many hope that China will use its leverage over Russia to help end the war in Ukraine. But, despite an apparent offer to be peacemaker, it’s unclear if Xi is prepared to significantly alter China’s relationship with its neighbor in this crucial year in domestic politics.

USA & Transatlantic Relations

There is nothing more dangerous than an unhinged dictator who has nothing left to lose

Putin’s war in Ukraine put an end to German pacifism, killed Swedish neutrality, and revitalized the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It also unleashed Ukrainian patriotism and completely isolated Russia in Europe as well as much of the world. Even the Chinese are distancing themselves from Putin’s illegal war of aggression.

The Russian leader may have miscalculated Ukraine’s resolve and Western unity, but make no mistake: Despite fierce resistance on the ground, military supplies from NATO states, and painful punitive economic measures, he still holds the escalation dominance in the region.

The order of the day must therefore be to give Putin an off-ramp to escape the unwinnable position he has maneuvered himself into. In the age of nuclear warheads, the risks of seeking a military solution to this conflict are too high, and the vicious cycle of escalation is already spinning. The war itself is most likely going to get a lot uglier, and the danger of a military conflict between NATO and Russia rises by the day. There are not many economic sanctions left that can further hurt the Russian economy, and there is nothing more dangerous than an unhinged dictator who has nothing left to lose.

Stabilization & Civilian Crisis Management

A ceasefire should include a provision that allows the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to take up its work again

Should a ceasefire be negotiated, it should include a provision that allows the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to take up its work again. Especially given the information warfare that is raging parallel to the fighting on the ground, the international community needs impartial eyes and ears in Ukraine. SMM, which was approved by all 57 OSCE member states including Russia and Ukraine, had deployed civilian experts – almost 700 as of early February 2022 – to provide independent facts on the security situation across Ukraine from March 2014 until the outbreak of these unprecedented hostilities. Among other things, SMM negotiated 800 local ceasefires to fix local infrastructure.

As a pioneer in peacekeeping missions, SMM had employed drones to help monitor large remote areas and when faced with ceasefire violations. Overall, although not without its challenges, this approach was successful. It could again be used to report on breaches of any new ceasefire and to document violence against civilians, ensuring at the very least some evidence of incidences and maybe some deterrence. Germany and its allies need to keep personnel ready for redeployment, prepare to increase the numbers of monitors, arrange for heightened cyber security of the mission’s activities, and explore ways to safeguard passage for both patrols on the ground and their air support.

Migration

Now is the time for the EU to think more strategically about migration and asylum

Europe’s response to refugee arrivals from Ukraine shows that migration and asylum are not inherently controversial issues. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its indiscriminate violence against civilians could push 4 to 7 million people to seek refuge in the EU and neighboring countries. So far, every single day of fighting has brought around 100,000 people to Europe’s borders. All EU member states have announced their readiness to welcome and host the refugees of Ukraine – for years if necessary – and have started discussing granting blanket protection to Ukrainians. Ukraine’s neighbors in the Visegrád Group have done a U-turn on their asylum policy by opening borders and offering shelter and free transportation (although most arrivals are assisted by family members).

Like in other policy areas, the Russian invasion has forced Europeans to reshape their narrative on solidarity and responsibility-sharing on asylum. Yes, there is still a lot to discuss about the type of protection those fleeing Ukraine, both Ukrainians and third country nationals, should receive. But it is high time for the EU to tie migration policy more strategically to its foreign and domestic objectives – for example, to secure partnerships with states in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Western Asia; or to revitalize labor markets in the EU. Migration policy should no longer be the stand-alone and self-functioning tool the EU has made it thus far.

Bibliographic data

DGAP experts commented on March 1, 2022, on developments in Russia’s war against Ukraine. For an interview in German or English, please contact our experts directly via email or reach out to DGAP’s press office (presse@dgap.org, +49 30 25 42 31-32).

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