If Ukraine loses to Russia, the European Union will be next to collapse

Adobe Stock photo by Golicin

By Jennifer Žiaková

In February 2022, the world witnessed a significant escalation in European tensions as Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. This aggressive move marked a significant deterioration in regional stability and ignited global alarm about the future of international law, security, and humanitarian norms. Ukraine may not be part of the European Union, but since the beginning, the EU has helped Ukraine to deal with this invasion. Complications began when other members started discussing whether it’s correct to provide military aid and medical procurements to a non-member country.

Historical and current state of the situation 

The roots of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine can be traced back to deep historical, cultural, and political ties, complicated by decades of geopolitical manoeuvres post-USSR dissolution. The 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia was a precursor to the broader conflict, reflecting Moscow’s long-standing ambitions to reassert its influence over former Soviet territories. This move was widely condemned internationally as a violation of international law, including the United Nations Charter. Subsequently, Russia has supported separatist movements in eastern Ukraine, particularly in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, leading to a prolonged and deadly conflict that remains unresolved. Ukraine’s increasing tilt towards Western Europe and its aspirations to join NATO and the European Union have been seen by Russia as a direct threat to its sphere of influence and security. The ongoing conflict underscores the severe challenges Ukraine faces in regaining stability and security. The situation is dynamic, with developments changing rapidly as both domestic and international efforts continue to evolve in response to the conflict’s complexities. Western countries continue to support Ukraine through military aid and economic sanctions against Russia. Diplomatic efforts include attempts to negotiate peace, though no substantial progress has been made. 

Hypothetical outcomes of a Ukrainian loss

Russia’s successful assertion of control over Ukraine might embolden it to exert further influence over other neighbouring countries, potentially leading to increased instability in the region.  Countries such as Moldova, Georgia, and the Baltic States could perceive an increased threat from Russian expansionism, leading to heightened security measures and more aggressive postures from NATO. The consequence not talked about enough would be the potential humanitarian crisis. 

The displacement of populations, the breakdown of civil infrastructure, and the likely human rights abuses in a post-conflict scenario under Russian control could lead to severe humanitarian challenges. International organisations and neighbouring countries would face increased pressure to manage refugee flows and provide humanitarian assistance. Economically, the consequences would be significant. The EU could face disruptions in natural gas and oil supplies from Russia, a critical energy source for many member states. This would accelerate efforts to diversify energy sources but could also lead to short-term energy crises and economic strain. Trade dynamics would also be affected. The EU might need to strengthen trade sanctions against Russia, which could provoke retaliatory measures, adversely impacting European businesses and economies. 

Possible membership of Ukraine in the European Union

Membership in the European Union is especially important for certain countries, not just because of the sense of stability, but mainly for cohesion in case of a military conflict in terms of supplies, military help, etc. After Russia invaded Ukraine, it was more than clear that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy would try to speed up the process of Ukraine’s integration into the EU. EU representatives had stated that negotiations could not start in earnest until Ukraine addressed several issues, such as lobbying issues, corruption, and potential barriers preventing members of national minorities from reading and studying in their native tongue. There is still a long way to go, even though EU officials claim that Ukraine has made progress on these issues in recent months. All EU members have progressively consented to back Ukraine’s candidature, with the exception of Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary and Putin’s strongest ally in the EU. According to Orbán, Ukraine isn’t even prepared to discuss joining the EU. Brexit, immigration waves, and debt problems have all made the bloc reluctant to admit more members in recent years. Therefore, as well, did the rise of political parties that are sceptical of Europe in numerous member states. However, the urgency brought about by Russia’s invasion and Ukraine’s request for accelerated review overturned years of “enlargement fatigue” and the EU’s cautious approach to accepting new members. As discussions continue, the EU and Ukraine must navigate these complex dynamics to forge a mutually beneficial relationship.

The Stability of the European Union

The EU’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been a significant test of its unity. Initially, the conflict brought member states together, prompting a unified stance on sanctions against Russia and substantial support for Ukraine, including financial aid and military supplies. This collective action demonstrated strong solidarity and shared values among EU countries. However, the prolonged nature of the conflict and its economic repercussions, such as rising energy prices and inflation, have started to strain this unity. Member states are affected differently by  their energy dependence on Russia, economic stability, and political landscapes. These disparities could potentially lead to divisions within the EU as countries debate the best approach to energy policy, economic support measures, and the extent of their involvement in the conflict. In summary, the stability of the European Union in the context of the Russia-Ukraine conflict is a dynamic issue, requiring adaptability and continued solidarity among its members to navigate the complexities of modern geopolitics.

Scenarios for the Collapse of the European Union

The EU’s economy is intricately linked, yet disparities in economic health and policy between member states can create tensions. Suppose a major economy within the EU, such as Germany or France, were to experience a significant economic downturn, potentially triggered by global economic instability or a collapse in the Eurozone banking sector. In that case, it could start a domino effect.

The impact of such a crisis could be exacerbated by the USA’s decision to prioritise its domestic economy, perhaps under a policy of economic nationalism, reducing its investment in or support for European markets. Concurrently, China might see this as an opportunity to expand its influence by offering financial support to certain EU countries, thereby increasing its geopolitical leverage.

A resurgence of nationalist sentiments and populist politics within multiple member states could lead to European fragmentation. This scenario might unfold as countries such as Poland and Hungary, potentially followed by others, decide that EU membership is incompatible with their national sovereign policies. The USA’s role in this scenario could be ambivalent, potentially supporting certain nationalist movements as a strategy to weaken EU unity and decrease Europe’s collective bargaining power.

Significant security failures or terrorist attacks on European soil could lead to a collapse if member states blame the EU’s open border policy or fail to coordinate effectively on intelligence and counter-terrorism. In such a scenario, the USA’s role would be critical in supporting the EU’s security apparatus while maintaining NATO alliances. Conversely, China might adopt a more neutral stance publicly, while privately expanding its global security influence as an alternative to the perceived instability within the EU. The potential collapse of the EU would undoubtedly have profound implications, not only for Europe but for the global order. The interactions between internal EU dynamics and external influences from these major powers would be crucial in shaping the future geopolitical landscape.

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