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War in Ukraine: Europe's response

24 February 2022, Russia invades Ukraine. The world awoke to images of bombed cities. According to the European Union, the red lines have been crossed. The Russian offensive is one of the most serious violations of international law in decades. How have the 27 member states organised their response to an event that has already shaken the world order?
IHEDN-Guerre en Ukraine - la réponse européenne


For almost a year, this war has pitted two political systems against each other: autocracies against democracies. "This war is not just our war, it is a war for European values, for human values." said Olena Zelenska, Ukrainian First Lady on France Inter on 15 December 2022. The European Union (EU), born of the ruins of the Second World War and in response to the growing Soviet threat, had to react. Because this war threatens Europe's interests and values. Respect for human rights and international law is the foundation on which the EU is built. It could not remain inert in the face of such a desire to use force against the law. So, from the very first hours of the war, the European Union did not hesitate to speak with one voice and took an unequivocal stance. Visit President Macron reiterated at the end of the G7 meeting in Bavaria in June 2022, ".Russia cannot and must not win"war. To back up its words with deeds, the European Council immediately unleashed the tools of hard power by putting in place a series of measures.


The European Union had already been applying sanctions against Russia since 2014 following the annexation of Crimea and the failure to implement the Minsk agreements. Faced with the new European context, the 27 Member States are taking a series of measures (individual, economic and diplomatic) against the aggressor country.

On 27 February, the EU announced a first series of sanctions with a ban on the broadcasting of Kremlin media in the EU (including Russia Today and Sputnik), the freezing of Russian Central Bank transactions and the closure of European airspace to Russian aircraft. At the extraordinary meeting of the European Council on 30 and 31 May, European leaders agreed on the 6e package of sanctions, mainly an embargo on crude oil and petroleum products from Russia, and the exclusion of three Russian banks from the international financial system Swift and individual measures against 18 entities and 65 individuals responsible for the atrocities committed in Boutcha and Marioupol. More recently, a tenth wave of sanctions against Russia was adopted on 15 February. The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen announces new export bans "to deprive the Russian economy of essential technologies and industrial products".

The toughest sanctions are now in place. To ensure they are enforced, the EU is introducing new provisions to prevent circumvention, as Member States have different definitions of what constitutes a breach of the restrictive measures.


Alongside these sanctions, the European Union is providing aid to Ukraine. It is planned that the EU will pay 50 billion1 of financial, humanitarian and military aid to the Ukrainian government. The 27 Member States, Norway, Turkey and Northern Macedonia also activate the EU's civil protection mechanism. At the same time, the EU Council of Home Affairs Ministers decided to implement the temporary protection mechanism, enabling Ukrainians fleeing their country to benefit from the "Protective status similar to refugees.

On the military front, the 27 Member States are sending weapons and military equipment to the Ukrainian army and training Ukrainian soldiers in the EU. "An agreement has been reached to supply 450 million worth of weapons to the Ukrainian army and 50 million worth of protective equipment and fuel."says the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrellfrom 27 February 2022.


The European Union's response is also a strategic one, since it needs to demonstrate that it is ready to defend its interests and assert itself against other hegemonic powers. The Member States have always sought to develop the EU's strategic autonomy to enable it to carry weight in the concert of nations. But the war in Ukraine is forcing them to revise their ambitions as a matter of urgency. Germany immediately decided "an increase in its military spending over the coming years". "If the world is changing, our politics must change too"said the German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, during an extraordinary session of the Bundestag devoted to the situation in Ukraine. This "change of doctrine" is also evident in Sweden and Finland. Both countries are committed to supporting Ukraine through arms deliveries and are applying for NATO membership.  

Despite this massive amount of aid, the outcome of the war remains uncertain, given the determination of both belligerents to deploy every means to win. But whatever the outcome, 24 February 2022 marks a turning point in the history of the old continent. There are several possible outcomes: if Russia wins, Europe's security architecture will be called into question. On the other hand, if Russia emerges victorious from this war, Ukraine will become a central country for European strategy. We will then see a shift in the centre of gravity towards the north and east of Europe. Other questions will then arise: will France manage to adapt to this shift in the centre of gravity? What will become of the Franco-German partnership? And what about the future of France's vision of the development of Europe?

1 does not include aid provided directly by Member States (source: European Council, European Commission February 2023)