US, Germany, Sweden, The Netherlands, Belgium, Russia, Ukraine
What has been said?
Over the course of December 2023 and January 2024, multiple actors within Europe have emphasized the threat of a war between Europe and Russia.
On 14/12/2023 NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated that if Russia would win the war with Ukraine, there is a risk that it would continue to wage war elsewhere.
On 18/12/2023 German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said that Europe needs to expect threats from Russia. He stated "[Putin's] threats against the Baltic states, Georgia, and Moldova must be taken very seriously. This is not just saber-rattling. We could be facing dangers by the end of this decade".
On 19/12/2023 Admiral Michel Hofman, Chief of Defense of the Belgian Armed Forces, warned of a possible war with Russia and specifically stressed that Russia poses a threat to the Baltic states. Hofman also mentioned that Russia has switched to a war economy. Former Commander in Chief of the Dutch Army, Mart de Kruif, agreed with Hofman and added that “Putin is now producing tanks, ammunition and drones 24 hours a day, and that is only going to increase; [and] they are modern tanks”.
On 28/12/2023 the now former Commander in Chief of the Dutch Army, Martin Wijnen, stated that chances of an armed conflict with Russia are low, but they are absolutely not zero. He added that the Netherlands should prepare itself better by taking precautionary measures.
On 09/01/2024 Swedish Civil Defense Minister Carl-Oskar Bohlin as well as Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces Micael Bydén emphasized that Swedish citizens should mentally prepare themselves for war. Bydén said that Swedish citizens should ask themselves the basic question: if what is happening in Ukraine today happens in Sweden tomorrow, am I prepared for it and what should I do? Bydén also mentioned that the Swedish government wants to have a robust and resilient society that will function normally for as long as possible in a war scenario. According to Bydén, preparations need to be made as Sweden is not ready yet.
On 06/12/2023 discussions were held in the US Congress regarding military support for Ukraine. However, Republicans insisted on a stricter border policy for the US in exchange for new aid to Ukraine. US President Biden expressed concerns about this as no new support to Ukraine could result in a Russian advance. “If Putin takes Ukraine, he won’t stop there,” Biden said.
In light of the war in Ukraine, most European countries have worked to improve their defense capabilities. Besides, multiple European countries aim to decrease Europe’s dependency on the U.S. within NATO. However, European defense cooperation and coordination is lacking and European firms are having trouble to match new defense demands. As a result, Europe has been unable to provide Ukraine with enough weapons and other military means.
Right-wing parties are gaining ground in Europe, which could mean less support for Ukraine. For example, the PVV, which emerged as the largest party in the Netherlands in the November 2023 elections, has not always supported arms supplies to Ukraine and disapproved of sanctioning Russia. Although the PVV will not be the sole ruler, their political influence could possibly hinder future Dutch support for Ukraine. Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán, leader of the right-wing Fidesz party, has blocked multiple EU support packages for Ukraine. Another example is Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, reelected in 2023, who stated in the past that Serbia would not sanction Russia as the majority of the Serbian population loves and supports Russia.
Russia can take advantage of the decreasing support for Ukraine and the stalling of the US Congress to make significant advances in the war. According to President Biden, “Putin is banking on the United States failing to deliver for Ukraine”.
Russia has suffered major losses in Ukraine in the last months, however according to former Commander in Chief of the Dutch Army De Kruif this does not mean it will weaken the Russian army in the long run. Belgian admiral Hofman added “Russia will eventually generate the war machine and rebuild its armed forces”. Furthermore, De Kruif warned that Russia is learning from its losses and mistakes during the war with Ukraine, and they will take this experience with them during future actions. This ensures that the quality of the Russian army only increases, De Kruif mentioned.
Multiple actors have expressed concern on how the situation between Russia and Ukraine will evolve, providing an alternative perspective to European citizens who don’t perceive a war between Europe and Russia to be possible. As mentioned by those actors, it is difficult to predict what will eventually happen. However, the lack of awareness in European societies, difficulties in European and U.S. weapon deliveries, and difficulties in European defense cooperation bolsters Russia’s determination and confidence, both in Ukraine as well as beyond. According to the actors mentioned in this intelbrief, citizen awareness in European countries is needed to take effective precautionary measures for the worst case scenario.