- Katya Adler
- Europe Publisher, BBC News
“Europe is closer to war now than it has been since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.”
These are the harsh words of warning from a senior European Union diplomat with whom I just spoke off the record about ongoing tensions with Moscow, due to its massive military buildup on the Ukrainian border.
The mood in Brussels is nervous. There is a real fear that Europe may be slipping into its worst security crisis in decades.
But the angst is not entirely centered on the prospect of a large and protracted ground war with Russia over Ukraine.
Few in Europe believe that Moscow has the military power, let alone the money or the domestic popular support to carry it out.
It is true that the EU has warned the Kremlin of “extreme consequences” if it undertakes military action in neighboring Ukraine.
Germany’s new foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, was in Kiev and Moscow and said exactly that on Monday.
Sweden moved hundreds of soldiers over the weekend to its strategically important island of Gotland, which is in the Baltic Sea.
And Denmark reinforced its presence in the region a few days earlier.
The rising tensions have also reignited debate in both Finland and Sweden over whether the two should now join NATO.
But the main concern in the West – Washington, NATO, the UK and the EU – is not so much the possibility of a conventional war over Ukraine, but rather that Moscow is trying to divide and destabilize Europe, shaking the continental balance of power through favor of the Kremlin.
Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told me late last year that the West needed to “wake up from its geopolitical lethargy” regarding Moscow’s intentions.
Other EU countries would say that now they have woken up and can see the problem.
But, as is often the case when it comes to foreign policy, EU leaders are far from agreeing on what action to take.
Moscow, despite a massive troop buildup on the Ukrainian border, denies that it is planning a military invasion.
But he sent him to NATO a list of security demands.
Openly blaming the alliance for “undermining regional security,” Russian President Vladimir Putin insists, among other things, that NATO bar Ukraine and other former Soviet states from becoming members of the organization.
NATO adamantly refused and the three summits held in the last week between Russia and Western allies failed to find much common ground.
What Vladimir Putin plans to do next is unclear.
But the West believes the Kremlin has invested too much in its public maneuvering on Ukraine to back down now, with nothing to show for it.
The government of the American Joe Biden is eagerly awaiting a strong position from the EU on possible sanctions, depending on how Moscow proceeds: a military incursion into Ukraine, cyber attacks, disinformation campaigns or, as is considered more likely, a combination of hybrid attacks. .
EU optimists predict that the bloc will agree on a series of possible sanctions before January 24, at the next meeting of foreign ministers.
But that is far from guaranteed.
Several EU countries are undecided due to the cost of possible sanctions for their own economies.
Brussels normally talks about sharing the burden, but the outcome of those negotiations may not be to everyone’s liking.
There is also widespread concern in EU countries about gas supplies from Russia, especially with prices already very high for European households this winter.
Washington says it is looking for ways to soften the hit to energy supplies.
He wants to rush the EU into agreeing a firm position on sanctions, knowing full well that, in foreign policy, approval must be unanimous among the Member States.
If post-Brexit relations between the UK and the EU were better, one would expect there to be more diplomatic efforts at this time between London, Berlin and Paris to compare and discuss ideas, perhaps agreeing on a common plan of action.
Diplomats in Brussels mischievously describe the UK government as “probably too mired in domestic political scandals for geopolitics to be on their list of priorities at the moment.”
But they openly admit that within NATO, the UK is fully committed to the Russia-Ukraine issue.
On Monday, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace announced that his country would send short-range anti-tank missiles to Ukraine for self-defense.
He said a small team of British soldiers would also provide training.
Wallace earlier warned Moscow that there would be “consequences” of any Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Britain would “stand up to the bullies” no matter how far removed from the conflict, he said.
Washington insists that there is no time to waste.
He notes that the Kremlin is considering a “false flag” operation, which “will pave the way for the option of inventing a pretext for the invasion”; that is, blaming Ukraine for an attack that would be carried out by Russian agents.
the kremlin dismissed Washington’s claim as “baseless”.
But US officials say Moscow is preparing to repeat the pattern seen in 2014, when it accused Kiev of abuses before Kremlin-backed forces took control of the Crimean peninsula.
The territory has a Russian-speaking majority. And he later voted to join Russia in a referendum that Ukraine and the West consider illegal. Thousands died in that conflict.
The West is preparing for what could happen now.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.