*Editor’s Note: On March 4, 2022, Russia enacted a law that criminalizes public opposition to, or independent news reporting about, the war in Ukraine. The law makes it a crime to call the war a “war” rather than a “special military operation” on social media or in a news article or broadcast. The law is understood to penalize any language that “discredits” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calls for sanctions or protests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It punishes anyone found to spread “false information” about the invasion with up to 15 years in prison.
RUSSTRAT Institute Director Elena Panina explains why the unity of Western countries against Russia is gradually crumbling.
Western countries reacted harshly and swiftly when Russia launched its special military operation in Ukraine. However, by imposing unprecedented sanctions, the EU continues to hurt its own economy. At the same time, the U.S. and its allies are beginning to lose their leverage in this confrontation, which they perceive to be essentially an existential standoff rather than just another regional conflict.
Having entered the sanctions arena as a fearless gladiator with NATO as its shield, the EU is gradually coming to terms with the fact that, despite its desire to punish Moscow for its political independence, the West is running out of trump cards. At the same time, it is not possible to hide the reverse effect of anti-Russian sanctions on the EU economy, just as it is not possible to stop Russia. “[Nine] packages of sanctions and the effect is less than 0!” former Belgian Prime Minister and member of the European Parliament Guy Verhofstadt complains.
2022 was the year when both the West and Russia gave up the illusion of mutual cooperation. While Moscow seems to have completely abandoned the idea of equal political and economic cooperation with Western countries, European politicians are not yet ready to admit that Europe’s economic success was largely attributed to cheap Russian resources rather than to brilliant Brussels bureaucrats and their economic policy.
The new realities are extremely sensitive for Europe because rising energy prices are causing a drop in living standards and deindustrialization. In this context, the U.S. benefits from attracting European manufacturers. In addition, the EU pays three to four times more for American gas than U.S. suppliers. Coincidentally, this issue already sparked public indignation when French President Emmanuel Macron openly called American economic policy toward its allies the policy of double standards.
Therefore, there is a significant fracture in the unity of Western countries. It is simply impossible for European politicians to change the current situation because the EU pipeline natural gas market has been completely destroyed. European consumers are forced to buy liquified natural gas at a price that has been intentionally increased by the U.S. We can already see the implications of this economic policy for Europe. According to the Federal Statistical Office of Germany, in November 2022, the index of producer prices for industrial products increased by 28.2% compared with November 2021.
At the same time, the International Monetary Fund is already predicting that one-third of the world economy will suffer from a recession in 2023. Moreover, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, believes that half of the EU will be in recession, while the U.S. may end up avoiding it. It is true that Americans are pleased with recent economic growth. Apparently, this is how Washington sees the concept of solidarity with its allies.
Amid internal strife, discord and a range of major problems, one should probably not expect Western countries to unite in their fight against Russia. That said, Western anti-Russian rhetoric will still be full of threats, while sending weapons to Ukraine will become the new normal. It is under pressure from the U.S. that European countries, primarily Germany and France, will continue to supply arms to Ukraine.
However, the goals of the U.S. and EU now, in January 2023, are very different from those they had last spring. By being involved in a conflict of ideologies with Russia, the U.S. is trying to maintain its hegemony in the world. Europe, on the other hand, is trying to hold onto its former positions and maintain its current living standards, which is impossible given that it is following the U.S. economic and political agendas.
Moreover, Europe is losing not only its former success but also its sovereignty. In the meantime, Europeans are left alone with their growing problems, namely declining public trust in the ruling political elite, internal conflicts, billion-dollar losses from severing economic ties with Russia and a migration crisis greatly exacerbated by Ukrainian refugees. As history has proved, when the world order is crumbling, every country always pursues its own interests.
The author is the director of the RUSSTRAT Institute.