Risks and Trends

Risks and Trends: How to defend the West

Preview 2022-10-21
At the Polityka Insight conference on October 24, we will define the state of Russia's conflict with the West. We will ask how to defend ourselves, what to fight with and what victory means to those concerned.


Is the West at war with Russia? The panel "How to defend the West" will begin by attempting to define the status of the ongoing conflict between Russia and the collective West. The military aggression against Ukraine is the most acute, but not the only manifestation of this confrontation. Cutting off the supply of energy resources to Europe, armed provocations against NATO, attacks by the authorities in Moscow on institutions and organisations associated with the West, propaganda war and the Kremlin's rhetoric of a "clash of civilisations" - are all indicative of Russia's embarking on a trajectory of confrontation that derails its rapprochement with Western democracy, which has lasted more than 20 years. Despite the clear signs of Russia's unilateral declaration of war on the West, the assessment of the situation is still not clear, which impacts strategies for adapting to or opposing Russian aggression at various levels. So, the assessment of whether there is a war underway between Russia and the West, and if so, what kind of war, will be the starting point for further discussion.

Who is in charge and who is being commanded? Whether or not the panellists call the ongoing confrontation a war, it is worth asking whether the collective West has adequate structures for consultation, situation assessment and decision-making in the face of a dynamically changing threat. There are at least three collective policy-setting blocs of states in play: NATO - which does not engage in the conflict directly, but coordinates military support for Ukraine; the European Union - which has a leading role in the sanctions policy and efforts to contain the energy crisis; and the US-led global coalition of more than 50 countries (made up of NATO states and US allies), which supports Ukraine militarily and financially. Should US President Joe Biden be considered the "commander-in-chief" of the West? What is the role of the leaders of the EU countries, the UK and Ukraine's immediate neighbours? What does the current situation tell us about the usefulness of the UN and OSCE?

Does the West have a coherent strategy? Successfully countering Russia requires cooperation in many areas: military, energy, food, information and cybersecurity. While all these domains have become a field of confrontation between Russia and the West, only some are subject to an agreement within Western political, economic and security structures. Divergent interests and national rivalries are most evident in the area of energy resources, which Russia ruthlessly exploits. Is a united and coherent Western front even possible? Are individual states able to temporarily suspend their own ambitions or, on the contrary, are they using the period of confrontation with Russia to improve their own position vis-à-vis their formal allies? How does the strategy of opposing Russia influence and correspond with containing China's global expansion? Finally, does the West have a new Moscow-Tehran-Pyongyang "axis of evil" against it and how will Beijing position itself vis-à-vis the latter?

What should constitute a victory for the West? The international community would like to see the quickest possible end to the war and the beginning of the reconstruction of Ukraine. At the same time, there is a growing realisation that peace without overpowering Russia may be temporary and will be followed by an even worse war. The prevailing belief is that Ukraine will not give up the fight until it ousts or forces the withdrawal of Russian troops from all of its territory, including the Crimea and Donbas occupied in 2014-2015. However, the West's objectives in combating Russian aggression go beyond the battlefield. Joe Biden at one time described them as depriving Russia of the ability to attack anyone in the future. Is this a realistic intention? How to assess whether it has been met? Or does the collective West already have some other goal for its confrontation with Russia? Following the decisions and statements of the leaders of the various countries, one can conclude that everyone sees the end result differently. How do our panellists see it?

the Panellists

The opening panel of this year's Risks and Trends, "How to defend the West", will include Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović - former President of the Republic of Croatia and co-author of the Three Seas Initiative; retired US Navy Rear Admiral and IP3 co-founder and CEO Michael Hewitt; Guillaume Lasconjarias, Director of the French Institute for Higher National Defence Studies; Rafael Loss, German security expert from the European Council on Foreign Relations; and Fabrice Pothier, CEO of Rasmussen Global and long-time civilian official at NATO Headquarters.

Write to author
Marek Świerczyński
Head of Security and International Affairs Desk
Marek Świerczyński
PI Alert

EU summit: Member States launch discussion on financing joint defence initiatives

State of play

Leaders approved appointments to top posts. At the EU summit that ended on Thursday night, they nominated Ursula von der Leyen for a second term as head of EurCom, former Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa as head of EurCou and Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas as head of EU diplomacy. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni abstained from voting for von der Leyen and voted against Costa and Kallas. This means that Meloni is preparing for tough negotiations and may demand a high political price in return for his party's support for von der Leyen in her approval in the EurParl. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán voted against von der Leyen and abstained on Kallas.

They adopted the Union's strategic agenda for 2024-2029. Over the next five years, the Union's goals include a successful digital and green transformation by "pragmatically" pursuing the path to climate neutrality by 2050. Another objective is to strengthen the EU's security and defence capabilities.

Von der Leyen spoke of EUR 500 billion for defence over a decade. This was the EurCom estimate of needed EU investment presented by its head at the EurCou meeting. Poland and France were among the countries that expected the EurCom to present possible options for financing defence investments before the summit, such as EU financing of common expenditure from a common borrowing. This idea was strongly opposed by Germany and the Netherlands, among others. In the end, von der Leyen decided to postpone the debate until after the constitution of the new EurCom, i.e. in the autumn. And the summit - after von der Leyen's oral presentation - only launched a preliminary debate on possible joint financing of defence projects.

Poland has submitted two defence projects. These might be co-financed by EU funds. On the eve of the summit, Poland and Greece presented in writing a detailed concept for an air defence system for the Union (Shield and Spear), which Prime Ministers Donald Tusk and Kyriakos Mitostakis had put forward - in a more general form - in May. In addition, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia presented the idea of jointly strengthening the defence infrastructure along the EU's borders with Russia and Belarus. Poland is pushing for the EU to go significantly beyond its current plans to support the defence industry with EU funds and agree to spend money on defence projects similar to the two proposals. But EU states are far from a consensus on the issue.

Zelensky signed a security agreement with the Union. The document, signed by President Volodymyr Zelensky in Brussels, commits all member states and the EU as a whole to "help Ukraine defend itself, resist efforts to destabilise it and deter future acts of aggression". The document recalls the EUR 5 billion the EU intends to allocate for military aid and training in 2024 (in addition to bilateral aid from EU countries to Kyiv). It says that "further comparable annual increases could be envisaged until 2027, based on Ukrainian needs" i.e. it could amount to up to EUR 20 billion. Ukraine's agreement with the EU comes on top of the bilateral security "guarantees" Ukraine has already signed with a dozen countries (including the US, UK, Germany, France, Italy). As Prime Minister Donald Tusk confirmed in Brussels, talks are also underway between Ukraine and Poland on the text of mutual commitments on security issues.

PI Alert

KO wins elections to the European Parliament

KO received 38.2 per cent of the vote and PiS 33.9 per cent, according to an exit poll by IPSOS. Konfederacja came in third with 11.9 per cent, followed by Trzecia Droga with 8.2 per cent, Lewica with 6.6 per cent, Bezpartyjni Samorządowcy with 0.8 per cent and Polexit with 0.3 per cent. According to the exit poll, KO gained 21 seats, PiS 19, Konfederacja 6, Trzecia Droga 4 and Lewica gained 3. The turnout was 39.7 per cent.

According to the European Parliament's first projection, the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), which includes, among others, PO and PSL, will remain the largest force with 181 MEPs in the 720-seat Parliament. The centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D), whose members include the Polish Lewica, should have 135 seats, whereas the liberal Renew Europe club (including Polska 2050) will have 82 seats. This gives a total of 398 seats to the coalition of these three centrist factions (EPP, S&D and Renew Europe) on which the European Commission under Ursula von der Leyen has relied on so far. The Green faction wins 53 seats according to the same projection, the European Conservatives and Reformists faction (including PiS) 71 seats and the radical right-wing Identity and Democracy 62 seats.