The year in review: ECFR readers’ top choices of 2023

From the Russia-Ukraine war to America and China, check out the most popular reads with ECFR this year

With the holiday season upon us, ECFR is pleased to share the most popular policy papers and articles we published this year. Thanks to you, our dear readers, for following our work over the last 12 months!

2023 has been politically challenging – no less than 2022, the year of the Zeitenwende. As the second year of Russia’s war on Ukraine drew on, the sense of “war fatigue” grew and spread across Europe and beyond. The implications of the conflict encompass the energy crisis, rising food prices, and (shaky) European unity in the face of Russian aggression. Continuous military support to Ukraine, rising defence spending within EU states, new NATO members, and the decision to start accession talks for Moldova and Ukraine to join the EU have dominated European politics.

A major study conducted for ECFR investigated views of the West among people across the globe in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion, when Europe and the United States sought to mobilise the world in defence of the post-cold war liberal order. However, in the emerging new world order, the role of the middle powers is increasingly relevant. In our analyses, we suggest an alternative: the pursuit of “strategic interdependence”.

But beyond Ukraine, this year had a dramatic turn of events that shocked the EU and beyond. Since Israel launched its offensive by ground, air, and water on Gaza in response to Hamas’s bloody attacks on Israeli communities on 7 October, European focus has been drawn towards the Middle East.

As ever, ECFR’s researchers have examined the great strategic challenges confronting Europeans during this period.

Here are the ten most popular policy briefs, commentaries, and policy alerts published in 2023.

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Policy briefs

  1. Keeping America close, Russia down, and China far away: How Europeans navigate a competitive world by Jana Puglierin and Pawel Zerka 

European citizens are adapting slowly to the new geopolitical landscape. But leaders have an opportunity to build public consensus on Europe’s approach to China, the US, and Russia

  1. United West, divided from the rest: Global public opinion one year into Russia’s war on Ukraine by Timothy Garton Ash, Ivan Krastev, and Mark Leonard

New polling for ECFR reveals the West is consolidating – while facing an increasingly post-Western world, in which powers such as India and Turkey are readier than ever to act independently

  1. The art of vassalisation: How Russia’s war on Ukraine has transformed transatlantic relations by Jana Puglierin and Jeremy Shapiro 

Europeans’ response to Russia’s war on Ukraine confirms their profound dependence on the US – an unwise position given the security challenge in Europe and coming geopolitical competition with China.

  1. Living in an à la carte world: What European policymakers should learn from global public opinion by Timothy Garton Ash, Ivan Krastev, and Mark Leonard

A new global opinion poll for ECFR reveals that many people across the world want the West in their lives for all they have to offer – but that does not translate into full political alignment. People instead prefer an à la carte arrangement, in which their governments pragmatically select their partners depending on the matter at hand

  1. China and Ukraine: The Chinese debate about Russia’s war and its meaning for the world by Alicja Bachulska and Mark Leonard     

Chinese thinkers are drawing four key lessons from Russia’s war on Ukraine, informing their views on: America, Russia, Taiwan, and economic interdependence with the West

  1. Steppe change: How Russia’s war on Ukraine is reshaping Kazakhstan by Marie Dumoulin           

Domestic unrest and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine left Kazakhstan in a precarious position. The EU should devise an approach that encourages and guides the country towards genuine domestic transformation

  1. Alone together: How the war in Ukraine shapes the Russian-Iranian relationship by Ellie Geranmayeh and Nicole Grajewski

The war in Ukraine has led to unprecedented levels of cooperation between Russia and Iran. This new relationship poses a significant threat to European countries, whose governments should seek to mitigate the potential damage

  1. Star tech enterprise: Emerging technologies in Russia’s war on Ukraine by Ulrike Franke and         Jenny Söderström

Russia’s war on Ukraine has featured many of the technological advances the world has made over the past decades. If Europeans are serious about their defence capabilities, they need to learn from this use of emerging technology on both sides of the war

  1. Brace yourself: How the 2024 US presidential election could affect Europe by Célia Belin, Majda Ruge, and Jeremy Shapiro

Fierce debates are raging among both Republicans and Democrats about America’s future foreign policy orientation. Europeans should take note and prepare

  1. Strategic interdependence: Europe’s new approach in a world of middle powers by Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, Julien Barnes-Dacey, Susi Dennison, Marie Dumoulin, Frédéric Grare, Mark Leonard, Theodore Murphy, and José Ignacio Torreblanca

Middle powers are shaping a fragmented world for which Europe is ill prepared. To protect its interests and values, the EU needs a foreign policy strategy that emphasises its wide range of interdependencies


  1. The second year of Russia’s war: Scenarios for the Ukraine conflict in 2023 by Gustav Gressel

Russia is likely to make some progress in the first half of 2023, but it may lack the capability to hold on to its gains

  1. Drones in Ukraine and beyond: Everything you need to know by Ulrike Franke

The Ukrainian battlespace features the most intensive use of drones in a military conflict in history, marking a shift in warfare tactics and technology

  1. Conscious uncoupling: Europeans’ Russian gas challenge in 2023 by Szymon Kardaś

Europeans made remarkable progress in removing Russian gas from their energy mix in 2022. But 2023 brings with it a whole host of new challenges

  1. The end of Germany’s China illusion by Janka Oertel

The German government has shed most of its illusions about the future political and economic relationship with China. How it navigates the implementation of its new approach will have significant implications for the EU and other member states

  1. Bracing for a broader conflict: How the Israel-Hamas war could escalate by Julien Barnes-Dacey, Cinzia Bianco, and Hugh Lovatt

The unfolding war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas is at the precipice of a broader regional conflict. Europeans must urgently join regional efforts to support preventative diplomacy and avoid escalation

  1. Before it’s too late:  How the EU should support the Western Balkans’ EU accession by Vessela Tcherneva

With Russia’s war on Ukraine raging on its eastern border, EU enlargement in the Western Balkans has a new geopolitical urgency. The EU must commit to supporting their accession – and a fixed date like 2030 alongside a staged approach will add credibility to this commitment

  1. Own goal: How Russia’s gas war has backfired by Szymon Kardaś            

When Russia drastically reduced gas supplies to Europe in 2022, European countries scrambled to find new suppliers. Paradoxically, the biggest victim of the Kremlin’s gas war seems to be Russia itself

  1. How to kill four birds with one stone: The West’s foreign policy challenge in Serbia by Majda Ruge

EU and US policymakers have it within their gift to change the dynamic in their relations with Serbia. Taking on Western Balkans kleptocracy lies at its heart

  1. Here be dragons: India-China relations and their consequences for Europe by Frédéric Grare and Manisha Reuter        

The border standoff between China and India illustrates the growing rivalry between the two countries – and the part that other major powers play in it

  1. Warlords don’t end wars: Why Wagner will not solve the Russia problem by Gustav Gressel

The Wagner mutiny showed that Western states cannot expect a challenge from within to end Russia’s war

Policy alerts

  1. How Europeans should respond to the Hamas offensive against Israel by Julien Barnes-Dacey    and Hugh Lovatt

In the aftermath of the brutal assault by Hamas, Europeans need to focus on ensuring the war does not spiral out of control

  1. The BRICS summit and Europe’s China challenge: A better EU offer for the global south by Mats Engström

The EU and its member states have not kept pace with China’s advancing investment in global south states. Leaders’ messages from this year’s BRICS summit should prompt Europeans to upgrade their offer

  1. Why Americans will eventually sour on the war on Ukraine (but not soon) by Jeremy Shapiro

Support in the US for Ukraine will one day soften. Europeans need to formulate their own plan to continue the long war for when it does

  1. Deterrence starts in the Balkans: How NATO allies can prevent military escalation in Bosnia and Herzegovina by Majda Ruge

As NATO convenes in Vilnius, Kremlin proxies are undermining Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty. Allies need to formulate a diplomatic strategy to prevent a military crisis

  1. A summit of substance: How NATO can prove itself in Vilnius by Camille Grand

NATO’s Vilnius summit has four main deliverables. The results will serve as a stress test for the alliance’s unity

  1. Violence in north Kosovo: How the EU and the US can break the cycle by Engjellushe Morina and Majda Ruge

Escalating violence in the north of Kosovo undermines the already difficult dialogue process. The EU and the US need to address this destabilisation head on

  1. In balance: How Italy can solve its China problem by Teresa Coratella

Italy’s membership of the BRI risks harming its relations with G7 partners. It is time for it to carefully disentangle itself from the initiative

  1. Putin’s grain gamble: A European response to Russia’s latest ploy by Lauriane Devoize

Russia is weaponising food insecurity for geopolitical gain. Europeans should focus their response on supporting the needs of African countries 

  1. De-risking in action: How the EU can build on its critical technology list by Tobias Gehrke

The EU’s critical technology list signals a shift in economic security thinking, but it is just one piece of the puzzle

  1. Economics front and centre: Why the US-EU summit matters by Agathe Demarais

The upcoming US-EU summit highlights a sharp improvement in transatlantic relations. It could bring meaningful progress for the EU in three economic areas

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


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