- Security support and other help from Western partners made a concrete difference to Ukraine’s ability to resist Russia’s 2022 invasion and, in some cases, retake territory.
- Had the EU established a security compact that provided security assistance in a range of areas, Ukraine could have been even more successful in its resistance.
- A security compact would have enabled Europeans to send more comprehensive packages of support, as they would have already addressed major questions about how to respond to a Russian attack.
- The West and Ukraine have both learned a significant amount about what support they should consider. The EU should now establish a security compact that enhances assistance for Ukraine.
- Joint planning between European armed forces and the Ukrainian defence industry to agree schedules for the replacement of key arms would free up equipment to be supplied to Ukraine.
- The EU should consider drawing up security compacts with Moldova and Georgia, both of which are vulnerable to Russian aggression.
The institutions of the European Union and many member states have long struggled with questions of how, and even whether, to support military action – either on their own initiative or by partner states. But, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the notion of providing direct military support, including weapons, to neighbouring countries quickly became a full part of the public debate; and delivery of such assistance now takes place. Still, old divides remain between a western Europe that has demonstrated less alacrity in responding to the radically changed context, and states in Europe’s east, whose governments in many cases have gone further down a road they were already travelling prior to the war. At the same time, northern European states such as Finland, Sweden, and Denmark have all moved to rapidly enhance their defence integration with NATO or the EU.
Many European political leaders, from across the continent, have stated that Russia must not win this war, because such a victory would only bring their countries, and ultimately the EU itself, into the line of fire of Russian imperialism. States that have been less fiercely vocal about the invasion, such as Germany and France, have nevertheless contributed to the war effort. Still, a past failure on the part of many member states and the EU institutions to more energetically support Ukraine to enhance its own security meant that the country was in a weaker position to protect itself than it might otherwise have been. At the same time, support from the United States, the United Kingdom, and eastern European countries such as Lithuania and Poland before the invasion likely helped ensure Russian forces did not simply overrun the country in the early weeks of the war. Deliveries of weapons and other military equipment since then have also helped Ukraine push back on its own territory, in sometimes spectacular ways.
Based on the assumption that the best pillars of stability in their neighbourhood are strong states with resilient security and defence institutions, the EU and its members have the option to conclude “security compacts” with countries such as Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. These compacts would involve the EU cooperating with, and supporting, these countries in fields ranging from tackling money laundering and strengthening the rule of law, to supporting intelligence reform and enhancing cyber-security – areas EU decision-makers have traditionally felt more comfortable with – alongside ‘hard security’ issues such as military activity.
The European Council on Foreign Relations has previously published proposals that set out how the EU and its member states can develop these security compacts and in this way become more geopolitically influential in their own neighbourhood. The bloc is yet to conclude any such compacts, but the support that some states have provided to Ukraine and others should provide insight into what to include in these agreements. The direct experience of war should also, more drastically, do the same. The EU should apply these lessons to Ukraine but also other vulnerable states, such as Moldova and Georgia; as previously argued, partners in North Africa and elsewhere in Europe’s neighbourhood could also benefit from the broad applicability of the security compact model.
While the EU debates, in Ukraine the future of the European security order is being decided for the years to come. If Russia wins and subdues Ukraine, it will not only bring tremendous suffering to the Ukrainian people. The war itself has greatly accelerated totalitarian, militarist, and imperialist aspirations in Moscow, which – although they existed before the invasion – have now moved into the centre of Russia’s foreign policy. In a victorious Russia, imperialism and militarism would provide a unifying narrative bonding the Russian elites and society. Such a state would be an even more dangerous neighbour than its current incarnation. Ensuring Russia suffers defeat is therefore the best investment in the continent’s future. To do that, the EU’s neighbours need concrete military and related support, fast; but they also need it over the medium and long term.
What is a security compact?A security compact is an agreement to provide assistance across a range of areas that are important for the security of a country. As ECFR most recently proposed, in light of Russia’s war on Ukraine, a security compact with Ukraine could comprise a set of EU and Ukrainian undertakings designed to increase cooperation between the security and defence sectors of the EU and Ukraine. Such a compact would be a broad-based effort to improve the EU’s work with its partners on intelligence reform, cyber-security, and military cooperation – enhancing the assistance the EU is able to give Ukraine to defend against foreign threats. The EU could tailor packages of support for Moldova and Georgia along similar lines.
It is nothing new to see security cooperation between EU member states, the US, and the UK, on the one hand, and eastern neighbourhood states, on the other. What, therefore, should policymakers learn from the cooperation these states have already pursued? How much did it assist Ukraine in particular? And how has support so far assisted Moldova and Georgia?
Security assistance to Ukraine – lessons learned
Many security cooperation initiatives have taken place with Ukraine in recent years, but they were not usually led by EU member countries. Instead, the US and UK tended to be the main partners. This section considers various components of these activities, from training to the direct provision of weapons. It assesses the extent to which such efforts contributed to Ukraine’s security.
In 2015, the US set up a Joint Multinational Training Group, which provided tactical training to the Ukrainian armed forces. As part of its work, NATO allies (particularly the US, Canada, Poland, and the Baltic states) sent trainers and advisers to Ukrainian military teaching facilities, particularly the Combat Training Center-Yavoriv close to Lviv. This involved platoon-, company-, and battalion-level tactical training. Furthermore, trainers and advisers assisted Ukraine’s officer and non-commissioned officer training. This has made a tremendous contribution to the survival of Ukraine as a state. For example, the experience of the war so far suggests a stark difference in quality between Ukrainian and Russian officers. Despite the latter’s numerical and materiel superiority, Ukrainians in many battles have been able to prevail because their commanders made better decisions, acted on their own initiative, and creatively sought out their adversaries’ weaknesses. Tactical and operative flexibility and creative planning have also helped preserve much of Ukraine’s air defence capability, despite the technical odds.
Once the war was well under way, and as the Ukrainian army rapidly increased in size due to general mobilisation, the issue of training came to the fore. Newly formed territorial defence units lacked the cohesion, skill, and endurance of their professional comrades, who had fought in the Donbas war after 2014. The Ukrainian territorial defence units were set up only in late 2021, and corresponding reserve officer and non-commissioned officer training schemes had not yet produced enough commanders for many units. At Popasna (the location of a military engagement in May 2022), for instance, the Russians made a point of attacking areas held by newly formed battalions, circumventing more veteran units. Again, the US and UK have provided training to address this, other European nations later joined the British effort, such as Denmark and the Netherlands. Some that were engaged in training initiatives on their own territory chose to remain silent about these activities to avoid Russian retaliation.
The Kremlin’s announcement of a partial mobilisation on 21 September again highlighted the issue of training for the Ukrainian armed forces. Ukraine may try to further expand its armed forces to match the Russian threat, but ultimately it can only prevail if its forces are superior in quality rather than quantity. Correspondingly, the EU has said it will set up a training mission for the Ukrainian armed forces. It should implement this quickly to preserve and expand Ukraine’s advantage in quality of officers and soldiers.
Weapons and equipment
Deliveries of weapons and military hardware became a core part of the public and political debate in much of Europe after 24 February. While arms supplies have allowed Kyiv to stay in the fight, the Western effort overall was slow and reactive. It still lacks sufficient foresight and coordination, and is heavily influenced by domestic pollical debates rather than the actual needs on the ground.
Prior to the war, the US spearheaded the delivery of weapons and lethal aid to Ukraine. As early as 2018, the US sent Javelin anti-tank guided missiles, and by the autumn of 2021 many Ukrainian crews had already received training on this weapon system. This meant that, when it became apparent that Russia may invade, the US and other allies (including the UK and Estonia, later joined by France and Italy) were able to rapidly increase the delivery of launchers and missiles. The American effort was supported by British deliveries of short-range, next-generation light anti-tank weapons in large quantities, also prior to the war. These two systems provided the Ukrainian army with the ability to inflict high casualties on Russian armour and delay or stall Russian advances. This was especially evident at the start of the conflict when Russian troops underestimated the threat posed to their armoured vehicles and neglected proper coordination of armoured forces with infantry and artillery, failing to properly reconnoitre Ukrainian positions.
Ukraine’s Western allies also successfully supplied short-range air defence missiles. In the run-up to the war, the US provided Stinger Missiles and associated training to Ukrainian forces while Poland provided Piorun missiles (a similar system). The widespread availability of these missiles at the beginning of the war helped to foil Russian helicopter-borne assaults into the Ukrainian rear, as well as forcing the Russian air force to attack from higher altitudes to avoid being shot down. As the Russian air force predominantly relied on unguided air-to-ground munitions, this significantly reduced the effectiveness of its air strikes.
The effect of this support was uneven. After the Russians’ initial thrust was blunted in the battle for Kyiv, things became more difficult for them. The terrain on the Kyiv axis of the invasion – woodland, marshes, and a lot of towns and settlements – provided the Ukrainian infantry with numerous opportunities to engage Russian armour at close range, where they could make use of the weapons supplied by the West. However, terrain in the south – in Kherson, Berdyansk, and Mariupol, for example – and in Donbas was much more favourable to Russian armoured units, which made effective use of their firepower. By this point, Ukraine had already suffered considerable losses in terms of armoured fighting vehicles.
To make things worse, Russia embarked on a systematic missile campaign to destroy Ukrainian defence industry sites and fuel storage sites, making it difficult for Kyiv to sustain ammunition production, vehicle repair services, and fuel-delivery efforts. This created a Ukrainian dependence on Western supply to an unprecedented degree. As the war dragged on, Ukraine began to run out of ammunition, artillery, armoured vehicles, and heavy surface-to-air weapons systems. It was still able to create light infantry units from mobilisation and volunteers, but they lacked the necessary mobility and firepower to challenge the Russian armed forces in all terrains. Russia therefore gained ground by circumventing towns and cities as much as possible and substituting manpower with firepower (particularly artillery) to outgun Ukrainian armed forces.
Many capitals – including Washington – had made insufficient preparations for this development. What kind of weapon systems should they send? How should they balance urgent requirements, training, and logistical preparation needs, and long-term sustainability issues with the supply chain? Some countries’ self-imposed restrictions (to reassure domestic constituencies that they would not be dragged into war) generated uncertainty and irritation among allies. Those states that delivered weapons to Ukraine before hostilities commenced – the US, the UK, but also France – had a more structured domestic debate about this. But none of the countries had delivered heavy complex systems like tanks or artillery systems before the war, and therefore did not yet have any experience of handling these questions at home or with allies.
While public expectations within the EU for support to Ukraine grew after the discovery of mass atrocities carried out by the Russian armed forces, self-imposed restrictions started to become liabilities for domestic politics and communications. While the delivery of shoulder-launched weapons was easy enough for these newly committed states to finance and implement, complex weapon systems needed training and logistical preparations, which was difficult to for them to organise in circumstances of war. Nevertheless, many Western analysts and officials grossly overestimated the time needed to train Ukrainian crews and maintenance personnel on such systems. For example, training on the fairly complex Panzerhaubitze 2000 took two months; training for the even more complex Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft gun takes three months.
Supplying states wasted a huge amount of time on debating deliveries instead of actually delivering them. Had the EU established common positions on issues of materiel support – as proposed for security compact arrangements – they could have moved much more quickly. And, as sharing the burden of refurbishing and supplying such vehicles among many states eases the effort, common positions would have made it easier for countries to assemble coalitions and deliver equipment in a joint effort, instead of through different isolated national efforts.
Prior to the invasion, the UK and Ukraine were engaged in a partnership to modernise the navy. This partnership would have renovated the Ukrainian navy’s ground facilities to allow Ukraine to host and operate new warships built with Western technology and systems. The endeavour was not futile, as it succeeded in reforming and modernising Ukraine’s coastal surveillance and maritime command and control facilities – which may have helped Ukraine better monitor Russia’s fleet movements.
Once the war began, Ukraine had only few missiles to hand. It used them to strike targets of opportunity – one of which was the missile cruiser Moskva as it travelled the Black Sea without escorts. Denmark delivered Harpoon coastal defence missiles in early June (France considered delivering Exocet missiles but ultimately did not), and these too have been plugged into modernised coastal surveillance networks. This in turn gave Ukraine the capability to keep the Russian fleet away from its coast, preventing amphibious assaults into its rear, and interdicting Russian supply shipments to Snake Island. Retaking the island was not only a symbolic victory for Ukraine as it prevented Russia from gaining a permanent foothold in the western Black Sea and Danube estuary. This was the first geopolitically significant result of arms supplies during the war.
Interestingly, the Ukrainian air force received little to no attention in training and assistance discussions before the war. Kyiv did not use the air force in the Donbas war. Since 2014, Ukraine had struggled to acquire spare parts for its Soviet-era aircraft, which are predominantly made in Russia. Flying hours and pilot training fell as a consequence. Most officials in the West had little faith in the air and air defence forces withstanding a full-on Russian air campaign. But, to the officials’ surprise, they did. Ukraine’s air defence forces have preserved most of their fixed wing force and air-defence missile systems throughout the war. They have posed a constant threat to the Russian air force and reduced the effectiveness of Russian air operations over Ukraine.
Why this is the case remains a closely guarded secret. Ukraine quickly dispersed its air assets to evade initial Russian missile strikes, operating them from small airstrips or roads. It constantly redeployed surface-to-air missiles to escape detection. Ukrainian pilots’ performance in the air strongly suggests they had received good training. And, before the war began, Ukraine’s defence industry sought out spare parts that could substitute for Russian-made items. That being said, Russian missile strikes in March and April took out most enterprises, and resupplying the Ukrainian air force again became a problem.
After Polish plans to transfer Mig-29 fighters to Ukraine fell apart in April (largely because Washington did not want to back the deal then), Warsaw still supplied aircraft spare parts and air-to-air missiles. Bulgaria started to service and repair Ukrainian aircraft in May, leading to speculation that some of its Su-25s or Mig 29s could have been transferred. The US agreed to provide further F-16 fighters to boost Bulgarian air defences. Slovakia phased out its Mig-29s in August, but there been no official confirmation of a transfer to Ukraine yet.
It is not only Soviet-era fighter planes that proved to be a logistical issue: neither Ukraine nor the West are able to produce any ammunition for the Ukrainian air force’s long-range S-300 and Buk-M1 surface-to-air systems. Slovakia donated its S-300 to Ukraine after Germany and the Netherlands deployed Patriot Air Defence Systems to the country. By the end of 2022, Germany will deliver one battery of IRIS-T SLM and the US two batteries of NASMAS air defence systems. This will provide some relief to Ukrainian air defences under stress. But production of these complex and expensive systems takes time, and it will take years to completely swap Ukraine’s air defences over to Western missiles.
In the end, there is no alternative to increasing investment in Ukraine’s air defences. Without protection against Russian aerial attacks, Ukraine’s logistics would be open to attack, no defence-industrial rejuvenation could occur, and shifting forces to react to situations on the battlefield would be impossible.
Even though their activities are largely classified and beyond the eye of the observer, it is impossible to underestimate the importance of Western intelligence services’ shadow war tracking Russian military movements and listening into Russian military communications to predict Russian forces’ course of action.
The US and the UK appear to have been most effective in assisting Ukraine in this domain. As early as November 2021, US and British intelligence services started to publish their assessment on Russia’s intentions and war plans. These provided precise predictions of Russian actions and intentions.
Among other things, this success pointed up the capability gap between continental Europe and American and British intelligence. Many EU member states found themselves unable to independently verify US predictions. Their decision-makers had to rely on instinct rather than evidence when it came to whether to trust them (and, during this period, Europeans felt able to trust the US under this administration). Accurate intelligence is the basis for any rational decision-making process.
Following the invasion, intelligence cooperation with Ukraine ramped up, although still largely with the US and the UK. Intelligence sharing, including the provision of target data, has been a vital element of Western support for Ukraine’s war effort. The extent and granularity of this effort remains impossible to assess in full, but as Ukraine lacked satellites and air superiority, and had only limited electronic intelligence capabilities, without such assistance Kyiv would have had great trouble tracking early fast Russian movements in the war’s first phase and assessing Russian reserves and deep-fire assets in its second. The same accounts for tracking the Russian Black Sea Fleet further from the Ukrainian coast.
While many European countries before the war were hugely reluctant to engage with the Ukrainian domestic intelligence service, the SBU, out of fear of corruption and misuse of power, British and US services remained pragmatic on what to achieve. Over time this created trust, which provided a basis for the services to rapidly expand their cooperation during wartime. Given the amount of Russian preparation to kill top Ukrainian politicians and disrupt Kyiv’s war effort, the SBU appeared to act quickly and decisively to put them down: in the opening stages of the war, it foiled numerous assassination attempts on high-ranking figures and took action when targets were marked for Russian air strikes by collaborators.
Numerous European officials felt much of their scepticism had been validated when in July President Volodymyr Zelensky fired his prosecutor general, Iryna Veneditova, and the head of the SBU, Ivan Bakanov. His reason was that more than 60 prosecutors and SBU operatives had stayed in occupied territory and cooperated with Russians. The swift Russian progress in the south towards Kherson – where the local head of the SBU fled and was later arrested in Belgrade, carrying undeclared cash with him – further increased suspicion. However, the SBU has 30,000 service members and the prosecutor service around 9,000 employees. Given the large resistance of both organisations to reform and restructuring in the pre-war period, one might have expected a worse outcome in this context. Still, the issue of weak or absent inter-agency coordination (particularly between the SBU and the GUR, the defence intelligence service), which was known before the war, created a prominent mishap at the beginning when the SBU tried to arrest – and ended up killing – a supposed Russian spy in Ukraine’s negotiation team who turned out to be working with the GUR.
EU member state officials often focus on the SBU when it comes to intelligence cooperation with Ukraine. This is because SBU reform is a key issue on the general rule of law reform effort that the EU has supported since 2014. The EU Advisory Mission in Kyiv has an explicit mandate to engage in civilian intelligence reform. But intelligence cooperation also concerns the GUR and the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine. Both are more nimble organisations and had already undergone successful reforms. During the war, Europeans and Ukraine’s other allies have mostly exchanged military intelligence with the GUR directly, particularly from the side of US and UK services – which had built up a working relationship with that service prior to the war. Little to nothing is publicly known about the success of this cooperation, also because the GUR has preserved much of the secretiveness and professionalism that the GRU (its Soviet predecessor and current nemesis) once had (as compared to the more famous, more opaque, and more politicised KGB).
Only a handful of EU member states have established bilateral ties with Ukraine’s military intelligence service. This is unfortunate – and not only for Ukraine. On the battlefield, Ukraine has captured some rare Russian command and control, air defence, and electronic warfare systems. Examination and evaluation of these systems will give the Western defence industry crucial insights and clues of weaknesses to exploit for the development of next generation weapon systems – but only for those nations that have access to it.
Because intelligence cooperation is such a crucial element in foreign security assistance, Europeans need first and foremost to increase their own capabilities in this area to be able to actually provide intelligence they can trade. They also need to regard this cooperation not only as a form of assistance, but also as an opportunity to learn about how states in the eastern neighbourhood, particularly Ukraine, fight the Russian challenge.
It costs money – and a lot of it – to bolster Ukraine’s capabilities in the security sector, particularly to supply the armed forces with the weapons and ammunition necessary to fight a full-scale war. Correspondingly, Europeans have devised ways to commonly fund security assistance to other countries through EU institutions. In this case, the EU commissioned the instrument to do this – the European Peace Facility (EPF) – in December 2020 and operationalised it in 2021, just before Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine.
The EPF quickly responded to the attack. However, it was only able to act within its competences – that is, to provide funds. It had no competences to procure defence goods on its own, nor to organise their delivery to Ukraine. By 28 February, €50m had been raised for non-lethal aid. This was increased in March, April, and May by packages of €100m each. On top, the EU approved €450m of expressly lethal aid on 23 March. It then granted a further €500m of lethal military aid in July. However, the EPF only provides funding; deliveries have to be organised by individual member states. There is no Brussels-based structure to draw on for coordinating individual member states’ efforts and Ukraine’s demands. The Kyiv-based EUAM has no mandate to engage in military security sector reform, so, despite being present in Kyiv, the mission has neither the capacity nor the experience to deal with this sort of crisis. Even worse for the reputation of the EU as a player leading the effort to support Ukraine, no public information is available about which weapon systems were financed by the EU’s EPF. Deliveries of new, expensive systems by large western European states to Ukraine are most likely financed or co-financed by the EPF – but only member states get the credit for it.
The US stepped in and organised a donor conference in April at Ramstein air base in Germany, involving the Ukrainian defence minister and 40 nations able and willing to support Ukraine militarily. Since then, the “Ramstein group” has coordinated military assistance to Ukraine. Kyiv communicates its equipment and supplies needs, and participating states say what they can deliver. While in some cases this has led to a certain harmonisation of support efforts – for example the US, the Netherlands, and Denmark supplying M-113 armoured personnel carriers – the different domestic debates on what to deliver determines the supply side (demand exceeds supply by far). And, as such, arms deliveries have remained reactive. Especially as complex weapon systems require longer preparatory work, this state of affairs means that the West is always behind the curve of developments in the war.
Those countries that had already built up close defence and defence industrial ties before the war – Poland and the Baltic states – were much quicker and more responsive to Kyiv’s early calls for assistance, as were the UK and the US, which spearheaded the military assistance before the war. Again, this illustrates that peacetime preparations are invaluable to expand an effort during war and crisis. Had Europeans had a more cohesive and coherent strategy on supporting their eastern neighbours before the war, they could have avoided political squabbles that delayed the delivery of much-needed support.
A large number of EU states have provided a less than optimal response to Russia’s war on Ukraine. Many are more reluctant than countries such as the UK to assist, and this applies on many fronts, most worryingly on the supply of heavy weapons. This is not a marginal problem for European cohesion, for European defence and defence industrial cooperation, or for the EU’s prospects of being able to offer coherent and meaningful security compacts to partner countries. For eastern and northern European countries, Russia’s war on Ukraine is not just any security crisis. For them, the conflict represents an existential threat: if Russia were to emerge victorious, they would surely be next. This is not a test case but a trial of whether Europeans are capable of achieving greater self-sufficiency in defence and whether they can trust one another as security allies. This trust seems shaken.
For Paris and Berlin, the crisis seems to be far less existential. Concerns “not to humiliate Russia” from President Emmanuel Macron as well as delays and highly controversial self-limitations on arms deliveries in Germany have caused rancour. In Berlin, the primary concern is not to get involved into the war and to avoid nuclear war (even though the chances of nuclear war are remote).
While it is too early to assess all the political consequences for the EU as a security actor, one should not underestimate the negative long-term effects of this emerging split. Developing a shared Common Security and Defence Policy was arguably difficult during its 30 years of existence. But member states at least agreed that a European defence industrial base was needed to support whatever ambition member states may have. Given the multiple blockages witnessed over the past months, this minimum consensus seems in question, and states’ willingness to rely on each other fragile. Poland’s decision in August to buy and later licence-produce South Korean main battle tanks instead of working with Germany is a clear indicator how far trust in the reliability of western European states has been eroded.
To close the rifts again, western Europeans should not only be more forthcoming with military aid in such an urgent crisis. But in their post-war reconstruction and rebuilding efforts in Ukraine, they should also include a comprehensive security compact with the country – including post-war defence-industrial cooperation.
Security in Moldova
Western security cooperation with Moldova was under-developed until recently. Over the course of the country’s history since independence, its various pro-Russian or oligarchic governments have neither cared for security nor the rule of law. They had no desire to cooperate with the EU. And, when in office, reformist governments were cautious not to touch sensitive security issues, to avoid fallout over Transnistria and forestall Russian interference. In addition, Moldova’s constitution states its neutrality, which means that any cooperation with outside partners in ‘hard security’ fields would have been attacked by the pro-Russian Socialist Party as a breach of this status.
In 2019, Moldova’s government, under Maia Sandu as prime minister, oversaw the creation of Cyber Emergency Response Teams and introduced rudimentary cyber-security structures. This aside, nothing happened on the security front, and the country’s political and economic insecurity drove cyber specialists and other skilled labour abroad. Now the Moldovan government wants better and closer liaison with European cyber-security bodies. Its government wishes to work with the European Cybersecurity Competence Centre and European Union Agency for Cyber Security and receive their support to improve and operationalise a National Cybersecurity Centre.
Other measures are also relevant to the country’s security. For example, the recent re-establishment of an independent public broadcaster is an important step in the fight against disinformation. Private television channels are owned by oligarchs and support their respective parties; Russian television backs the Socialist Party.
But, despite the war, the most pressing issue for Moldova’s survival so far has been the question of energy, rather than military security. The Russian-owned Gazprom has a majority of Moldovagaz and regularly uses it as a lever to attempt to influence Moldova. Although in the spring a connecting pipeline to Romania opened, and the Moldovan government has since set up a new company to buy gas from sources other than Russia, an energy crisis could still move too quickly for the government to keep up with. Moldova has gas reserves for seven days and, as prices are beyond what the government can afford, Russia still has the power to leave the country in the cold. Even if the government could secure the funds to purchase the gas needed by the population, the interconnector with Romania is insufficient to fully replace Russian gas delivered via Ukraine and Transnistria. Moreover, Transnistria supplies Moldova with 70 per cent of its electricity, which is generated by a gas-powered plant.
The EU has integrated Moldova into the European energy grid (providing the technical possibility to replace Transnistrian electricity with European supply) and promised further support on energy efficiency, network, and market reforms, as well as a transition towards renewable energy sources. But these are all long-term plans. Moldovans fear that this winter will see an energy crisis that upends all long-term programmes for capacity building, including in the security sector. Still, despite the urgency of the energy challenge, it would be unwise for either Chisinau or Brussels to lose sight of security issues and again delay reform and capacity building on this sector.
Security in Georgia
On paper, Georgia seems relatively well prepared to defend itself against Russian attacks. The country has robust military cooperation with the US, the UK, Turkey, and France. Many Georgian officers and personnel have received training in the West. And the Georgian military has contributed to EU and NATO missions abroad.
The problem in Georgia, however, is democratic backsliding and state capture. And this problem goes far beyond the defence sector, although it heavily affects it. The country’s armed forces have lost talented military personnel because party affiliation trumps qualification in all of Georgia’s public services – the armed forces and intelligence service included. State capture and partisan tribalism degrades the ability of the state to mobilise society. And it creates ample pressure points for Moscow to use actions that operate below a conventional military incursion into Georgia. As a result, addressing Georgia’s rule of law and public accountability deficit should be the primary aim of all political support measures offered by the EU.
The urgency of rule of law reforms is also underscored by Georgian deficiencies in other security sectors. A lack of transparency and politicisation persists across the entire civilian security sector and the judiciary. In 2020 and 2021, civil rights watchdogs reported on the illegal activities of the Georgian intelligence service, which was revealed to have spied not only on opposition figures and investigative journalists (in order to protect local powerholders and oligarchs from scandal), but also on EU and other European diplomatic representations. The service, moreover, provided advice and data for the 2020 election campaign of the ruling Georgian Dream Party. Intimidation of politicians, opinion leaders, and voters is also suspected to originate from that organisation.
Judicial reform has gone nowhere for decades, and the little progress that was achieved under former president Mikheil Saakashvili has since been reversed. Prosecutors are not politically independent, and verdicts are not a matter of juridical deliberation, rather a matter of political influence. Without generating a basic level of trust in the state among the whole of society – not only the entourage of the ruling party – other assistance to improve the structural capabilities of the Georgian security sector will yield little strategic result. Fighting Russian disinformation is futile if domestic disinformation does the job.
Given all this, the priorities for Georgia should be to: increase public and parliamentary oversight over the intelligence service and the investigative police; introduce transparent selection mechanisms for public servants; reform the High Council of Justice and bring in transparent selection processes for judges; and second international experts to the council as impartial members. Again, as in the case of Ukraine, a mission such as EUAM that provided advice, assistance, and oversight would greatly facilitate this effort.
While Georgia’s shortcomings in the rule of law and democratic standards were reflected in the EU’s decision to not grant Georgia candidate status in 2022, an overwhelming majority of Georgian citizens want deeper European integration. The EU should draw on this broad and deep societal support to foster the political change that will, in turn, help make Georgia more secure in the face of Russian aggression.
A security compact for Ukraine
When Russia withdrew from the Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy regions, the war in Ukraine transformed into a long battle of attrition. Instead of fast, deep operations to capture key political centres quickly, Russia began to attempt to erode Ukraine’s military capabilities over time. Although the Kharkiv counter-offensive marked the transition of initiative towards the Ukrainian side, President Vladimir Putin’s mobilisation decree of 21 September was a clear indication that Moscow is willing to go to great lengths to achieve its strategic goals.
The confinement of military operations to eastern Ukraine does not mean that Moscow’s war aims – the annihilation of Ukraine as an independent country and people – have changed. Indeed, although Putin was warned by German, French, and US interlocutors that there will be no negotiations on the basis of annexation, he chose to push ahead regardless. For the foreseeable future, there will be no negotiations. The future of Ukraine, and European security, will be decided on the battlefield, not at the conference table.
Even if a truce of exhaustion is reached – something that would be much welcomed in most western European capitals regardless of costs and conditions – it would be an unsustainable peace. The Minsk II agreement, hailed in Berlin and Paris as the “only solution” to the post-2014 Donbas conflict, turned out to be nothing but a temporary truce. Any further agreement would be no better, unless Russia’s military defeat was so costly and painful that Putin would lose any appetite to repeat or renew the venture. To achieve peace, Ukraine must not only barely survive; it needs to decisively defeat the Russian army in the field.
This is a tall order, and one that Ukraine will not achieve on its own. Russian air and missile strikes have systematically destroyed Ukraine’s defence industry and fuel depots. In order to maintain a capable armed force, and its mechanised reserves in particular, Ukraine now is dependent on Western support more than ever in the eight years of war with Russia.
Visually confirmed losses indicate that 25 per cent of Ukraine’s pre-war main battle tank arsenal is already destroyed. Actual losses may be twice as high, suggesting Ukraine is losing around 75 tanks a month. Losses of infantry fighting vehicles are high too, so Ukraine’s mechanised reserves have depleted considerably. Well-trained, experienced crews that already had combat experience in Donbas are dwindling. Replacing them is much more difficult and time-consuming than introducing Western-designed weapons. Equally, munitions for much Soviet legacy equipment (particularly 9K33 Osa, 9K33 Strela-10 surface-to-air missiles, Bm-27 Urgan, and BM-30 Smerch rocket artillery) are running out and cannot be procured in the West. For Ukraine to sustain the war effort, it will have to transition to Western weapon systems, whose spare parts and ammunition supply chain is controlled by the West and hence provides a sustainable source of replenishment. This, of course, is a lengthy and relatively expensive process. But it is unavoidable, and the costs – both in terms of money and in terms of human lives – will only rise the longer that European decision-makers put it off.
Assembling a security compact
Resupplying Ukraine and enabling it to sustain this war of attrition requires a two-phased approach. The first phase – which is already in train – is to deliver Soviet-legacy equipment that Ukraine can use almost immediately on the battlefield without its forces requiring much training or logistical preparation. After the war began, Poland and the Czech Republic quickly sent T-72 tanks and rocket launchers, among other equipment. These replaced Ukraine’s immediate wartime losses but they do not represent a sustainable solution, as stocks of Soviet legacy systems are limited in the West. Many such systems intended for Ukraine – particularly BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles – are old, unmodernised, and far inferior to more recent Russian weapons systems. They are stopgaps at best. The West does not fully control the supply chain of these weapons, and in some categories, it has little to no reserves left to give.
So a second phase, in which Ukraine receives Western weapons systems, is absolutely necessary, across all categories of systems. The only alternative to this is Russia winning and Ukraine losing this war. Training needs and logistical preparations will require weeks to several months, depending on the complexity of the system. To ensure continuous supplies, Western states should undertake preparations to supply Ukraine with equipment and complete these before Ukraine runs out of ammunition stocks for existing systems.
But does the West have the capability to deliver? Years of austerity and neglect of the defence sector have seen arsenals shrink. Defence industrial output is low, as demand was minimal for decades. The production time for a French Cesar howitzer is 18 months, for a German Panzerhaubitze 2000, 30 months, and for a German Leopard 2, 36 months. Apart from costs, these long delivery times make it impossible for Ukraine to transition to new equipment during the war. This effort therefore depends on the availability of used and stored equipment.
Better coordination among European states can help address this. Here, too, many of the cold-war era platforms that Ukraine could have used have been sold off to other countries. However, there are still some platforms that Ukraine could use. And, as European countries have more elasticity to absorb delivery times or even delays for arrivals of new equipment – at least compared to a country at war – a planned procurement effort to quickly replace systems in current service would free up further vehicles for Ukraine.
Kyiv and its allies should also take into account the following parameters:
- Is the platform in question still in production? If not, how large are the stocks of spare parts and supplies?
- How sustainable are the supply chains of subcomponents such as ammunition?
- How widely used is the platform? Would it allow other countries to join the effort, facilitating the build-up of supply chains and training?
- What are the secondary costs to Ukraine of maintaining the system (such as fuel and repairs)?
Time and again, Ukraine has surprised Western military observers with the effective use it has made use of Western-supplied equipment, integrating it into their forces and doctrine, and overcoming issues of logistics and maintenance. For example, the Gepard self-propelled air defence vehicle is one of the most complex and training-intensive systems the German land forces were able to provide. Yet, Ukrainians made great use of the vehicle in their Kharkiv counter-offensive. Supplying further equipment and bringing it to use in Ukraine will not be constrained by Ukrainian capacity to absorb assistance, rather by Western capability and will to provide replacements. Ukraine maintains the second largest land forces in Europe. The equipment operated by its standing armed forces alone gives an indication about the quantities needed to be replaced and maintained in war.
|Main battle tank||987|
|Misc. armoured fighting vehicles||747|
|Infantry fighting vehicles||1,357|
|Armoured personnel carriers||831|
|Self propelled gun||655|
|122mm Multiple rocket launched systems||209|
|Heavy (220mm & 300mm) multiple rocket launched systems||150|
|Self propelled anti aircraft gun||75|
|Ground attack aircraft||31|
|Mobile, armoured, short-range surface to air missile launchers (9K33/9K330/9K35)||81+|
|Medium to long range surface to sir missile systems (S-300 and Buk-M1)||332|
Source: Military Balance 2022
As noted, these numbers apply only to the systems operated by Ukraine’s pre-war high-readiness forces. Since Ukraine’s mobilisation in February, the country’s armed forces have grown in number. Equipping at least some territorial defence forces with armoured transport would help them protect themselves and would allow the moving of forces under artillery fire.
Of course, many Western weapon systems are more effective than the Soviet systems Ukraine is currently using. But there are limits to being able to substitute quantity with quality. Ukrainian forces have to cover a frontline more than 1,000km long. The air defence forces and air force have to cover the entire rear of the country against Russian missile, drone, and air attacks. For this reason, sheer quantity of equipment will make a difference to these forces’ ability to act.
Little information is available about storage sites in Europe that contain phased-out equipment, or equipment no longer in operational use. The post-cold war reduction of armed forces across Europe left many legacy weapons platforms lying idle, or simply scrapped. But, besides air-defence systems, where even used systems are truly scarce, enough reserve and phased-out platforms are available (at least on paper) for Europeans to help Ukraine to sustain the war of attrition against Russia. However, European political decision-makers have not yet made the call to proceed. Many stored vehicles are in bad shape and would need months of repair work before they could be shipped to Ukraine – on top of training needs for Ukrainian personnel and maintenance crews. This is why deliveries need to be planned well in advance.
Furthermore, if Europeans set up a joint planning group comprising defence planners and representatives of defence industries, they could agree schedules for increased production of new equipment. This would free up equipment currently used or held in reserve. A short overview of selected equipment not in use in today’s Western armed forces is provided in the following table.
|M1A1||US||MBT||3,450||Deliveries to Australia and Poland ongoing; only available next year as there are bottlenecks in restoration and creating logistical infrastructure.|
|M2 Bradley||US||IFV||2,000||89 scheduled for delivery to Croatia, to be delivered in early 2023.|
|M113||US||APC||8,000||200 being delivered to Ukraine.|
|M109A6||US||SPA||850||Preparations for deliveries to Ukraine on the way.|
|M113||Misc||APC||Unknown||Stored vehicles in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Greece, Germany (60), Norway, Spain, Portugal; numbers and condition uncertain.|
|Leopard 1||GER||MBT||188||Former Danish and Norwegian vehicles, 150 in serviceable condition; further vehicles in store in Canada.|
|Leopard 2A4||GER, Misc||MBT||~300||Reserve and training vehicles available in: Canada (42), Germany (32), Spain (108), Finland (100), Norway (16); further phased out vehicles are stored at KMW, but the exact number is unknown. Some of these will be sent to other NATO countries in exchange for T-72.|
|Marder 1A3||GER||IFV||130||100 at Rheinmetall; to be donated to Greece by the end of the year, further 30 unused in Bundeswehr inventory.|
|Bieber||GER||AGB||20||FFG (Flennsburger Fahrzeugbau GmbH) deliveries to Ukraine ongoing.|
|Fuchs||GER||APC||Unknown||825 in Bundeswehr service, to be replaced by other vehicles, particularly Boxer. Conflicting numbers on vehicles phased out already.|
|M109||Misc||SPG||>119||Phased-out vehicles still in Belgium (29), UK (51), Norway (33), Portugal (6), and Italy (formerly more than 200, but fate unknown).|
|Gepard||BEL||SPAA||55||Phased out in the 1990s.|
|M270||NOR||MLRS||12||In storage, no active use.|
|M270||US||MLRS||~500||Exact numbers unknown, in store.|
|VCC-1/2||ITA||APC||<400||M-113 derivate; not in active use.|
|SIAM 25||ITA||SPAA||275||In reserve.|
|BMR 600||ESP||APC||Unknown||330 of the original 600+ are still in active use.|
|Spada/Aspide||ESP/ ITA||SAM||Unknown||Spain will deliver one battery to Ukraine. In Italy being replaced by SAMP/T.|
Source: Gustav Gressel
See Table 1 for meaning of abbreviations.
Given the quantity of equipment theoretically available (after renovation), it is clear that Europeans (and the US) are still engaged only in half-measures in support of Ukraine. However, given Washington’s much greater military potential, American half-measures still look impressive from a European point of view. A security compact that planned the delivery (and construction) of such equipment for Ukraine would make a material difference to the country’s ability to win Russia’s war of attrition.
Key forms of support
Electronic warfare and intelligence tools
Ukrainian capabilities to track Russian electronic emissions (jammers, signal posts from headquarters and supply depots, and air defence system radars) are an important force multiplier. They allow Ukraine to attack specific high-value targets and disrupt Russian operations with only little ammunition spent. Several European countries produce this sort of equipment, which Ukraine could use.
One system that has already made a sizable difference in this regard is the US-delivered AGM-88 HARM, an air-launched missile that locates electronic emitters such as air-defence radars. Ukrainian Mig-29 aircraft were modified to launch the missile. Few details are available about the number of missiles delivered and how they are employed. But the mere threat of being attacked forced Russian air-defence and electronic warfare units to be more careful and reluctant in using jammers and radars. This in turn created opportunities for Ukrainian drones and attack aircraft to engage Russian targets. Delivering electronic warfare and intelligence tools to Ukraine would greatly enhance Ukraine’s overall combat effectiveness.
Armoured transport is another urgent requirement. Ukraine has a lot of infantry, but in all other terrains except urban combat its infantry has little chance to manoeuvre, given a lack of cover, protection from artillery splinters, and speed. Any form of armoured transport is dearly needed. The M-113 platform, which is common among NATO states, is ideal for the numbers in which it is available. However, Western states should urgently deliver any available infantry fighting vehicles, mine resistant ambush protected vehicles, or other sort of transport. Soviet-era BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles delivered from Polish, Czech, Bulgarian, and Slovenian stocks, which were favoured objects for the German government’s swap-deals (Ringtausch), are unlikely to prove durable solutions. The vehicles are cramped, have a barely usable weapon system, and are prone to exploding when hit. Ukrainian soldiers prefer to ride on top of these vehicles, instead of inside them, in case this happens. This, of course, nullifies the effects of the armour in the first place. The West should therefore help Ukraine pivot away from these vehicles as soon as possible.
Direct fire support
The main battle tank is an irreplaceable direct-fire support asset. Armoured reserves were a crucial element in the battle for Kyiv, and strong armoured reserves successfully stabilised critical situations in Donbas on many occasions. The heavy toll on both Ukrainian and Russian tanks lost in the war is a testimony to their frequent use. So far, Ukraine has received 230 Polish T-72Ms, is receiving Polish PT-91 Twardy (up to 190 corroborated), and has received 50 Czech T-72M1s and an undisclosed number of Bulgarian T-72s and spare parts for this tank from a variety of eastern flank states. As impressive as these numbers are, they cover Ukraine’s wartime losses only up to the end of August. If the current loss rate continues, the country will experience a ‘tank crisis’ in the winter of 2022-23, just as it endured an artillery crisis in the summer. The West has already sent stocks of expendable T72s, and Ukraine captured some stocks in the Kharkiv counter-offensive. But one cannot plan a sustained war effort merely on the hope of capturing the enemy’s equipment. Ukraine therefore needs to transition to a Western-designed tank. It is strongly advisable to prepare this transition now, rather than wait until stocks dry up.
The German Leopard 2 is the only Western-designed tank that is: available in larger numbers; in production; and not being used as spare parts for the existing fleets that NATO countries depend on to maintain their own battle-tank fleet. But Germany is unwilling to export main battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine. Berlin points to an ‘informal’ NATO policy not to supply main battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine. The existence of such a consensus is bitterly contested by central and eastern European governments. And it was only ‘confirmed’ by British and French leaders following discussions with Berlin, increasing suspicion that this is first and foremost a German policy. Spain evaluated whether to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, but later declared these vehicles were unserviceable. This explanation is unconvincing. But it is unlikely Madrid would have openly picked a fight with Berlin about the issue – Germany would have had to approve the export.
The only other main battle tank fleet available are US M-1 Abrahams, which the US is currently delivering to Australia and Poland (from second-hand stocks). Although heavily over-engineered compared to the Leopard, and a logistical nightmare given Ukraine’s fuel shortages, it may be the only system available for Ukraine. Ongoing deliveries to other countries mean it will not be available soon.
Aviation and air defence
Berlin has been more forthcoming on providing new air defence systems. Germany and the US have pledged to deliver three batteries of medium-range air defence systems (one IRIST by Germany and two NASMAS by the US) by the end of the year. Germany will send a further two batteries in 2023. One battery can protect one city or an important facility (such as an operative reserve or supply depot) each. The constant threat posed by such missiles has caused the Russian air force to avoid Ukrainian air space, and it is relying instead on drones and cruise missiles. Each of these systems is capable of intercepting both drones and cruise missiles. However, the Ukrainian air force operates 31 batteries of S-300 and 10 batteries of Buk M1 to protect the Ukrainian rear and its cities. They rotate and change positions frequently to elude Russian strikes. So there is still some way to go.
Even with such a large number of air defence systems operable, vast areas of the country can only be guarded with fighter patrols. Putin’s partial mobilisation has certainly prolonged the war for around another year. Within such a timeframe, Ukraine could transition to Western aircraft even while fighting is still taking place. As noted, to avoid Russian strikes, Ukrainian air assets operate from dispersed airfields and improvised runways. In a similar manner, the Has 39 Grippen and the F18 are operated by the Swedish, Finnish, and Swiss air forces. Sweden is replacing older Grippen A and B models with newer E and F models; Finland and Spain are about to replace their F-18As with F-35 and Eurofighters respectively. These aircraft could be used to start the transition to Western fighters. Spare parts and ammunition for these fighters is available for various roles, not only air defence, and could therefore considerably boost the capabilities of Ukraine’s air force.
Finally, Ukrainian army logistics are also under considerable stress. As a legacy of the Soviet Union, depots are situated in the country’s west (which is also where Western supplies arrive); the fighting takes place in the east. Wars of attrition demand the delivery of large quantities of ammunition. Rail transport is already widely used, although it is vulnerable to Russian strikes – particularly on the disembarking stations. Trucks, particularly those with automated container-loading systems, could greatly facilitate the logistical effort in Ukraine. And container-compatible mobile refuelling stations and fuel-carrying containers are of particular interest, as Russia has destroyed much of Ukraine’s terrestrial and stationary fuel supply system, meaning the Ukrainian armed forces have to run mobile depots. Such systems are produced in Europe by Rheinmetall/MAN and in the US by the Oshkosh Corporation. The former could be supplied to Ukraine via the EPF.
A security compact for Moldova
The war in Ukraine has hit Moldova with an unexpected security crisis across many domains. President Sandu and her government are “pro-European”, but their programme on taking office had been largely inward-facing, to initiate and complete the rule of law and good governance reforms the population has been longing for since a major banking scandal broke in 2010.
Before the war, Ukrainian territory shielded Moldova from military threats. But in April and May 2022, Russia prepared for offensives towards Odesa, and correspondingly Moscow’s proxy forces in Transnistria ordered a general mobilisation. It was clear that Russian military adventurism would not stop in Ukraine. For its part, since the end of the Transnistria war in 1992, Moldova has never made preparations to face a direct military threat from Russia.
The EU has increased its support for the Moldovan Ministry of Interior to surveil the border with Ukraine as well as the internal contact line with Transnistria. It also increased Frontex support. Furthermore, the EU supports the training of, and provides equipment for, the Fulger anti-terror special forces, which would respond in the event of any incident or provocation with the Transnistrian-stationed MGB special forces. But, beyond this, cooperation on intelligence sharing is in high demand in Moldova, as the country has few capabilities to detect threats from outside its borders.
Moldovan politicians have voiced their interest in hosting an EUAM-type mission to Chisinau to assist security sector reform in an advisory capacity. This would channel strategic level advice, legislative advice, capacity building, and training to the civilian security sector. The EUAM in Kyiv has facilitated these reforms in the past; repeating the exercise in Chisinau should be achievable.
Soon after the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the EU offered to assist with the modernisation of the Moldovan armed forces through support via the EPF. However, due to domestic political issues (principally, the fear of granting the pro-Russian opposition a propaganda victory), Chisinau has restricted itself by stating it would not accept lethal aid from that source, instead using EPF support for military logistics, mobility, command and control, cyber-defence, situation monitoring capabilities, and tactical communications. But, while secure command and control is indeed important, Ukraine’s example indicates that at the very least Moldova would need modern anti-tank weapons to mount a credible resistance to Russian forces. Training for Moldovan officers and non-commissioned officers in the EU would be another way to strengthen the Moldovan armed forces’ capabilities without delivering hardware; as noted, US and UK officer training for Ukraine has been a major influence in the course of the war in Ukraine.
Interestingly, with the direct military threat to Moldova from Russia vanishing due to successful Ukrainian counter-offensives, Chisinau is becoming more outspoken on military threats. In her 2022 speech to the UN General Assembly, Sandu for the first time called Russia’s military presence in Transnistria “illegal” and called for its withdrawal. The receipt of lethal aid is no longer taboo and may soon take place.
Cyber-security has also returned to Moldovan politics. According to the country’s officials, 80 cyber-attacks on Moldova’s government and critical infrastructure took place in September 2022 alone, many originating from Russia. An immediate priority for the government is to pursue deeper integration with European cyber-security structures and assistance in defending against current threats.
However, in the short term, the energy crisis dominates all other considerations. Spiking gas prices, inflation, a looming economic crisis from the loss of export routes to Odesa, and the sharp contraction of the Ukrainian economy have made it difficult for Moldova to plan ahead, in particular on matters of capacity building in the defence and security sector. The government is still very interested in security cooperation with the EU – particularly as cooperating with NATO is a much more difficult issue domestically, given the country’s official neutral status. However, in practical terms, energy and economic issues tend to crowd out the government’s ability to engage in long-term planning for the security sector.
A security compact for Georgia
Since 2017, the Georgian government has pursued a “whole of society” defence concept, which the country is now trying to implement. Such concepts are typical for small countries confronted with large, hostile neighbours: the state tries to muster and mobilise all possible societal actors for the defence effort, not only military and security agencies, but also civil society actors and enterprises. The approach not only relies on large mobilisation forces (such as large territorial defence forces based on the Scandinavian and Baltic experience) but also on a cooperative effort across society to support such these forces. However, making this concept a reality is impossible if major parts of society lack trust in the state, state institutions, and political decisions. European security assistance therefore cannot and should not be separated from rule of law and public accountability standards. This is particularly true for Georgia.
The Ukrainian example of late mobilisation also shows that a government needs accurate foresight of the enemy’s intentions and actions, which Georgia does not possess with regard to Russia. The country’s current modernisation plan for the armed forces focuses on command and control, communications, intelligence, air defence, aviation, anti-armour, artillery, mobility and counter-mobility, as well as special operation forces. Developing and improving these capabilities through the EPF is well within the scope of the peace facility, now that funds are cleared for lethal aid.
A security compact could therefore assist in all of this: not only could arms and equipment be procured through the EPF, but various European countries have decades of experience operationalising total defence concepts. And intelligence cooperation may increase pre-warning time. Still, the scandals surrounding the Georgian intelligence service mean that none of this will happen without the country making practical progress in the rule of law.
The war on Ukraine, and Georgia’s muted response to it, has again exposed the latter’s domestic weaknesses. After President Salome Zourabichvili voiced stronger support for Ukraine than the government wished, it attacked her over a trip she made to the EU. The government’s reaction has also created a serious domestic backlash, which, coupled with high levels of public frustration with politics, has further decreased confidence in public institutions. Under such circumstances, total defence risks being nothing but an illusion.
Support through the EPF, or indeed a security compact, will not cure the country’s macropolitical problems. To give security support a chance of succeeding, the EU should pursue strict meritocratic procedures and ensure rigid supervision of reforms. (It will need to do this anyway to appease enlargement critics.) The EU should therefore undertake a rigorous assessment of Georgia’s domestic and rule of law problems and couple this with high-level diplomacy (already initiated by European Council president Charles Michel). It should make these preconditions to Georgia receiving further help and assistance. Without such an approach, the Georgian Dream party will only construct a victimhood narrative and continue to rule in the same kleptocratic and semi-democratic way as before.
The EU and its member states need to fill the security gaps in states vulnerable to Russian aggression, principally Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. All these countries and their populations have pro-European aspirations, with Ukraine also of course already subject to an all-out invasion by Russia. But, instead of rising to this challenge, both prior to the war and since, Europeans have fallen back on US leadership and US military strength to take care of security affairs on their own continent. This is particularly true for western Europe, and France and Germany in particular, where “strategic sovereignty” had become a fashionable catchphrase in foreign policy circles. But, at the very moment they could have turned this ambition into action, political leaders have exercised only restraint, and made clear they expect others to exercise restraint as well. Moreover, throughout this period, countries often labelled as Eurosceptic – Poland above all, but also the Czech Republic and Slovakia – have emerged as important players. New coalitions within the EU are set to emerge in Europe, reshaping the dynamics of integration, as more clearly pro-European states such as Estonia and Latvia find common cause with Poland and others.
There is no shortage of ideas for reclaiming agency in western Europe – most recently articulated by the German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock, who advocates a leading role for Germany in a joint European security effort to deal with an imperialist and revisionist Russia. But words need to be followed by deeds: meaning arms supply to Ukraine and deep security partnerships with those countries that seek a European future.
The fields identified in ECFR’s 2020 security compact proposal for structured cooperation with partner countries – intelligence, cyber-security, military education, planning, doctrine, arms supply, and defence industrial cooperation – remain valid. Public attention and demand have now shifted dramatically towards arms supply, and the war has revealed Europe’s own weaknesses in each of these fields. This makes it difficult at times to help Ukraine and other eastern neighbours in the scope and speed that the situation requires. For this reason, the EU and member states need to increase their capacity to help others. They should consider adopting the following recommendations.
To provide meaningful and timely intelligence, Europeans need to increase their own intelligence capabilities on Russia. The prelude to the war exposed considerable deficits in this arena. With regard to the EU and its field missions, the bloc should work with military intelligence services, not only civilian ones. This is especially the case if it wishes to set up EUAM-type missions in Chisinau or Tbilisi.
EU and member states cooperation with Ukraine and Moldova in the cyber-security field is steadily progressing, although the threats are also evolving rapidly. While the cyber-conflict is not fully in view, post-war examination of this effort will guide future cooperation and capability development programmes.
‘Soft military’ assistance
Ukraine’s mobilisation has increased the need for training, particularly tactical training for officers and non-commissioned officers of its territorial defence forces. The EU has, correctly, launched a training mission for Ukraine. The crucial role in the war played by the professional military leadership of the Ukrainian armed forces should persuade policymakers to offer such training to other Eastern Partnership countries as well. Table-top exercises and war games with eastern neighbours to anticipate possible scenarios of further escalation are a valid instrument to prepare for uncertain times. And military exchanges and joint exercises are now a two-way learning process, particularly with Ukraine, whose armed forces have much to teach their Western counterparts. No other army has this kind of combat experience.
‘Hard military’ cooperation
Military arms deliveries to Ukraine need to increase in response to Putin’s recent mobilisation: the country will soon become a target-rich environment. In the short term, Europeans need to better coordinate their deliveries of available hardware. They then need to increase their defence industrial capabilities not only to help Ukraine sustain an industrial war against Russia, but also for Europeans to be able to sustain an industrial war if asked by other allies to help. In the light of increasing military tensions in the Asia-Pacific, the possibility to backfill a friendly state in a major military struggle should not be confined to Europe. But the European defence industry will only increase production capacities if there is a minimum degree of certainty about demand over a longer timeframe. This in turn requires serious, long-term strategic planning. After the war, defence industrial cooperation – particularly with Ukraine – could lower the costs for Eastern Partnership militaries to transition towards Western-compatible weapons systems.
About the author
Gustav Gressel is a senior policy fellow with the Wider Europe programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Berlin office. Before joining ECFR, Gressel worked as a desk officer for international security policy and strategy in the Bureau for Security Policy of the Austrian Ministry of Defence and as a research fellow of the Commissioner for Strategic Studies with the Austrian Ministry of Defence. He also served five years in the Austrian Armed Forces.
The author would like to express his deepest gratitude to Hanna Shelest, Shota Gvineria, Dumitru Minzarari, and Viorel Cibotaru for providing situation reports on the security needs and aspirations in Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova respectively. I made great use of these reports in writing this paper. Inevitably, Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has overtaken their work, submitted at the start of the year, and led this paper in new directions. The author also owes a lot to Adam Harrison for editing, revising, and restructuring this paper so that you, dear readers, may actually enjoy it.
 Interview with high-ranking Moldovan official, September 2022.
This policy brief was amended on 10 October 2022 to reflect that Emmanuel Macron said Russia, not Putin as previously quoted, should not be humiliated in Ukraine.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.