Possible Paths:

InterRegional for Strategic Analysis held a panel discussion entitled "Possible Paths: Eastern European security policies in the shadow of the Ukraine war." The center hosted Dr. Liliana Filip, President of the Political Research Group in Romania. The keynote speaker said the war in Ukraine began with the invasion of Crimea in 2014. European and Western countries did not react strongly at the time, she said, which prompted Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, in a war that will impact the independence of Ukrainian territory. The main points of the panel discussion were:

Eastern Europe’s View

Filip reviewed Eastern European countries’ view of the outbreak of the Ukraine war:

1. The Ukraine war began with the invasion of Crimea:

"The war in Ukraine did not start in 2022. It started in 2014, when Crimea was invaded, and the war has not stopped since then," the keynote speaker said. "It is not a turning point in European or world history. Rather, we need to view it as an event that amplifies many trends and a cornerstone when we discuss a new world order. We have known the Russian Federation’s behavior abroad, in all countries. Knowledge of this behavior began in 2008, when it attacked Georgia. This [war] is nothing but a continuation of the Russian Federation’s security strategy."

2. No strong Western response to Russia in 2014

"The reaction of NATO, European countries and the United States was not appropriate in 2014," Filip said. "This created better opportunities for Russia to intervene further in 2022. It was from here that everything was intensified. Now, we are talking about sovereignty and that Ukraine could become a NATO member. Intellectual discussions about these subjects are happening in Europe about the war in Ukraine."

3. Impact of the war on the independence of Ukrainian territories

Filip raised a question about the shape of the Ukrainian state after the war. Part of Ukraine remains independent, while another part will remain with Russia, she said. The parts that have already joined Russia are now full of Russian residents, but they are not the majority. Clarifying the status of the separatist region of Ukraine will be a major issue. "If there is nobody—in my opinion—who wants to end this war, then we must see how we will deal with the security structure in this region and Europe in the future, as well as how this will affect the international balance of power.

4. Weak funding for military research and development in Europe

Filip criticized weak funding provided for the research and development of emerging military technologies in Europe. "The Jaguar program in France will not enter service until 2030, due to a lack of funding, and it is a program that is five years behind schedule. The British Ajax team is also 10 years behind schedule," she said. "All these delays are not because of a lack of experts to find the best solution. They are because you need to invest a lot of money in research and development before you find the best solution. I believe this is the war we face now: to bring transformative software into conventional military capabilities, and to do it at the appropriate time, not in 50 years.

5. Europe’s escalating energy security dilemma after the war

Filip addressed the issue of energy security in Europe in the wake of the Ukraine war, saying that Europe was and remains dependent on Russia in this field. "Although we have had many discussions about diversifying energy sources, we have done nothing. We can say that we are now looking at hydrogen, and looking to convert energy waste. In Romania, we have even adopted a program to implement small nuclear reactors—an experimental American program. These energy sources must be diversified, which is also important because it will impact Russia’s influence and means and methods of making money to support the war effort."

She pointed out that "in 2022, before the war, 60% of [Russia’s] oil exports went to Europe. 74% of its natural gas is raw, as the majority of Russian oil and gas production went to Europe. We know that Germany was the first to say that it would not continue to work on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. All countries are trying to abandon gas contracts in the region. This means that, if this trend continues, Russia will not receive the funds it needs to continue the war and support the Russian economy. Even if China were to become a greater ally of Russia, it would not be enough to cover these losses from Europe. The question remains, however, of whether Europe will implement all these ideas in time."

6. A comprehensive European economic security assessment

According to the speaker, the European Union proposes to conduct a comprehensive assessment of economic security in several fields: "We face a threat to the resilience of supply chains. That happened after the Ukraine war, when it was a nightmare in terms of supply chains, including energy security. The second is risks that threaten physical security and cybersecurity, or critical infrastructure. The third is risks related to technological security and technology leaks. We can think of this as what the United States always claims about China, especially regarding economic coercion. This is the situation in which Russia is making this economic transition in the energy field."

7. Growing influence of Russian media campaigns about the war

Filip explained that the use of media campaigns by some countries to influence public opinion in Eastern Europe existed before the Ukraine war, but has now become more aggravated. "In the context of elections, this matter has become extremely serious. We have seen that this is the situation in Poland, and it will pop up in Romania next year given the presence of a populist party dominated by right-wing extremists with a very anti-NATO, anti-EU stance, striving to follow the Hungarian model. According to some evidence, this party is financed by Russia."

"Given all these elements," she added, "disinformation campaigns on social media have a greater impact. The context is complex, with huge problems and developments that will affect our future. This will be the case with the four elections held in Romania next year. This will be very difficult to manage, because you do not have time to educate people, and you do not have time to show them what is true and what is not. Will you need to have many discussions with Meta, Google, all these major companies that can deal with it better and remove what is not true from the internet? They will not be able to do that, because it is very difficult to say something is not true once it is posted."

8. Ukraine unlikely to join NATO in the near term

According to Filip, "many opinion leaders are trying to convince NATO that the alliance must accept Ukraine as a member. In reality, Ukraine is in a state of war, and the region is divided. In my opinion, we will not see this happen soon. Perhaps in the best-case scenario for them, NATO could conclude a special agreement with Ukraine—alongside the agreement under which all the members aid it with equipment and support. Ukraine’s accession to NATO is not possible, but this does not mean that we cannot try to find the best solution to defend and support it."

Varying Strategies

Filip revealed Eastern European countries’ strategies, whether multilaterally or through NATO, to deal with the Ukraine war and its repercussions:

1. Using the war in regional competition between Eastern European countries

Filip mentioned that Romania has provided a great deal of support to Ukraine, with which it shares a more-than-600-kilometer border. However, Romania has not announced all the support it has provided to Kiev, so has faced many problems at the regional level. Poland in particular is always first to accuse Romania of not contributing enough, even if it is only using that for regional competition. There are Ukrainian minorities in Romania, and civil society organizations were the first to come forward and help many Ukrainians when life was difficult for them.

2. Eastern European countries move to strengthen defense investments

"In my opinion, this war will continue, and we will not see a solution soon," Filip said. "There are many complexities and mixed scenarios, and nobody wants to actually shoulder responsibility. The Ukraine war has affected Eastern European countries in the field of defense procurement and investment. All the region’s armies have been modernized, and emerging technologies have been adopted in their military capabilities. It is very important for NATO to be involved in this, because all these countries are NATO members. For us, the security umbrella provided by NATO means that we could consider that Russia will never attack us, that the war in Ukraine will stay in Ukraine and not end up as a regional war. We know that NATO has launched the force deployment initiative, which means that many countries will deploy troops to boost military readiness."

3. Preference for raising levels of European deterrence against Moscow

"All these moves are not because we believe Russia will attack us," Filip said, "but because of their deterrent role, and to show that we have a high level of military security. After the Ukraine war, we also have a new concept of NATO security that defines extremely clearly that Russia is the most serious and direct threat to the allies. It also deals with China being an aggressor against the values of our transatlantic community."

"It is extremely important to also mention that China is part of this discussion," according to Filip. "Its influence is enormous, and we can see major cooperation between Russia and China—especially after the dialogue we have seen over the past six months. This is important for international security, which affects all of us. NATO’s most important focus is deterrence and defense through direct defenses that strengthen battle groups in the eastern part of the alliance and increasing the number of high-readiness forces to more than 200,000 troops."

4. Strengthening reliance on military technological development

Filip stressed that, in the wake of the Ukraine war, NATO has become more focused on innovation and emerging military technologies. "I believe that the war in Ukraine increases this trend," she said. "It is building up a lot of platforms and programs for startups and funding for the development of new products using emerging technologies, which is a top NATO priority. The battlefield in Ukraine is also used to test all these military capabilities. It is, for them, a huge laboratory for testing new military hardware."

5. NATO funds the modernization of Europe’s armies

Filip said there is a new NATO Innovation Hub to help the alliance boost its technological superiority. It is the top venture capital fund in the world, which is meaningful because NATO will have the money to finance military instructions and solutions. "This fund will invest one billion euros from the venture capital funds in early-stage startups and others, and in the development of emerging technologies that are a priority for NATO," she added. "This is extremely important. That will include artificial intelligence, big data processing, quantum enabling technologies, and autonomy biotechnology—a very new technology for some armies—in our modern approach. The fund will complement NATO’s Defense Innovation Accelerator program, and we will start to develop and adapt dual-use emerging technologies for critical security and defense challenges."

In conclusion, Filip noted, "NATO has turned to developing its military strategy after the escalation of this war, especially with regard to advanced defense. These forces are already on the ground, and there are many procedures and exchanged memoranda that play a role. We say that we are committed to that. We can deploy additional strong, combat-ready forces in Eastern Europe to be upgraded from existing battle groups to a brigade size. This means a lot of logistics where and when needed, backed by reliable and quickly available reinforcements and pre-positioned equipment. Therefore, we are ready. We can say that we are heading towards a European army. Even if it was not Macron’s idea…this is what NATO is developing."