NATO and the European Union Show Unity and Resolve in Brussels

The leaders of NATO and the European Union met in Brussels last week, along with G7 leaders, for an extraordinary trio of summits one month after Vladimir Putin began his invasion of Ukraine. While Russia continued its devastating assault across Ukraine, leaders from Europe, North America, and Japan reinforced their united front against Moscow’s war of aggression, repeating demands for Russia to end the conflict and withdraw its forces from Ukraine while increasing the economic and international pressure against the Kremlin. They also stood firm with the people of Ukraine, committing to further economic, humanitarian, and military support. 

On economic sanctions, leaders focused on fully implementing existing sanctions against Russia and Belarus, with the United Kingdom adding new targeted sanctions. The European Union, NATO, and G7 all announced new measures to “close loopholes and target actual and possible circumvention.” NATO called specifically on China “to abstain from supporting Russia’s war effort in any way, and to refrain from any action that helps Russia circumvent sanctions.” The EU-China summit at the end of this week provides another opportunity to make this point.

Energy security was prominent, with European nations doubling down on their pledge to reduce reliance on Russian fossil fuels, adding to previous commitments by the United Kingdom and the United States to phase out Russian oil imports this year. EU leaders accelerated their energy divorce with Russia, assisted by the United States, which will send more natural gas to Europe. However, with some nations more reliant than others on Russian energy sources and domestic consumers increasingly affected, energy politics may be the biggest test of Europe’s unity and resolve in the coming weeks and months.

On the humanitarian front, the European Union is directly supporting Ukraine and its neighbors, which already host 3.5 million Ukrainian refugees. Washington announced $1 billion in new humanitarian aid and will admit 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing the war. As the dire siege of the city of Mariupol continued, President Macron announced that France, together with Turkey and Greece, was planning an “exceptional humanitarian operation” to evacuate civilians. With a major food crisis looming, France also launched—in its role as current chair of the Council of the European Union—an international food security plan with the African Union to avert famines in vulnerable countries dependent on Russian and Ukrainian crops.

In providing military support to Ukraine, NATO and the European Union continue to walk the tightrope between helping Ukraine defend itself and avoiding escalation into a direct conflict with Russia. NATO allies committed to provide Ukraine with more defensive weapons, plus new “cybersecurity assistance” and “equipment to help Ukraine protect against biological, chemical, radiological, and nuclear threats.” The European Union agreed to double its support to the Ukrainian Armed Forces through the European Peace Facility to €1 billion.

Beyond their immediate assistance to Ukraine, NATO and the European Union are revising their military plans to deal with a more intense and persistent period of confrontation with Russia. 

In the short term, NATO has established four new multinational battlegroups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia—adding to its four existing missions in Poland and the three Baltic states, which have also been bolstered. There are now 40,000 forces from all allies under the direct command of NATO, concentrated in Eastern Europe. These are supported by air and naval forces positioned from the High North to the Mediterranean Sea, including an unprecedented five carrier strike groups. 

In the longer term, NATO leaders looked to reset their collective defense and deterrence, stating, “We will now accelerate NATO’s transformation for a more dangerous strategic reality, including through the adoption of the next Strategic Concept in Madrid.” In the days before its summit, the European Union also adopted its first defense and security concept, named the “Strategic Compass,” designed to “make the EU a stronger and more capable security provider.” 

Last week’s summits demonstrated once again the unity and resolve shown by the nations of NATO and the European Union in the face of Russia’s challenge to Ukrainian sovereignty and European security. As a new phase of the war begins, NATO and the European Union will need to keep this momentum while addressing the many long-term aftershocks of the conflict on the humanitarian, energy, food, and defense fronts. With this in mind, the road to NATO’s summit in Madrid at the end of June will be critically important.

Pierre Morcos is a visiting fellow in the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.Sean Monaghan is a visiting fellow with the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at CSIS.

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Sean Monaghan
Visiting Fellow, Europe, Russia and Eurasia Program

Pierre Morcos