Behind the scenes, diplomats, NATO sources and EU officials have praised the “unprecedented levels of unity and coordination” that have “strengthened the transatlantic alliance” as both institutions have worked closely with each other and with the US, like an EU official put it.
A senior European diplomat working at NATO said they were “really surprised but grateful” at the regular contact and cooperation between leaders of both the EU and NATO, ensuring that messages to Moscow are “coordinated and consistent on the highest diplomatic level”. , despite the cultural and geographic differences of all stakeholders.”
Macron has been Europe’s strongest proponent of what Brussels calls “strategic autonomy,” a catch-all term used to describe the EU’s diplomatic independence from larger world powers such as the US and China.
A large part of this drive for autonomy is the growing disagreements of the EU with traditional allies such as the US and the UK over economic and political relations with countries such as Russia and China. In the 27 EU Member States, there are varying levels of dependence on Chinese investment and Russian gas. Some EU countries are relatively relaxed about friendly relations with Moscow from an economic point of view, while others, especially former Soviet countries, are watching with greater concern what is happening in Ukraine and viewing Putin’s Russia with a similar degree of skepticism as UK and US.
With that in mind, a crisis like the one in Ukraine could have been almost tailor-made to sow divisions within the EU in a way that would prohibit strong action, such as harsh sanctions against Russia — and cause an almighty headache when it came to working with NATO in a unified western response.
However, despite Russian aggression, the EU has been unusually united and has complemented NATO’s hardline, officials say.
Officials say the reason it has worked so well is that the EU has stuck to its strengths, as has NATO. A senior NATO official told DailyExpertNews the crisis in Ukraine has been a “litmus test” for how the two should operate.
“NATO is a political and military alliance and can talk about strengthening defenses on Europe’s eastern flank. The EU is more of an economic powerhouse that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the US when it comes to sanctions,” he added. the official to it.
NATO officials, who in recent years have been vexed and personally dismissive of the EU and its global ambitions, have acknowledged that Brussels has played a role no other body has matched in the crisis.
A senior NATO diplomat explained that the EU has been quick to propose a package of relief funds, sanctions against Russia and emergency gas supplies. “We can’t do that, we don’t have the authority, and even without the proposal, the Western response would undoubtedly have been much weaker,” they said.
However, for all the warm words and talk of “blueprints for cooperation” about Ukraine, both sides accept that once this crisis is over – however long it takes – a monarch can return to two of the main defenders of democracy in the west .
“What has worked well in this case is a clear division of tasks based on powers. Where it will not work in the future is where that line blurs. The EU has only very recently decided to become a security player and has made some mistakes in this crisis,” said a NATO official.
Multiple sources pointed to the coordinated response to a letter that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sent to several countries, including the US, Canada and European countries, outlining Russia’s security concerns. Brussels is delighted to point out that, despite sending the letter to dozens of national governments, Lavrov only got two replies: from NATO and the EU.
An EU official told DailyExpertNews they “couldn’t think of a better example of the two agencies coming together as partners than the coordinated response to Lavrov.”
But the senior NATO official explained that they thought the EU had “wasted far too much effort in writing a reply to a letter that was probably thrown out in five minutes and intended to cause disruption”. In that regard, the official believes that the EU was “naive” and playing into Russia’s hands, as the coordinated response “attracted attention here for weeks, but ultimately achieved little”.
The European diplomat said this particular crisis has worked well because “it has been addressed at a very high diplomatic and geopolitical level. Things like coordinated visits and visible meetings of leaders.” But they too are pessimistic that anything “under the weeds like energy or cybersecurity” will revert to two institutions with opposing interests. Those problems may even become factors in Ukraine.
But any self-congratulations in European capitals may be premature. It is clear that the situation on the Russian-Ukrainian border remains grim and terrifying. Obviously, the Western response so far has only pacified Putin and it could still get very ugly. However, after years of private and sometimes public animosity, the EU and NATO have found a way to align at a time of great uncertainty for the West. And with plenty of crises looming outside Ukraine, that can only be a good thing.