A protracted or even indefinite scenario of war is becoming more and more likely, and would be used by Moscow to build up its strength. At this very moment, with winter approaching, Ukraine needs to clearly understand how much support it will get from Europe in order to continue to defend its territorial integrity. Coincidingly, the European community needs a practical plan on how to overcome the energy crisis.
The most effective way to support Ukraine in a protracted war and create options for Russia to agree to a fair settlement is to demonstrate that Ukraine can develop and even prosper with the help of a comprehensive European plan, according to the report “Survive and thrive: A European plan to support Ukraine in the long war against Russia” of the ECFR. Experts working on the report agree that the plan should contain four sections: military security, security assurances, economic and energy security.
First and foremost, EU member states should take the lead in promoting a security treaty with Ukraine, on par with the NATO-Ukraine cooperation agreement that has been in place since the late 1990s. The new agreement should assume that the EU will finance the Ukrainian army’s transition from Soviet-style weapons to modern Western equipment. The essential challenge here is not so much the amount of funds needed for such a process, but, taking into account a broader perspective, the need to entirely reform the European military-industrial complex. Currently, it is equipped to deal with wars in distant territories, with a focus on producing expensive precision-guided munitions. The war in Ukraine has revealed an urgent need for air-defence systems, tanks and artillery rounds. Europe also needs to improve its intelligence and cybersecurity technologies in order to be able to trace and forecast Russia's actions. Finally, constant check-ins are crucial: regular meetings between European and Ukrainian defence ministers that will assess the military situation, the state of the Ukrainian armed forces, the country’s needs, as well as agreement compliance.
The second section of the plan should involve the institutionalisation of security guarantees for Ukraine by the EU states. These guarantees should take the form of legally binding documents, such as bilateral agreements between the EU and Ukraine, containing specific measures to support the country, should Russia escalate. At the same time, ECFR experts stress that such guarantees cannot exclude some form of neutrality on Ukraine’s part and should avoid guaranteeing NATO membership. To add to this, the guarantees can only apply to territories under Ukrainian control. In addition, according to the proposed agreement, Ukraine is obligated to “act responsibly”, otherwise the EU member states may fail to honour their obligations.
The third section of the plan should include financial assistance from the EU to stabilise and restore the Ukrainian economy. Considering that further enlargement of the European Union has already caused serious opposition from some of its current members, the authors of the report propose a new format of interaction with Ukraine called a “Partnership for Enlargement”. It will grant Ukraine negotiated access to the single European market of people, goods, services and capital. Unlike the current association agreement between Ukraine and the EU, this "Partnership" implies Ukraine gaining access to the structural, investment and loan funds of the European Union. Ukraine will join the European Economic Area, enjoying similar benefits currently granted to EU member states and Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
The last section of the plan should include Ukraine's inclusion in the European energy union. This will help protect the country's energy system, which has become particularly vulnerable since Russia seized first the Chernobyl and then the Zaporozhye nuclear power plants. This process requires Ukraine to not only adjust its energy and climate policy in accordance with European standards, but to also take all necessary measures to fight corruption in its energy sector. This should include liberalising the country’s energy markets and limiting Russia's access to these resources. The European Union, in turn, should make efforts to mitigate the social shocks of the energy transition by creating a special fund for Ukraine, modelled on the EU’s own Just Transition Fund.
The ECFR’s proposals are part of the joint long-term strategy between the West and Ukraine, the purpose of which is to support Ukraine’s wellbeing and development, even in conditions of a protracted war and the inability to apply standard procedures of integration into both the EU and NATO.