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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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The EU takes the leadership in strengthening Ukraine’s defence capabilities

The European Union's security policy continues to transform after the start of Russia's full-scale invasion. Ukraine has become a factor that has strengthened the unity of the EU, forced it to reconsider the bloc's role in the world and revise its approaches to interaction with other actors in international relations. First of all, this relates to relations with Ukraine and the Russian Federation.

In the economic sphere, even after the beginning of Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2014, Russia remained an important economic partner for the EU member states. Europe was dependent on Russian energy carriers, while the Russian side received significant investments from liberal democracies and businesses in these countries.  Now, at the level of European institutions, economic relations with Russia are viewed through the prism of security and have been radically revised. This is evidenced by the 11 adopted sanctions packages. The last one was adopted by the European Council on June 25 this year.

The 11th package is aimed at strengthening the restrictions imposed on Russia and preventing their circumvention.[1] In particular, the EU has banned the transit through Russia of wider number of goods and technologies that can be used for military purposes, aviation or space industry, and aviation and rocket fuel for goods exported from the EU to third countries. The EU Council has additionally added 87 companies to the list of entities that directly support Russia's military-industrial complex in the war against Ukraine.

The EU has also expanded the list of prohibited goods that could contribute to the technological improvement of the Russian defense and security sector, including electronic components, semiconductor materials, equipment for the production and testing of electronic integrated circuits and printed circuit boards, precursors of energy materials and precursors of chemical weapons, optical components, navigation devices, metals used in the defense sector and marine equipment.

The EU has extended the ban on the transportation of goods to the EU by road to trailers and semi-trailers registered in Russia, including trucks registered outside Russia. In addition, in view of the sharp increase in deceptive practices of vessels transporting crude oil and oil products, the EU Council decided to prohibit access to EU ports and locks to any vessels that engage in ship-to-ship transfers, if the competent authorities have reasonable grounds to suspect that the vessel either violates the ban on imports of Russian crude oil and petroleum products by sea to the EU or transports Russian crude oil or petroleum products purchased at a price higher than the ceiling price set by the Allies. The same prohibition will apply to vessels if the competent authorities have reasonable grounds to suspect that there has been unlawful interference into the navigation system during the transportation of Russian oil and oil products. The temporary exemption from sanctions for Germany and Poland to supply crude oil from Russia through the northern section of the Druzhba pipeline is terminated. At the same time, it will be possible to pump oil from Kazakhstan or other third countries through this route. Personal sanctions are also imposed on a number of individuals and legal entities.

The sanctions also affected the media sector. The EU Council suspended the broadcasting licenses of five more media outlets directly or indirectly controlled by the Russian Federation and used for manipulative reporting: RT Balkan, Oriental Review, Tsargrad, New Eastern Outlook and Katehon.

At the same time, there are still vulnerabilities in the EU's sanctions policy. As noted in The Economist's article «Vladimir Putin's useful idiots»[2], there are still European states that, along with supporting Ukraine, are trying to maintain economic ties with the aggressor state. For example, Greece opposes restrictions on the transportation of Russian crude oil. Austria, in turn, has increased its trade with Russia during the war, but has not provided any tangible military assistance to Ukraine. In addition, there are still "Putinverstehers" among European elites. Although such individuals and the groups they represent are still marginal, their positions in the domestic political arena may again strengthen as the Russian-Ukrainian war continues.

In the area of security and defense, EU member states are significantly increasing their defense budgets. For example, Germany plans to invest 100 billion euros in the modernization of the Bundeswehr. This intention was reaffirmed in the latest and first ever German national security strategy. It is worth noting there are still doubts at the expert level that this plan will be implemented and that defense spending of 2% of GDP will be ensured in the long term. There is no similar skepticism about the intentions of the Republic of Poland. The country is already actively rearming itself, in particular through defense contracts with the United States, South Korea, and domestic orders. Poland is purchasing 1000 K2 tanks, 600 K9 units, 18 HIMARS with 9000 missiles, 288 K239 Chunmoo multiple launch rocket systems, 1000 Borsuk infantry fighting vehicles. Poland also hopes to purchase 96 Apache helicopters and 48 FA-50 combat aircraft. The number of the Polish army will increase to 300,000 people

Russia's invasion has forced European countries to focus on security issues and has made them aware of Ukraine's role in their security. In addition to investing in their own security, European countries and the European Union play an important role in supporting Ukraine's defense capabilities. The European Union coordinates military assistance through the EU Military Assistance Mission (EUMAM) and financial and military support to Ukraine through the European Peace Fund. Through the European Peace Fund it was already provided 4.6 billion euros to Ukraine. In May, the EU allocated 1 billion euros for the purchase of shells for Ukrainian artillery. In fact, the EU as an institution has played a greater role in supporting Ukraine than the North Atlantic Alliance, as member states have tried to emphasize that the Alliance as entity is not opposed to Russia.

Despite the beginning of strengthening its defense capabilities, the EU is still dependent on the United States in the military sphere. This situation cannot satisfy Brussels and Paris, which are gradually building a more autonomous Europe. In this regard, the component that Europe lacks is the Ukrainian army. The EU needs Ukraine, because the Armed Forces will be the element that can ensure NATO's strategy of protecting the advanced member states in the east of the Alliance. At the same time, Ukraine needs the EU to maintain stability in a postwar state with a million-strong army. Russia's full-scale invasion has demonstrated that Ukraine's security is inseparable from the European security architecture. At the same time, the issue of starting negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU this year is still in doubt. There are even more doubts about the decision on Ukraine's potential accession to NATO.

In such circumstances, Ukraine should work on creating a regional security complex. Such a complex could include Eastern European countries, including Poland, as well as other countries conducting active foreign policies. The United Kingdom could be such a state.


1. Russias war of aggression against Ukraine: EU adopts 11th package of economic and individual sanctions, 23.06.2023,

2. Vladimir Putins useful idiots, 03.08.2023,