Never before in history has NATO, G7 and EU summit meetings taken place on the same day and in the same place – and in the presence of the President of the USA. However, in view of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, the heads of state and government of the EU, the transatlantic defense alliance and the economically strongest democracies in the world considered it necessary to set a historically unique sign of unity at NATO headquarters in Brussels, to demonstrate their readiness to defend themselves and pledge further support to Ukraine. There are three important questions that the West must clarify in this time of crisis.
Will the West intervene in the war in Ukraine if Russia uses banned NBC weapons there?
It is arguably not a good sign that US President Joe Biden has warned Russia of serious consequences if Vladimir Putin uses chemical warfare agents in Ukraine. Many other US warnings in this conflict that seemed exaggerated have come true. Biden has also prepared the allies for the fact that there must then be a response from the West.
It is questionable whether the previous stipulation, according to which no soldiers from the USA or other NATO countries would not intervene militarily in Ukraine, would then still apply. Because the after-effects of using NBC weapons, i.e. nuclear, biological or chemical warfare agents, can also affect people in NATO countries, even if Russia primarily wants to kill and shock Ukrainians with them. Wind could drive the deadly cargo across the borders of Poland or Romania.
According to a report in the New York Times, the White House has set up a working group, internally called the Tiger Team, to work out possible responses from the United States and its allies. Responses to an attack by Russia on neighbors such as Georgia and Moldova or directly on NATO territory are also to be discussed. There are members of parliament in the USA who are demanding the consequences of NATO in the event that a Russian NBC mission takes place beyond the borders of the alliance.
If Moscow uses tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, “everything is possible,” a senior government official told the newspaper, referring to the current stop signal on the use of its own soldiers against Russia. According to Joachim Krause from the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel, the Russian military doctrine envisages resorting to nuclear weapon threats and their use in regional wars in the event of a foreseeable defeat in order to bring about an end to the war on Russian terms.
According to this, the Russian military can use nuclear escalation as a means to ensure, after the occupation of foreign territory, “that no one dares to liberate the conquered territories or states again”. What answers NATO will then give remains to be seen. According to the Berlin coalition, it is wiser not to speculate publicly about this at this point in time.
Will the West agree on a total embargo on Russian energy?
Putin surprised many governments with his demand that Russian gas deliveries only be invoiced in rubles in future. Subsequently, more or less clear refusals came from the EU countries in which the dependence on Russian gas is currently particularly high. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) said in Brussels that all supply contracts provide for payment in Europe or dollars.
On the fringes of the EU summit, Italy’s head of government, Mario Draghi, also emphasized that settlement in rubles should always be regarded as a breach of contract. In Brussels, however, people are also aware that Putin could no longer deliver gas in a next step if the West does not respond to his ruble demand.
Nevertheless, there is no talk in the EU of a possible summit resolution according to which the community will resort to the harshest of all sanctions and impose an import ban on Russian energy supplies. According to EU diplomats, countries such as Poland and the Baltic States are likely to use Putin’s move to lend even more force to their demand for a ban on imports of gas, oil and coal from Russia.
It is possible that some EU member states, which have been hesitating so far, could switch to the camp in favor of even tougher sanctions. However, according to the information, Putin’s latest ruble demand has not changed the attitude of Germany and other member states that reject an import ban. The Czech Republic is one of the countries that share the position of the federal government.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala spoke out on Thursday against stopping energy supplies. “We do not have enough alternative sources of supply – this applies not only to oil, but also to natural gas,” said Fiala in justification. A unanimous decision by all 27 EU member states is required for a decision on an energy boycott.
At the EU summit, the federal government primarily wants to press for loopholes in the sanctions that have already been imposed to be closed. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) had already raised this demand at a meeting with her EU counterparts earlier in the week. This is likely to apply in particular to those Russian oligarchs on the sanctions lists who have so far been able to evade the punitive measures.
During the consultations in Brussels, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) benefits from the fact that the USA is not pushing for an embargo on energy supplies from Russia either. Instead, the EU and the US wanted to jointly consider further sanctions such as freezing additional assets and travel bans on individuals.
Even before the summit began, a high-ranking US official announced new sanctions against hundreds of members of the Russian parliament and other members of the Russian elite. According to the information, Russian armaments companies and the Russian parliament as a whole should also be placed on the sanctions list.
How united is the West in dealing with the refugee crisis?
There has been a breakthrough here, apparently preceded by a lengthy struggle. It was not yet clear on Wednesday to what extent the United States would participate in taking in refugees from Ukraine. Until then, their transfer or accommodation had been a European matter alone.
On Thursday, however, a transatlantic solidarity was evident on this topic as well. Because the White House announced that the classic immigration country USA wanted to take in up to 100,000 refugees from Ukraine. Canada and Great Britain have now also decided to participate.