Intelligence Brief: Digging in for the Longer-term

Two months into the war in Ukraine, and the United States and its European allies and partners are steadily increasing pressure on Russia in the political, economic, and military realms. Not surprisingly, there have been some disagreements on particular steps and issue areas, but on the whole Western political solidarity has been strong. This bodes poorly for Russia’s long-term prospects in its war against Ukraine and for it having any chance of coming to some sort of entente with Europe if fighting were to come to a halt. The longer this solidarity lasts, the more baked in it will become, meaning that Russia will face a more and more Western-equipped Ukrainian army and that it will become increasingly uncoupled from Western economies. A few examples from the past week demonstrate that solidarity against Russia is more prevalent than some of the divisions that have shown up in the West.

First and foremost, on a domestic political front, two Western European leaders who in the past have been substantially sympathetic to Russia and Vladimir Putin himself, lost elections. Most importantly, French President Macron was re-elected in his race against right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen. While Macron’s margin of victory was not as great as it was five years ago, it was still substantial (roughly 58% vs. 42%), and Le Pen had to moderate her rhetoric, condemn Putin, and state that she would not withdraw from the European Union to garner even those losing numbers. On a much smaller political stage, Slovenia’s populist and incumbent Prime Minister Janez Jansa lost his re-election bid, with the party winning the majority of votes. Both elections make consensus for further actions against Russia in the European Union and NATO easier.

Second, the United States has not only stated but acted upon stepping up arms deliveries to Ukraine, including heavy artillery and counter-battery radars. Both the U.S. Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense visited Ukrainian President Zelensky in Kyiv on Sunday, a show of political support accompanying an announcement that the new weapons deliveries had already begun. The speed of action by Washington was meant to help Ukrainian forces shore up their defense in the east of the country – the area that appears to be the next focus for Russia’s ongoing offensive. Even Switzerland announced that it will now allow Germany to send Swiss-made ammunition to Ukraine. The balance of actions tilts towards ongoing confrontation and a longer and bloodier war in Ukraine.

Third on the economic front, it is clear that Europe will not be able to completely wean itself from Russian fossil fuels anytime soon, if ever. However, steps are being taken by individual countries and the European Union as a whole to significantly reduce that reliance – starting with coal, working through oil, and eventually getting to gas. The most significant movement this week was the Dutch government announcing that it planned to stop using Russian fossil fuels by the end of this calendar year. Part of this announcement was significant incentives for companies to fill a gas storage facility. Further investment in alternative energy paths, coupled with ongoing sanctions, makes reversing the trend away from Russian fuels less likely.

All of the above, coupled with Russian official statements about fairly ambitious war aims on the ground in Ukraine – possibly expanding to Moldova -- point to a long war and even longer period of confrontation even if fighting on the ground becomes stalemated.

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