Sunak i Zelensky

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Central and Eastern Europe Weekly Update: Looming War, Says Everyone

Central and Eastern Europe Weekly Update: Looming War, Says Everyone

January 23, 2024

Author: Tomasz Obremski

Central and Eastern Europe Weekly Update: Looming War, Says Everyone

Sunak i Zelensky

Autor foto: Domena publiczna

Central and Eastern Europe Weekly Update: Looming War, Says Everyone

Author: Tomasz Obremski

Published: January 23, 2024

What 2024 brings?

The 2024 began with a reality check on the security situation in Central and Eastern Europe. Ukraine has been heavily bombarded in the first days of the year, showing the determination of Russia and Ukraine’s need for further support and a long way ahead of any victory. The country faces another challenging year of war, with financial aid still on hold in Washington and Brussels. In a one-to-one confrontation, Russia, being simply more populous than Ukraine, will always have the upper hand in what has become a war of attrition.

In this time of uncertainty, the United Kingdom stands out from all allies. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, with his visit on the 12th of January, pledged 2.5 billion pounds of military package and signed an agreement on security cooperation for the next ten years or until inclusion to NATO[1]. More countries, especially of the G7, need to follow the lead with their bilateral agreements because “Ukraine does not have a plan B” for a scenario with no further aid from Western partners and “will fight with shovels if needed”, as Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has stated in an interview for CNN[2].

The year seems even more dangerous as Donald Trump has won by a landslide in the Iowa caucus, and Ronald DeSantis withdrew from a race for the Republican nomination, endorsing the first. While Europe seems to be still not ready to take more responsibility for burden sharing of the collective defence (not to mention the burden-shifting), Trump’s uncertain position on the conflict, NATO, and declarations to finish the war in 24 hours should ring lauder bells of alarm in Kyiv and other Eastern Flank’s capitals. President Zelenskyy openly worries about such ideas and invites Trump for a one-day visit to Ukraine instead, declaring at the same time that “[Ukraine] couldn’t survive without US help”[3].


Nightmare scenario

Meanwhile, the Kremlin is closely watching. The failed counter-offensive of Ukraine and divisions among the Western governments on Ukraine have made it more confident. On January 16, Latvia’s and other Baltic States’ practice of discriminating against Russian-speaking minorities were declared by Putin to directly affect Russia’s security, which was interpreted by experts, for example, the Institute for the Study of War, as setting the ground for future escalation[4]. Simultaneously, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have agreed to build a common line of defence on the border with Russia[5]. Some have suggested filling it with anti-tank and anti-personnel mines and explosives. The usage of the latter is forbidden by the Ottawa Accords, which all three Baltic States are part of. Some politicians in Estonia even argue for withdrawing from it[6], while the Lativan army opposes the idea[7].

In recent weeks, many leaders and headlines in mass media have underlined the threat of a direct military confrontation between NATO and Russia in the next few years. Estimations differ in the range, with Bild leaking the Bundesweras documents of the worst-case scenario of a rapid escalation even later this year or in early 2025[8]. Joe Biden indirectly suggested such a scenario to congressional leaders, urging them to pass the bill on military aid to Ukraine and explaining what would happen if it fails to do so[9]. Etonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas estimates in an interview for The Times “three years”[10], Germany’s Defense Minister Boris Pistorius’ from “five to eight years”[11], whereas Sweden’s military leaders just “soon”[12].

The most significant margin of the ‘next two decades’ was reserved by the Chair of the NATO Military Committee, Rob Bauer, but his warning was about a cataclysmic conflict requiring a wholesale change in the lives of Western societies[13]. The Committee met last week in Oslo to coordinate the largest NATO exercise since the end of the Cold War, “Steadfast Defender 24”. Lasting until May, it will involve 90,000 troops and show NATO’s ability to quickly react and deploy forces over a span of thousands of kilometres and over many domains[14], serving as a deterrence to Russian ambitions of checking the credibility and agency of the Alliance.


New European scepticism on Ukraine

Whatever the margin, the West will always lack time to be fully prepared for a nightmare scenario. Despite some punctual, positive news, such as the recent French decision to ramp up its weapons production[15], the EU as a collective still struggles to agree on fundamental issues. Aiding Ukraine is the best possible and the cheapest long-term investment in collective security. The alternative is a looming confrontation with Russia, which would cause incomparably more trouble for all EU member states and threaten its existence. Meanwhile, some countries cut their support to Kyiv and suggested ceasing territory to the aggressor.

The new government of Robert Fico in Slovakia has done just that. The Minister of Culture reversed the ban on Russian artists[16], and the Prime Minister himself stated that Ukraine must give up territory to find a compromise and that he is against Ukrainian membership in NATO[17]. Last week, he met with Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban in Budapest to endorse each other on the anti-EU agenda[18]. Although it was only Hungary that blocked the EU aid to Ukraine in December, and Orban sends recently some signals he is ready to turn back on the veto[19], Fico’s Slovakia will make it more complicated in the future to marginalise Budapest over the next delays of EU action on sanction packages or aid to Kyiv.


Polish-Ukrainian breakthrough

On a positive note, Poland and Ukraine managed to find a temporary deal on border crossing. Lorries’ drivers will suspend until March a protest which has been paralysing the EU border since November last year. On that momentum, Donal Tusk visited Kyiv yesterday, promising to find a permanent solution. Following the UK, Poland also joined the declaration of the G7 countries, committing it to long-term military and financial support for the defence of Kyiv against Russia and the post-war reconstruction of the country[20]. The previous government did not want to join such an agreement. As the first foreign visit of Tusk as a prime minister, it remains primarily symbolic, with many issues still undecided on the agenda, but a joint declaration of cooperation and signals of a breakthrough must go first before anything can be resolved.


Author: Tomasz Obremski, Advocacy and Analysis Specialist, Casimir Pulaski Foundation

[1] D. Szeligowski, UK Signs Security Agreement with Ukraine, The Polish Institute of Foreign Affairs, 15.01.2024.

[2] ‘No plan B for Ukraine, ‘we’re confident in plan A,’ says foreign minister, CNN, 04.01.2024.

[3] ‘We couldn’t survive without US help’, President Zelenskyy tells Channel 4 News in extended interview, Channel 4 News, 19.01.2024.

[4] C. Harvard, R. Bailey, et al, Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, 16.01.2024.

[5] S. Goryashko, Baltic states plan common defense zone on Russia border as security concerns mount , POLITICO, 19.01.2024,

[6] MP: Estonia could mine its border, ERR News, 12.01.2024.,

[7] Latvian National Armed Forces against country abandoning Ottawa Treaty, Baltic News Network, 22.01.2024.,

[8] M. Bruszewski, Wojna Rosja-NATO w 2025 roku? Wyciek z tajnych analiz Bundeswehry, Defence24, 15.01.2024.,

[9] K. Demirjian, E. L. Green, Johnson Casts Doubt on Border Deal to Unlock Ukraine Aid, Defying Biden, The New York Times, 17.01.2024.,

[10] O. Moody, Russia could threaten Nato within three years, says Estonia, The Times, 15.01.2024.,

[11] N. Camut, Putin could attack NATO in ‘5 to 8 years,’ German defense minister warns, POLITICO, 19.01.2024.,

[12] C. Szumski, Swedish minister, commander-in-chief warn of possible war in Sweden, Euroactive, 09.01.2024.,

[13] G. Kalsi, C. Jewers, Nato braced for all-out war with Russia in the next 20 years: Top defence chief issues starkest warning yet and says civilians and governments must brace for cataclysmic conflicts and potential conscription, Daily Mail, 20.01.2024.,

[14] NATO holds its biggest exercises in decades next week, involving around 90,000 personnel, Associated Press News, 19.01.2024.,

[15] J. Leicester, France ramps up weapons production for Ukraine and says Russia is scrutinizing the West’s mettle, Associated Press News, 19.01.2024.,

[16] I. Kossov, Slovak culture minister reverses ban on working with Russia, Belarus, The Kyiv Independent, 20.01.2024.,

[17] M. Pollet, Slovak PM: Ukraine must give up territory to end Russian invasion, POLITICO, 21.01.2024

[18] C. Chiappa, Fico backs Orbán against Brussels in Ukraine aid clash, POLITICO, 16.01.2024.,

[19] G. Sorgi, EU confident of Orbán U-turn on allowing money to Ukraine, POLITICO, 16.01.2024.,

[20] P. Andrusieczko, A. Kwiatkowska, Tusk w Kijowie zapewnia o wsparciu Polski dla Ukrainy mimo trudnych kwestii, Gazeta Wyborcza, 22.01.20,75399,30617913,premier-tusk-z-wazna-wizyta-w-kijowie.html