The most important lesson Europe has learned from the war in Ukraine is that any war is not far from us, and the most significant consequence of Russia’s aggression is the fear that anything is possible. This was assessed during the panel discussion: “Beyond Borders: Ukraine, Western Balkans, and Regional Dynamics.
Yevgeniya Gaber, a collaborator at the Atlantic Council in Turkey, mentioned that what is truly important in Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine is how Ukrainian society, democratic institutions, and the Ukrainian people, both physically and as a political entity, resisted Russian aggression.
And that is the main reason why this so-called special operation failed for Russia. So probably the main and first lesson for many other countries that are constantly under the threat of possible invasion by other countries is to develop democratic institutions and, of course, to strengthen civil society. This horizontal networking of companies, people, volunteers, and sometimes, you know, even schoolchildren, but also large corporations with the government. And of course, with people on the front lines with the military, this is something that helps to endure in the long run because very often, unfortunately, this is not a short war but essentially a war, Gaber evaluated.
One of the lessons, she said, is that no war in Europe is too far from us.
Sometimes, even within this panel, these discussions at the conference, I’ve heard that, well, you know, Ukraine is obviously not anywhere near our borders, so we have a lot to deal with in the Balkans, which obviously is not true because it’s not like that, she said.
She mentioned that the consequences of this war are not just kinetic warfare in Europe, although that cannot be excluded.
It’s about all sorts of malicious influences, interventions, interference in electoral processes, not only in Europe but also in other places, like in Africa, for example, the use of private military companies, the use of all kinds of refugee crises, migrant crises, to create problems from Africa through the Middle East to Europe. That’s why this is important, and that’s why despite everything that’s happening now in Karabakh, unfortunately, now in Israel, she assessed.
She also emphasized that we must not allow the situation with Russia’s aggression and invasion of Ukraine to be forgotten and removed from the agenda.
Vlatko Cvrtila, the dean of VERN University in Zagreb, said that a very important lesson is that war in Europe is possible.
This is the first lesson, and it was a huge surprise that something like this is possible in Europe. Especially since we are trying to develop a more liberal, democratic, and stable Europe based on international law, and everything fell apart after Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Now we find ourselves in a position where in regions that are unstable, that do not have strong and powerful organizations for cooperation among states, and especially do not have strong institutions within the state, it is possible, Cvrtila assessed.
He also stated that large-scale war is still possible in today’s world, even if we are unwilling to consider it a reality.
How significant are factors like motivation, resilience, and democratic consolidation? It is definitely the most important because, from the theory of democratic peace, we know that democratic countries will not engage in war. They will, for some reason, build their relationships based on consensus, and cooperation, exchange many different processes and relationships to prevent any kind of violence or anything that will hinder cooperation in the future, professor Cvrtila noted.
Because of this, as he says, Europeanization as a process is very important because, through this process, we can build capacities for resolving sensitive situations peacefully.
And that’s why there is, let’s say, a kind of fear where it is not being worked on, where you do not have such institutions. When you have a struggle between two or more states, in some regions, I’m talking about the Western Balkans, and then you have a lot of potential for perhaps not a war like what we are witnessing in Ukraine. But stopping violence in very sensitive situations, as it has been here in the Western Balkans, would be a very, very difficult job for everyone, for local actors, and for people or organizations dealing with the situation here in the region. And that is one of the consequences of Russian aggression – the fear that anything is possible, Cvrtila stated.
Volodymir Dubovyk, an associate professor in the Department of International Relations and Director of the Center for International Studies in Odesa, said that the farther you move away from Ukraine, you realize that people have their concerns, regional concerns, and security concerns.
I think we have learned a lot already. The final lessons that we could probably learn when the war formally ends, but still, we are already learning a lot. For example, democratic resilience is essential. Ukraine has shown resilience, Ukraine has shown readiness to resist, although it is definitely an asymmetric war. So, asymmetry is still present, Dubovyk said.
Dubovyk believes that Russia is still a much stronger military force, and they have more weapons left, although they are running low. Unfortunately, despite sanctions, they can still produce new weapons and, of course, seek support from countries like Iran and North Korea, and perhaps some other countries eventually.
In the end, they have a population that is 3.5 times larger than ours, so their mobilization potential is more significant. So, you know, they are making tons of money because they sell a lot of things on international markets, so funding the war is not a problem for them. They can finance it almost unlimitedly. It is, again, sad because sanctions should work, but they don’t. Honestly, we are entirely dependent on international support, Dubovyk emphasized.
He said that this dependence is not only in terms of supplying weapons but also in terms of providing assistance to their government and our economy.
Dubovyk also mentioned that the pro-Ukrainian coalition of forces was formed long before February 24, even by the end of October 2021, because they believed that Russia could indeed attack. He concludes that the support network is very important because it reduces the asymmetry.