leonard84_Aziz KarimovSOPA ImagesLightRocket via Getty Images_eu ukraine Aziz Karimov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Russia-Proofing Europe

Although Ukrainians are heading into a hard winter sustained by a sense of optimism and hope for peace in the near future, this is no time for complacency. The West, and especially the European Union, must get serious about positioning itself for a protracted, multi-pronged conflict.

BERLIN – Ukraine will enter 2023 with wind in its sails. Against all odds, it repelled Russia’s initial attempt to take Kyiv, then recaptured extensive territory around Kharkiv and Kherson, and inflicted heavy losses on the invading forces. Speaking just after Politiconamed him the most powerful person in Europe, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sounded an optimistic note for the winter, predicting that Ukrainians would be enjoying “peacetime” by next year.

Yet, as former Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski has pointed out, it is hard to imagine a compromise that would allow for peace. If Russian President Vladimir Putin wants Ukraine to remain “non-aligned,” he will have to withdraw from all Ukrainian territory, effectively admitting defeat. But that would be a non-starter for him. Similarly, Zelensky is unlikely to consider conceding any Ukrainian territory unless Ukraine is also offered NATO membership. With these scenarios remaining unlikely, there is every reason to anticipate a protracted conflict.

With the prospect of a Russian military victory receding, Putin has been focusing on breaking the unity of the Western coalition that is supporting and supplying Ukraine. He is thus engaged in an “omni-conflict” that extends beyond the battlefield to include a multi-pronged offensive against the European Union.

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