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Russia-Ukraine war: Why Europe is the biggest loser in the conflict

While Ukraine and Europe will be the major losers, the US has become the biggest beneficiary of the conflict
Unable to influence events, Europe will have to stick to its American Big Brother (AFP)

It is hard to blame Norway for anything. Not only does the country of the Nobels systematically rank among the nations with the best governance systems in the world, but it is also fortunate enough to have the largest sovereign wealth fund on the planet, with more than $1 trillion - not to mention a football prodigy, Erling Haaland, who is sure to win several Golden Balls over the next decade.

The US has achieved a miracle thanks to the war in Ukraine, supplanting cheap Russian gas with exorbitantly expensive American gas

And as icing on the cake, Norway has gas; a lot of gas, most of which it exports to Europe. Known for its pacifism, Norway is not involved in the war in Ukraine, but it has become among the biggest beneficiaries of this war, doing so with remarkable discretion. Gas is expected to bring Norway tens of billions of dollars in revenues this year, a figure that has been steadily rising. 

But now that talks are taking place between the Russians and Americans over Ukraine, it is clear that the chief beneficiary of this conflict is very far from the battlefield. Without committing a single soldier or firing a single shot, Washington is reaping unprecedented geostrategic, economic, military and political gains.

To preserve its leadership, in view of the looming battle of titans against China, the US needed to restore its hegemony over the western world and impose its discipline. This has now been achieved, with everyone placing themselves, with or without enthusiasm, under the American umbrella - starting with Europe, which has buried its own aspirations for independence.

Aviation and gas contracts

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The protection of western countries by the US is accomplished under the banner of Nato, an organisation that was once strongly criticised, and not so long ago deemed by French President Emmanuel Macron to be “brain dead”.

But the Ukraine war has totally rehabilitated Nato in the eyes of the western public, in a caricatural way that could be captured by the slogan: “The United States is the leader of the free world, with Nato as its protective arm.”

The US, however, is not content with geopolitical gains. It also wants to win in business, and in this way it excels, with the Ukraine war presenting a real godsend.

International tensions created by the war have boosted arms sales around the world. And where do we buy these weapons? From the US, of course. Washington has promised billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine, but there is no doubt that the Americans will ensure they get the lion’s share for themselves via arms contracts. American weapons will also be supplied in abundance to other US customers, with buyers already lining up.

The Johan Sverdrup oilfield is pictured in the North Sea, Norway (AFP)
The Johan Sverdrup oilfield is pictured in the North Sea, Norway (AFP)

In aviation, major contracts were announced shortly after Russia’s invasion, with one providing for the purchase of up to 35 F-35A planes by Germany, a contract potentially worth more than $8bn. Canada is also planning to buy 88 F-35s at a cost of around $15bn, while Finland late last year announced an order for 64 planes at a cost of nearly $10bn.

At the same time, a veritable frenzy of arms purchases of all kinds has gripped many European countries. Germany has announced the creation of a special fund of $100bn to upgrade its army. This will doubtless include the purchase of weapons and equipment. US arms manufacturers are already waiting for the orders.

The US has also achieved a miracle thanks to the war in Ukraine, supplanting cheap Russian gas with exorbitantly expensive American gas. American LNG exports to Europe doubled in the first half of 2022, exceeding all exports recorded in 2021.

This situation has led to a series of unbearable dysfunctions for Europe: energy is too expensive, economies are no longer competitive, political and social tensions have become unbearable, and traditional political elites are losing ground as populists grow in power. These sociopolitical mechanisms have led to chain reactions that are difficult to control.

Losing autonomy and identity

These observations strongly suggest that the biggest loser of this war, after Ukraine itself, will be Europe. By aligning itself obediently with the US, Europe loses both its autonomy and its identity. European countries want to avoid criticising their American protector, but the situation has become so difficult that European leaders recently issued an alert.

In October, Macron noted that American gas producers were charging European customers prices several times higher than those charged to American customers. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire went further, daring to start a rebellion by asserting that there was “no question of us allowing the conflict in Ukraine to result in American economic domination and European weakening”.

This speech cannot hide a less-than-rosy reality featuring the risks of recession, inflation, the rise of populism and divisions

But this speech, intended to influence French public opinion, cannot hide a less-than-rosy reality featuring the risks of recession, inflation, the rise of populism and divisions.

Because it is unable to influence the course of events, Europe will have to stick to its American Big Brother, but cracks have appeared over how to deal with the gas crisis.

Whoever says that Europe is the loser in the Ukraine war points to Germany as its main victim. As the continent’s economic engine, Germany has become the de facto centre of Europe - but it now appears the US is assuming this role. The Ukraine crisis has exposed Germany’s weaknesses, and it appears headed for a recession. If this happens, the whole of Europe could be dragged down.

Russian resistance to shock

It remains to be seen what impact the war will have on Ukraine and Russia. For Moscow, the results are mixed: despite its power, the Russian army did not manage a blitzkrieg that could have allowed it to impose its conditions on Ukraine immediately. Its invasion even precipitated Ukraine’s rapprochement with Nato, and showed the limits of military action, even by a great power.

Russia also risks suffering a lasting break with Europe. This will cost, but it will allow Russia to bet more on its strategic depth in Asia, moving towards China and India, the two major economic powers of the new century; and on its southern flank, with the rising powers that are Turkey and Iran.

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But Russia has withstood the shock in the area where it was considered vulnerable: the economy. After cascading, punishing sanctions imposed by Western countries, the rouble has recovered, external revenues have increased despite the decreased volume of gas exports, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has forecast a contraction in Russia’s GDP of 3.4 percent, far from previous apocalyptic predictions of total economic collapse. This is not even to mention Russia’s territorial gains in eastern Ukraine.

Ultimately, Ukraine will be the biggest loser in this war. After the loss of Crimea in 2014, it has lost new territories, while finding itself in a position of hostility and threat vis-a-vis its neighbour for years, and even decades, to come. Ukraine is also suffering the systematic consequences of war: loss of human lives, destruction of infrastructure and social fabric, population displacement, militarisation of social and political life, weapons proliferation, dependency on foreign countries, etc.

For now, Ukraine is on life support from western countries, and the communications of President Volodymyr Zelensky, complacently relayed in the West, make it possible to hide the colossal internal damage. But the bill is already terrifying. The IMF has forecast that Ukraine’s economy could shrink by 35 percent this year, with the damage of the war estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars. No heroic war speech will change this reality.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

This article has been translated and condensed from the MEE French edition.

Abed Charef est un écrivain et chroniqueur algérien. Il a notamment dirigé l’hebdomadaire La Nation et écrit plusieurs essais, dont Algérie, le grand dérapage. Vous pouvez le suivre sur Twitter : @AbedCharef
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