Consider a country in the far east of Europe that once shared a wider border with the former Soviet Union.
This country emerged from the dissolution of the USSR as an independent state, but still linked to Russia by its history and its centralized Moscow-oriented infrastructure.
The newly independent nation has a developing economy, a high degree of corruption and political instability, and ethnic tensions within its borders. It is associated with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development and is a member of the Council of Europe.
He fought against Russian interference and influence campaigns designed to sow public discord and distrust of democratic elections, resulting in a nonviolent protest movement – a “color revolution” that resulted in a change of power.
Its reformist leaders have sought closer ties with the United States and Europe, alternately hoping for membership in the NATO Alliance or the European Union, while its political opponents have generally favored more balanced ties. with Moscow.
Finally, he saw the Russian forces enter his de jure sovereign territory – ostensibly to support a beleaguered minority.
The country in question is Georgia.
But if you read this and guessed Ukraine, you’d be right too.
The difference, however, is the intensity, duration and objectives of Russia’s military interference operations in each country.
The Georgia War occurred in August 2008 and lasted twelve days. Long-simmering ethnic tensions in the tiny former Soviet oblast of South Ossetia erupted, prompting a brief Russian military intervention by air, land and sea that spilled over into undisputed Georgian territory. It ended with the official recognition by Moscow of the independence of South Ossetia and an ethnic cleansing of Georgians from South Ossetian territory.
Despite Georgia’s deepening ties with the United States and its support for US-led combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, Washington – bound by two foreign military operations and an impending presidential election – has not not done much to help the Georgian government. He even refused requests for delivery of anti-tank and air defense weapons.
Europeans have been even more lackluster in their support for Georgia, choosing instead to largely blame Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili for provoking Russia into war. Backlash against Russia for its intervention in Georgia was nil and then French President Nicolas Sarkozy brokered a ceasefire largely favorable to Russian interests (which was also violated by Russia without consequence) .
It was at this time that the dice for subsequent Russian behavior in the region were cast.
Fast forward to February 24, 2022, when Russia launched its “special operation” military invasion of Ukraine and the reaction from NATO and European Union members is the opposite.
Having already undertaken a stealth military operation in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which resulted in its occupation and official absorption by Moscow, as well as its support for destabilizing activities of Russian ethnic minority populations in Donetsk and Luhansk (collectively called the Donbass), Russia’s intentions towards Ukraine at large were hardly secret.
Nor is Moscow’s capacity for aggression in its former Soviet satellite, which suffered greatly from a campaign of terror and starvation (the Holodomor) orchestrated in the early 1930s by Josef Stalin and other Soviet leaders in Moscow.
The run-up to the invasion and the totality of Russia’s goals – as articulated by its President Vladimir Putin – have compelled Western leaders to collectively denounce Moscow’s actions and begin to take stock of their own past willingness to ignore Russian aggression along its former Soviet periphery in Eastern Europe.
Once the invasion began, Germany undertook an introspective look at how it had indirectly aided Russia and embraced a post-Cold War mindset that left its military unable to contribute substantially to directed operations. by the EU or NATO. Finland and Sweden – both members of the European Union but nominally non-aligned militarily – have begun to explore the possibility of joining the NATO Alliance.
The United States has led the way in its support for Ukraine and the initially beleaguered government of its President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, by sending steady streams of munitions, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, drones and other equipment matched with financial commitments exceeding the annual defense budgets of most European NATO members.
Washington has also pushed its Central and Eastern European NATO partners to send their old Soviet-era equipment to Ukraine to support Ukrainian resistance efforts and facilitate the absorption of such equipment into the military ranks.
Bringing in surplus defense items along with key new capabilities such as Stinger anti-aircraft systems, Javelin anti-armour systems, Switchblade stray munitions, M777 lightweight howitzer and artillery rocket systems M142 high-mobility (HIMARS) aircraft helped Ukrainian forces halt Russian advances. and further enabled them to launch successful counter-offensives.
But the most telling aspect of all the transatlantic support for Ukraine is the level of military/security financial aid to Kyiv.
Since the early days of the Russian invasion, more and more funding has flowed east, ensuring that the Ukrainian government is capitalized and its military operations are secured.
$13.7 billion in direct military aid to Ukraine from the United States so far this year. If assessed on its own, this total would place Ukraine 5th in defense spending in Europe for 2022, behind 🇬🇧🇫🇷🇩🇪🇮🇹 and ahead of 🇵🇱 according to the daily exchange rate. https://t.co/b0VjcNf1cR
— Dan Darling (@DanielRDarling) August 24, 2022
The United States alone has provided at least $15.1 billion in military and security aid to Kyiv since February 24, with the United Kingdom providing another $2.6 billion.
When combined, the total contribution of these two countries represents the fifth highest defense figure in Europe for 2022.
In other words, the $17.7 billion in military and security aid received by Ukraine this year would put its defense budget behind those of Britain, Germany, France and Italy.
This is a remarkable figure considering that the defense budget allocated to the Ukrainian military by its government was just under $4.4 billion last year.
And that’s not the whole total.
Others across Europe and NATO – including EU institutions (to the tune of $2.5 billion) – are also helping the Ukrainian cause.
Poland gave $1.8 billion, Germany $1.2 billion, Canada just under $1 billion, Denmark about $300 million, France about $250 million, Latvia about $220 million and Norway at least $210 million. Countless others also provided financial aid and military equipment.
Not including all other contributions from across Europe, the total on the back of the envelope comes to over $25 billion in military and security funding for Ukraine, which when pegged into the budget landscape of the defense of Europe, would henceforth bring it to the fourth largest topline figure for this year.
Seen from afar – and without any general background information or historical context – the change in transatlantic attitude towards aid to a non-EU, non-NATO country caught in the crosshairs of 2008 Russia to 2022 is undeniable, even remarkable.
No longer fearful of diplomatic fallout with Moscow, forced to remove self-imposed blinders by a desire for peace and reliable energy supplies, the countries of Europe have woken up to a new strategic reality on their continent – one closer to their borders than that short, more distant conflict across the Black Sea in Georgia that today seems so distant.