Rarely has the world changed so radically within a year. 2022 was a year of upheavals, triggered in particular by the Ukraine war, the largest land war Europe has experienced since the end of the Second World War. But Putin's illegal war of aggression has also exposed many assumptions about the world as illusions.
Before the war, many believed that Russia had the second most powerful army in the world after the United States and would be a formidable opponent on a conventional battlefield even without its nuclear weapons. Russian conventional superiority was deeply ingrained in Western military strategic thinking, such as the belief that if Moscow ever attacked NATO territory, the Baltic states would fall to Russia in 48 to 72 hours.
According to the narrative, Vladimir Putin fundamentally modernized the Russian military after the 2008 war in Georgia. In addition, Moscow had introduced a number of new types of weapons with impressive capabilities in recent years. This image has now collapsed completely as a result of the Ukraine war.
Russia's armed forces turned out to be ill-prepared, ill-trained and apparently incapable of complicated tactical operations that require careful cooperation between different branches of the armed forces.
Russia's military was a Potemkin village, riddled with crippling corruption, with skills that were sometimes only on paper, and a poorly maintained and sometimes disemboweled fleet in the camps and poor logistics. Arrogance, poor planning and the failure of critical systems also saw Russia's military lose its best combat troops and an enormous number of experienced officers.
Putin's propagandists are still bragging about taking all of Europe on TV, when Russia's military is currently exhausted, decimated and a mere shadow of itself.
Russia is internationally isolated and its economy is in tatters. Putin's war has also accelerated Europe's decoupling from Russian energy supplies. Whatever the outcome of this war, both Russia's perceived and its real power have been significantly reduced by this war. The country has lost its superpower status.
The West has experienced a crisis of identity in recent years, fueled by China's seemingly unstoppable rise and humiliating defeats such as the withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Putin regime in particular liked to cultivate the image of the effeminate West, which would always back down if the other side used its own means of power nefariously enough. After all, neither Russia's wars against Georgia in 2008 nor 2014 against Ukraine, nor Moscow's brutal intervention in the Syrian civil war with systematic war crimes had triggered any significant Western reactions.
Leading Western politicians always seemed more focused on Moscow's appeasement than on determined confrontation. That is why the Kremlin ruler apparently expected that the West would put up little resistance even after another war against Ukraine and would soon return to business as usual. Only this time Putin was wrong. The West's response was quick and painful for Moscow, with a harsh sanctions regime the likes of which had previously only been seen against the Iranian regime's nuclear ambitions.
The West understood Putin's war as a fundamental attack on Europe's peace order and finally recognized that it was high time to put Russian neo-imperialism in its place, for example with arms deliveries to Ukraine that steadily grew in scope and then also included modern Western systems . The West has found new unity and determination through the war and has recognized that its historic mission to defend peace, freedom and stability in Europe is far from history but is an acute reality.
Like the West, democracy has been in crisis for years. Since 2006, for example, the NGO Freedom House, which regularly assesses the degree of freedom in states, has noted its constant decline around the world. After the democratization wave of the 1990s, authoritarian regimes and dictatorships experienced a new upswing. Ukraine's courageous fight for national self-determination, freedom and democracy was all the more inspiring.
The Ukrainians showed how important and real these values still are and that there are many people who risk their own lives to defend them. It is therefore no coincidence that the Iranians also launched the largest insurgency against the mullahs' regime since the mullahs took power in 1979 and that anti-Covid demonstrations flared up in China, which have become the largest mass protests since the Heavenly Square uprising expand peace. The courageous struggle for freedom of the Ukrainians is contagious, it seems.
In Germany in particular, nationalism is seen as something negative, which is understandable given the genocidal excesses of German nationalism under the Nazis. Not only have Ukrainians shown that the crisis is binding them together as a people, but that national identification is an important motivating factor in the fight against Russian aggression. Russian officials and Putin's chief propagandists have made it clear on numerous occasions that the obliteration of the Ukrainian nation is the aim of the Russian war, which is clearly genocidal.
The Ukrainians, on the other hand, with their painful history, want to preserve their nation with all the means that Moscow tried to wipe out in the days of the Soviet Union, including with a genocidal hunger campaign, the Holodomor, which the Bundestag recognized as genocide this year.
Of course, Ukrainian nationalism also has problematic strands of tradition. In its current form, however, it is an act of national self-assertion against a foreign aggressor, aimed primarily at self-determination, freedom and democracy.
What has been said in recent years about the fact that the EU must stand on its own two feet when it comes to security issues and should make itself independent of the USA.
The crisis then showed that EU-Europe had only played the glass bead game and was in no way able to protect the peace order on the continent. So again it was the Anglo-Saxons who were needed to defend liberty in Europe. After all, at the beginning of the war it was mainly the Americans and British who took the lead in the West and delivered much-needed armaments to Ukraine faster, more decisively and more extensively.
Meanwhile, they also provide Ukrainians with real-time intelligence on Russian troop concentrations and movements to aid in Ukrainian military planning and targeting. It is fortunate for the EU and for Ukraine that non-EU states and also nations that are geographically far away have seen the defense against Russian aggression not only as a European matter, but as a task for the West as a whole. In any case, Ukraine would be in a much worse position today if it had been dependent solely on arms deliveries and support from EU countries.
The traditional leadership role of Berlin and Paris was also seriously challenged by this war. Germany's energy policy, pursued for years against warnings from Eastern Europe, Brussels and the USA, has failed miserably. It turned out that Germany's political elites had simply lost all understanding of geostrategic issues and, with their dependence on Russia, had not only harmed themselves but all of Europe. With its constant hesitation and refusal to deliver arms to Ukraine, the German government has lost even more credibility and trust, especially in Eastern Europe.
The same applies to France. In terms of security policy, they usually box well above their own weight class and are militarily more ambitious than Germany. In this crisis, however, France was even more stingy with arms deliveries than Berlin and thus also failed in its European leadership role. Instead, French President Emmanuel Macron attracted attention even before the war with his closeness to Putin, but this was not able to prevent the war.
And he seems to have learned little from it. Instead, he keeps coming up with narratives that could come straight from the Kremlin, like when he recently called for “security guarantees” for Moscow. As if this war had been started by Russia for understandable reasons and not as a colonization and land grab project.
This crisis has clearly shifted the balance of power in Europe towards the East. Measured in terms of GDP, the Baltics and Poles have done a great deal for Ukraine. Poland has also reacted to the new threat situation with a speed that makes the bureaucrats in the Berlin Ministry of Defense look like geriatric snails. Poland is in the process of becoming the new military powerhouse in Europe and has also proved to be one of the US's most important security partners in the Ukraine crisis.