With Ukraine war, Europe’s geopolitical map is moving again

by Cristian Florescu

Even though Russia has lost influence and friends since the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989, the nuclear superpower still holds sway over several of its neighbors in Europe and keeps others in an uneasy neutrality, writes abcnews.go.com

The Russian invasion of neighbouring Ukraine and the humanitarian tragedy it provoked over the past two weeks have raised a Western outcry of heartfelt support and spawned calls for a fundamental rethink of how the geopolitical map of Europe should be redrawn in the future.

To anchor that in the reality of 2022 is far more difficult than may appear at first sight. Nudging Ukraine, Europe’s second-biggest country, fully into the Western fold against the will of Moscow poses massive problems.

And European Union leaders will confront them together head-on during what could become a bruising two-day summit at Versailles just outside Paris starting Thursday — forced into the assessment by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy when he amazingly signed an official request to become an EU member last week.

Compounding the EU’s problem, Moldova and Georgia, two smaller nations who also fear the expansive reach of Russia, followed tack within days and also asked for membership.

The violence of the Russian invasion also spooked historically neutral countries like Sweden and Finland, which now see a surge in support for joining NATO and in Helsinki’s case unshackling itself from a Russian influence so heavy that it became a political moniker — “Finlandization.”

Within days, conventional knowledge of who belongs where on the geopolitical map of the continent has been badly shaken.

Despite the thrill of opportunity, progress could be slow.

Many nations fear an immediate enlargement of the bloc and a reshaping of traditional spheres of influence would put the continent on the brink of a full-fledged war. And there is no better example than Ukraine’s aspirations to join the 27-nation EU that could tilt the balance of blocs in Europe.

Even if support for Ukraine is overwhelming among the EU member states, granting membership is anything but automatic or even wishful at this stage.

In the draft closing statement of the Versailles summit on Russia, seen by The Associated Press, the leaders “invited the (executive European) Commission to submit its opinion on this application. Pending this and without delay, we will further strengthen our bonds and deepen our partnership.”

“You have to be careful because it is a bureaucratic, tedious process,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a debate at the Paris Sciences Po university. “There are many questions which have to be answered. It will take many years.”

There could quickly be political fallout in Versailles.

“The discussion about Ukraine’s accession to the EU could also easily become overheated, providing Euroskeptics with a perfect opportunity to spread fear among voters,” said Pawel Zerka of the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

And to be admitted, potential newcomers would also need to absorb all EU regulations, from rule of law principles to trade and fertilizer standards — about 80,000 pages of rules. Over the past years, the EU has often pointed out that Ukraine’s anti-corruption measures still lacked teeth.

To top it off, any candidate needs the unanimous approval of current members, often allowing one nation to decide on the fate of the whole process.

In comparison, a move toward NATO membership, especially for nations like Sweden and Finland, would be easier, since the two already have very close cooperation with the military alliance.

A formal step though would surely raise the wrath of Moscow and be seen as a geopolitical power play.

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