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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Paris-Berlin, Warsaw-Kyiv: Europe's Balance Of Power Will Never Be The Same

A new future is unfolding in real time, one that leaders in France, Germany and beyond could not have envisioned even a year ago.

Photo of Bundeswehr soldiers in Lest, Slovakia, with a training anti-tank missile and a G22 sniper rifle.

Bundeswehr soldiers in Lest, Slovakia, with a training anti-tank missile and a G22 sniper rifle.

Kay Nietfeld/dpa via ZUMA
Pierre Haski


PARIS — Quick question: do you know which country is on its way to having the largest army in Europe? The obvious answer would be France, the Continent's only nuclear power since the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, and a military that has been tested in multiple foreign operations in recent years.

But the answer is about to change: if we put aside the nuclear factor, Europe's leading military will soon be that of Poland.

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This is one more direct consequence Russia's invasion of Ukraine: a close neighbor of the conflict zone, Poland is investing massively in its defense. Last year, it concluded a huge arms purchase contract with South Korea: heavy combat tanks (four times more than France), artillery, fighter jets, for 15 billion euros.

Warsaw also signed a contract last month to purchase two observation satellites from France for 500 million euros.

This former country of the Warsaw Pact, today a leading NATO member, intends to be ever more consequential in European affairs. The investments in defense are one way of doing that. Yet this is not the only impact of the war in Ukraine.

In fact, all the internal balances of the European Union are being significantly transformed — even if it is too early, as the conflict drags on, to assess the final impact.

The Germany question

The consequences of the war are particularly sensitive in Germany, shaken since the beginning of the invasion by a constant questioning of itself. In question, the chosen dependence on Russian gas; the reluctance to deliver the first weapons to Ukraine when the emergency arose; and still today in agony over the issue of heavy tank deliveries.

So many taboos have been broken that Scholz's coalition sometimes seems disoriented.

This geopolitical earthquake is causing unease about Germany’s position and role. Not that Berlin is questioning its European commitments — this is not on the table — yet so many taboos have been broken that Chancellor Olaf Scholz's coalition sometimes seems disoriented, despite the proclamationin Scholtz’s speech on the Russian invasion that it was time for a Zeitenwende, or historic "turning point" on Germany taking responsibility.

We will not see the lingering doubts about Germany on Sunday in Paris, because everything will be done so that the 60th anniversary of the Franco-German reconciliation of 1961, coupled with a joint Council of Ministers, takes place without the slightest problem. But this bilateral summit had to be postponed at the end of last year, for lack of sufficient agreements, and it remains to be seen if the leaders can fix this image, even if everything is not settled.

PHoto of Ukrainian President Zelensky, center, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, left, and Polish President Andrzej Duda, right,

Ukrainian President Zelensky, center, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, left, and Polish President Andrzej Duda, right, hold trilateral discussions on Jan. 11, 2023

Ukraine Presi/Planet Pix via ZUMA

Great political maneuvers

France, in fact, has also been shaken by the events of the past year. In fact, each in its own way, France and Germany saw long-held certainties called into question on February 24, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The traditional leadership of Europe was not immediately evident, because it was not ready for this war, while the countries of the Eastern front, more vigilant vis-à-vis Moscow, immediately perceived the stakes.

Almost a year later, the political cost of this discrepancy has not been overcome. Emmanuel Macron is expected to deliver an update to his "Sorbonne speech" from 2017, reasserting France's commitment to a stronger Europe.

On Thursday, the French president signed a treaty of friendship with Spain; and on Sunday, Paris and Berlin will try to speak with one voice on Ukraine and Europe.

Each of these sweeping political maneuvers is an attempt to adapt to the new world of war and, above all, to prepare Europe for the one that comes after. By then, the balance of power will have changed, and today is when that new balance is being forged before our eyes.

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