Behind the scenes, diplomats, NATO sources and EU officials hailed the “unprecedented levels of unity and coordination” that have “strengthened the transatlantic alliance” as the two institutions worked closely with each other and with the United States, as an EU official said. .
A senior European diplomat working at NATO said he was “really surprised but grateful” for the regular contact and cooperation between EU and NATO leaders, which allowed messages to Moscow to be “coordinated and coherent at the highest diplomatic level”. , despite the cultural and geographic differences of all stakeholders.”
Macron has been the staunchest supporter in Europe of what Brussels calls “strategic autonomy”, a catch-all term used to describe the EU’s diplomatic independence from major world powers like the United States and China. China.
A big part of this drive for autonomy has been the EU’s growing differences with traditional allies like the US and UK over economic and political relations with countries like Russia and China. Across the 27 EU member states, levels of reliance on Chinese investment and Russian gas vary. Some EU countries are relatively relaxed about friendly relations with Moscow for reasons of economic convenience, while others, especially former Soviet countries, watch what is happening in Ukraine with greater concern and consider the Putin’s Russia with a degree of skepticism similar to that of the UK and US.
With this in mind, a crisis like the one in Ukraine could almost have been tailor-made to sow division within the EU in a way that would prohibit strong action such as tough sanctions against Russia – and create a almighty head when it comes to alongside NATO in a unified Western response.
However, in the face of Russian aggression, the EU was exceptionally united and complemented NATO’s hard line, officials said.
Officials say the reason it has worked so well is because the EU has stuck to its strengths, as has NATO. A senior NATO official told CNN the Ukraine crisis was a “litmus test” for how the two should work.
“NATO is a political and military alliance and can talk about strengthening the defenses on Europe’s eastern flank. The EU is more of an economic powerhouse that can stand with the US on sanctions,” added the manager.
NATO officials, who have resented the EU and its global ambitions in recent years, acknowledged that Brussels had played a role no other body could match in the crisis.
A senior NATO diplomat said the EU quickly drew up proposals for a support fund package, sanctions against Russia and emergency gas supplies. “We can’t do this, we don’t have the authority, and without even the proposal, the Western response would undoubtedly have been much weaker,” they said.
However, despite all the warm words and talk of ‘cooperation plans’ on Ukraine, both sides accept that once this crisis is over – however long it may be – a freeze could come down to two of the most important defenders. of democracy in the West. .
“What worked well in this case was a clear delineation of tasks according to competences. Where it will not work in the future is where this line blurs. The EU does not decided only very recently that it wanted to be a security player and made some mistakes in this crisis,” a NATO official said.
Multiple sources pointed to the coordinated response to a letter sent by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to several countries, including the United States, Canada and European countries, outlining Russia’s security concerns. Brussels is happy to point out that despite sending the letter to dozens of national governments, Lavrov got only two responses: from NATO and the EU.
An EU official told CNN they “couldn’t think of a better example of the two bodies coming together as partners than the coordinated response to Lavrov.”
But the senior NATO official explained that they believe the EU ‘wasted far too much effort writing a response to a letter which was probably dispatched in five minutes and was designed to cause disruption’. In this regard, the official believes that the EU has been “naive” and playing into Russia’s hands, as the coordinated response “got attention here for weeks but ultimately achieved little”.
The EU diplomat said this specific crisis worked well because “it was handled at a very high diplomatic and geopolitical level. Things like coordinated visits and visible meetings of leaders.” However, they too are pessimistic that anything “in the weeds like energy or cybersecurity” will see a return to two institutions with conflicting interests. Indeed, these issues could even become factors in Ukraine.
But any complacency in European capitals may be premature. Clearly, the situation on the Russian-Ukrainian border continues to be stark and terrifying. Obviously, the Western response so far has only pacified Putin so far and things could get very ugly yet. However, after years of private – and sometimes public – hostility, the EU and NATO have found a way to get on the same page at a time of great uncertainty for the West. And with many crises looming beyond Ukraine, that can only be a good thing.