Europe, Africa, and the War in Ukraine

ESS-South Southern Flank 22 Meeting

Europe, Africa, and the War in Ukraine

The European Security Seminar South (ESS-South) invited 20 experts from over 10 different countries to Garmisch-Partenkirchen for a roundtable discussion on Europe, Africa, and the war in Ukraine, Dec. 13-15. The aim of this gathering was threefold: (1) explicate the distinct views of various European and African actors; (2) discern areas of existing agreement and areas of potential overlap in mostly divergent perspectives and interests; and (3) identify possible opportunities to reinforce or forge a common position regarding the Ukraine war.

The discussion was kicked-off by a comparison of European and African reactions following Russia’s attack on 24 February 2022. Speakers from think tanks in Cyprus, Slovakia, and South Africa as well as from the Marshall Center’s faculty described initial reactions to the war in the European Union, the African Union, and individual countries, through actions such as votes in international bodies, adopting sanctions, or making official statements about the crisis. A very lively debate evolved around the assessment of whether and how the war in Ukraine affected intra-European, intra-African, and European-African relations. One immediate impact of the conflict is the enormous increase of inflation rates and of food and energy prices on both continents, with particularly serious effects in the South, where climate change has already caused difficult conditions for agricultural production. The session on security cooperation covered how the war is affecting arms deals, trainings and exercises, and security cooperation agreements.

In sum, the meeting came up with some key takeaways, including the following:

  • While there may be a public perception that unity is fading within Europe, in fact there are solid indicators of strong approval rates for the European Union’s actions on humanitarian assistance, sanctions against Russia, diplomatic efforts, and unprecedented military support.
  • Rising inflation and increasing energy and living costs, as well as discussions about EU enlargement, are topics resulting from the Ukraine war that Europe will need to address in the coming months and years.
  • African perceptions of and reactions to the war in Ukraine have been mixed, with geographic proximity and economic relations playing a significant role. African governments have not aligned themselves entirely with the EU position, but most have condemned Russia’s invasion at the UN Security Council and elsewhere. In taking varied positions, African states are participating in today’s world system in which governments must navigate relations with multiple power centers. African states are finding their way with a revisionist Russia (that tries to position itself as akin to the global South) and a developing China, and several more African states have recently applied to join the BRICS.
  • European hopes or expectations that Africa would join en bloc a front against Russia overlooked several African concerns, including the difference in treatment received by African/Arab refugees and Ukrainian refugees at the outbreak of war in Ukraine; and the EU’s shift from the African Peace Facility to the European Peace Facility, which moves European support for conflict management away from Africa and toward Ukraine. In a broader sense, some Africans question why the West assumes its enemies must also be others’ enemies, and how the Russian invasion of Ukraine differs from Western interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. ‘The way Europe feels about Ukraine, is the way Africa feels about Libya.’
  • Despite differences between European and African perceptions on the Ukraine war, several factors arising from the conflict are driving the continents together. One is the water-energy-fertilizer-food nexus. The Ukraine war is having detrimental effects on both continents in terms of inflation, food and energy prices, and currency crises. The war is not the cause of food scarcity, but it is accelerating climate change’s negative impact on agricultural production (through heat, water stress, floods, and fertilizer scarcity) and exacerbating the damage caused by the unwinding of global supply chains following the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, Western Europe (Spain, France, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany) and the Western Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia), for example, will inevitably become more interdependent in the domains of water, energy, fertilizer, and food. These European-African connections are being reinforced by the war in Ukraine.