How is Europe preparing for the next phase of the war in Ukraine?

“War in Europe: Year Two" was the topic of one of the most thought-provoking sessions at this year's World Economic Forum in Davos.

Hosted by Euronews's Sasha Vakulina, the panel was made up of Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, Gregory Meeks, Congressman for New York and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Maia Sandu, President of the Republic of Moldova and Jean-Pierre Clamadieu, Chairman of the Board at Engie Group.

What emerged was a picture of a resilient Western alliance, ready to support Ukraine for as long as is needed in its fight against Russian invasion. Watch the session in the video player above.

What they said

Sasha Vakulina, Euronews: The first question is going to be to Sanna Marin. To what extent has the war resulted in broad shifts when it comes to all these aspects: economic, political and also military links and connections across Europe? And in what ways can we expect these links and connections to continue to evolve this year as we're going into year two of the war in Europe.

Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland: Well, thank you for having us in this panel. I fully agree with the Commission's President, Ursula von der Leyen, that the war is not only affecting Ukraine, it affects the whole of Europe, the whole world actually. We are seeing this geopolitical change in the world and there is a war of values going on in the world. The rules-based order is being challenged and this affects everyone: not only Ukraine, but everyone in the world. And the war affects Europe in very concrete ways as well. We are also not only in the war in Ukraine, but also in an energy war in Europe. Russia is using energy as a tool, as a weapon against Europe, and it tries to diminish our support to Ukraine. Putin tries to make us afraid of Russia, about what might happen. He wants us and our citizens to think, what are the prices of the war? And we are already seeing people frustrated with the high energy prices everywhere in Europe. But the answer is not to weaken our support towards Ukraine. The answer needs to be actually the opposite. We need to send more support to Ukraine, more weapons, more humanitarian aid, more financial aid to make sure that the war will end as soon as possible and for a Ukrainian win. And this is crucial. So our aspect of Putin's screwdriver that he is using now with the energy against Europe should be that we are sending more support for Ukraine

Sasha Vakulina: President Sandu, alongside socio-economic disruptions, what are the other key points of vulnerability with the effects of the war exposed in Europe and what is being done to mitigate those vulnerabilities? Because your country has a very specific position when it comes to this war in Europe and Russia's aggression on Ukraine.

Maia Sandu, President of the Republic of Moldova: Of course, Moldova was more vulnerable because it depended 100% on gas purchases before the war started. Now we get only 40% of our gas needs from Gazprom, and we managed to quickly to diversify and to find other sources to supply energy to the country. The propaganda - which is a very big issue, disinformation, is of course a big issue for my country. But I think this is a big issue for many countries and we need to learn how to be more efficient to tackle this issue: it’s cyber security.

I totally agree with the issue that Russia counted on blackmailing us with the energy crisis and Europe managed to find a solution. And this was not easy. And yes, we have to pay a price and we feel bad that our people have to pay a high price. But, we believe in democracy. We value democracy. We want to be part of the free world. And the only solution is to stay together. And yes, it is difficult, but we have to help Ukraine win this war because, otherwise, all of us will be in danger.

Sasha Vakulina: Mr. Clamadieu, which underlying factors of the current economic downturn and potential recession facing Europe do you think are most exacerbated by the war? And to what degree will Europe's economic recovery hinge on the outcomes of this war?

Jean-Pierre Clamadieu, Chairman of the Board at Engie Group: We are in a situation today where I'm pretty confident to say that there won't be disruption in the supply of energy, neither gas nor electricity in Europe during the last few months of winter. Prices are starting to go down. We are not back where we were two years ago, but we are back at a level which is a bit more sustainable. And I don't want to downplay the impact of this conflict. Obviously, this creates big competitiveness issues for industries in Europe versus the US. I think it will probably take another couple of years before the flow of LNG, is again offering visibility for European consumers. But, frankly speaking, thanks to the alignment of political decision-makers and industries, we've been able to go through this year of 2022 probably much better than we expected when this conflict started.

Sasha Vakulina: Obviously, the 24th of February in just about a month is going to mark one year. Everybody wants to know… it’s a $1 billion (or even more) question… How long we're in this and how it's going to go? What do you think of that?

Sanna Marin: The key elements are that we have to say very frankly and out loud that we will support Ukraine as long as needed. There isn't that kind of scenario or possibility that the support from Europe or the Western world or democracies will diminish. That's not a possibility. We will support as long as needed: five years, ten years, fifteen years… whatever it takes. We will support Ukraine and this will not stop. And it's for Ukrainians to decide when they are ready to negotiate, when they are ready to make some peace agreement that they could agree on. And we will support. Our job is to support them. And another way that we could influence the situation: we are already sending arms, we are sending weapons, and we need to send more and more advanced weapons. We need to continue sending financial support and humanitarian support, taking refugees from Ukraine, putting heavier sanctions against Russia. But one thing that I really think that might affect the situation is the frozen assets. There are a lot of frozen assets from the Russian Central Bank, a lot of frozen assets from oligarchs. And we need to find solutions how to use these assets. I know it's legally - and from a legal point of view - it's a very difficult matter and very difficult issue. But I think we need to find solutions. How to use these funds to support Ukraine, to rebuild Ukraine? I think this could affect the war more than we think, because there are many interests behind these assets and this money. So, I think that might really affect the situation. It doesn't solve everything, but I think that's the one thing that we haven't yet used. And I think we need to find the legal framework to do this, to use those assets to support Ukraine.

Sasha Vakulina: And this process of rebuilding and reconstruction, it's not being postponed. It's not like when the war is over that's going to happen. No, you have all known when you visited the country, you know exactly that it has already started step-by-step. It's from the regions, it’s from the suburbs. The places that have been liberated, they're already being reconstructed. So this is, of course, something that is already on and is going to be in focus this year as well. Gregory Meeks, what's your assessment of the possible trajectories of what the war in Ukraine might take going into 2023 and what possible trajectories could NATO take as well?

Gregory Meeks, Congressman for New York and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee: I think that you will continue to see Ukraine winning this war and fighting when we give them the ammunition and what they need to fight. Because that determination, that's not going to change. That's unshakeable. And as the prime minister just indicated, what is absolutely devastating to Putin is our solid unity. He's hoping and looking for ways to shake it. So, we've got to make sure that… And I think that the Russian propaganda is going to be defeated moving forward. Some individuals, you know, when I moved around before and I talked to some people, even some in the United States at one point, listening to the propaganda, thinking that, you know, as Russia was talking about, that it was Ukraine that was being the aggressors. Obviously not true. So, I see us coming closer together and bringing in other allies from other areas of the world also. Because, as this intensifies and they see the humanitarian crises that is taking place, when they see that people are forced, that are being utilised, civilians are being utilised, killed, freezing to death in cold weather… When they see the human dangers that have been taking place and how it is a humanitarian criminal act that Putin’s committing, that will bring us even closer together. So, as I look at where we're going down, people have talked about certain things because of the Congress has changed in the United States of America that now in the House, for example, it's a split… Overwhelmingly the American people, overwhelmingly the people, for example, Democrats and Republicans, are focussed in standing strongly behind Ukraine. And that's only going to intensify as we move forward, which makes me believe that that will lead to success in the long run as we get through the winter and into the summertime.

Sasha Vakulina: The other aspect I want to go to now is the war in Ukraine. As a consequence, we all have a greater appreciation of alliances as well and working together. And of course, NATO being one of them. So I'm going to ask you about that. You know, when Finland and Sweden obviously announced NATO aspiration, there was this tweet that said, I can't remember the author and I apologise if you were the author, that what Putin tried to do, he wanted the Finland-isation of Ukraine, but instead what he did was the Ukraine-isation of Finland and Sweden. So, you are now on the way there. So how is the process going? Because Sweden and Finland’s NATO aspiration happened in response to the war in Ukraine. And how is it going? How is the cooperation happening and the solidarity as well? Because you are doing it not just yourself, but - you said it - you're going to be doing it only hand-in-hand with Sweden. Because that's another alliance, that's another appreciation of alliances.

Sanna Marin: Well, the Finnish atmosphere and the mindset of people changed at the same time when Russia attacked Ukraine. Before that moment, if you asked Finnish people, do they think that Finland should join NATO, the majority would have said no. We have the possibility to apply. That's very important that we have that possibility. But we didn't have that kind of discussion, active discussion, before. And if you asked the majority of Finnish people or the parliament, they would have said: "No, we don't see that we should right now apply to NATO membership." But, when Russia attacked Ukraine, everything changed. The world changed. Our neighbour was no longer the same neighbour. It was an aggressive, an aggressive neighbour that went across that border. And Finnish people asked themselves what is the border that Russia wouldn't cross? And that's the NATO border. And that's why Finnish people wanted us to go to NATO. 188 parliamentarians out of 200 voted in favour of NATO membership. So, we are not… We don't have 100%, but we are very close in our Parliament as well. And we have this unity in Finland. We have this cohesion and consensus about the NATO application. And I'm also very happy that we made this decision at the same time that our Swedish neighbours did, because we are also sharing of course the same geopolitical atmosphere, the same geopolitical security environment.

So, I think from NATO's perspective also it's very important that Finland and Sweden is applying and entering NATO together. Of course, there are still two countries that haven't ratified: Hungary and Turkey. And I have talked, for example, with Prime Minister Orban every time that we meet in the European Council. And he has said that they will ratify as soon as the parliament will start its term this spring, hopefully very soon. Turkey, we don't have that timetable, yet. Of course, we hope that that will happen sooner than later. We are fulfilling all the criteria, we are ticking all the boxes that is needed to become a NATO member. And actually, for example, Finland is already using over 2% of our GDP on defence and we have done this for quite some time. And we are seeing a lot of support from the Ukrainian people to fight for their country. They are fighting for their freedom, for their independence and their country. And, if you ask Finnish people how willing they are to defend Finland, I think we are ranked number one. Ukraine is number two. So, we have been in war with Russia and we know what that's like. And we don't want ever again, ever again there to be a war on Finnish soil. And that's why we are applying to NATO, so that there wouldn't be a war in Finland ever again. That's the border that Russia wouldn't cross. And that's why we're applying to NATO.

Sasha Vakulina: President Sandu, Moldova is applying for the European Union. That's another alliance, of course, and appreciation of it. How important is that? How also has the view on it changed? Because Moldova has also experienced some opinion polls that were not necessarily always supporting the idea. And, also, just to follow up on what Gregory Meeks said there, the propaganda issue, of course, is something that happened a lot in Moldova over years.

Maia Sandu: I actually believe that Moldova's chance to survive as a democracy is only within the EU and just being realistic about what's going to happen in our region in the next, I don't know, ten, 15 years. Of course, we all hope for a victory, for a speedy victory of Ukraine, and this is going to happen. But, we cannot see Russia becoming a democratic country very soon. And this means that the challenges for the region are still going to be there. Moldova survived, I mean, managed to deal with the challenges that you asked me at the beginning to a big extent thanks to the support we received from the EU and from the development partners. And we are very grateful. And it is important to have a stable Moldova. It's important for us, it's important for Ukraine, it's important for the EU. For the EU, it is important to have a peaceful and stable Ukraine. It is important to have a peaceful and stable Moldova and that's why the EU enlargement is important. I think Ukraine has proved it's paying the highest price for democracy and for EU values. Moldovans have been doing their best. And yes, the propaganda is still strong and we are fighting the propaganda. But we have more than 70% of people over the years, despite the propaganda, despite the poverty and the many problems we've been facing. We have this constant support for the EU integration. And I think the recent gesture by the generosity shown by the Moldovan people when they managed to help 600,000 to 700,000 Ukrainian refugees shows that we value EU values. And we value peace and we value freedom. So, the EU enlargement will make the EU stronger because the EU needs a peaceful and stable Ukraine, Moldova and the rest of the countries which are aspiring for EU accession.

Sasha Vakulina: President Sandu, do you think - as a long shot for the longer future - do you think that NATO aspirations are something that Moldova could go into after?

Maia Sandu: We do feel how vulnerable we are. Ukraine is defending us literally and we are taking steps to improve our defence sector. But we are very realistic about what we can do. We are a democratic country and we have to have the discussion. There should be popular support. But we are having this serious discussion now on whether we can, by ourselves, defend ourselves in a new world where we see that war is a real danger.

Sasha Vakulina: John-Pierre Clamadieu, how have the impacts of the war in Ukraine reshaped the global energy landscape and what are your expectations when it comes to speeding up this transition away from fossil fuel dependency as well, and Russian, but also the transition in general? [00:18:54][14.3]

Jean-Pierre Clamadieu: I think the challenge for Europe is really to make sure that we can strengthen our energy system and this is completely aligned with the need to speed up the energy transition. We don't have any fossil resources in Europe, a bit of coal, but it's not something we want to build on. So, the challenge now is to make sure that we can speed up the development of renewables. The EU has an agenda, the Fit for 55 agenda. We need to make sure that the current situation, the mitigation of a crisis, does not slow down this agenda. On the contrary. And what we see today is a number of decisions which indeed should create the conditions for us to speed up the development of renewables, to speed up the development of storage, speed up the development of hydrogen… With this objective of speeding up energy transition, this will help us achieve strategic independence. And this is something that we absolutely need.