NewsEuropean Union prepares military response as Russia's weapon production surges, amid fear of expanded conflict

European Union prepares military response as Russia's weapon production surges, amid fear of expanded conflict

Russia is becoming a real threat to NATO.
Russia is becoming a real threat to NATO.
Images source: © Getty Images | Contributor
1:49 PM EST, February 18, 2024

Russia alleges that its economy isn't losing on the war in Ukraine, but is actually benefiting from it. According to The Guardian, total defence spending in Russia will increase to 7.5% of GDP in 2024, reaching 11 trillion rubles. For the first time since the collapse of the USSR, money allocated to armaments will exceed social expenditures.

The European Union plans to respond to Russia's recent decisions.

Let's start with concerning news. Russian factories producing ammunition, vehicles, and weapon components work non-stop. Workers are compelled to work 12-hour shifts and put in additional overtime. This frantic pace is yielding results.

Bullet production could reach 4 million units this year, experts estimate, as cited by The Guardian. Tanks are also being produced incessantly. Russia has acquired hundreds of them.

Other measures to increase its military potential include Russia modernizing numerous arms factories and establishing closer business ties with several thousand entities involved in ammunition and military equipment production.

Putin promises these entities long-term contracts.

Millions of Russians involved in weapon production

The Russian arms industry currently employs 3.5 million people, or 2.5% of the entire population. The Kremlin has promised job opportunities for an additional 500,000 people.

Factories recruit students, prisoners, and residents of remote regions. For comparison, the German automotive industry, which constitutes a quarter of the entire industry, directly employs about a million people.

The Moscow Times reports that workers employed in the armaments industry earn more than lawyers. For instance, a gunpowder factory in Kazan increased employment by 500 people, with wages tripling to about $1,000.

Experts, cited by the British daily, indicate that the pace of weapons production will allow Russia to conduct military operations in Ukraine for at least two to three years. This could mean that the war near Poland's border will last at least that long.

Warnings about Russia's aggression

Putin's actions and multiple statements do not go unnoticed. NATO and individual members of the Alliance openly express that Russia poses an increasing threat.

Experts use stern language. British intelligence warns that a large-scale conflict is the most likely it's been in years.

They warn that while Russia's ground forces have significantly suffered in the war in Ukraine, its air forces, navy, and especially the nuclear potential are still at a high level.

Recently, there have been numerous warnings from world leaders and intelligence heads. Troels Lund Poulsen, the Danish defense minister, asserts that Russia could test NATO under the infamous Art. 5 (mutual defense) within 5-6 years. Statements in a similar tone have been reported from representatives of Sweden, Germany, and even Romania. Furthermore, the head of the National Security Bureau, Jacek Siewiera, explicitly discusses the risk of conflict with Russia.

"I maintain that we have three years to prepare for a confrontation with Russia," declared the presidential minister a few days ago.

NATO is particularly concerned about the aforementioned Russian defense industry, which is in a robust condition. The pace of development of the Russian war machine has astonished many Western experts. Within a year, Russia produced four million artillery shells and several hundred tanks and increased the number of troops by 400,000 recruits. And it still retains mobilization and production capacities.

Meanwhile, the shadow of the imminent US election looms over NATO. Donald Trump's words, implying that he would not defend countries that don't invest enough money into the NATO coffers and might even encourage Russia to attack, caused a stir.

This is significant more so since European NATO members haven't been idle - they've increased defense spending by a third over a decade.

NATO sets a deadline

What's next? The Alliance believes that two years of conflict in Ukraine have drained the Russian army. Officials estimate, however, that Moscow will restore its potential within 5-6 years. Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, Head of the Bundestag's Defense Committee, discusses a 5-8 year timeline. She emphasizes that Putin still believes in imperialism, which seems unrealistic to others in the 21st century.

"We can't afford the luxury of thinking that Russia will stop at Ukraine," Strack-Zimmermann declared to the Financial Times.

In recent media statements, Putin proclaimed that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, unequivocally expressing his imperialistic sentiment.

Despite uncertainties regarding the winner of the US presidential election, NATO isn't idle. It's already shaping specific plans for deploying armed forces in Europe.

The recent Steadfast Defender exercises provided a platform to practice various scenarios, assuming a “large-scale conflict with an eastern enemy”.

NATO Chief Admiral Rob Bauer outright declared that these maneuvers "are part of preparations for a conflict with Russia". British Military Commander General Sir Patrick Sanders expressed that citizens should "be prepared, trained, and ready to fight".

The European Union has a plan to unveil in February

Will the European Union shift its priorities considering the escalating threats from Russia? In a comprehensive interview with the Financial Times, Ursula von der Leyen urged for the subsidization of defence production.

She assured that Brussels intends to fortify the defence sector. The President of the European Commission warns that the community should be equipped to handle a "harsher reality".

Von der Leyen acknowledged that the Commission is currently shaping a new strategy for the war industry. The lessons learned from financing COVID-19 vaccines and purchasing gas will inform its development. When it comes to negotiations, the stance of the EU as a whole is more beneficial than separate countries.

We need to spend more and better – the Head of the European Commission stated in an interview with the Financial Times.

The details of this plan, a response to the rising threat from Russia, will be disclosed in February. The document will then undergo a standard approval procedure by individual EU capitals.

Brussels is aware that some governments will resist the centralization of defence-related decisions. To the skeptics, they argue that the arms industry is also an industry. Hence, regulations in this area are quite feasible. Especially since the objective is clear.

Officials want defense spending to increase. Consequently, they expect to strengthen the European armaments industry.

380 billion euros for weapons

Spending on arms is already on the rise. European NATO members (the majority of the Alliance) will spend 380 billion dollars on defence this year. A decade ago, it was 230 billion dollars, as stated by the Financial Times.

European policymakers also recognize the potential consequences of Donald Trump winning the US presidential election. A possible reduction in American involvement in the pact is becoming a realistic scenario. The authorities view this scenario with trepidation.

Von der Leyen considers Donald Trump's words as a warning. "We must be prepared," says the head of the European Commission.

There's no doubt that the primary objective is to fortify Ukraine's defence capabilities. "This is a short-term goal. In the long term, it's about reinforcing the security of all of Europe," she elucidates in the Financial Times.

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