When US and European officials warned a few weeks ago of possible military action on Ukrainian territory, the majority of public opinion was appalled, even though the Russian army is on the edge of the border. Ukrainian since March 2021.
When, a week ago, Russia officially recognized the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic and then sent troops at the request of these republics to defend them against the Ukrainian army, it was thought that It was a provocative action stretching international law to its fullest extent. However, even if they lie on territories officially claimed by Ukraine, Russia can recognize these Republics. Many other countries had the right to recognize other self-declared countries.
But when, on February 24, Russian troops entered undisputed Ukrainian territory, the only words to describe it were “war” and “invasion”. Putin had no real reason to attack Ukraine. Ukraine’s NATO membership was only a hypothesis but was far from being realized, and the conflict in Donbass has been going on since 2014. The timing of these events seems to be more related to the pandemic and to the natural gas cut that Russia itself imposed from last June, putting many EU countries under pressure over the past year. After two years of the pandemic and months of rising gas prices, Putin knows that “Western” governments could hardly offer their citizens a war to protect another country.
The official reasons given by the Russian government are appalling: the aim is apparently to “denazify” Ukraine
i.e. overriding the current Ukrainian government, guilty of not being loyal to Russia and looking too much towards “the West” – with the ultimate goal of “bringing two Slavic countries together” . Considering that in Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Bulgaria as well, the majority of the population is ethnically “Slavic”, this suggests – the concept of Russia as the “mother” of all Slavic countries was conceived more than a century ago but is still alive .
This is an extremely dangerous argument, and actions follow one another. Let us clearly repeat once again what happened: the current Russian government has taken the decision to invade the sovereign space of a sovereign country only because this sovereign country has not shown the “loyalty” that the Russian government assumes it deserves, based on the (of course) unverifiable assumption that “Russia is the mother nation of all Slavs”. This goes against the internationally accepted principle enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations which prohibits the violation of sovereign rights.
If you really want to draw comparisons with Nazism, well, it’s not on the Ukrainian side.
In addition, Putin could have two less visible goals: to show that (hybrid) regimes prevail over (full) democracies – Russia does what it wants without being stopped – and to test the coherence of European and American governments – this is clearly demonstrated by his statements about reacting “like never before” if anyone interfered with Russia’s actions.
And now the elephant in the room: the Russian military has around 5,000 nuclear weapons. Using them seems inconceivable, but invading Ukraine seemed impossible just a few weeks ago.
The “test of resistance” suffered by Western countries has already failed: all diplomatic efforts have been in vain, Russia has attacked Ukraine for no apparent reason. The attacks came not only from the “legitimate” border, but also from the disputed territory. Crimea and, even worse, Belarus. Thus, putting an end to the already difficult relations between Belarus and the rest of Europe.
The EU has failed the test mainly because it still lacks a single foreign policy and, above all, a single army. Putin does not see the EU as an interlocutor; he frequently mentions NATO and discusses bilaterally with the governments of (some) EU countries.
Unfortunately, we are approaching the paradox of needing war to preserve peace: letting Russia claim “Russian” territories in other sovereign countries like Ukraine is not far from letting Hitler accomplish the Anschluss – and we know what happened next. This is particularly important for the EU given that other former Soviet territories are now part of the EU – and in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania a significant part of the population is ethnically Russian.
The EU’s fight for peace is admirable but dangerous when interlocutors who do not fight for peace, rather than military action, approach its borders. They have already shown that they are not afraid to encroach on them. But unfortunately the EU still needs to protect itself, and therefore the EU needs an army. And within this, the EU should rethink the role of NATO – the current, unbalanced, US-leaning model is no longer viable.
And, again, letting Russia invade Ukraine sets a dangerous precedent. What will China do with Taiwan then?
However, European governments are reluctant to give their all to harm the Russian economy by imposing sanctions that would also have a significant impact on the EU. As we all know, the interdependence, especially in the energy sector, between Europe and Russia is deep. All the more reason to develop a European plan for energy but in the future, but in the meantime, we should even consider rationing access to heating and electricity in Europe, if that can save Ukraine. Will the Europeans let this happen? The hundreds of peace rallies across Europe might suggest that yes, it is possible.