Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Opinion

For Europe, Putin’s invasion is a before and after moment

Paul Taylor, a contributing editor at POLITICO, writes the “Europe At Large” column.

PARIS — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s all-out attack on Ukraine is the biggest rupture in Europe’s security order since the end of the Cold War. It will have far-reaching consequences for our Continent and our lives. 

The unprovoked use of military power to crush the independence of a neighboring state must be met with devastating sanctions and a long-term diversification away from Russian oil and gas. Europe must also answer Russia’s aggression with a step change in defense spending and a strengthening of its eastern flank. 

European countries will have to be prepared to help and support Ukrainian resistance against Russian-imposed rule. The crisis has already bolstered NATO as the undisputed backbone of European defense, despite EU ambitions to build greater strategic autonomy. It has transformed France from a serial obstructor of NATO decision-making to a staunch ally, willing to send troops to Romania to help bolster allied defenses.

It may also make Turkey, which has maritime borders with both Russia and Ukraine, a less obdurate NATO ally. Ankara may face pressure from its NATO partners to use its powers under the 1936 Montreux Convention to deny passage to Russian warships through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits, although Moscow already has plenty of naval firepower in the Black Sea. 

The conflict may lead to new countries seeking shelter under NATO’s military umbrella. First in line are EU members Sweden and Finland, a neighbor of Russia. Both chose to remain non-aligned after the end of the Cold War, but they have expressed their determination to keep the option of joining the alliance open since Putin set out his demands to end NATO enlargement. 

Politically, there are already signs of a big rethink under way in Germany, which until recent days was deeply reluctant to reconsider its dependence on Russian gas, or to substantially increase defense spending and make its hollow armed forces fit to fight if required. 

Soul searching and shame in Berlin over the failure to heed warning signs of Putin’s intentions or to invest in a modern military abounded in the hours after Russian tanks and missiles began pounding Ukraine.  

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who was defense minister until December and had once been touted as a possible successor to former Chancellor Angela Merkel, said: “I’m so angry at us for this historic failure. We did nothing that might really have deterred Putin after (Russia’s previous incursions in) Georgia, Crimea and Donbas.”  

Germans, she added, had forgotten the lessons of former Chancellors Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl, “that negotiation always comes first, but we have to be militarily strong enough to make non-negotiation not an option for the other side.”  

Even more stark was the admission from the chief of staff of Germany’s land forces, Lieutenant-General Alfons Mais, who wrote on LinkedIn: “I never believed we would have to live through another war. And the Bundeswehr, the ground forces that I lead, are more or less empty. The options we can offer to our political leaders to support the alliance are extremely limited.” 

As Europe gets its act together militarily, the economic and political impacts will be severe, and long lasting. Whether Russia stages a grinding occupation of Ukraine or pulls back after installing a puppet regime in Kyiv, Putin will be a pariah for as long as he remains in power. In Europe, this will mean a painful break in economic ties that will raise the cost of living for tens of millions of Europeans, starting with their energy bills. 

The war is bound to produce large flows of Ukrainian refugees, arriving in countries such as Poland and Hungary. While these are the countries that refused to show solidarity when Greece and Italy faced their own influxes of asylum seekers, EU partners must show greater generosity in sharing the burden now than Warsaw and Budapest did then. 

Sanctions will inevitably entail serious economic pain for EU countries, which do roughly eight times as much trade with Russia as the United States does. But the impact will be uneven. Germany, Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria will be among those hit the hardest if gas supplies are cut off. It will be essential to organize economic solidarity within the EU and across the Atlantic. 

The war should prompt a long overdue self-examination about how Western Europe’s banks, real estate markets and sports clubs became laundries for the fortunes of the Russian superrich — often with ties to Putin’s inner circle. The U.K. has woken up in slow motion to the long-festering scandal of its red-carpet welcome to the oligarchs and their money, some of which found its way into large donations to the Conservative Party. 

There should also be a reckoning with the superannuated European politicians who have padded their retirement on the payroll of Russian companies and banks with Kremlin ties. A couple — former Finnish Prime Minister Esko Aho and former Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern — did the honorable thing and stepped down from the boards of Sberbank and of RZD Russian railways, respectively, within hours of the invasion. Others, such as former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder — chairman of Gazprom’s now-suspended Nord Stream 2 pipeline company — and former French Prime Minister François Fillon, on the board of two state-controlled Russian energy companies, are still clinging to their seats. 

Whatever illusions they may have had about helping build East-West understanding through economic interdependence, it should now be clear to them, and to their former voters, that they are on the wrong side of history. 

Russia’s brutal breach of international law should also help discredit nationalist European politicians like France’s Marine Le Pen, Italy’s Matteo Salvini and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán who have gained political endorsement, and in some cases financial support and covert social media assistance, from Putin.  

Finally, a mea culpa: I was among those who believed that a diplomatic solution was possible to avert this war if the West and Ukraine were willing to accept a long-term deferral of Kyiv’s bid to join NATO, which I always thought was a bridge too far for the alliance.  

We were wrong about Putin. He claims that U.S. President Joe Biden more or less offered a moratorium in private talks, but the Russian leader had far bigger objectives — he wanted to prevent Ukraine from ever being an independent, sovereign democracy because he sees that as an unbearable threat to his regime. 

All of us have rethinking to do, now that he has spelled that out in blood. Me too.  

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Advertisement

You May Also Like

Opinion

Adeline van Houtte is the Economist Intelligence Unit’s lead analyst on Russia. It looks like Russia is at it again, after the unusual movement...

Health Care

Former President Donald Trump confirmed he had gotten a booster during a live show with Bill O’Reilly in Dallas on Sunday.

TOP news

US Navy aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson leads other US Navy ships during an exercise with the Indian navy in 2012. US Navy Photo...

TOP news

Paul Sancya/AP On June 2, Delta will become the first US airline to pay its flight attendants for boarding time. Previously, flight attendants were...