People are asking and will continue to ask with increased urgency: When will the war in Ukraine end? Will the barbarism inflicted by Vladimir Putin end one day?
The answer lies mainly in the hands of Ukraine. But ultimately also in those of the rest of us: the EU, the US, the UK and other democratic countries of the world.
Among these external actors, the decisive answer to this question should be given by the EU, whose neighborhood is the most affected by the Russian aggression against Ukraine; second to the Ukrainians themselves, of course.
The Kremlin attacked Ukraine because it thought it could afford it.
He perceived nuclear deterrence between Russia and the West as reciprocal, and therefore almost irrelevant. She also found that, militarily, Europe is disappearing from the world map.
Russia saw a declining America and a rising China; and knew that the United States would be increasingly concerned about developments in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China Sea.
Putin was no doubt amused but also encouraged by the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. In short, the Kremlin’s respect for the West had diminished considerably and, as for the EU, it had completely disappeared.
Military developments in Ukraine indicate that we are facing a frozen conflict of unprecedented scale, with consequences that will be difficult to bear.
Scenario “Black Swan”
Just recently, I was listening to a prominent European political scientist speak when he expressed his fear that Ukraine would suffer the fate of Korea, a divided nation with two very different outcomes. This “black swan” scenario is easy to imagine.
Especially with the awareness of how long Transnistria survived, how the Russians solidified Abkhazia and Ossetia, how quickly Moscow conquered Crimea, how we struggled for almost half a century with the question Cyprus (although Turkey is a member of NATO and a candidate country for EU membership…).
But will it be possible somehow to meet the challenge of the “black swan” in Ukraine?
If there is a meaningful solution available to the West, it is to resurrect the authority and respect the West enjoyed during the Cold War. With the difference that, this time, the key role of safeguarding democracy in Europe, of which Ukraine is an integral part, must be played by the EU through effective cooperation with the United Kingdom and the United States.
To put it bluntly, if we seek to avoid the “Koreanization” of Ukraine, if we wish to bring some reason back to the Kremlin, the EU must begin to put in place an effective military deterrent.
The time for statements, overarching strategies or “strategic compasses” is over.
Either we start building European armed forces with effective action power, or Putin’s gang and his “followers” will continue to choose – not for years but for decades – which Ukrainian city to bomb next.
And we in Europe will continue to take comfort in knowing that this disaster is still only happening in Ukraine, praying that NATO Article 5 is not just a paper tiger.
A skeptic or “European realist” would argue that increased European military strength will not necessarily stop or deter Putin.
Admittedly, a Europe with a strong army is not in itself a sufficient precondition for ending the war in Ukraine.
Yet there is no doubt that this is an essential prerequisite. Putin must be made to understand that the EU is capable not only of disconnecting from Russian energy, but also of defending itself and its allies when necessary.
It is also clear that the negotiating position of our political leaders is different if they are not only supported by bags of money, but also by a capable, strong and combat-ready army.
The United States has and will continue to have its hands full with the Indo-Pacific, as well as with North Korea and Iran. We will be grateful if they handle these challenges on their own. As for the challenges affecting our immediate neighbourhood, it will be up to us to face them, first and foremost by ourselves.
It is not easy, though tempting, to model developments in Ukraine as European military build-up takes place. But we should leave that to the soldiers.
What we should be doing is asking politicians to make bold, principled, responsible and forward-looking decisions. Among the most urgent decisions is the need to start shaping European defense capabilities.
We may not like this idea; but if we reject it, we have an obligation to immediately answer the question: what is the alternative? What awaits us for Ukraine, but also for us, the inhabitants of the EU, if we continue in the current state of non-defence?
We expect political leaders to speak nicely. But today, that is no longer enough.
They must also be capable of bold actions. The first step for Europe to take up the challenge could be for France to allow Germany to put its finger on the French nuclear briefcase.
And Germany, in turn, allocates half of the annual increase in its military budget, or 50 billion euros, to the creation of the European Armed Forces.