Russia’s attack on Ukraine breathed new life into the historic post-war European project. Now he faces a tough choice about his future.
One of the key assumptions that prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to attack Ukraine in February was that a shock and awe type invasion would work. Kyiv would fall, the Ukrainians would give in and the West would accept the fait accompli.
Moscow viewed Europe, in particular, as the weak link in an already decadent transatlantic alliance. Europeans were sweet and spoiled, Putin supposed, addicted to their comforts and privileges – which, of course, depended on cheap energy from Russian pipelines.
To its credit, Europe held firm in the face of Russian aggression. The sanctions held. Alternative sources of fuel were researched and found. Even reluctant members of the European Union (EU), with pro-Russian leaders – like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Croatian President Zoran Milanović – have been convinced to support Ukraine.
Of course, the EU could still do a lot more to help Kyiv, especially in terms of military aid. Nevertheless, on October 25, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that the EU would help Ukraine finance its budget deficit. She added that Ukraine had already received more than 19 billion euros in financial aid from the EU since the beginning of 2022, not including military supplies, but it was not enough.
“I think it’s only fair if the European Union does its fair share,” she added. “I am working with our Member States so that the Union can support Ukraine with up to 1.5 billion euros each month of war, which [amount to] approximately 18 billion euros in 2023.
The European engine
To its credit, what Europe has accomplished since the end of the Second World War is edifying to say the least. From a largely destroyed continent, the site of untold horrors and genocides, the European project created an area in Western Europe that has arguably become the pinnacle of global civilization: unprecedented material well-being, state-funded cradle-to-grave health care in most countries, and over 70 years of relative peace and security in extremely tolerant and free societies with a social safety net that is the envy of the world.
Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of European history – namely, its wars – knows that this is nothing short of miraculous.
Of course, the engine of the European project came from across the Atlantic. The crucial factors were the Marshall Plan for the economy and NATO for security. Over the years, various iterations of what would become today’s EU created a unique (often criticized) form of technocratic umbrella government over a loose union of sovereign states – a modern political experiment in interlocking hierarchies , If you want.
The European heart of Ukraine
Without going into the intricacies of European bureaucracy, it must be said that this raging Russian-Ukrainian war actually began in November 2013, with what was initially called “Euromaidan”. Ukrainians, disappointed and angry with their president for reneging on the association agreement with the European Union at the last minute under pressure from Moscow, took to the streets waving Ukrainian and European flags. Some observers have pointed to the upheaval on Kyiv’s Maidan as the first time someone has fought and died for the EU.
Fast forward nine years and Moscow’s game plan seems obvious: to rectify and reverse the “geopolitical catastrophe”, as Putin called it, of the demise of the Soviet Union.
Today, Ukrainians – and many conscientious Europeans – are fully aware that they are now fighting for Europe. They shed blood not only to protect their land and their families, but also to stop a horde sent by an aggressive dictator to plant pro-Moscow “illiberal” regimes across Europe, thus fragmenting the continent so that Russia can intervene and exert influence.
The Ukrainians were eager to be adopted by the EU. They saw the benefits accrued by their neighbors: not only material well-being, but also the obligation to strengthen democratic institutions that could prevent authoritarian regimes and facilitate a more open and tolerant society.
And yet, while Ukrainians were chomping at the bit to enter the EU and be more like their recently accepted Eastern European neighbors, older EU members were busy criticizing the whole scheme. The sovereign debt crisis that began in 2009 nearly shattered the eurozone. The 2015 immigrant crisis strained political relations between Member States. And then came Brexit, when one of the pillars of the EU chose to walk away.
On the eve of February 24, the European project – despite its historic achievements – looked like a lame old man.
Since the war, however, the transatlantic alliance has been reinvigorated. Now NATO includes Sweden and Finland, both of which abandoned their neutral stance when they saw the true face of Russia, and they are ready to help Ukraine achieve victory.
wake up call
Barring black swan events, Russia simply cannot achieve the goals it set for itself at the start of its full-scale attack in February. The Moscow adventure was a strategic disaster: NATO expanded to cover most of Russia’s western border, and Russia is now a pariah state, rapidly losing its high-tech weapons as well as its perennial petro-power.
If Europe and the United States remain steadfast in their commitment to the defense, victory and ultimate reconstruction of Ukraine, then we will see a thriving society that can certainly breathe new life into the European project that many have called it moribund. This new generation of Ukrainians is performing miracles every day. Europe needs it.
As Alex Younger, former head of intelligence at MI6 in the UK, said in an interview with Times Radio: “The world is splitting into different blocs, and there is competition between value systems… This is an opportunity for the West to remember what it is for, to double down on its strengths, renew its alliances, strengthen its innovation… I think there is an opportunity here, reinforced by the extraordinary cohesion demonstrated by Ukraine, to really bring us to agreement.
Ultimately, we are witnessing a watershed moment in European history. How Europe fulfills its stated commitment to Ukraine will determine its future for decades, if not centuries. Will he embrace Ukraine and even form a “genuine European army” (as French President Emmanuel Macron suggested in 2018)? Will he strengthen his hitherto weak commitment to NATO? Or will it succumb to discord, with each “sovereign” entity going its own way – some inevitably influenced by Moscow’s authoritarian allure?
Given how Putin has revealed the true colors of his “strategic” plan, as well as the genocidal methods of its implementation, Europe has little choice if it wants to stay true to its common ideals.
Ukrainians around the world – those who defend it at home and those who have been forced to seek safety abroad – are hopeful. They have no other choice if they want to survive.
The opinions expressed in this opinion the article are those of the author and not necessarily those of Kyiv Job.