Jaak Aaviksoo: Has Europe awoken?

Jaak Aaviksoo.
Jaak Aaviksoo. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

Europe is partly responsible for failing to avoid the war in Ukraine. Moreover, we are obligated to avoid new wars in Europe a precondition for which is a clear understanding of our common strategic interests, as well as the will and ability to protect them, Jaak Aaviksoo writes.

Russia's military aggression against Ukraine has been condemned in virtually global consensus – its criminal nature starkly obvious. What is decidedly less obvious is the level of understanding regarding this war's broader context, the other parties involved and contributing developments.

The war could have been avoided, and the threat of new wars in Europe is going nowhere without a fundamental understanding of what went wrong. We need this clarity before the cannons fall silent and agreements to be signed start to shape the new security architecture.

Russia's ambitions, reflected already in Vladimir Putin's 2007 Munich Security Conference speech, were put to the United States in the form of an ultimatum in February. Demands for a new European security architecture that would consider Russia's status and justified interests. In short, the withdrawal of the U.S. from Europe and Russia stepping in as the guarantor of its security.

U.S. and its NATO and EU allies rejected the ultimatum. Followed the war that has by now demonstrated the extent of Russia's but also the West's misjudgment of Ukraine and its ability to ward off aggression.

Russia was likely also mistaken in its predictions of the West's potential reaction and its own military might. But those were not the primary drivers for Russia's decision – Europe's strategic weakness was.

Geopolitical thinking in Russia has always seen post-WWII Europe as an American protectorate and not without reason. In Russia's understanding, Europe lacks an independent (security policy) status, NATO expansion equals U.S. expansion and the opposition of some EU member states to Ukraine and Georgia's NATO membership at the 2008 Bucharest summit was a sign of a de facto security vacuum being created.

The latter was solidified in Europe's reaction to the war in Georgia and the annexation of Crimea, reinforced by a shift of U.S. interests to the Pacific, the West's ineptitude in Syria, Europe's stagnating defense spending and finally the chaotic retreat from Afghanistan. This understanding might have been mistaken in detail but not fundamentally.

That is why war in Ukraine is Europe's war and it shares in the responsibility for failing to prevent it. Moreover, we are obligated to avoid new wars in Europe a precondition for which is a clear understanding of our common strategic interests, as well as the will and ability to protect them. In a way that would be understood and respected by any potential adversary.

The shock delivered by the Ukraine war has sent the ice moving. For the first time, and in a move many saw as incredible, the EU decided to give military aid to Ukraine from its peace facility and basically declared Ukraine a part of it. However, these are just the first steps when going from a league of states reacting to events to a subject of history with its own agenda, role and responsibility in shaping the future of the world.

It sometimes seems that even these two initial steps have frightened some countries and preparedness for populating these decisions with action is very uneven. There are still those allowing themselves to be fooled by the illusion of imagining this war outside of Europe. As was done following the initiative of the French in freezing the conflict in Georgia and with support from Germany and France for the Minsk agreements.

The ongoing war in Ukraine is our war. Not legally but morally and politically, and we share in the responsibility for the move and any agreements to be reached. For the sake of Ukraine and all other European nations. Hanging in the balance is whether we will be shaping the future of Europe in the spirit of the Helsinki Accords or whether others will be doing it for us in the Livadia Palace in Yalta.

If we are unable to bear this responsibility, then the thieves in law ruling in Moscow are right: there is nothing to talk about.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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