Kalev Stoicescu: Ukraine's future depends on Ukraine, the West and Russia
The war in Ukraine is not just a game around Putin, against him or to save him. Its aftermath will affect the history of Europe and the region for decades to come. Ukraine's faith in the Western world may begin to crumble, and Russia will be sure to take advantage of it, writes Kalev Stoicescu.
Ukraine has made its goals and objectives clear. It wants freedom and democracy, the withdrawal of Russian troops, the reconstruction of the country and EU membership. Russia cannot claim that the countries that joined the European Union (and/or NATO) had/have all these rights, while Ukraine does not.
The Kremlin trumpets that Ukraine is not a state at all but a "fascist-led" formation. In any case, history must be reversed, because the freedom of the people of Central and Eastern Europe and their belonging to the West is wrong.
The president of Ukraine and the whole leadership of the country are determined. The Ukrainian defense forces are fighting bravely and selflessly. The Ukrainian people have suffered terribly and are ready to suffer until a victorious end. Ukraine has hope because the Western world is giving political, economic and military aid, and the European Union is letting some light shine through the door. Ukraine's political stability and fighting spirit will endure as long as hope remains.
The European Union's sixth round of sanctions was hard-won. Hungary got what it wanted, even unto the exclusion of warmonger Patriarch Kirill from the list of sanctioned persons. Vladimir Putin's mistress (or secret wife) Alina Kabaeva was included. Good that we got that much. The next package will be on the agenda soon, and is likely to be even tougher.
Achieving Western political unity on Ukraine's future is even more difficult, if not impossible. Too many things are feared: the break-up of Russia and a major war, a worsening economic crisis, hordes of starving migrants and more.
The Putin collective is playing on Western fears, trying to demonstrate Russia's resilience and self-confidence, but also its ability to cause trouble and escalate the situation. As if Russia has nothing to lose while we do. Or that Russia is willing to die rather than be "humiliated" while the West is afraid of rising gasoline and food prices.
Vladimir Putin will be kept alive, if only as Schrödinger's cat, as long as possible, because everyone in Russia is afraid and no one is ready to take over. Secret and public preparations are not being made. The Czar has not created the prerequisites for the transfer of power or even hinted at a successor, because the risk of his inevitable and imminent departure from the scene would become too great. He is determined to go down in history victorious at all costs. That is why Russia's ruling elite, the war party of hawks, will strive for victory as long as the Kremlin satrap is given days to live.
There has been too much speculation about Putin's health already, but he could remain an active leader for many years to come. It is this prospect which is prompting the major Western European powers to seek compromises with Putin. Not, of course, at the expense of their own interests and territory, but at the expense of Ukraine. Moscow never tires of reminding us that it has always been like this and always will be. The struggle is for the countries and peoples to the east of Sweden and Germany and to the north of Greece and Turkey.
Russia is ready to put everything on the line for its values and beliefs, whatever we may think of them, but the West's willingness to stand up for its values and rights is stuck behind its very low pain threshold. The West's main value – judging by practice, not by theory and political statements – is economic prosperity.
The post-communist countries have been enjoying growing prosperity for about 30 years, but the Western European allies for much longer, which is why they are largely in their own bubble. We are striving towards a united Europe where there would be no them and us, but the eastern neighbor is deliberately and brutally opening up historical wounds. The Western European countries did not experience the horrors of the Russian occupation, except for parts of East Germany. We see Putin as Hitler. They do not, or do not want to.
Ukraine's perspective on the European Union, however favorable it may be to the Brussels-based Commission, depends on the member states. The political line runs north and east of Germany. On one side are those countries that want Ukraine to win and Russia to lose, the "victory party," and on the other, the "peace party," more concerned about Russia (Putin).
The member states are more or less evenly divided between those who actually want Ukraine to join the European Union, knowing, of course, that it will take years, and those who don't really want it or can't imagine it. It is not plausible that countries that are not serious about helping Ukraine with armaments, wringing their hands over the non-fulfilment of promises, are serious about Ukraine's European perspective.
These are crucial considerations, because the war in Ukraine is not just a game around Putin, against him or to save him. Its aftermath will affect the history of Europe and its region for forthcoming decades. Ukraine's faith in the Western world may begin to crumble, and Russia will be sure to take advantage.
Germany has significantly changed its policy towards Russia, but not decisively and irreversibly. France's eyes are wide open, but it cannot resist the temptation of the phone call. In Italy (especially on television), the Russian narrative is being cultivated.
Above all, the aspiring peacemakers should explain to their allies what their vision is for the future of Europe (and Ukraine as part of Europe) and relations with Russia, while the Putin collective has the taste of blood in its mouth, the lust for revenge clouding its judgment, and Europe continues to fill the Kremlin's war chest.
Winston Churchill said at the time, reflecting on the Munich Agreement (1938), that the democratic Western allies had sacrificed their honor for peace, but in the end there was neither. Now some say that Russia and Putin have pride and should not be humiliated. Ukraine has honor too, and how. But what about us?
Ukraine must hold out at least until fall for the economic sanctions to have an effect and for Russia to start fermenting. If the current punitive measures are not enough, tougher ones will have to be applied.
Western military aid must increase in quality and quantity. There is no other way. Together, these factors have a game-changing effect. St. George did not slay the dragon simply by irritating it and pinching it. Ukraine's future is in the hands of Ukrainians and the West, not Russia.
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Editor: Maxence Grunfogel