Ukraine is the victim of Russian aggression, but Europe must play its own game, not Russia’s.
Being in the right does not automatically go along with the ability to design the right strategy. This is the case with those, from the United States or from within Europe itself, who are trying to convince us that arming Ukraine is a good idea.
Russia is counterfeiting a nonexistent civil war between ethnic Russians and Ukrainians, in a region where there has never before been a problem with sectarian violence.
Leaving aside those who are nostalgic for a time when it was enough simply to be on the opposite side to the US to be right, it is obvious that Ukraine has been the victim of aggression from a neighbouring state, Russia. And Russia is carrying out its aggression through two intolerable methods. Firstly, it is counterfeiting a nonexistent civil war between ethnic Russians and Ukrainians, in a region where there has never before been a problem with sectarian violence. Secondly, it is violating the guarantees of territorial integrity that Moscow gave to Kyiv in 1994 in exchange for Ukraine relinquishing its nuclear weapons. If the United Nations Security Council was like Lady Justice, with a weighing scales in one hand and a sword in the other, it would immediately condemn Russia as an aggressor and send peacekeepers to seal the Russia-Ukraine border to prevent the constant advance of Russian supplies and troops.
Putin’s vision of the world and of Russia’s interests is completely antagonistic to that of the European Union.
Despite what some claim, there is no possible common ground between the parties and it is evident with whom the legal, political, and moral virtue lies. As Angela Merkel discovered in her lengthy private meeting with Putin at the G20 summit in Brisbane, the problem here is not one of misunderstanding. If it were just a misunderstanding, Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, speaks perfect Russian, and comes from a country with enormous interest and experience in coexisting with Russia, would have been able to resolve it. But instead, what emerged from that interview – and it has been confirmed that it lasted more than two hours – is that Putin’s vision of the world and of Russia’s interests is completely antagonistic to that of the European Union.
If Ukraine, in spite of being provided with these weapons, were to fail to defend itself, we would have to defend it.
To date, European sanctions policy has aimed at, firstly, convincing Russia that whether it likes us or not, if it wants to coexist with us, it must comply with a minimum but essential set of rules on the territorial integrity of states. Secondly, it must accept the right of Ukrainians to decide on the future of their country, including its relationship with the EU by means of an association agreement. As long as Russia does not accept those two principles, we coexist in a tense situation – but it is coexistence nonetheless. Arming Ukraine would mean not only recognising the failure of that policy but, even more seriously, being willing to accept the consequences of that failure. Because, if Ukraine, in spite of being provided with these weapons, were to fail to defend itself, we would have to defend it. And so far, every time Ukraine has made military advances, Russia has increased the pressure and Ukraine has been overmatched. Europe cannot win by playing the Russian game – it has to play its own.
This article was first published in Spanish in EL PAÍS on 6 February.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.