, by Jacopo Barbati

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

The consequences of a missile strike on Kyiv on February 24th 2022. Credits: Arrikel, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/license...> , via Wikimedia Commons

When, some weeks ago, US and EU officials warned about a possible military action in Ukrainian territory, the majority of the public opinion was appalled, even though the Russian army has been around the Ukrainian border since March 2021.

When, one week ago, Russia officially recognized the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic and subsequently sent troops as asked by those Republics to defend them against the Ukrainian army, the thought was that it was a provocative action stretching at its max the international law. However, even if they are resting on territories officially claimed by Ukraine, Russia can recognize those Republics. Many other countries had the right to acknowledge other self-proclaimed countries.

But when, on February 24th, Russian troops trespassed on undisputed Ukrainian territory, this gave no other words to describe it than “war” and “invasion”. Putin did not have a real reason to attack Ukraine. NATO membership for Ukraine was a hypothesis but was nowhere close to its realization, and the conflict in Donbass has been ongoing since 2014. The timing of these events appears to be more linked to the pandemic and to the cut to natural gas Russia itself has imposed from last June, putting under pressure many EU countries in the last year. After two years of the pandemic and months of gas price increase, Putin knows that the “Western” governments could hardly propose to their citizens a war to protect another country.

The official reasons given by the Russian Government are ghastly: the purpose apparently is to “denazify” Ukraine  [1], i.e. overruling the current Ukrainian Government, guilty of not being loyal to Russia and to look too much towards the “West” - with the ultimate goal of “reuniting two slavic countries” [2]. Considering that also in Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Bulgaria the majority of the population is ethnically “slavic”, this gives to think - the concept of Russia as the “mother” of all the slavic countries was conceived more than a century ago but it is still alive [3].

This is an extremely dangerous argument, and the actions are following. Let’s repeat clearly once again what happened: the current Russian government took the decision to invade the sovereign space of a sovereign country only because that sovereign country did not show the “loyalty” that the Russian government assumes to deserve, based on the (of course) not verifiable assumption that “Russia is the mother nation of all Slavs”. This is against the internationally accepted principle enshrined in the UN charter that prohibits infringement of sovereign rights.

If we really want to make comparisons with Nazism, well, it is not on the Ukrainian part.

Moreover, Putin might have a couple of less visible aims: to show that (hybrid) regimes win over (full) democracies - Russia is doing what it wants without being stopped - and testing the consistency of European and American governments - this is clearly demonstrated by his statements about reacting “like never before” if anyone would interfere with Russia’s actions.

And now, the elephant in the room: the Russian army has about 5000 nuclear weapons available. Using them appears inconceivable, but invading Ukraine appeared impossible only a few weeks ago.

The “stress test” underwent by the Western countries has already been failed: all the diplomatic efforts were in vain, Russia attacked Ukraine for apparently no reasons.The attacks came, not only from the “legit” border, but also from the disputed territory of Crimea and, even worse, from Belarus. Thus, putting a period on the already difficult relationships between Belarus and the rest of Europe.

The EU has failed the test mainly because it still lacks a single foreign policy and, above all, a single army. Putin is not considering the EU as an interlocutor; he is frequently mentioning NATO and discussing bilaterally with governments of (some) EU countries.

Unfortunately, we are approaching the paradox of needing war to preserve peace: letting Russia claim “Russian” territories in other sovereign countries like Ukraine is not far from having let Hitler accomplish the Anschluss - and we know what happened next. This is especially important for the EU since other former Soviet territories are in the EU now - and in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania a significant part of the population is ethnically Russian.

The EU’s strive for peace is admirable but dangerous when interlocutors who do not strive for peace, rather than for military actions, are getting closer to its borders. They have already shown that they do not fear trespassing them. But unfortunately, the EU still needs to protect itself, and therefore, the EU needs an Army. And in this framework, the EU should rethink the role of NATO - the current, unbalanced, USA-tending model it’s not sustainable anymore.

And, again, letting Russia invade Ukraine sets a dangerous precedent. What willChina do with Taiwan, then?

However, European governments are hesitant in giving it all to damage Russia’s economy by inflicting sanctions that would have a great impact on the EU as well. As we all know, the interdependence, especially in the energy sector, between Europe and Russia is deep. Another reason to develop a European plan for energy but in the future, but in the meantime, even needing to ration the access to heating and electricity in Europe should be considered, if it can save Ukraine. Will the European people let this happen? The hundreds of rallies for peace all over Europe might suggest that yes, it might.

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