Russia-Ukraine conflict: Europe will be on the wrong side of history if it chooses not to mediate
For a region that is no stranger to war, Europe should understand that a prolonged conflict will only destabilise it in the coming years
Jacques Chirac was a flawed leader. His tenure as France’s president from 1995 to 2007 was marred by both personal and political scandals. In 2011, he was convicted of corruption. Today, it’s time Europe remembered Chirac who passed away in 2019.
Chirac’s opposition to the Iraq War (2003-11) probably redeemed his legacy. Germany too had refused to join the US-led coalition against Iraq, but what distinguished Chirac was that he tried to convince the then-US president George W Bush against the invasion.
On 24 February 2022, when Russia launched an attack on Ukraine, European leaders, just like the rest of the world, were shocked. A Russian military build-up at the Ukrainian border had been going on for months, but an invasion in the 21st Century seemed inconceivable. Yet, Europe’s subsequent reaction to the crisis reflected that a sustained war was in fact very much possible in this day and age.
European nations responded by imposing sanctions on Russia and by sending military aid to Ukraine. As a non-military alliance, in a rare move, the EU approved $500 million worth of arms supply to Ukraine. Germany, UK, Ireland, Greece and Denmark are among the nations which have confirmed military aid for Ukraine. Some countries have also encouraged their citizens to fight for Ukraine as foreign volunteers.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged foreigners to fight against Russia as part of an “international brigade”.
On 27 February, Denmark’s prime minister Mette Frederiksen said, “There is nothing at first sight that would legally prevent someone from going to Ukraine to participate in the conflict, on the Ukrainian side.”
British foreign secretary Liz Truss said that she supported individuals from the UK who wanted to fight for the besieged country. “Everyone who wants to join the defence of security in Europe and the world may come and stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukrainians against the invaders of the 21st century,” Truss told the BBC.
Interestingly, a British law dating back to 1870 makes it illegal for citizens to join foreign armies. In 2019, a Briton was sentenced to four years in jail by a London court for travelling to Syria to join the Kurdish forces in fight against the Islamic State. Not surprisingly, 10 Downing Street distanced itself from Truss’ remarks and advised citizens against travelling to Ukraine.
Sweden, a country which had remained neutral during the two World Wars, broke with its age-old policy by announcing weapons supply to Ukraine.
The extent to which these weapons can help Ukraine gain an upper hand over the much stronger Russian Army remains doubtful. But one thing is certain: These will help prolong this war which has seen Ukrainian cities turn into battle zones and its citizens into combatants against an invading force.
The onus to bring peace to this region lies on Europe, not the United States. In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia which, like Ukraine, was a part of the Soviet Union. The prelude to the conflict was Georgia’s NATO membership bid. In an attempt to counter Russia, the US backed Ukraine’s decision to join NATO. Fourteen years down the line, both Georgia and Ukraine are not part of the Washington-led 30-member military alliance.
Lack of understanding of regional geopolitics is part of the US playbook but Europe should know better.
It has higher bargaining power over Russia than the United States. EU nations like France and Germany have mostly enjoyed stable relations with Russia. Thus, it is surprising that none of the European leaders have seriously batted for negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow.
For all talks of a rules-based international order, it is also disappointing that European powers have not pushed for a ceasefire which, if nothing else, will help speed up the evacuation of civilians.
There’s no doubt that Russia is the aggressor here and that it should face consequences for this war. But Europe’s options are limited. Including Ukraine in NATO will lead to a direct confrontation between the alliance’s members and Russia. According to NATO’s Article 5, “an attack on one ally is considered an attack on all allies”. The alliance has already announced that it will not be sending troops to Ukraine.
Extended war risks destabilising Europe
For a region that is no stranger to war, Europe should understand that a prolonged conflict will only destabilise it in the coming years. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 sparked bloodshed in many countries in Europe and beyond. It triggered border disputes which led to conflicts in the subsequent years. Notably, two former Soviet nations — Armenia and Azerbaijan — fought a war over the Nagorno Karabakh enclave in 2020.
An extended Ukraine crisis risks igniting unresolved regional tensions. There is no guarantee that Russia, which has been taking an increasingly belligerent stand, will honour the conditions made during talks. But Europe should still take the diplomatic path.
History will never forgive Russia for this war but it will also not be kind to those who did not try to stop it.
US media recently reported that some senior officials were beginning to encourage Ukraine to consider talks, which Zelensky has so far rejected without a prior withdrawal of Russian forces from all Ukrainian territory
Ukrainian emergency services said Russian rockets smashed into a building overnight in Vilniansk, part of the southern Zaporizhzhia region, in the latest attack to damage medical facilities since war began nine months ago
The strikes have been seen as attempts at Russian retribution against Ukraine's beleaguered but defiant people after Ukrainian troops over two week ago liberated the city that had been in Russian hands for many months