The Russian provocation must prompt a response from the 27 EU Member States that turns Putin’s initial tactical victory into a long-term strategic defeat.

Brussels, 22 February 2022

It is pointless to add any further opinion to the speculation about developments in the next few weeks or months in the 8-year old conflict between Ukraine and Russia over the annexation of Crimea. Undoubtedly, the inevitable sanctions that the EU, the US and Britain will impose will be commented on in terms of their effectiveness, their consequences for all parties and will reveal, more or less quickly, the dissensions in the Western camp.

It is likely that the situation will become bogged down in a status quo, de facto rewarding Putin’s aggression and favoring the pursuit of his explicit objectives: the perennial exclusion of Ukraine from NATO and a withdrawal of the alliance’s forces to their pre-1997 positions; and non-explicit ones: the dismantling of the European Union.

To be satisfied with a result that merely perpetuates the situation that has existed for the last 8 years and buys (at best) a few additional years of respite is not acceptable, especially as it is the prelude to an ever higher price to pay in the future. This show of weakness can only stir up, all over the world, the desire to use force to justify the realization of objectives that the defense of democratic ideals in the West, associated with American military superiority, had circumscribed until now. It should be noted that this weakening of democracy and the discrediting of politics also favors the emergence of extremist movements that readily resort to violence, both in North America and in Europe.

Under these conditions, another response must be found, which Putin himself has obligingly made available to the EU’s Member States on who it is now incumbent to act. Unprovoked aggression (whatever he may say) is indeed likely to make public opinion in the Union aware of the need to guard against Putin’s imperialist aims, which can only be done by deepening EU integration. At the same time, however, it constitutes an opportunity to free the Union from the status of vassal of the United States, while strengthening a collaboration between equal partners, capable of competing with the Beijing-Moscow axis, which Europe’s dithering has encouraged.

The Member States of the Union are therefore literally “at the fork in the road”:

Either they are simply flexing their muscles, endorsing the status quo by default, in the vain hope that “things will work out” and that the “horrors of a military (nuclear) confrontation” will be avoided. In this scenario, Putin has only to wait for populist or extremist forces to come to power in an EU country (with Moscow’s support). The declarations of a Le Pen or Zemmour, criticizing President Macron and offering their benevolent support to the Kremlin’s master’s goals, constitute a thinly veiled acquiescence to the demands of the Russian aggressor and demonstrate the deceptive nature of their supposed support for the EU and the €.  The. Extremist opposition in anti-Russian countries such as Poland or Spain serves Putin’s interests just as well, as long as they accelerate the dismantling of the EU, which also explains his support for Brexit or Trump. Let us mention, in passing, that the United States approve of the MS dependence on NATO, considering a “powerful” independent EU as a potential rival and the € a possible challenger to the $.

The alternative is to convince public opinion that only European integration can challenge Putin by a show of strength that he is likely to hear and understand. The aftermath of the pandemic, the looming economic difficulties, the obvious geopolitical disturbances and a visceral feeling that the world is in the midst of a profound transformation (climatic, societal, technological if not moral), are creating an understandable disarray among the population. Rather than exploiting the fears and the inward-looking reflexes they provoke, it should be made clear that the solutions proposed by populist or extremist sirens are nothing more than a harbinger of hard times; they cannot and will not avoid the sacrifices necessary to preserve the essential values and prosperity that Member States now enjoy.

On the other hand, the path of EU integration is all the more attractive as it offers the means to emancipate oneself from any foreign tutelage and thus to become master of one’s own destiny, within a world where interdependence has become inescapable. In addition it provides the means necessary to finance the colossal investment needs that these new challenges require. A federal EU with a common currency, defense, foreign policy, etc., is able to mobilize resources that none of its individual MS can muster. Only the pooling of resources and related economies of scale make it possible to achieve these goals and oppose Russia who, with a GDP comparable to that of Spain and an impoverished population of 125 million souls, is attempting to blackmail 500 million EU citizens.

The choice is therefore clear and the time has come! Europeans will be all the more ready to face the difficulties that will undoubtedly confront them, if they have a vision of a future that they can build together for the well-being of future generations instead of bequeathing them a mountain of debts as a reminder of our selfishness and narrow-mindedness.

Peace in our time, the fragility of which was made so clear a few days ago at the Munich Security Conference, is in our hands. The implementation of a federal Europe is the only answer that will turn the tactical defeat that Putin is attempting to get away with, into an EU long-term strategic victory. We will then be grateful to him for having brought us out of the torpor and stagnation in which our lack of courage and vision had trapped us.