A confused debate where realities, ideologies and pseudo-psychology are intertwined.

The media, both on television and in the press, are struggling to decipher Vladimir Putin’s intentions, to analyze American policy or to formulate a coherent vision of European interests. In most debates – besides pious admonitions aimed at giving oneself a good conscience – the future of Ukraine often seems to be relegated to the status of an adjustment variable!

Apart from the factual reporting of the course of events (when this is verifiable) and the enlightening analyses of some professional military and political experts, most of the comments are based on speculation, on the desire to make one’s own opinions coincide with the facts or sometimes even on disinformation. However, if by the nature of the conflict many elements are both unknown and fast changing, it is nonetheless made difficult to have a coherent debate if there is no agreement among participants on the perimeter of the subject under discussion or, in this case, on the objectives pursued by the main parties involved.

Let us start with Ukraine, which is at the same time facing the most difficult position and is in the easiest one to decipher: it is obviously the “aggressed” party whose primary objectives are the cessation of hostilities, the restoration of its territorial integrity and the repair of the appalling damage it has suffered. Its ability to achieve them depends on its resilience, the balance of power, which, given its limited resources, is largely dependent on the support it is entitled to expect as a victim of unprovoked aggression. Its positions have evolved along with the discovery of the aggressor’s exactions, the successes achieved on the ground and the national unity forged within its population.

The position of Russia (the undisputed “aggressor”) seems clearer. After statements by Vladimir Putin dating back to the summer of 2021, it published, on 17 December, two texts on a “treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation on security guarantees” and an “agreement on measures to ensure the security of the Russian Federation and NATO member states“. Both texts, among other things, prohibit any further enlargement of the Atlantic Alliance as well as the establishment of US military bases in the countries of the former Soviet space. Among other obligations, these treaties would prohibit the United States from establishing military bases in any non-NATO country of the former USSR or even from “using their infrastructure for any military activity or developing bilateral military cooperation“. All members of the Atlantic Alliance would also commit never again to expand NATO – including to Ukraine – and not to conduct any “military activities on the territory of Ukraine and other countries of Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia“.

Needless to say, this initiative, formulated in the form of demands, was interpreted as an ultimatum and was rejected out of hand. It can be assumed that the Russian objective, by using such language as a basis for negotiations, was mainly to divide the West and limit their willingness to intervene in the reactivation of the long-planned further invasion of Ukraine, especially since the American President had already ruled out any direct intervention by American troops.

As for the goals pursued by the Americans, these were expressed on several levels, evolving with the course of the confrontations on the ground. The first reaction to the outbreak of hostilities was a demonstration (unforeseen by the Kremlin) of a massive US re-engagement with NATO, accompanied by a significant redeployment of its forces stationed in Europe; simultaneously it prompted an unexpected and unanimous show of solidarity from other Alliance members. Expecting a rapid defeat of Ukraine, the main objective was to give credibility to the commitment to come to the aid of any NATO member country that was attacked (Art. 5 of the Treaty). At the same time, material support for the Ukrainian war effort was organized (which significantly reinforced a more discreet supply of military hardware and training effort undertaken in the aftermath of the capture of Crimea in 2014).

The unexpected resilience of the Ukrainians, spurred by the revelation of President Volodimir Zelensky as Warlord, and the poor military performance of the invader, gradually convinced the Americans that a more ambitious outcome could be achieved. This led to a dramatic re-evaluation of the program of support to the Ukrainians (from $4 billion to $24 billion in military aid and from $13 billion to $46 billion in total aid) and to the clear formulation of a new goal announced recently by the Secretary of Defense: to deprive Russia of a sustainable capacity for military aggression in its neighborhood and especially in Europe.

It should be noted that this last goal does not answer the question of nuclear deterrence, as Russia will remain for the foreseeable future a major and unavoidable actor in this field. This issue, which is global in scope, can only be addressed separately in a peaceful, multilateral and non-confrontational framework. Given the irreversible nature of a nuclear confrontation, the only rational objective must be a total ban on its use, the destruction of existing stocks and the monitoring of compliance with any agreements.

As for the objectives of the Europeans, they are unsurprisingly diverse and sometimes even contradictory. If Russia is unanimously considered as the aggressor, the condemnation of the EU 27 ranges from the most absolute intransigence to an understanding bordering on justification. The aims also vary according to geographical, economic and political considerations, ranging from US-style military support at one extreme, to good-natured humanitarian support at the other, encompassing in between refraining from any provocation to suggestions that Ukraine should consider concessions; the main purpose of the latter seems the cowardly avoidance of any painful consequences of the conflict on their sponsors. A particularly significant development, however, has been the confirmation of Sweden’s and Finland’s willingness to join NATO, inflicting a severe self-inflicted blow to Putin.

In this context, it is not surprising that many commentators and politicians fall back on specious arguments to hide their own embarrassment: for example, they point to the financial benefits accruing to the United States (Luc Ferry); they forget too easily that they are the direct consequence of the European military disengagement in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, which left the EU unable to ensure its own security. Others prioritize the search for peace (who would be against it?) advocating negotiations (Ségolène Royale) with an interlocutor who refuses to participate; she invokes the Minsk agreements as a basis for talks, without the slightest regard for the events that have occurred in the meantime. It is hard to imagine how Madame Royale could find a single extra euro in the prevailing inflationist climate, to ensure France’s security after having financed her avowed priorities for purchasing power, health care, education and ecological transformation!

The unpreparedness of NATO members to take responsibility for their own defense (having contracted it out – without paying – to the US) was highlighted during the aggression. To these shortcomings, which made Europeans dependent on American decisions, was simultaneously added the revelation of the dependence of many Member States on energy supplies from Russia. Germany in particular was confronted with the disastrous consequences of its energy policy initiated 25 years ago and pursued by its successive governments. It naively gambled that mutually advantageous trade relations would prevent any attempt at revenge by Russia, humiliated by the loss of its empire, and that the greed and corruption of its regime (oligarchs) would, when the time came, oppose any attempt at blackmail. The about-face of the new German government, allocating € 100 billion to rearmament, is to be welcomed as a very constructive development that will have a major implications on German industry, on Franco-German relations and on the evolution of European security.

There are countless examples of the tug-of-war within the EU, but a look at the current French parliamentary election campaign is particularly instructive: Jean-Luc Melenchon’s proposal for a “People’s Union“, bringing together all the tendencies of the left, is an attempt to paper over the fundamental incompatibility between the exercise of a fully independent French national sovereignty and membership of the European Union; indeed, the latter requires sharing significant elements of sovereignty in the fields of defense, foreign policy, economic and financial policy, currency, etc., that Melenchon proposes simply to ignore.

It is obvious that Putin’s primary objective has always been and remains the destruction of the EU. The “special operation” in Ukraine having revealed the weakness of the Russian conventional army, the disintegration of the EU remains, indeed, his only alternative to “correct the greatest disaster in the history of the 20th century constituted by the fall of the Soviet Union“. Russia is by no means a conventional military threat, but by perverting the Member States through economic dependence or political interference – whether overt or covert – the latter, left to their own devices, would fall under its sway in due course.

Faced with this challenge, there is no time left to hesitate. Any search for a dishonorable compromise (which ignores the suffering of Ukraine in favor of immediate material/political interests) will, as President Biden stated, cost far more, as was the case of the policy of appeasement towards Hitler.

Spurred on by the Ukrainian crisis, challenged by the climate crisis and confronted with the possibility of their extension to a global economic and financial crisis, the realization of a federal European Union must now impose itself on all its Members and citizens as the only solution capable of ensuring peace on our continent. This will not only bring a solution to the Ukrainian conflict, but could lead the European Union to become a major autonomous player on the international geopolitical scene. In this framework, a mutually beneficial relationship with Russia could be developed. Thus, for the first time in its tumultuous history, this country might show itself capable of deploying its many assets for the benefit of its people rather than of its leaders.