Opinion | Europe Is Committed to Ukraine, for Now

Vienna – Europe these days reminds me of the early weeks of the pandemic: we are living with the feeling that the end of the world is just around the corner. But this time, concerns over Russia’s nuclear arsenal have replaced talk of the virus.

European media is plastered with dire headlines about energy shortages, disruptions and blackouts. Analysts agree that inflation and the rising cost of living could easily bring millions of people to the streets in protest. The number of migrants arriving in the EU this year already exceeds the number from Syria in 2015. And the Kremlin’s war machine will only increase the numbers as the destruction of Ukraine’s infrastructure leaves people there without power and electricity. Water.

Vladimir Putin’s winter is unlikely to end Europe’s commitment to Ukraine, however. Coalition governments may change, but sanctions will remain in place. Just look at Italy, where the newly elected far-right government signed the European consensus.

Oh The majority of Europeans Morally outraged by Russia’s brutality. And recent successes by the Ukrainian military have raised the prospect of outrage. Indeed, as the Ukrainians have advanced on the battlefield, their support has been growing. But the most important factor is actually on the other side of the Atlantic. When Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Mr Putin’s closest ally in the EU, announced recently “The hope for peace is Donald Trump,” he said, expressing what all of Mr Putin’s allies in Europe have realized: only a change in US policy can change the West’s stance on Ukraine. When it comes to sustained support for Kyiv, it is America rather than Europe that is the weak link.

But this war will not last forever. And it is in peace rather than in war that the tensions in Europe will become clear.

There are three distinct camps when it comes to thinking about how this war should end: realists, optimists, and reformists. In almost all European countries each has representatives among politicians and voters, but they are not equally represented everywhere: in Western and Southern Europe the debate is mostly between realists and optimists. In Ukraine and some Eastern European countries, it is between optimists and revisionists. Geography and history best explain the difference. Western Europeans primarily fear nuclear war. Eastern Europeans fear the return of Russian influence in their countries if Ukraine is defeated.

The so-called realists believe that Europe’s goal should be to ensure that Russia does not win, Ukraine does not lose, and that the war does not expand. For this perspective, see the statements of French President Emmanuel Macron. By this logic, Ukraine should be helped to liberate as much of its territory as possible, but Ukraine’s victory should have its limits, as achieving this goal would greatly increase the risk of Russia’s use of tactical nuclear weapons. . The most obvious limitation, it states, is that Ukraine will not go as far as trying to reclaim Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

Realists rightly see the current conflict as more dangerous than the Soviet-American confrontation during the Cold War, because the Cold War was a clash between two powers that both believed history was on their side. The West now faces a leader with the specter of a world without Russia in mind.

The other camp is the optimists. They see the end of the war as not just a victory for Ukraine, but the end of Vladimir Putin. They argue that Russia’s military defeat and the continuing effects of sanctions — which will only become more devastating — are clear signs that the Russian president’s time in office is limited, and that President Vladimir Zelensky’s relationship with Mr. Putin is limited. Support not being ready to talk. Proponents of this view, including German Greens and most Eastern Europeans, argue that only unrelenting support for Ukraine can achieve lasting peace. Russia must not only be stopped, but defeated.

Revisionists see the war in Ukraine not as Mr. Putin’s war, but as a war. of the Russians For them, the only guarantee of peace and stability in Europe after the end of the war was the irreversible weakening of Russia, including the breakup of the Russian Federation. They argue for supporting separatist movements in the country and keeping Russians out of Europe regardless of political changes in the country. In his view, the war that began with Mr. Putin’s claim that Ukraine does not exist must end with the final dissolution of the Russian Empire. The “de-Russia” strategy is, perhaps unsurprisingly, most popular in countries that have faced Moscow’s rule in the past: Poland, the Baltic republics and, of course, Ukraine.

Each of these schools of thought has its own sensible opponents. Critics of the realist approach rightly insist that realism was tested after Russia invaded eastern Ukraine in 2015 and did not work. Magical realists are prone to hope that Mr Putin’s days are numbered. Furthermore, the regime change that optimists desire is difficult to implement. After all, how can negotiations proceed based on their desired objectives? And revisionist calls to dismantle or destabilize Russia may have the unintended and unintended effect of giving Russians reasons to fight a war that Mr. Putin has failed to do.

When the Russian troops were on the outskirts of Kyiv, the differences between realists, optimists and reformists were not significant. The sole purpose was to prevent Ukraine from being overrun and to prevent Mr. Putin from winning. But the successes of Ukraine’s military in recent months have brought those differences closer to the center of the European debate. Rather than Mr. Putin’s threats, it is his differing views on how the war should end that pose the real threat to European unity. We will feel this already in the winter when public pressure to start negotiations with Moscow will increase.

Different narratives and visions of the desired end to war are so emotionally and morally charged that any agreement would be painfully complicated. But some common framework for resolving the war is urgently needed. Without it, Ukrainians’ fear of being betrayed by the West and Mr. Putin’s fear of Russia being militarily humiliated will be fueled to an extreme.

Ivan Kristev is chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies, permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna and author of the “Is It Tomorrow Yet?” is the author of The Paradox of Epidemiology.”

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