On 24 February, Russian military units launched a large-scale offensive on Ukrainian targets and advanced into Ukrainian territory. At the latest since this act of war, we are facing a new Cold War. A Cold War that will largely harden the fronts between the West and Russia. The Western world, especially the EU, is in a political stalemate; the media speaks of a turning point.
But the turning point we are all talking about did not just happen on 24 February. The turning point has been gradually approaching for the last 14 years, starting with the Georgian war in 2008. Since 2008, the Russian Federation has been able to expand its own power base in the post-Soviet space. During the 2008 Georgian War, the 2020 Armenian-Azerbaijani War, the 2021 unrest in Belarus and Kazakhstan, we have become preoccupied with ourselves. The conflicts at the gates of Europe were avoided by the European Union because they were in the Russian zone of influence. This pushed these countries all the more into the area of Russian influence.
The EU lacks realpolitik and (foreign) political unity
The European states have been luxuriating in a political parallel world, feeling safe and unable to imagine that there will be another war in Europe. Political realism was absent. Instead, political idealists took over the de facto barely existent foreign and security policy of the EU. For one of the few strategies of the European security architecture has nothing to do with Europe itself: Reliance on the United States. This becomes particularly obvious when one takes a look at Eastern Europe. Eastern European countries such as Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia or Poland do not consider the EU as their military and political ally, but the United States.
But the EU lacks the political unity and foreign policy realpolitik…
It is a political illusion that the European Union does not have a military component. The EU has both a security architecture, with foreign deployments comparable in quantity to those of NATO, and a foreign policy apparatus. The EU also has other components that are important in geopolitics – an economy that is several times superior to Russia’s and a demographic advantage. But the EU lacks the political unity and foreign policy realpolitik that is actively pursued in the United States, as well as in Russia and China. One could also say: European foreign policy is toothless, a well-meant soft power policy that does not correspond to political reality.
We have driven the post-Soviet countries into Russia’s hands
EU foreign policy is largely responsible for today’s confrontational course. The reason for this is not, as Russia has repeatedly argued, the eastern enlargement of the EU and NATO, which was without alternative for the Baltic states and Poland, but the political passivity in the post-Soviet space. With half-hearted projects, attempts were made to open a gateway to the post-Soviet space. Post-Soviet countries, but above all the populations of these countries, were convinced of the EU, European values and standards. In the end, however, these countries were left in the cold midway through the process, and some of them were even driven into Russian hands. The example of the Nagorno-Karabakh war illustrates European passivity particularly well: the region was left to itself and to Russia and Turkey. This has made the region even more dependent on Russia.
Regardless of whether Vladimir Putin has miscalculated the cost-benefit question or not, one thing is certain: European foreign policy has not made him shy away from war.
Brussels has not realised that symbolic politics and “condemnations” as well as bothsideism are not enough to actually take a stand and push back Russian influence. European foreign policy has lost authority – this is shown not least by the fact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Regardless of whether Vladimir Putin has miscalculated the cost-benefit question or not, one thing is certain: European foreign policy has not made him shy away from war.
Ukraine conflict not a proxy war: a direct confrontation between Russia and the West
The state of shock before a large-scale war in Ukraine in which the EU finds itself may be understandable, but military escalations per se are nothing new in Europe and even less so in the world. Nevertheless, the Ukraine conflict is special, especially dangerous, from several points of view: while in all the proxy wars in Syria or Libya there was at least some, albeit minimal, form of cooperation between the West and Russia in order not to get in each other’s way militarily and politically, precisely this circumstance is quite different in Ukraine. Because the Ukraine conflict is no longer taking place at the gates of Europe, but in the middle of Europe. The Ukraine war was not started from within – like the war in Yugoslavia – but from outside. Last but not least, there is no cooperation, no mutual understanding in Ukraine. It is a direct confrontation between the West and Russia in the middle of Europe.
Critics of the current sanctions criticise the EU for not staying out of the conflict and thus fuelling it even more. This logic is the cornerstone of a possible domino effect: the EU has already stayed out of too many conflicts in its immediate neighbourhood. It is not despite this, but because of exactly this restraint and non-deterrence that a major military offensive has now been launched in Ukraine. A continued waving of Russian aggression would result in further escalations later on.
Another salient argument of the Kremlin, which also finds supporters in our countries, is the circumstance of NATO and EU enlargement to the East, which led to this crisis in the first place. Moscow’s line of argument is problematic for two reasons: First, sovereign states can decide for themselves which organisation they join. On the one hand, although Russia demands security guarantees from the West, it has not given any guarantees to Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia or Poland in the last thirty years. A security guarantee was given to Ukraine at the beginning of the 1990s: Ukraine was supposed to hand over its nuclear arsenal to Russia and in return receive guarantees regarding territorial sovereignty.
New Cold War and Re-Sovietisation as a Result of the Ukraine War
The newly erupted conflict, which will inevitably lead to a prolonged war, will also force the post-Soviet countries, which until now have been positioned between the political West and Russia, into the Russian sphere of influence. A restoration of a Soviet Union or a similar entity is very likely to be Moscow’s goal. It will not only lose democracy – no, the ones who will suffer are the peoples who, after 30 years of independence, will fall back into a Soviet renaissance.
A restoration of a Soviet Union or a similar entity is very likely to be Moscow’s goal.
A more active and serious European realpolitik, an independent security policy and political unity vis-à-vis Putin or Erdogan would at least slow down these developments. As much as the media coverage and international aid towards Ukraine is correct and important today, the more incomprehensible is the lack of serious solidarity towards the conflicts in Georgia, Nagorno-Karabakh, the uprisings in Belarus and Kazakhstan. We can no longer afford to be politically indifferent.