The European great and the good gathered in a Moldovan castle yesterday for the second European Political Community summit and got very little done.
Call me cynical (and you’d be right) but despite the rousing rhetoric of the need for “unity”, the European heads of state are completely divided on what to do about Russia and Ukraine.
It’s heart-breaking to see Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy desperately trying to capitalise on his superstar status as a real life Marvel hero and get nowhere. He was back to his previous efforts to get the EU to commit to concrete political support for Ukraine with dates.
The West has come up with weapons and money in abundance, but all that does is allow Ukraine to keep fighting and not lose. But it refuses to commit to the substantial geopolitics that Ukraine needs. What is missing is a concrete roadmap towards security guarantees to end this war once and for all. Zelenskiy again pushed for a real timetable for Ukraine’s Nato succession – and he has been pressing this point for a year now – as well as a detailed roadmap for drawing up real bilateral security guarantees in the interim. He got nothing – again.
Kyiv has already conceded it will give up its Nato ambitions and return to the neutrality stance it had before 2014 during last April’s peace talks (although Kyiv has gone back on that in the meantime).
Russia also said it would accept Ukraine’s neutrality + bilateral security deals with Europe as a compromise as that keeps Ukraine out of Nato (hence no Nato missiles in Ukraine) – the Kremlin’s main goal – and concedes all countries want to have security deals. Indeed, Russia had been also asking for pan-European security guarantees and was prepared to offer them to Europe, including Ukraine, since 2008, but was ignored.
I still maintain that offering to do a pan-regional post-Cold War security deal that includes Russia is one way to end this war. The problem with Nato is it specifically excludes Russia, hence de facto makes it an “enemy” by definition.
French President Emmanuel Macron was famously down on the “brain dead” Nato, but clearly has come round and is looking like a statesman now arguing for real security deals for Ukraine. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is typical of the more cautious camp that is saying no deals until the war is over.
I have argued elsewhere that if we are serious about helping Ukraine and are truly worried about Russia’s aggression we should call the Kremlin’s bluff and take Ukraine into Nato now as another (and far more dangerous) way to end the conflict. In this I agree with Henry Kissinger, who also did an about face on Ukraine in Nato for the same reasons. The war has gone too far. The opposing positions are too far apart. And the fighting is escalating in a frightening way.
The war has now spilled out into Russia. The villages along the border in the Belgorod region are now being shelled constantly and insurgents have crossed back into Russia in more raids. On top of that, the gung-ho UK is now supplying Ukraine with long-range missiles that can hit deep into European Russia and calling for more to be sent. It is only a matter of time now before Russia declares that it is under attack from Nato forces and triggers its mirror-image of Article 5, saying it is facing an “existential threat”, and hits back at targets outside Ukraine.
In the meantime Ukraine is left in limbo, with the flower of its youth dying on the battlefields, without any prospect of a ceasefire anytime soon.
It seems everyone is waiting for the famed Ukrainian counter-offensive before they will contemplate talks. I’m sure this will be spectacular, as it seems very clear that Kyiv is stockpiling weapons and ammo: there are plenty of reports of new tanks and shells being sent in in large numbers, but the battlefield reports continue to be about rationing and shortages, with little evidence of all the modern American weaponary. It seems that the plan is to hit Russia with a hammer blow and then start talks.
But even if that works, I still don't see any genuine commitment by Europe to let Ukraine join either Nato or the EU, even if there is a ceasefire. I also remain highly sceptical of the chances of the West coming up with the circa $300bn-500bn that Ukraine needs to rebuild.
This is a two-speed world with the haves unwilling to admit the have-nots into their club. Although the West is appalled by Russia’s invasion, I’m pretty sure it remains mistrustful of Ukraine’s legendary corruption, worried by the large population of potential migrants and an agricultural sector that would swamp EU markets (ask Poland).
Brussels is having enough trouble with Poland and Hungary, which are both much more developed markets than Ukraine. The EU took the unprecedented decision to bar Hungary from taking over the rotating presidency yesterday. However, the vote has no standing in law, and Hungary's right to run the EU for six months is guaranteed by the EU accession treaties. If you think the idea of Budapest being in charge is worrying, then I’m sure that giving the Ukraine the chair for six months, as it would be entitled to hold after joining, would give people like Scholz the heebie-jeebies.