The day after
(Response to Pierre Lellouche and some others)
These fears, they are not to be rejected but to be taken into account. One is that by delivering arms to Ukraine, Americans and Europeans could enter the spiral of a Third World War. The other is that by refraining from calling on the Ukrainians to reach a territorial compromise with Russia, the West is leaving room only for war, at the expense of diplomacy.
Between the lines or clearly expressed, both can be heard and read in the United States and in many EU countries. A former French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Pierre Lellouche, has just expressed them in the columns of Le Monde but, first of all, a question. Where would the 27 states of the Union and all the democracies be if American intelligence and the first European arms deliveries, improvised but immediate and decisive, had not prevented Vladimir Putin from taking Kiev?
The whole of Ukraine would be occupied. Volodymyr Zelensky would have been assassinated. Putin would have found his Quisling and, reinforced in his belief in the decadence of the West and its cowardice, he would soon have annexed Ukraine and Belarus to the Russian Federation by giving them the status of associated states. There would then have been no need to reconquer the Baltic States, which, given the evidence that democracies do not defend democracy, would have had no choice but to align with Moscow or be subjugated by force.
Russia would, in a word, have become the dominant power on the continent since the United States would have formalized its disengagement and the Union would have had to abandon any common defence in the face of the growing desire for appeasement and neutralism. Let’s not even talk about the consequences that this triumph of Vladimir Putin would have had in Africa, Latin America and, above all, in China where Xi Jinping would have been encouraged to launch his armies against Taiwan and consequently risk a direct confrontation with the United States.
No, let’s stay in Europe and just in Ukraine, because what would happen there now if the West, as so many Republicans and some Europeans would like to see, stopped or restricted their arms shipments? The answer is that the European Union would quickly unravel and that this huge victory for Mr Putin would be immediately followed by another one, since the Ukrainians would no longer be in a position to continue liberating their territories and would, on the contrary, soon not have enough ammunition to face a resumption of the Russian advance, which would once again threaten Kiev.
The day when it happens, Vladimir would have had time to reorganise and rearm his troops. He would have regained hope, and the democracies would find themselves, with added resentment and heartbreak, in the situation they had avoided in February, when they had prevented Vladimir Putin from winning in Ukraine and, consequently, throughout Europe.
It is hard to see who would want this, apart from Putin, Xi Jinping, Khamenei and a few others of the harshest democracy-haters, but what about World War III? By continuing to arm Ukraine and allowing it to force the Russian mercenaries and army to retreat to the Federation’s borders, would we really go all the way to the nuclear spiral?
So, it is simple. Either the Russian president is really likely to go so far as to blow up the planet, and it is certainly not advisable to let such a man win, or he is not crazy enough to sacrifice the human race to his desire for empire, and the balance of power must be established that would bring him to the negotiating table.
In the first case, the Russian secret services, the army and the money must be shown that they must get rid of such a public danger as quickly as possible and convince them of this by giving the Ukrainians all the means to crush the aggressor and drive him out of their country. In the second case, which is of course the most likely, Putin himself and his entire regime must be given the choice between a total debacle and the search for an honourable outcome. In either case, arms deliveries to Ukraine should not be restricted, but does this mean that there is no room for diplomacy?
It all depends on what that word would mean today.
If by diplomacy we mean that the Ukrainians should be led – and in fact forced – to give up the Donbass in addition to Crimea to Mr Putin, watch out! This would simply be recognising a victory that he has not won and giving him time, as in 2014, to digest his conquests and envisage others. This kind of diplomacy would only lead to offering the Russian president the most favourable conditions possible for a larger conflict, but diplomacy could mean something else entirely.
We must think big. We must stop thinking about negotiating Ukraine’s borders instead of the Ukrainians, give them the means to defeat the aggressor and, at the same time, propose to Russia the broad outlines of what should be tomorrow – once Ukraine has been liberated – the political, economic and military conditions for stabilising the continent, allowing for the peaceful cooperation of all the states that make it up.
Diplomacy today must not consist in trying to appease an aggressor who has done nothing but accumulate defeats, crimes and humiliations for eleven months, but in outlining the peace that will follow the war. We must solemnly remind Russia that neither the Atlantic Alliance nor the European Union has any ambition to violate its international borders, and make it clear that as soon as it has given up the idea of enslaving, martyring and splitting up Ukraine, it will find its rightful place in the continent to which it belongs.
Even in the antechambers of the Kremlin, many people in Moscow could understand that a destiny as a partner of the Union is infinitely preferable for Russia to that of being a vassal of China. Perhaps Putin himself might do so when he sees the debacle threatening to overtake him. We need to fight aggression and talk to Russia at the same time. Ukraine must be empowered to win the war and the Russians must be offered the prospect of a lasting peace to which our common continent aspires, from Lisbon to Vladivostok.