What Europe badly needs now, whatever the outcome of the fighting in Ukraine, is a new general security framework.
This war is about the balance of power between the West and Russia. Russia says it had to enter the war in Ukraine because the West threatened it: NATO is crawling ever further east, and the kyiv government is NATO’s puppet. Incidents in the past — like the one involving U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, who in 2014 discussed in an open phone call who should and who shouldn’t not be part of the new government in kyiv after the Maidan revolution – fed the paranoia of the Kremlin. Washington has been involved in Ukraine affairs.
Absolutely, nothing justifies the brutal invasion of Russia and the atrocities that accompany it. I mention the role of the United States in Ukraine to remind us that the Russia-West struggle is a fact of life, part of geopolitical reality.
After the implosion of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, only a few European politicians capable of long-term vision, such as Otto von Habsburg, argued that if the European Union was to become a political union, it should immediately bring liberated Ukraine, one of the greatest countries in Europe, into its fold. This would have prevented attempts by the resurgence of Russia to reinstate it. Now, it’s too late.
What Europe badly needs now, whatever the outcome of the fighting in Ukraine, is a new general security framework. An important caveat: this will not emerge at EU level. Brussels is hopeless when it comes to foreign and defense policy. However, at the state level, the most powerful European countries such as Germany, France and the United Kingdom could develop and implement an equally powerful and effective framework.
While NATO must help Ukraine resist the current invasion, it cannot be assumed that Russia will be militarily eradicated or reduced to a pariah state. After the withdrawal of the invasion force, Russia will remain an important and recognized member of the international community.
What works and what doesn’t
But for now, what should be the policy of the West? Which of the actions taken so far have harmed Putin’s regime, and which do not cause any real harm?
On the one hand, the practice of “shaming” Western companies to force them to stop doing business in Russia on short notice is wrong.
A telling example concerns Nestlé. The company is under pressure to close its operations in Russia. What would that bring? Factories and personnel would remain there and continue to operate under Russian state administration. There are precedents for this. German automaker Opel was taken over by General Motors before World War II. When the United States entered the war in Europe, GM had to cancel its investment while the company continued to manufacture vehicles under government-appointed management. Of course, Nestlé can (and refrains from) new investments in Russia and technology transfers.
The same is true for large Western accounting firms that operate in Russia. Their staff will continue as usual with local partners if they step down. The only practical difference will be that license payments to Western HQ will stop flowing.
Are these trade dramas hurting Russia? We do not agree.
On the political front, banning visits by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov or declaring sanctions against President Vladimir Putin is ineffective. The West must denounce the barbaric actions of the Russian regime but cannot base its policy on the assumption that Putin’s regime is sure to collapse anytime soon. The political process to end the war and build new relationships will require talking to anyone in the Kremlin.
The effectiveness of sanctioning the oligarchs is also probably overestimated. The Kremlin does not depend on the oligarchs; they depend on Mr. Putin and are useful for financing projects that should not pass through official state channels. (Not so long ago, France had a similar system for political interventions executed outside of official institutions and funded by its state-owned enterprises.)
Restrictions on know-how transfers that facilitate the long-term transition to sustainable energy will seriously harm Russia.
The desire to silence Russian disinformation and its propaganda materials in the West can also prove counterproductive. When you seek to shut down pro-Russian media, their audiences will take it as a sign of Western weakness and believe more, not less, in programs broadcast from Moscow.
So what should the West do to exert effective pressure on the Russian regime?
Blocking Russia’s access to advanced technologies, particularly in the fields of defense and energy, is essential. In particular, ending knowledge transfers that facilitate the long-term transition to sustainable energy will seriously harm Russia. Moreover, cyber warfare is crucial for the regime; any limitations on its capabilities in this area of technology will matter. Western cyberattacks against sensitive Russian infrastructure, precisely targeted but deniable, could also prove effective.
As a result of Russia’s aggression, Sweden and Finland are planning to join NATO soon, and there will be an increase in defense spending in Europe. Both would be good things. There are questions, however. We hear impressive figures – German leaders, for example, talk of creating a special fund of 100 billion euros and allocating more than 2% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) to defense – but few details. . What should be prioritized in military reinforcement? And where will the money come from? The public is assured that it will borrow, not new taxes. However, to borrow is to delay taxation.
If Germany increased its defense spending and made the Bundeswehr an effective fighting force in response to the capture of Crimea in 2014, it would have made a big difference. Most likely, we would not be in the perilous situation in which we find ourselves today. Unfortunately, under Angela Merkel’s leadership, Germany has chosen to ignore the danger, as it has done in several other areas of foreign policy and economics.