Ukraine remains a sovereign country. It has not yet been chopped into statelets, its ‘oblasts at undeclared war with each other, as rump statelets align with West and East and studiously indifferent and unbelievable neutrality.
Ukraine remains a sovereign country. Its capital is in Kyiv, its armed forces have retaken or are retaking land held by rebels, its breakaway regions trying to find an unlikely balance between Kyiv and a Russia that has accomplished its mission of reminding its ancestral subject of the balance of power.
Ukraine remains a sovereign country, no thanks to Brussels.
Many are inclined to blame Washington for the events of the last few months, but this overestimates Washington’s influence with Russia and underestimates Europe’s. While Russia has made significant improvements to men, materiel, and doctrine since the Georgia war — which Georgia could amazingly have won if not for its own regular incompetence — Russian power is in the form of markets. Everyone knows about Gazprom, but Russian power extends into European futures markets, securitized trade, high technology transfers, secondary industrial use — a broad array of lucrative and often off-the-radar sources of funds that make it uniquely powerful in Europe, and uniquely vulnerable. This of course is quite beside the regular array of Russian private holdings in Knightsbridge, the sickening way in which Gazprom is now the shadow retirement system of German politicians, and the petrochemical joint ventures in which Russia’s state-owned enterprises have locked themselves throughout Europe.
Yet while these dependencies are declining — Vladimir Putin has made diversification in Asia a national security priority — they are very real, and Ukraine suffered for Europe’s utter lack of seriousness in leveraging them for years, culminating in the events of 2013. When Ukraine came begging for aid in the face of overwhelming Russian pressure, Europe was either too uninterested or too unaware to care; and even after Crimea was occupied and stolen, Europe’s response (public relations spin notwithstanding) was tepid at best.
This is the lie at the heart of the European Union, and one that Putin sensed and has realized now: It is functionally impossible to coerce the member states into unified policy on matters more important than the required length and curvature of bananas. Ukraine policy was pushed by Poland and the Baltics, with Germany gamely coming along; now, with Ukraine in standing peril, even now, the only unanimous policy Europe seems to have is one of broad indifference.
Under this shadow, Petro Poroshenko’s administration will now labor to rebuild a shattered country (with rumors that Yulia Tymoshenko is poised to once again begin undermining yet another presidency she failed to take). Kyiv now knows that it must spend precious political and moral capital merely keeping Brussels and every, single European capital in its corner against a Russia that knows well how to use a combination of soft, hard, and in-between power to produce favorable policy results.
It is under this shadow, too, that Moldova, Georgia, and the Baltics — each with restive Russian and pro-Russian minorities and breakaway territories — must labor. For many years, they have pinned their hopes on Europe, and by extension NATO, to guarantee their safety and sovereignty. Those assurances are now dubious at best, and Brussels shows little inclination to correct those apprehensions.
What we are seeing today is a slow unwinding of the wildest aspirations of the European dream, of permanent peace on the Great European Plain, of brotherhood forged of ties of trade and culture and shared progress, hardened by weariness of war and conflict. Europe had its moment to seize those dreams, and failed. While the chance is not gone, it is much reduced, and everyone knows that the enemy to the East is determined to win in a contest most of Europe forgot it was fighting.
Dark days lie ahead. But this week, Ukraine stands, wounded and ready, to meet them. Whether Europe stands with her is the question for the decade.
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