Europe will be on the wrong side of history if it chooses not to mediate

For a region no stranger to war, Europe must understand that a prolonged conflict will only destabilize it for years to come.

File image of French President Emmanuel Macron and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. (AFP) Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz led diplomatic efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis before war broke out on February 24.

Jacques Chirac was an imperfect leader. His term as President of France from 1995 to 2007 was marred by personal and political scandals. In 2011, he was found guilty of corruption. But now, three years after his death in 2019, it’s time for Europe to remember him.

Chirac’s opposition to the Iraq war (2003-11) probably redeemed his legacy. Germany had also refused to join the US-led coalition against Iraq, but what set Chirac apart was that he was trying to convince then-US President George W Bush against the ‘invasion.

On February 24, 2022, when Russia launched an attack on Ukraine, European leaders, like the rest of the world, were shocked. A Russian military buildup on the Ukrainian border had been going on for months, but an invasion in the 21st century seemed inconceivable. Yet Europe’s subsequent reaction to the crisis showed that a protracted war was in fact quite possible in our time.

Conflict RussiaUkraine Europe will be on the wrong side of history if it chooses not to mediate

Russian President Vladimir Putin (center), German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (left) and French President Jacques Chirac laugh while walking on the Baltic Sea waterfront in Svetogorsk, about 40 km from Kaliningrad, Russia, July 3, 2005. (AFP)

European nations responded by imposing sanctions on Russia and sending military aid to Ukraine. As a non-military alliance, in a rare move, the EU approved $500 million in arms shipments to Ukraine. Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Greece and Denmark are among the countries that have confirmed their military aid to Ukraine. Some countries have also encouraged their citizens to fight for Ukraine as foreign volunteers.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged foreigners to fight against Russia as part of an “international brigade”.

On February 27, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said: “Nothing on the face of it would legally prevent someone from going to Ukraine to participate in the conflict, on the Ukrainian side.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she supported people in the UK who wanted to fight for the beleaguered country. “Anyone who wants to join in the defense of security in Europe and the world can come and stand side by side with the Ukrainians against the invaders of the 21st century,” Truss told the BBC.

Interestingly, a British law dating back to 1870 prohibits citizens from joining foreign armies. In 2019, a Briton was sentenced to four years in prison by a London court for traveling to Syria to join Kurdish forces in the fight against Islamic State. Unsurprisingly, 10 Downing Street distanced itself from Truss’s remarks and advised citizens against traveling to Ukraine.

Sweden, a country that remained neutral during the two world wars, broke with its secular policy by announcing the supply of arms to Ukraine.

The extent to which these weapons can help Ukraine gain the upper hand over the much more powerful Russian military remains unclear. But one thing is certain: it will help prolong this war that has seen Ukrainian cities turn into combat zones and its citizens into combatants against an invading force.

The responsibility for bringing peace to this region lies with Europe, not the United States. In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia which, like Ukraine, was part of the Soviet Union. The prelude to the conflict was Georgia’s application for NATO membership. In an attempt to counter Russia, the United States supported Ukraine’s decision to join NATO. Fourteen years later, Georgia and Ukraine are not part of the 30-member military alliance led by Washington.

Lack of understanding of regional geopolitics is part of the US playbook, but Europe should know more.

Conflict RussiaUkraine Europe will be on the wrong side of history if it chooses not to mediate

In this photo taken August 13, 2008, Russian army soldiers perform routine maneuvers while stationed in Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia in the city of Gali. (AFP)

It has higher bargaining power over Russia than the United States. EU countries like France and Germany have mostly maintained stable relations with Russia. So, it is surprising that none of the European leaders seriously fought for negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow.

For all talk of a rules-based international order, it’s also disappointing that European powers haven’t pushed for a ceasefire that will at least help speed the evacuation of civilians.

There is no doubt that Russia is the aggressor here and should face the consequences of this war. But Europe’s options are limited. The inclusion of Ukraine in NATO will lead to a direct confrontation between the members of the alliance and Russia. According to Article 5 of NATO, “an attack on one ally is considered an attack on all allies”. The alliance has already announced that it will not send troops to Ukraine.

Protracted war risks destabilizing Europe

For a region no stranger to war, Europe must understand that prolonged conflict will only destabilize it for years to come. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 caused bloodshed in many countries in Europe and beyond. It sparked border disputes which led to conflicts in the following years. Notably, two former Soviet nations – Armenia and Azerbaijan – fought a war over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave in 2020.

A protracted crisis in Ukraine risks inflaming unresolved regional tensions. There is no guarantee that Russia, which is adopting an increasingly belligerent position, will honor the conditions set during the talks. But Europe still has to take the diplomatic route.

History will never forgive Russia for this war, but neither will it be kind to those who did not try to stop it.

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