Why Europe is covering up its support for Ukraine

Napoleon’s Foreign Secretary, Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, once said: “A diplomat who says ‘yes’ means ‘maybe’, a diplomat who says ‘maybe’ means ‘no’ and a diplomat who says “no” is not a diplomat. ”

Talleyrand died in 1838, but the passage of time has not diminished the truth of his words. Debates around an energy embargo against Russia or Ukraine’s prospects for membership of the European Union, European diplomats practice the art of diplomatic “perhaps”. High-ranking EU representatives regularly visit Kyiv and promise President Volodymyr Zelensky immense military, economic and diplomatic aid. These promises will be hard to keep once they collide with the cold realities of European politics and the national interests of EU member states.

With negotiations over a year-end EU embargo on Russian oil stalled, it is unclear when to expect the end of major oil flows from Russia to Europe. And even if a plan were to materialize, the current EU proposal is full of exemptions, allowing the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia to continue importing Russian crude until 2024, which would create many opportunities to circumvent an embargo. Something similar is happening with natural gas: the European Commission has issued new sanctions guidelines, effectively allowing European states to pay for Russian gas in rubles, as Vladimir Putin has demanded. More importantly, the end of 2022 is a long way off. By then, an embargo could be obsolete.

It has become apparent in recent months that many European states care more about ending the war than who will win. Germany in particular seems interested in retaining the option of returning to the pre-war status quo in Ukraine. Berlin is not alone in this case. After his successful re-election, French President Emmanuel Macron hedged his bets, saying a future peace in Eastern Europe must not include unnecessary humiliation of Russia and could include territorial concessions to Moscow.

Since the start of the war, support on the Continent has been lackluster compared to responses from the US and UK According to at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, in the first month alone the United States has provided $4.4 billion in equipment and other aid to Ukraine, twice as much as the EU and its member states. If Ukraine survives this war, it will be mainly thanks to the support of Washington and London, as well as some Eastern European states, in particular Poland. Yet even hawkish countries like Poland wanted American guarantees to replenish their stockpile of weapons before they wanted to send sophisticated weaponry to Ukraine.

Germany seems increasingly willing to provide more and better equipment, but every pledge immediately seems to hit a bureaucratic or logistical hurdle that takes weeks or months to resolve. The latest example is the delivery of the Gepard anti-aircraft tank, which lacked the ammunition needed for action.

Given these developments, it would be overly optimistic to expect Ukraine’s imminent EU membership. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock have indicated they would support such a move, but they both know that at least one of the 27 EU member states EU would veto full membership for Kyiv. It’s not clear whether such a veto would come from Hungary, Austria, France or even Germany itself, but Mr Macron gives the clearest indication of what he is up to. wait. He recently suggested the creation of a “European political community” – a sort of purgatory for states that would like to become full members but are unlikely to ever do so – in addition to the EU.

Despite the supranational ambitions of the EU and its most ardent supporters, national interests still dominate the political calculations of member states. For Paris and Berlin, the Ukrainian crisis is not only a question of security, it could also determine the future distribution of power in the EU.

The most prestigious posts in the EU are held by politicians from Western Europe, reflecting a power imbalance between Eastern and Western Europe, from Mrs von der Leyen (Germany) and President of the European Central Bank Christine Lagarde (France) to the High Representative of the Union. for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell (Spain) and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel (Belgium). Eastern European governments have made it clear that this status quo is increasingly unacceptable to them, and the war in Ukraine has given them added confidence to change it.

The EU is built around Germany and France, and both states have jealously guarded their position as the ultimate decision-makers in Europe. Policymakers in both countries are aware that an EU with Ukraine could lead to a competing Warsaw-kyiv axis, which neither France nor Germany want. Ukraine is politically and culturally closer to Poland than to Germany, which means that German power in the EU could be significantly reduced and replaced by growing influence from Eastern Europe.

These thoughts may seem cynical in light of the heroic struggle of Ukraine and its people, but it would be a mistake to believe that power politics has been replaced by universally accepted ideals. As Talleyrand pointed out, making promises is part of diplomacy, but in the end actions speak louder than words.

Mr. Schöllhammer is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Economics at the private Webster University in Vienna.

Assessment and prospects: By invading Ukraine, Vladimir Putin unified the NATO alliance, which will be stronger with Finland and Sweden as members. Images: Sputnik/TT News Agency/Lehtikuva/Reuters Composite: Mark Kelly

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