Against Russia, the price of firmness for Europeans

Editorial of the “World”. Faced with a dangerous multiplication of crises in their eastern neighborhood, European leaders are trying to define the right approach towards the one who is at the center of all these tensions: Russian President Vladimir Poutin. The summit of the Twenty-Seven, which ended late Thursday, December 16, showed how difficult it was to draw a clear, common line on the balance between diplomacy and sanctions against Moscow.

This European council, the last of the year, was held at a time when the Russian president maintains pressure on the Ukrainian border, along which he has massed tens of thousands of soldiers since the end of October. A two-hour telephone interview on December 7 with US President Joe Biden apparently did not follow up with the withdrawal of those troops. Moscow notably asks that NATO commit never to integrate Ukraine and Georgia – a request rejected by the West.

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Mr. Putin’s strategy is to go over the heads of Europeans to negotiate with the United States, from power to power, a new security architecture on the continent, thirty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The stakes are therefore enormous for the member states of the European Union (EU), twenty-one of which are also members of NATO.

It’s up to Europeans to win

Washington seems determined not to fall into the trap and has so far played the card of consultation with its main European allies. Karen Donfried, EU Affairs Officer to US Foreign Minister Tony Blinken, held talks this week in Kiev and Moscow; in Moscow, the Russians gave her a list of proposals which she immediately went to inform her European partners in NATO on Thursday in Brussels. At the same time, Under-Secretary of State Victoria Nuland assured European media on Thursday that he “Would not be in the interest” of the United States to act “Without the full commitment of their European allies”.

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In this logic, Washington supported the attempt to reactivate the “Normandy format”, a framework for negotiations between four (France, Germany, Russia, Ukraine) to find a settlement to the conflict in the Donbass. This process has stalled for two years due to the Russian blockade.

This transatlantic consultation with Russia is positive and must be continued. But it is also up to the Europeans to decide on their own strategy for managing their relationship with Moscow and to establish themselves as full interlocutors in a discussion that concerns them first and foremost.

At the end of the European summit, President Emmanuel Macron, accompanied by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, spoke of a “Multiple, coordinated approach” of the crisis with Moscow: deterrence, for “Very clear signals” addressed to Russia on the sanctions to which it is exposed; reactivation of diplomacy with Moscow; and support for the economic and democratic development of Ukraine.

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Unfortunately, for now, the “Signals” are not “Very clear”. It is not enough to threaten Mr. Putin with “Massive consequences” and “At a huge price to pay” in the event of further aggression against Ukraine, as the United States, NATO and the EU are doing these days. The Europeans must show, united from Paris to Vilnius and from Berlin to Warsaw, that they too are ready to pay the price of firmness to defend their model and the independence of the ex-Soviet countries. We’re not there yet.

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Against Russia, the price of firmness for Europeans

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