The war that Putin has unleashed on Ukraine is also a battle for the soul of the West – writes Mateusz MORAWIECKI
The Russian invasion of Ukraine ends once and for all an era of illusions about the west’s relations with Moscow. What has been clear to Poland for years must now surely be clear to all western countries. Russian aggression against independent Ukraine has shown President Vladimir Putin’s true face.
Russia can be stopped only by western solidarity with Ukraine. There is no room for doubt here. The EU and Nato cannot allow for a moment the impression to form that they are willing to sacrifice the future of Ukraine to restore peace.
Between November and December last year, I held consultations with several EU countries. At the time, we were in the middle of a gas crisis, and Poland was struggling with provocations from Belarus, which is heavily dependent on Russia. I warned then that this could be a prelude to something much bigger and far more dangerous. On Thursday morning, when Russian troops launched multiple attacks on Ukraine after air and missile strikes, the worst-case scenario came true.
Russia’s actions are like dominoes, with one move triggering another. And Putin’s ultimate goal is clear: rebuilding Russia’s imperial power. Russia has turned its longing for the days of Stalinist domination of the Soviet Union into aggression in international politics. In Putin’s vision, the reassertion of Russian power requires the subordination of former Soviet republics, which are now independent states.
The ruthless attack on Ukraine is another chapter in this story of the restoration of Russia’s imperial status. Putin has been implementing this plan for years. He started with an attack on Georgia in 2008, followed by the occupation of Crimea in 2014. And today he intends to subordinate all of Ukraine. And we should be under no illusions: this could be just the beginning. Tomorrow Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, as well as Poland, could be next in line.
Transatlantic security is indivisible. A threat to one state in the Euro-Atlantic community is a threat to every member of Nato and the EU. All for one, and one for all. It was on this foundation, of solidarity and unity, that Europe built peace and prosperity after 1945. Now Putin is trying to blow up the entire postwar security architecture.
Putin has so far succeeded in his pursuit of this goal because he has not faced proper counter-measures for some time. His long-term strategy has been based not only on shameless violence, but just as much on inisidious propaganda and building up networks of economic dependency.
Russia has set a trap for Europe in the form of energy dependence. The construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline connecting Russia and Germany has shown how many politicians in the EU are prepared to sell out western values for the chance to make a good deal. Germany’s decision to suspend the approval process was needed and expected, but this pipeline should be shut down completely. And, as I said at Thursday’s EU Council meeting, we should also talk about Nord Stream 1.
Today, we are seeing that the price of European naivete over Russia is Ukrainian blood. For more than 30 years of relative peace, the west has clung to the illusion that the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union two years later had brought about the “end of history”.
Today, however, history is returning with all the force it can muster, including war — which is why politics, and politicians, must once again be serious. The blood of our Ukrainian neighbours, friends and brothers demands that we react decisively.
The war that Putin has unleashed on Ukraine is also a battle for the soul of the West. This is the moment for us in the west to show that we will not submit to tyranny. It is time for us to show that values such as freedom and the right of the self-determination of peoples are not merely things we talk about, but also things we are willing to fight for.
Poland stands side by side with Ukraine and its people. We will not countenance any compromise with Russia that would undermine the territorial integrity and independence of the Ukrainian state. There is only one way to prevent this from happening. A united west – the EU shoulder to shoulder with the US, UK and other allies – must impose economic sanctions on Russia that will completely dismantle the Putin regime’s operational capabilities. The package of sanctions that I and the other 26 EU leaders agreed on Thursday evening is welcome. The time for negotiation is over. Putin has broken every promise he has made in recent weeks. He must therefore face a response that is stronger than ever.
The end of the era of illusions opens up a completely new chapter in the history of the EU, NATO and the west as a whole. This must be an era of responsibility. Russia must be made to bear the cost of breaking the fundamental principles of international law. All peace-loving nations must unite in sanctions against Russia, which should be aimed primarily at the its political leadership and associated business elites.
We must send a clear message to these individuals that there will be no return to “business as usual” until Ukraine is secure and sovereign within its internationally recognised borders. It is time to abandon the illusion that the world will become a safe place without our effort. Peace must always be fought for. It must always be earned.
Text published on “The Financial Times”