Ukraine – let’s think European

Bernard Barthalay 1, Olivier Dupuis

Le, 26 September 2014, Strade, 29 September 2014, GeoPolitica, December 2014

One of the most distressing aspects of the way the situation in Ukraine is dealt with is the regularity with which the fundamental nature of the aggressor’s political regime is ignored. Today’s Russia is certainly not Stalin’s – or even Brezhnev’s – USSR, nor is it Nazi Germany, Italy in Fascist times or even Bolshevik-Confucian China. It is a bit of everything and, at the same time, “completely different”. It is a new type of power, surprisingly modern, which has replaced the single party system – the former regime’s central structure – by structures of force (primarily intelligence services) while gradually depriving the democratic structures that were introduced in the 1990s of their substance.

Even officially, there have been more and more signs of a rapid transformation of the Russian establishment. With a justice system under the regime’s thumb when it comes to touchy issues, a puppet parliament and most media controlled by the government, the government itself has now become marginalised. Power has migrated to Putin’s dacha, where decisions are made by the Prince himself surrounded, apparently, by the leader of the FSB and a team of six or seven intelligence officials, the Minister of Defence Sergey Shoygu and a few others. As far as public opinion is concerned, its support for the government is surprisingly steady. If that support weakened, the government can count upon a formidable system of repression, which has successfully mutated from “quantitative” to “qualitative”, from general surveillance and repression to repression and control targeting opponents within the system. As for exterior matters, Russian intelligence services have embraced new practices: in addition to their usual seduction and corruption methods, they have become massively involved in various economic sectors. In such a context, there seems to be no point in hoping for a change of regime in the short or medium term. The EU must decide on a durable strategy.

Unless this realization happens, the EU may always be doing “too little, too late”. The Russian regime has already won two battles. Crimea has been annexed, with part of the Donetsk and Luhansk region turned into a new “Transnistria”. A third battle over the control of the whole of the Ukrainian coast around the Sea of Azov and up to Crimea has already started. Regarding foreign affairs, the regime is progressing. Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister, has taken sides with the apologists of the master of the Kremlin. “Warnings” are becoming more and more common, the latest involving the kidnapping of an Estonian policeman by members of Russian secret services and the unannounced fall in gas deliveries to Poland.

Whether the unconditional supporters of a soft power approach like it or not, sanctions against Russia, whilst certainly necessary, can no longer play a decisive role in stopping Russian aggression in Ukraine and, furthermore, work against Russian tactics aiming to break the EU apart. Political measures on an entirely different scale are necessary:

A bold European energy policy needs to be put into effect so that we can wean ourselves off Russian gas and call a halt to the Kremlin’s policy of divide and rule.

An immediate start to Ukraine’s accession to the EU which would be an essential accompaniment to the anchoring of democracy and the rule of law already under way in Ukraine.

The open supply by the EU of defensive weapons (anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles), vital for reinforcing Ukraine’s capacity to dissuade any attackers.

The crumbling of the European Order which has been sparked by the undeclared war waged by Russia on Ukraine forces the EU and its member States to collectively confront the question of their security and the defence of their citizens, territories and values that, whether together or separately, they wish to hold.

We’ve heard it all before: a European defence policy can only come about as a result of a European integration process. However, sixty years after the failure of the European Defence Community (EDC) and after many failed attempts at bi- or multi-lateral cooperation in this area, the time has come to make a U-turn and create a common European army, which on top of its primary security mission, would provide an incentive for European States to finally define their common strategic priorities.

The time has come for willing EU member States to create a common European army to complement their respective national armies. Not an umpteenth intergovernmental initiative, a conglomerate of national forces with no political structure, a new “machin” as General de Gaulle put it, but a “community” army made of European soldiers, under the authority of the President of the European Commission, with a modest initial budget (0.20% of the GDP of participating States) allowing the creation of two rapid intervention brigades and two navy units based in Poland and Romania, possibly organised around the two Mistral ships initially ordered by Russia. This army’s strategic guidelines and deployment decisions would be submitted to the Council of Ministers for Foreign Affairs and the European Parliament for ratification.

While contributing to the security of European citizens, the creation of this common European army would help Europeans to perceive themselves collectively or, in other terms, to “think European”.

Bernard Barthalay, emeritus professor at Lyon 2 University, chaire Jean Monnet d’économie de l’intégration européenne, president of « Puissance Europe »

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  1. emeritus professor at the Lumière (Lyon2) University, Jean Monnet chair of European Integration Economics, President of Puissance Europe/Weltmacht Europa.

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