Olivier Dupuis and Carmelo Palma
NATO’s Ukraine policy – which combines strong political support, substantial military logistical support and strategic restraint – is certainly not perfect. It is surprising, for example, that the Atlantic organisation did not anticipate events, by providing anti-missile and anti-aircraft defence systems to Ukraine in good time. It was clear that the resounding failure of the Russian president’s “special operation” would inevitably lead him to opt for a strategy of terror, to “Chechenise” the war by targeting civilians and creating millions of refugees – not least in order to destabilise the whole of Europe and increase the costs of its solidarity with Ukraine. Nevertheless, the resilience of NATO and its remarkable unity proved wrong the hasty judgment that it was brain-dead. NATO is alive and its brain is too.
The same cannot be said of the European Union. The decision taken in Versailles is still not a real answer to the urgent request of the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to settle once and for all the question of Ukraine’s EU membership. It is a sign, if not of brain death, then at least of the EU’s deep coma. The preparatory work for the Versailles summit revealed the resistances lurking within the founding countries themselves. The final document recognises Ukraine’s membership of the European family but does not give a timetable for the necessary family reunification. It shows how the various delaying strategies stem from a profound misunderstanding of the opportunities and risks involved. Ukraine has long since ceased to be a country that one can decide whether or not to welcome into the EU. In practical terms, it has already become the frontier of the confrontation between the EU and the expansionist aims of the Russian Federation. A Putin victory in Ukraine would not only be a victory against the government in Kyiv, but also against those in Berlin, Rome, Paris – and against the institutions of the Union. Any future agreement between Russia and Ukraine must also be an agreement on the security of Europe.
The question of Ukraine’s accession to the Union is more central and “existential” for the EU member states than the resolution of a regional crisis in its eastern neighbourhood.
Alongside the military question – i.e., the creation of a framework for Ukraine’s future security, whether through withdrawing or freezing Ukraine’s application for NATO membership, through neutrality status, or by any other proposal accepted by the Ukrainians – EU accession is a powerful guarantee against any future attempt by Moscow to destabilise and interfere in Ukraine’s internal affairs. At the same time it is an instrument for strengthening the rule of law and democracy in Ukraine.
EU accession is certainly not a gesture owed by the Union to President Zelensky, a kind of compensation that the Ukrainian leader could offer to his people for their sacrifices. He will not need to be forgiven for anything. He embodies his whole people’s will to resist and to be free, and he is leading this resistance with his government and his army.
Three times in the last two decades – in 2004 with the Orange Revolution, in 2014 with the Revolution of Dignity, and now in the resistance against Russian aggression – the Ukrainian people have shown the world and a dozing Europe their indomitable desire for freedom and their tremendous aspiration for democracy and the rule of law. It is in the Union’s strategic interest to take Ukraine out of the geopolitical no-man’s land where it is stuck and to integrate it into the concert of European democracies.
It would also be a tangible manifestation of Europe’s determination to eradicate the potent European forces working in the service of the Kremlin. This fifth column, which is steeped in the revanchist, chauvinist and fundamentally violent ideology of the Russian president, has won over large sections of European public opinion and significant parts of the European ruling classes: political, military, academic and media.
These powerful forces are still at work. They are working today to torpedo the opening of the process of Ukraine’s accession to the Union. Their objective: to resume business as usual with Moscow as soon as possible. They now have their standard-bearer in the person of Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister. In a complete break with the spirit and the letter of the consensus reached at the Versailles summit, he declared afterwards that the Commission’s assessment “will take time — months, maybe years, before you get to anything”.
In peacetime this statement by the Dutch premier would be a serious breach of the EU’s formal and informal rules of operation. In times of war, such as the present, it is nothing less than sabotage. This is surprising coming from someone who recently spoke out in favour of abolishing the unanimity rule in foreign-policy matters. Less surprising when one knows the character’s penchant for delay. He was prime minister when his country organised a grotesque referendum on the EU-Ukraine association agreement, setting back Ukraine and the other EU member states by two years.
The Versailles accord provides for the granting of candidate-country status to Ukraine, a prerequisite for the formal opening of accession negotiations. Now it falls to the institutions concerned to follow up on this. The Commission will give its opinion in the next few days and the Council of Ministers will pronounce on it at its next meeting on 21 March. Any delay would send a very clear message of disengagement to both Kyiv and Moscow.
As for the fast track, mentioned several times by President Zelensky and which seems to worry Mark Rutte a lot, it does not imply special favours for Ukraine. It simply means making Ukraine’s accession a political priority for the Union.
(Translation by Harry Bowden | Voxeurop)