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Fyodor Lukyanov: Why the EU could be the biggest loser from the Ukraine conflict

As alarms bells ring in the West, Emmanuel Macron’s talk of NATO troops in Ukraine reflects a fear of failure

French President Emmanuel Macron has acknowledged that the Fifth Republic will not send its troops to Ukraine in the near future. Earlier, he had stated that Western leaders had discussed the issue but failed to reach an agreement.

The evolution of the Ukraine crisis has had paradoxical consequences. Two years since the most acute phase began, Western Europe has found itself at the spearhead of the confrontation. Not only in terms of the costs it has incurred – which have been discussed from the very beginning. Now the possibility of a military conflict with Russia is being raised much more loudly in the Old World than on the other side of the Atlantic, and France is the instigator. Macron’s statement on the possibility of sending NATO troops into the war zone seemed spontaneous to many. But a week later, Paris insisted it was deliberate and well thought-out.

For many years, France has been calling for the EU to think about “strategic autonomy,” but few expected this version of its realisation. On the other hand, if autonomy is indeed the objective, what does it mean today? Separation from the main ally (the United States) in the context of an acute military and political confrontation that requires consolidation is absurd. Thus, it probably means the ability to go it alone in defining military and political tasks. To lead the New World, and not the other way around.

We recall a campaign of 13 years ago, when the initiative for a NATO intervention in the civil war in Libya came from the Western Europeans, mainly the French. Their motives were explained in various ways at the time – from the purely personal reasons of President Nicolas Sarkozy (rumours of his financial and political ties to Muammar Gaddafi had long been circulating) to a desire to achieve an easy victory over a weak enemy in order to strengthen both general prestige and influence in Africa. In London (David Cameron) and Rome (Silvio Berlusconi) there was a similar resonance. US President Barack Obama, who unlike most of his predecessors was not militaristic, was not enthusiastic about the intervention. A surprising formula of “leading from behind” emerged – Washington supported its allies, but let them call the shots.

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The US could not sit back as the situation began to resemble not a lightning success for NATO, but the Suez crisis of 1956. Back then Paris and London also tried to act at their own risk to reverse the loss of prestige amid splintering colonial empires. But instead, the final page of the colonial chapter was turned, and not only the USSR but also the US failed to achieve its objectives. Both new superpowers believed it was time for the old grandees to retire.

In Libya, the failure of the European allies was unfortunate for Washington, so it had to get involved. The result is well known – they got what they wanted (the regime was overthrown, Gaddafi was brutally killed), but at the price of the collapse of the country and the emergence of a new center of chronic instability.

There is no point in comparing that situation with the current one, because both the structure and the scale are different. But Western European militancy is there, for reasons that are not entirely clear. Now, as it turns out, even in Germany, which preferred to keep a low profile on Iraq and Libya.

Where does this fearlessness come from? It seems that previously the constant incantation was to prevent NATO from being drawn into a direct, nuclear conflict with Russia. And now, suddenly, Paris is talking about “strategic ambiguity,” about a cunning game to confuse Russian President Vladimir Putin and make him afraid to take decisions because of possible irreversible consequences. Let him be afraid of the next steps, not us.

This is not yet being repeated in other major capitals, but a group of countries ready to cross swords with Moscow is beginning to take shape.

Ambiguity is a familiar theme, and Russia is no stranger to it in this campaign. From the outset, Moscow’s goals have been more descriptive than concrete, and they remain so. When the question of the mobility of borders is raised publicly from the highest tribunes, Europeans who have fought each other for centuries on the basis of this very mobility interpret it in a purely expansionist spirit. And although in our case we are talking specifically about the borders that divided a culturally and historically unified territory following the collapse of the USSR, the expansionist interpretation of the external audience is understandable.

Western European ambiguity is likely to mean stepping up the substantial military assistance to Ukraine without announcing it, but also without hiding the growing signs. The risks are considerable because there is no reason to believe that Russia would somehow refrain from responding if it saw reason to do so.

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The fear of Russia is not new in Western Europe, and is in its own way historically very sincere, so we should not write it off. All the more so because, after the Cold War, Europe collectively believed we could forget the previous problems with a clear conscience. But here we are again.

However, we dare to suggest that the current Western European reaction and the escalation of the Russian threat are also linked to another factor: the realisation that it is the EU that could be the main loser in the ongoing conflict. The gap between the demands of the population and the priorities of the political class is widening, according to opinion polls. Added to that, it’s unclear what to expect from the senior partner over in Washington. It turns out that ambiguity is everywhere, and there is nothing left but to make it the core of one’s policy. And insist on it.

On the eve of the Russian presidential election, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov invited EU ambassadors to a meeting, but they refused. According to him, Moscow has enough information about how the diplomatic missions of European countries are “preparing” for the election, creating projects to support the non-systemic opposition and interfering in the internal affairs of our country. At the planned meeting, Lavrov intended to advise foreign diplomats in good faith not to engage in such activities, especially since embassies have no right to carry out such projects.

“What do you think, two days before the planned event, before the meeting, we received a message: we have decided not to go,” the minister said. “Can you imagine relations at the diplomatic level with states whose ambassadors are afraid to come to a meeting with the minister of the country to which they are accredited? Where do you see that? This is what has happened to the manners of these allied partners.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova pointed out that such an attitude on the part of diplomats, who are supposed to ensure the transfer of information from one country to another, raises questions. More precisely, one question: “What are these people doing, and how are they behaving on the territory of our country, if they are not fulfilling their most important function?”

According to her, the ambassadors of Western and NATO countries are engaged in interference in Russia’s internal affairs, as well as in duties that also involve interference in the internal affairs of the state. They are “no longer doing their real work,” Zakharova said on the Solovyov Live programme.

The deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, former President Dmitry Medvedev, suggested expelling the ambassadors who refused to meet Lavrov. According to him, such behavior contradicts the very idea of diplomatic missions. “These ambassadors should have been expelled from Russia and the level of diplomatic relations lowered,” he wrote on social media.

This article was first published by Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper, translated and edited by the RT team


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