Putin awakens a sleeping giant in Europe

BERLIN – I’ve been writing nonstop about the war in Ukraine since the Russian invasion on February 24, but I admit that it took me coming to Europe and meeting with politicians, diplomats, and business people here to fully understand what happened.

You see, I thought so Russian President Vladimir Putin Ukraine invaded.

I was wrong.

Putin was invaded Europe.

I shouldn’t have done it.


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appears on a giant screen during his video conference address as part of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. Photo by Fabrice Cofferini/AFP.

This might be the biggest act crazy In a European war since then Adolf Hitler He invaded Russia in 1941.

I only fully understood this when I got to this side of the Atlantic.

It was easy to assume from afar—and perhaps even easier for Putin to assume—that Europe would eventually deal with Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, just as Europe dealt with his devouring of Ukraine. Crimea In Ukraine in 2014, a remote piece of land encountered little resistance and caused limited shock waves.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

This invasion, with Russian soldiers indiscriminately bombing Ukrainian apartment buildings and hospitals, killing civilians, looting homes, raping women, and creating the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II, is increasingly seen as a repeat of the Russian offensive. The rest in the twenty-first century for Europe, which began in September 1939 with the German attack on Poland.

Add to that the obvious threat of using Putin nuclear weaponswarning that any country that intervened in his unjustified war will face “consequences he has never seen before,” and he explains it all.

Explains why, practically overnight, a government Germany Laying off nearly 80 years of conflict aversion and keeping the defense budget as small as possible, declaring instead the enormity of Increase military spending It plans to send weapons to Ukraine.

Explain why, practically overnight, Sweden and Finland Abandoned for more than 70 years neutrality They applied for membership in NATO.

Explain why, practically overnight, Poland Stop playing with the pro-Putin and anti-immigrant populist Victor UrbanPrime Minister of Hungary, and opened its borders to more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees at the same time it became critical land bridge To transfer NATO weapons to Ukraine.

Explains why, practically overnight, European Union Undo years of creeping economic sanctions on Russia and unleashed a economic sanctions missile Accuracy is at the heart of Putin’s economy.

In short, what I thought was just a Russian invasion of Ukraine turned into a European earthquake:

“Wake up, boom! – Then everything changed,” he said to me Joshka Fischer Former German Foreign Minister.

“The status quo will not return. You see a major change in Europe in response to Russia, not based on American pressure, but because of Imagine the Russian threat Today is completely different:

We understand that Putin is not only talking about Ukraine, he is talking about all of us and about us. Freedom.”

Like it or not, Fischer added, modern Europe is now in “a mode of confrontation with Russia. Russia is no longer part of any European peace system.”

he was there Complete loss of confidence with Putin.

Is there any question why?

Putin’s army is systematically destroying Ukrainian cities and infrastructure with the apparent intent not to impose Russian rule on these towns, communities, and farms, but cross them off They and their residents are outside the map and are forcibly aware of Putin’s claim that Ukraine is not a real country.

In the Davos World Economic Forum Last week, I interviewed Anatoly Fedorok, the mayor of Bucha, Ukraine, a city where Russia is accused of killing dozens of civilians and leaving their bodies on the streets to rot, or piled in a mass grave in a cemetery, before that. Troops were expelled.

“We killed 419 peaceful citizens in various ways,” Fedorok told me.

“We didn’t have military infrastructure in our town. People were defenseless. Russian soldiers robbed, raped and drank … I’m really amazed that this is happening in the 21st century. “

If that was the “shock” phase of this war, and it continues, then the “shock” phase is something I discovered among European officials in Davos and Berlin.

To put it bluntly, while the United States of America appears to be collapsing, the United States of Europe – the 27 members of the European Union – has taken everyone by surprise, above all for themselvesby uniting their fist, along with a host of other European countries and NATO, to prevent Putin’s invasion.

You might almost feel the EU officials saying:

“Wow, did we make that fist? Is this our fist?”

Since February, the European Union imposed Five packages of penalties Against Russia, sanctions that not only seriously harm Russia, but are also costly to European Union countries
In terms of labor loss or higher raw material costs.

Sixth package, agreed on Monday, will be reduced 90% of oil imports from the European Union from Russia by the end of this year and it will also kick Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, from SWIFT, the vital global banking messaging system.

Perhaps the most impressive is the number Ukrainian refugees That EU countries were willing to host it without much complaint.

There is an awareness that Ukrainian men are also fighting to defend them, so that at least EU countries can house their women, children and old people.

“They get the same health care, child benefits and education as Poles,” Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told me.

“Why not? They work and pay taxes. The only thing they don’t have is the right to vote.”

Morawiecki added that Putin thought the EU would quickly split under his pressure, but Putin was wrong. Europe now very more united than it was before the Ukraine war.

Putin, looking at all this, must be wondering:

“Is this a fist I see coming to me from the EU? No! No, wait… it is! What’s going on here! I thought I kept Germany in my pocket, bought and paid for it with cheap gasoline. I never dreamed that they would join Ukraine in this way And to view my invasion of Ukraine as an attack against them all.”

But that is exactly what happened.

However, many in the European Union are wondering How much time They would be able to maintain this painful grip.

It is a legitimate question.

“Putin is counting on the West’s fatigue,” Morawiecki said.

He knows he has plenty of time because so do democracies Fewer patients from authoritarian regimes.

This is correct.

Some EU leaders are already rooting for the president Joe Biden To contact Putin and explore the terms of the ceasefire.

Putin’s forces in eastern and southern Ukraine now encircle the Ukrainian army at various strategic junctions, firing round after round with missiles and heavy artillery.

They don’t need to be meticulous; They just need overwhelmed Ukrainian forces in large quantities.

I hope that the Ukrainians can hold out on their soil long enough for more advanced Western weapons to come into the fight and that EU sanctions on Russia really hurt, so that the Ukrainians have royal effect With Putin anywhere negotiated agreement.

However, with that, I couldn’t help but notice another topic that was present in my conversations here.

It is conviction because this is Putin’s big war, and because the brutality of his forces in this war was very criminal, while Putin stays in power In Moscow, it will be very difficult to trust Russia with anything related to Ukraine.

I haven’t heard anyone calling for regime change, but I’ve never heard anyone saying that the West can get back to normal with Russia without it.

All this means is that something very important with Putin has been broken here, and that will be a problem when we come to the negotiating table, as long as Putin leads Russia.

But Putin is a problem that the Russian people have to deal with, not us.

2022 The New York Times Company

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