The sleeping giant that Putin woke up by invading Ukraine

BERLIN: Since then I have been writing nonstop about the war in Ukraine Russia invaded, last February 24, but I must admit that I had to come to Europe and meet with politicians, diplomats and businessmen to get a full idea of ​​what was going on. Because I thought Vladimir Putin had invaded Ukraine, but no: Putin invaded Europe.

Nor should it happen, because this may be the greatest act of war frenzy in Europe since Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Russia in 1941.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. (Photo by Alexander Nemnov / Various sources / Agence France-Presse)Alexander Nemnov – Pool

I only understood it when I came from this side of the Atlantic. It was easy to take that for granted from a distance – and perhaps also for Putin Europe would end up accepting the full Russian invasion of Ukraine, just as it accepted in 2014 that Ukraine’s Crimea would be devoured.It is a distant plot of land that met almost no resistance and had very limited international repercussions.

Bug, bug, bug.

This invasion is seen – with Russian forces indiscriminately bombing Ukrainian apartment buildings and hospitals, killing civilians, looting homes, raping women, and unleashing Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II. Twenty-first century remaking of Hitler’s bloody attack on all of Europewhich began in September 1939 with the German invasion of Poland.

So we must add Putin’s threat to use nuclear weaponsWhen he warned that any country that intervened in this gratuitous war would face “unprecedented consequences,” everything is clear.

It is clear, for example, why Germany almost overnight got rid of 80 years of war aversion and a meager defense budget, announced a massive increase in military spending and plans to send weapons to Ukraine.

It also becomes clear why, overnight, Poland stopped courting the populist pro-Putin and anti-immigration leader. Victor Urbanthe prime minister of Hungary, has opened its borders to more than two million Ukrainian refugees and agreed to become a crucial land bridge for transporting NATO weapons to Ukraine.

Emergency department staff talk with Katya, a 90-year-old woman in a wheelchair who fled the conflict in Ukraine, Saturday, March 5, 2022, in Syrit, Romania.  (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru, file)
Emergency department staff talk with Katya, a 90-year-old woman in a wheelchair who fled the conflict in Ukraine, Saturday, March 5, 2022, in Syrit, Romania. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru, file)

It is also evident overnight, Why the EU left years of cautious economic sanctions against Russia behindAnd they fired a precision missile with sanctions that hit the heart of Putin’s economy.

Something small, What for me was just Russia’s invasion of Ukraine turned into a European earthquakeFormer German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said, “Like waking up with a bang, boom! And seeing that everything has changed.”

“The the current situation The former will not return. Europe responded to Russian aggression with a profound change, no longer under pressure from the United Statesbut because the sense of threat that Russia refers to today is very different: we now understand that Putin is talking not only about Ukraine, but about all of us and what our freedom will look like.”

Whether we like it or not, Fisher adds, “Modern Europe is in a situation of confrontation with Russia, and Russia is no longer part of the European peace system. The loss of confidence in Putin is complete and absolute.”

The reasons are clear. Putin’s army is systematically destroying Ukraine’s cities and infrastructurebut not for imposing the Russian government on those cities, communities or villages, but with the apparent intent to wipe them off the map and thus, by force, which makes Putin’s ironic statement true: that Ukraine is not really a country.

Last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, I interviewed Anatoly Fedoruk, the mayor of Bucha, Ukraine, a city where Russia is accused of killing countless civilians and leaving their bodies to rot in the streets, or piled up in a grave. Church, before its expulsion by Ukrainian forces.

Priests pray in front of body bags at a mass grave on the grounds surrounding St. Andrew's Church in Bucha, on April 7, 2022, amid the Russian military invasion against Ukraine.  (Photo by Ronaldo Schmidt / AFP) / Ukraine - Russian conflict 100 days 100 photos
Priests pray in front of body bags at a mass grave on the grounds surrounding St. Andrew’s Church in Bucha, on April 7, 2022, amid the Russian military invasion against Ukraine. (Photo by Ronaldo Schmidt / AFP) / Ukraine – Russian conflict 100 days 100 photosRonaldo Schmidt – AFP

“We had 419 peaceful citizens who were killed in different ways,” Fedorok told me. “In our city there was no military infrastructure to explain the attack. Russian soldiers were robbed, raped, and then drunk … I don’t understand how something like this happens in the 21st century“.

If this is the “shock” stage of this war – and it continues – what I discovered in Davos and Berlin among European officials is that they are in the “shock” stage. In other words, while the United States of America appears to be disintegrating, the United States of Europe – the twenty-seven members that make up the European Union – have astonished the entire world, and especially themselves, by achieving like a single fist to prevent Putin from advancing with the help of other European countries and NATO.

Not even EU officials seem to think this firm grip is theirs.

Since February, The European Union has imposed five packages of sanctions against Russiasanctions that not only harm Russia, but are also very stressful for European countries in terms of loss of business and an increase in raw materials.

The sixth package was approved last Monday and provides for a 90% reduction in Russian oil imports from the European Union end of the year. It also excludes Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank, from the important global bank transfer system known as Swift.

But perhaps most impressive is the number of Ukrainian refugees that Europeans are willing to take in without much complaint: they are well aware that Ukrainians are also fighting to defend Europe, so the least they can do is take in their women. their children and the elderly.

“They get the same health care, child allowance and education as the Poles,” Polish 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.”

Putin thought that the European Union would quickly break into a thousand pieces under his pressureMorawiecki points out. But he was wrong, because Europe is now more united than it was before the war in Ukraine.

After noticing all this, Putin should ask himself: “Is this a fist I see coming from the European Union? Can’t! What is going on here? I thought I kept Germany in my pocket, bought and paid for cheap gas. I never thought they would line up like this behind Ukraine They see my conquest as an attack against them all.”

But that is exactly what happened. In any case, There are also many Europeans who wonder how tightly they will be able to keep the fist. It is a legitimate question.

“Putin is betting on the West’s fatigue,” Morawiecki says. He knows he has more time than us, because democracies are less impatient than authoritarian regimes.

it’s the truth. In fact, some EU leaders are already encouraging the president Joe Biden To give contact to Putin and explore the terms of a negotiated ceasefire.

US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin
US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin

Russian forces in eastern and southern Ukraine are wreaking havoc on the Ukrainian army at several strategic locations with a barrage of missiles and heavy artillery. They do not need to be accurate or hit the target: they outnumber and outsmart the Ukrainians.

I hope that the Ukrainians will be able to hold out until the most advanced Western weapons reach the battlefield and until the EU sanctions really harm the Russian economy, so The Kyiv government begins to better develop the final negotiation of an agreement with Putin.

However, I can’t help but mention another topic that came up in my conversations with Europeans: the conviction that this criminal war is Putin’s war, and that as long as Putin remains in power, it will be very hard to believe anything. What Russia says about Ukraine.

I have not heard anyone calling for regime change, but I have not heard anyone saying that the West can normalize relations with Russia without regime change. So trust in Putin is seriously damaged, and this will be a real problem every time we sit at the negotiating table as long as Russia is ruled by Putin. But Putin is a problem that the Russian people have to solve, not us.

Thomas Friedman

The New York Times

Translated by Jaime Arambaid

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