UKRAINE CRISIS Europe and America Must Regroup

Arms or diplomacy? Russia can already see Western powers at odds over the best way to handle the Ukraine conflict. Allowing a rift to grow beween the two old allies plays right into Vladimir Putin's hands, says our author.
Dividing the West is just what Vladimir Putin wants.

Vladimir Putin says Russia could take the Ukrainian capital of Kiev within two weeks. That is correct. If the United States and NATO were not around, Russia could also quickly occupy the Baltic states, Poland and Germany.

That threat is why the solidarity of Western countries is so essential to Europe’s survival. Without the United States, Europe cannot secure its own sovereignty. That simple reality must be understood, so the geopolitical coordinates of the Russian war in Ukraine do not become blurred.

The recent agreement in Minsk offers hope for peace in Ukraine, together with freedom for Europe from U.S. threats to deliver arms into the conflict. Under the diplomatic leadership of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande, Europeans have proven themselves masters of their own house.

Since Mr. Putin’s ultimate goal is to create a rift in the West, it must remain the ultimate goal of Western powers to refuse to be divided.

According to this view, Europe can negotiate directly with Mr. Putin and stop escalation toward a great war. Minsk II, it seems, is a supreme test of Europe as a new stabilizing power.

But renewed fighting in Ukraine proves how shaky that assumption might be.

In Ukraine, Europe faces the double challenge of restraining both presidents, Mr. Putin and Barack Obama, remaining equidistant between Russia and the United States – because provoking a growing rift between Western powers is the old dream of Moscow and the central goal of Russian politics today.

Already the narrative is playing into the hands of Russian leaders. On one side they have the Europeans, who yield in effect by relying on sanctions, and who renounce an era of wars. On the other side are the controlling and impatient Americans, who accept war as a viable option. If the seeds of discord have already been sown, then all Russia has to do is water them.

Europe must remain true to itself. It must be proud of its multilateralism, respect for human rights and the precedence of conflict resolution. Minsk II was a necessary attempt to influence the Russian desire to expand. Even if this attempt fails, there are good reasons against delivering weapons to Ukraine. That message will be heard in the United States, particularly if the whole strategy is credible.

A credible European strategy must include deepening and broadening sanctions, so responsible Russians feel the consequences more directly. It should also include massively reinforcing the NATO presence in Poland and the Baltic states, and integrating Sweden and Finland more into the alliance. Finally, it means spending more on defense and making Europe independent of Russian gas imports.

Since Mr. Putin’s ultimate goal is to create a rift in the West, and therefore weaken it, it must remain the ultimate goal of Western powers to refuse to be divided. Blowing up transatlantic disagreements into unbridgeable differences can only lead to one loser in the end – Europe.


This oped first appeared in the Tagespiegel daily newspaper. To contact the author: [email protected].