It has been most painful to follow the desperate wrangling over the Ukraine aid in the European Council. Hungary has been playing the Putin game plan and undermining European unity at an existential moment — and thus discrediting the highly respected 1956 and 1989 memories of its people’s battles for freedom and democracy.
But the pain goes beyond that. Western leaders have been letting their publics feel that aiding Ukraine would be easier than it is. Europe lacks a realistic, sturdy long-term strategy to support Ukraine. It needs one soon.
Preventing Russia from destroying Ukraine’s ambition to be part of liberal democratic world is essential for not only Ukrainians, important as it is. It is also necessary for peace and security for the rest of Europe and for the survival of the rules-based world order. This is as defining a moment in European and world history as the year 1989.
The EU’s Ukraine strategy needs to be linked to the West’s overall strategy to contain Russia’s threat and imperialist aspirations. Russia is already on a war economy gear, supported by its allies, like China and Iran. As in the past, its own massive human war casualties do not matter. We should not underestimate Russia’s capacity to mobilise its resources — ‘quantity is quality of its own’, as Stalin supposedly said.
This really is about Europe. If Ukraine were to fall, who would be next? Nato’s deterrence works with a rational actor, but Russia’s aggressive behaviour and Putin’s missionary zeal do not necessarily fit into the normal boundaries of rationality.
We need to have rapidly in place a robust strategy, the implementation of which is not hostage to Orban or any other Putin-serving illiberal politician in the EU. The key elements for a realistic and solid long-term strategy for the EU should include:
1. Put together a multiannual Plan B for financial support of Ukraine, not only for one year. The smartest way is to use the European Stability Mechanism, if no community instrument is available (due to Hungary’s veto), by simply amending its charter as needed. It worked well to tame the euro crisis, especially once the permanent ESM was created in 2012. The ESM now has a paid-in capital base of ca. €80 billion. Non-euro EU member states could provide their share through the ESM.
2. Get on with using the roughly €300 billion frozen Russian assets for financial support of Ukraine (and later on for reconstruction). This has been under preparation by G7 nations already for long. It would be morally right, financially significant, and legally possible. When the house is burning like now, you need to build up a fire brigade creatively and speedily, if you don’t have one — don’t listen to the objections of sometimes overly conservative central bankers on this matter.
3. Ramp up arms production in the EU member states to fulfil the commitment of one million artillery shells, and support arms production in Ukraine. Walk the talk by boosting the integration and investment by kind of European Defence Production Act.
4. The European Nato members should increase their defence expenditure to at least two percent of GDP, as the alliance has agreed. The United States is right in stating that the European allies have to carry a larger responsibility of Europe’s defence.
5. Start urgently an Agenda 2030 exercise to prepare for Ukraine’s accession to the EU. When we prepared ground for the historic Eastern enlargement in 1997-2004, we organised ourselves under the programme Agenda 2000, which helped to square the circle of combining 12 new member states, stabilising the financial framework and reforming the common policies, including regional and agricultural. It worked.
6. Go forward with security guarantees for Ukraine in both the Nato and EU. They are needed as a critical precondition for bringing about a just and lasting peace.
It is essential now that the leaders and publics of the free world realise that there is no time to waste to agree on a strategy which would contain Russia and facilitate the road to a just peace for Ukraine. Besides, it is necessary to prepare our citizens to the fact that this is going to be a long struggle for peace, freedom and democracy – indeed for our European way of life. That’s why Europe needs and must build a realistic and sturdy long-time strategy for supporting Ukraine, and do so without any delay.
My comments on the issue on bloomberg.com: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-12-21/eu-should-tap-88-billion-rescue-fund-to-help-ukraine-rehn-says