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Why unity is critical to ensure the Kremlin’s failure in Ukraine

Immediately after Russia launched its renewed offensive against Ukraine on the 24th February 2022, Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged[↗] that ‘Putin must fail’. Since then, free and open nations have demonstrated a strong degree of unity in offering Ukraine vital political, military, economic and humanitarian assistance, economically punishing Russia, and condemning its aggression.

Large parts of the Euro-Atlantic community have been particularly unified on the need to support Ukraine in defeating Russia’s war of conquest. This – coupled with the fierce resistance of the Ukrainian nation – has led to unexpected blows being dealt to the Kremlin, such as its failed[↗] offensive in Kyiv and the sinking[↗] of the Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet. No matter how loudly the Russian propaganda machine claims to the contrary, the facts on the ground prove that there have been no significant successes in the Russian war which bypassed the 100-day mark on 3rd June 2022.

Russia’s continued efforts in attempting to divide the Euro-Atlantic should come as no surprise as it believes its interests are best served by a fractured region. This is why the Kremlin continues to downplay Russian losses and Ukrainian resolve, as well as weaponise its exports of fossil fuels[↗] to Europe. The determination of the Ukranians remains strong and they continue to resist the Kremlin. But fissures are starting to emerge between Euro-Atlantic countries; political leaders in certain nations are starting to question whether the war is worth the sacrifice.

The most imminent challenge stems from Brussels, which must accommodate an array of governments with differing relationships with Russia before making decisions. On Monday 30th May 2022, the European Union’s (EU) leaders met at a special meeting of the European Council to pledge further support to Ukraine. After some difficult negotiations, a sixth round of sanctions on Russian oil was introduced[↗]

This covers two thirds of all oil imports from Russia that travels by sea and excludes oil that is piped over land. The intention is to increase this cut to 90% by the end of the year. Gas, however, remains a point of contention and no agreement seems in sight. According to Eurostat, the EU relies on Russia for over 41% – and Germany for 58% – of its natural gas supplies and there are no readily available alternative sources.

Hungary was the main objector to a blanket-ban on Russian oil due to the damage it would do to its economy. After the negotiations, Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary, released[↗] a video to his followers proudly announcing the defeat of a stronger sanctions package. Unity in Europe over how extensively to ban Russian oil and gas imports seems thin on the ground.

Another challenge is emerging in diverging perceptions on how to treat Vladimir Putin, Russia’s leader, and ultimately end the war. Former senior officials and politicians, including Henry Kissinger[↗] and Silvio Berlusconi[↗], suggested last week that Ukraine should consider entering peace talks with the Kremlin. They argued that Ukraine should make territorial concessions to end the conflict. Emmanuel Macron, President of France, suggested[↗] in interviews with French media on 3rd June 2022 that Putin ‘must not be humiliated’ in order to ensure that diplomatic channels remain open to eventually ‘negotiate’ the war’s end. Macron has spent hours on the phone with the architect of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, which have now, ironically, totalled 100.

The last actor causing complications is Germany, which has failed to send any heavy weapons[↗] to assist Ukraine, despite promising to do so. The messaging of Olaf Scholz, Chancellor of Germany, on the conflict is confused: on the one hand, he has declared[↗] that Germany would not accept a ‘dictated peace’ in Ukraine, while on the other, he prevaricates[↗] in sending meaningful financial and military assistance. He has also spread disinformation[↗] about Germany’s relative contribution.  

Such short-sighted economic concerns, dithering, and defeatism, are dangerous and unproductive for multiple reasons.

Germany is the EU’s most powerful state, and its lacklustre position undermines international confidence of not only its role in the world but that of the EU. How a nation, and bloc, that champions liberal norms and human rights can deal so equivocally with an authoritarian power committing war crimes and actively fomenting a global food crisis is puzzling to most. As is the EU’s continued purchase of approximately €435 of Russian oil and gas per day in 2022.

Suggesting that Ukraine should be prepared to forfeit territory to Russia in exchange for peace affords too much respect to Putin and his regime. As does believing Russia should not be outright defeated and that the Kremlin is trustworthy enough to adhere to any sort of negotiated peace. Furthermore, it diminishes and ultimately misunderstands the morale and determination of the Ukrainian soldiers and people, who appear prepared to keep fighting until Ukraine’s borders have returned to what they were on 23rd February 2022, if not 2014.

More dramatically and importantly, fissures within the Euro-Atlantic community risk undermining the international order more broadly. Free and open nations have made a commitment to Ukraine. To walk back on that commitment now or change course regarding the best way to end the war would undermine a fundamental component of that international order – that wars of conquest are unacceptable. This would bolster authoritarian regimes looking to tear down or reconstitute this order in turn.

In the 100 days since the Kremlin started its so-called ‘special military operation’ Ukraine is still standing strong. Yet, if the Kremlin is to fail, the Euro-Atlantic community ought to stand resolutely behind a common position. It should continue to give Ukraine as much assistance as it can provide, particularly weapons. The decision of the United Kingdom (UK) and United States (US) to send M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems to Ukraine is a positive development. If Ukraine is to prevail, it needs every assistance to ensure that Putin fails.

Viktorija Starych-Samuolienė is Co-founder and Director of Strategy at the Council on Geostrategy.

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