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Ukraine’s Fight Is About Europe’s Future

Ukraine
Russia President Putin. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine will go down in history as colonialism masquerading as a grand geopolitical design.

We are witnessing another manifestation of Russian imperialism pure and simple, notwithstanding many learned explanations by so-called “realists” that somehow the prospect of Ukraine’s membership in NATO, at best at some distant point in the future, provoked Putin to attack.

In reality, this invasion has been in the works for over twenty years of Putin’s rule.  In the last several months Russia amassed military forces in full view, clearly determined to invade its neighbor. Putin seemed to have believed that he would get away with it once again, for in the past the West – regardless of our insistence on the sanctity of borders and human rights – stood idly by while the tzar of the Kremlin massacred the Chechens, severed parts of Georgia’s territory, occupied Crimea, started a war in Donetsk and Luhansk, entered Syria and slaughtered the inhabitants of Aleppo.

Today, as Putin’s military is dropping bombs and missiles on Ukrainian cities, killing civilians and creating landscapes more reminiscent of World War II than “post-modern Europe,” the West is finally waking up to the reality that unless and until Russia has been decisively defeated, Europe will not know real peace, only periods of armistice.

Ukraine’s stubborn resistance to the invasion is changing Europe in yet another way. It is reminding us about the seminal importance of patriotism and a shared national identity, one that is felt viscerally and is strong enough to make men and women lay their lives on the line for people they have never met.

No sentence has encapsulated this sense of patriotism and mutuality of obligation better than President Zelensky’s rebuff of an offer to exfil him from Kyiv: “I don’t need a ride; I need ammunition.”

In this one sentence lies the essence of a nation that understands what it means to be one. The Ukrainians are teaching us what those first principles truly are, i.e., love of country, national sovereignty, and national solidarity – the three concepts that have been all but exiled from Western political discourse. In this one tragic moment of Ukraine standing up to Putin, the entire baggage of post-modern Western theorizing about “globalization,” “transnationalism,” or “postmodernism” is being exposed for what it has always been: intellectual vapors disconnected from reality.

This war has also shifted the relative political influence among NATO members from Western to Central Europe. For two decades many in Central Europe, whether Estonians, Poles, or Romanians, have been warning the West about Putin, and in turn were often treated by their Western counterparts with condescension as unreconstructed “Russophobes.” And yet, they have understood very well what kind of a state today’s Russia really is.

It is uncanny that for Europe to come together it took one of its poorest nations to show its determination to stand up for the first principles and the values we all talk so much about, but all too often fail to uphold. Ukraine’s president, whom many used to dismiss as an upstart comedian, is showing us each day the true meaning of leadership.

Make no mistake: Had Ukraine failed to resist and the state imploded in a couple of days as Putin had expected, Europe would eventually go back to business-as-usual with Russia, with the chattering class repeating old cliches about how Russia is actually entitled to its “security zone,” and how we should have worked from the start to ensure the “neutrality” of Ukraine.

EU leaders would go back to talking about climate policy and green energy, and Putin would continue to make money selling Russia’s gas and oil to Europe, with a large chunk of the revenue plowed into his military.

Today, thanks to the courage of the Ukrainian people, that is simply no longer possible.

This war is still in its early stages, but it should be clear to us all that it is a war for the future of Europe, and that there is no going back to the status quo ante. Putin’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine has set in motion forces that will deconstruct the power dynamic in Eurasia that for three centuries has pushed Europe from one conflict to the next. The end-point of this war has to be not only the preservation of Ukraine’s independence but also the restoration of an independent Belarusian state.

Only then will Europe free itself from the last vestiges of Russia’s imperial baggage. Only then will the Russian people have a chance to start transforming their country into a genuine nation-state, stripped of its imperial ambition and poised to undergo real political and economic reform.

A 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Andrew A. Michta is Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch, Germany.  He is also former a Professor of National Security Affairs at USNWC and a former Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis in DC. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Written By

Andrew A. Michta is the dean of the College of International and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies and a new Contributing Editor for 1945. He is the former Professor of National Security Affairs at the US Naval War College and former Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis. You can follow him on Twitter: @AndrewMichta. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Commentar

    March 13, 2022 at 7:22 pm

    Basically, Ukraine is about the struggle between common sense and confrontation in europe.

    Common sense says europe should be the master of its own affairs while confrontation is to continue to allow a superpower to fight proxy wars here and there.

    Right now, europe looks eerily similar to 1914 situation, but with nuclear weapons available to quite a few nations.

  2. Alex

    March 14, 2022 at 10:46 am

    Ukraine is fighting for:
    1. Power in the country of oligarchs,
    2. Promotion of the ideas of Nazism in Ukraine.
    Ukraine is no longer fighting for anything.

  3. Joe Comment

    March 14, 2022 at 12:17 pm

    Commentar: Which country invaded which country again? Oh sorry, maybe you aren’t allowed to discuss that because in your country you might go to jail for using the word “invasion.”

  4. Joe Comment

    March 14, 2022 at 12:34 pm

    Alex: I suggest you create a banner that says, “Down with war-mongering oligarchs” and display it in a public place in your city, and see what happens. People have been arrested recently in Moscow for displaying a “Peace to the world” banner.

  5. Robbb

    March 14, 2022 at 1:24 pm

    All that is said in this article could be true but again the so-called principle of sovereignty never matter for non-European. Sovereignty of Iraq (UK,US), Sovereignty of Libya (France, US). What is going on in Ukraine is terrible. But European AND American sophistry about Sovereignty is just that, sophistry. Foreign country should not engage in “regime change” in other countries.

  6. Alex

    March 14, 2022 at 2:41 pm

    Joe Comment: I suggest you read articles with pictures and photos on the Volyn massacre, Luvov pogroms, etc. For 8 years in a row, the Bandera Nazis did the same with the Ukrainians of Donbass. The West simply turned a blind eye to it. My Polish position is this – let the Bandera Nazis burn forever in hell, and if Russia does this to them, then I say – Glory to Russia!

  7. Edward

    March 14, 2022 at 6:37 pm

    Excellent article. However, no matter the crisis, no matter how many lives are lost in whatever terrible event, in recent days, top western “leaders” have complained that the Ukraine war diverts attention from transsexual and climate change issues. The west needs still more time to wake up.

  8. 100 year sanctions

    March 16, 2022 at 12:07 am

    Russians are in trouble. America is nothing if not vindictive.

    The US is more than happy to sanction and embargo a country indefinitely.

    This was the last straw for Putin. Russians can look forward to an Iran like economic situation until he and his successors are dead. Russia isn’t China so the incentives to trade simply isn’t there.

    The USA will keep hammering Russia economically pointlessly and endlessly because Americans are not an empathetic people and they can afford to do so. They may even stupidly destabilize all of Russia – watching it descend into madness. This is what the USA does best, and few Americans will care. The USA did it once already to the Soviets, and they will do it again.

    Russia’s only hope is that Trump is elected, so they better double down on making that happen.

  9. Alex

    March 16, 2022 at 9:18 am

    Sanctions for 100 years: but German and American economists and political scientists predict huge problems for the United States and the recovery of Russia from sanctions in one and a half to two years. Probably lying, right? It is better to believe you, who writes here, instead of doing school lessons.

  10. Drink their milkshake

    March 16, 2022 at 11:07 am

    The USA has effectively seized $650B of foreign reserve, forcing the Russian economy to soon default on it’s loans. Putin has no cards in his playbook to counter this other than to beg Xi for help. Good plan.

    It’s really cool when your husband/son/father dies in an Ukrainian ambush and the death benefit/pension is paid in a worthless ruble currency in a crushing inflationary environment.

    This is a full on economic take down, all Putin can do is dump more conscripts and mercenaries into Ukraine. The economic beatdown won’t stop even if Kyiv falls, in fact conventional conflict has no bearing on the west’s control of international financial markets. Ukraine is just the perfect excuse.

    Enjoy the ride Russia as we watch safely from abroad. You could nuke us. Do it and see what happens.

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