Why Europe Hedges Its Support for Ukraine

Napoleon’s Secretary of State Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord once said that “A diplomat who says” means “may”, a diplomat who says “may” means “no”, and a diplomat A diplomat who says “no” is not a diplomat. ”

Talleyrand died in 1838, but the passage of time has not diminished the sincerity of his words. From debates over an energy embargo against Russia or the prospect of EU membership for Ukraine, European diplomats are dealing with the art of “maybe” diplomacy. High-ranking EU representatives regularly visit Kyiv and promise President Volodymyr Zelensky huge military, economic and diplomatic aid. These promises will be hard to come by once they collide with the cold realities of European politics and the national interests of EU member states.

With negotiations on a year-end EU embargo on Russian oil stalled, it is unclear when the major flows of oil from Russia to Europe will end. And even if a plan is put together, the current EU proposal is full of exemptions, allowing the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia to continue importing Russian crude until 2024, which would will create many opportunities to circumvent the embargo. Something similar is happening with natural gas: The European Commission has issued new guidance on sanctions, allowing European nations to pay for Russian gas in rubles freely. as effective as Vladimir Putin had requested. Most importantly, the end of 2022 is far away. By then an embargo may be outdated.

It is clear in recent months that many European nations are more concerned with ending war than with who will win. Germany is particularly interested in keeping the option of returning to the pre-war Ukraine status quo. Berlin is not alone in this. After his successful re-election, French President Emmanuel Macron hedged his risk saying that a future peace in Eastern Europe must not include unnecessary humiliation towards Russia and may include including territorial concessions to Moscow.

From the very beginning of the war, support on the Continent paled in comparison to the responses of the United States and Great Britain. According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, in the first month alone, the United States spent $4.4 billion in equipment and supplies. other aid to Ukraine, twice as much as the EU and its member states. If Ukraine survives this war, it will mainly be thanks to support from Washington and London, plus a number of Eastern European countries, especially Poland. However, even hawkish states like Poland want US assurances to resupply their arsenals before they are ready to send sophisticated weapons to Ukraine.

Germany seems increasingly willing to supply more and better equipment, but every promise seems immediately hit by some administrative or logistical hurdle that could take weeks or months to clear. can decide. The latest example is the delivery of the Gepard anti-aircraft tank, which lacks the ammunition needed for combat.

Given these developments, it would be too optimistic to expect Ukraine to soon become an EU member. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, have signaled that they would support such a move, but both know that at least one of the 27 member states. EU members will veto full membership for Kyiv. It’s not clear whether such a veto comes from Hungary, Austria, France or even Germany itself, but Mr Macron offers the clearest indication of what could be. He recently proposed the creation of a “European political community” —a kind of purgatory for countries that want full membership but probably never will — outside of the EU.

Despite the EU’s supranational ambitions and its most fervent supporters, national interests still dominate the political calculations of member states. For Paris and Berlin, the Ukraine crisis is not just a security issue, it could also determine the future distribution of power in the EU.

The most prestigious positions in the EU are held by Western European politicians, reflecting the imbalance of power between Eastern and Western Europe, from Ms. von der Leyen (Germany), President of the European Central Bank Christine Lagarde (France) arrives at the High Representative of the Union. for Foreign and Security Policy Josep Borrell (Spain) and the president of the European Council, Charles Michel (Belgium). Eastern European governments have made it clear that the status quo is increasingly unacceptable to them, and the war in Ukraine has given them more confidence to change it.

The EU is built around Germany and France, and both countries enviously defend their positions as the ultimate decision-makers in Europe. Policymakers in both countries are aware that an EU with Ukraine could lead to a competitive Warsaw-Kyiv axis, which neither France nor Germany want. Ukraine is politically and culturally closer to Poland than Germany, which means that German power in the EU could be significantly diminished and replaced by the growing influence of Eastern Europe.

These thoughts may seem skeptical before the heroic struggle of the people and country of Ukraine, but it would be wrong to believe that power politics has been replaced by widely popularized ideals. As Talleyrand has pointed out, promises are part of diplomacy, but in the end actions speak louder than words.

Mr. Schöllhammer is an assistant professor of political science and economics at the private Webster University Vienna.

Review & Outlook: By invading Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has united the NATO alliance, which will be stronger with Finland and Sweden as members. Image: Sputnik / TT News Agency / Lehtikuva / Reuters Synthesis: Mark Kelly

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