Immediately after Putin launched Russia’s war against Ukraine last year, it seemed that the West had really woken up from the lethargy of geopolitical laziness and had embarked on a decisive strategy, not only to help Ukraine to defend itself but also to stop Russia’s aggressive, authoritarian, kleptocratic Putin regime, Member of the European Parliament Andrius Kubilius writes
However, a year and a half after the outbreak of the war, and especially after the Vilnius Summit, it is becoming increasingly clear that the West may have woken up, but it has still not gotten out of the comfortable bed of the ‘hearty West’. The convenient Western formula that NATO is not involved in the war that it is only Ukraine’s war and not the West’s war against the aggressor Russia, is increasingly becoming a symbol of the West’s desire to preserve the military and geopolitical “status quo” in Ukrainian affairs. At least there is no sign of a Western willingness to seek decisive geopolitical change on the European continent or to invest seriously in a decisive military defeat for Putin.
The West is increasingly satisfied with, if not a quick peace with Putin (which only benefits Putin), then at least a long, debilitating war with Russia (regardless of the cost to Ukraine) without investing in a quick Ukrainian victory. Meanwhile, the West does not dare to proclaim its ambition to crush the Putin regime uncompromisingly. What is more, even geopolitically, the West does not want to open the door to Ukraine in the near future (NATO membership), as this could (according to the West) provoke a new wave of aggression from Putin. Even the prospects for membership of the European Union remain vague, despite the candidate status granted and even the possible decision at the end of the year to open negotiations, as fears are increasingly loud and visible that Ukraine’s membership of the European Union could allegedly pose a number of challenges to the continued functioning of the European institutions themselves or to the single market.
It is time to take stock of this emerging new “Western reality” in order to be able not only to predict possible future scenarios but also to be properly aware of the strategic responsibility that we, Lithuania, already an integral part of the West, have.
So far, we have mostly been sailing in the geopolitical fairway drawn by the “big” Western capitals, declaring solidarity with Ukraine together with all other Western partners, handing over military equipment and ammunition from our warehouses that are no longer used, but limiting our strategic geopolitical security ambitions exclusively to Lithuania’s individual security needs (the German Brigade in Lithuania), while our security depends much more on Ukraine’s success in defending itself than it does on the timing of the deployment and deployment of the German brigade in Lithuania.
Unfortunately, it seems that for us, too, Ukraine‘s war for its freedom has not yet become “our” war. For it is not enough to show that it is also our war to have an abundance of Ukrainian flags in Vilnius, nice statements or gestures of political solidarity, civil society charity campaigns, or to know that we are not asking Ukrainians to thank us. This requires that we ourselves have a clear and overarching strategy for “our war for Ukraine”: how we are involved, what we are trying to achieve and what resources we are using to do it. And this must be our geopolitical strategy, first and foremost, from which our clear military strategy for the next decade would flow. We need to be aware of our role in this war – we are not the biggest military power that can determine military outcomes in our region on its own, but we can be influential enough to propose strategic geopolitical initiatives and ideas to transform our region into a much more secure area and to bring together the like-mindedness of both our region and the much wider Western community in such a joint effort.
This is the kind of activity that I miss most in today’s reality.
Because what the West is most lacking today is a clear long-term geopolitical strategy that includes not only Ukraine but also Russia and Belarus. This must be emphasised very clearly: as long as the West does not have a strategy for Russia, it will be distracted and distracted by Ukraine. At the moment, the West is afraid of the consequences of a Ukrainian victory for Russia’s further development, of Putin being replaced by a strongman (because the West has no strategy to help Russia’s democratic transformation because it is afraid to talk about regime change in Russia), and so the West’s military support for Ukraine remains lukewarm (because it is afraid of what will come after Putin and afraid that, in the event of decisive support, Putin will once again declare that it was NATO which attacked Russia, and not Russia that attacked Ukraine).
The West lacks the leadership, the willingness and the capacity to see the importance of the “Ukraine factor” for the overall long-term geopolitical transformation of the eastern part of the European continent, including the potential transformation of Russia and Belarus themselves. Because there is no faith in the prospects for democracy in these countries: the West sees Putin and Lukashenko as the eternal leaders of their countries, and all the alternatives of the strongmen only make them more frightening. Therefore, the narrative that still dominates all Western deliberations on Ukraine is how Putin will react to one or another Western action on the ‘Ukrainian front’, not how much or other long-term Western action will help to bring down the Putin regime.
It is this deficit, flaw or weakness in Western strategic geopolitical thinking that must be our main geopolitical target. And this requires, first of all, that we have our own vision of what Western strategy is absolutely necessary and that we are able to rally our like-minded people around this vision of our ‘Western strategy’, both in Europe and across the Atlantic.
But to understand why such a Western strategy is absolutely necessary, and why we need to engage in it, we first need to identify the basic facts of the “Western reality” that we have already seen for a year and a half (and which may turn out to be bleak), in order to understand what lies ahead of us in the long run if we are not already able to respond strategically to this reality today:
– The war is hard, and with the kind of Western military support that Ukraine is receiving, it may become increasingly difficult to expect Ukraine to achieve a crushing victory over Russia soon. This is not Ukraine’s fault or proof of its lack of military capability. It is a consequence of the West’s inability to make up its mind that this is ‘our’ war too. The West is afraid of the consequences of a Ukrainian victory over Russia for Russia itself because it has no coherent strategy towards Russia. As long as the West is afraid of a Ukrainian victory over Russia, it will not give Ukraine the weapons it needs to achieve such a victory. In hiding the root cause of its political ineptitude, the West increasingly wants proof of Ukraine’s gratitude (which proves that for the West, this is only ‘Ukraine’s’ war, not ‘ours’), and less and less talks about the West’s gratitude to Ukraine. In this context, Ukraine will come under increasing pressure from the West to end ‘its’ war through peace talks with Putin and on Putin’s terms. And without any Tribunals.
– The prospects for NATO membership or Western security guarantees for Ukraine are even more vague after the Vilnius Summit because the Vilnius Summit was limited to completely superficial formulations, which shows that the great West does not consider the issue of security guarantees for Ukraine to be serious, important or timely. At least for now. The reason is the same: Western leaders still quietly think that Putin has a veto over who in Russia’s neighbourhood can and cannot become a NATO member. Because Putin has a nuclear arsenal to blackmail the West with. Western policy on Ukraine remains subordinate to Western policy towards Russia, and the West still does not have such a policy towards Russia. They did not have it before because they were dependent on Russian gas, and they do not have it now because they are afraid of Putin’s nuclear blackmail. And they are afraid of what will happen to Russia if Putin is gone. Until the West has an adequate long-term policy towards Russia based not on the “Putin first!” but on the “Democracy in Russia first!” doctrine, the West will not have an adequate policy towards Ukraine. Conversely, as long as the West does not have a comprehensive and adequate policy towards Ukraine (arms, reconstruction, NATO and EU membership), the West will not have an adequate policy towards Russia because the future of democracy in Russia and Belarus depends on the effectiveness of the West’s policy towards Ukraine.
– It is still difficult to say whether the West is really committed to laying the foundations for Ukraine’s future economic and social success over the next decade by doing everything possible to ensure that Ukraine becomes a member of the European Union and is fully integrated into the European Union’s Single Market within that decade.
While we can be pleased that the European Union had the political will to grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova at the outbreak of the war, and while it is optimistic that both countries will be invited to start negotiations on EU membership at the end of this year, the prospects for membership themselves continue to be mired in geopolitical mists: for example, the EU’s accession to the European Union has been delayed by a number of events. ; France, in particular, is demanding major institutional reforms within the EU itself (by removing the veto) in order to make the EU ready to welcome new members (and Ukraine in particular), and such reforms within the EU itself are tough to achieve. Secondly, Poland and other Central European countries have clearly demonstrated with this year’s Ukrainian grain embargo initiatives that Central Europe, despite its many declarations of solidarity with Ukraine, can become significant opponents of Ukraine’s integration into the EU and the Single Market, as it is already showing its fear of competing with Ukraine’s agricultural production in the same EU Single Market.
Paradoxically, it is already worth seeing that Central Europe could become the biggest obstacle in Ukraine’s path to EU membership: Central Europe has demonstrated this year that it is afraid and will be afraid of Ukraine’s economic competition in the future; Central Europe has also long demonstrated its reluctance to give up the veto, even though the veto has consistently become a key instrument of the European blackmail “culture”. If given the choice between retaining the veto and “Ukraine’s membership of the European Union”, it is currently unclear which Central Europe would choose, including Lithuania. The possible consequence of all this is a slow, lengthy and ineffective process of Ukraine’s integration into the EU. Not because Ukraine will not be able to implement the necessary reforms but because the European Union itself will eventually lack political will and will stop at some vague model of gradual integration, without clear political will, without clear criteria, dates and stages for integration, leaving Ukraine in a “grey” geopolitical zone for a long time to come. As has been the case so far.
I am not writing all this to complain once again about how weak the West is, still geopolitically asleep or afraid of Putin. The West is what it is – we need to see its strengths and weaknesses. They can change one way the West acts while Mr Biden is US President, another way it might act if Mr Trump returns. But it is clear that the West is our only security potential and resource. On the other hand, it is also clear, at least to us, that the fate of the whole West is now being decided in Ukraine.
Obviously, the West is a broad concept – it covers very different regions with quite different interests:
- It is the new Europe, with Central Europe and the Baltic States.
- It is Northern Europe and Britain.
- It is the old Europe, with quite different Germany, France and the Mediterranean countries.
- It is the transatlantic partners.
Most of these countries are members of NATO and, on the European continent, of the EU. Ukraine has more or less unanimity, although it is clear that different regions have different priorities. Sometimes more decisive action is sacrificed to preserve unity, although this has yet to become the most visible problem. However, this may soon become an increasingly prominent challenge, as today’s “Western reality”, as described above, may have increasingly negative long-term consequences. First and foremost, for our region, but also the entire European continent, and thus for the West as a whole.
The reality of the West is what it is today. Our challenge is to be able to act and to achieve maximum objectives even in the face of this reality. The problems of today’s Western reality that concern us most can be identified very briefly: a) the lack of an overarching long-term Western strategy for the geopolitical reconstruction of the whole of the eastern part of Europe (Ukraine, Russia, Belarus) in which Ukraine (its victory, reconstruction, Euro-Atlantic integration) would play a central role; b) the lack of Western geopolitical leadership and political will for the preparation and implementation of this strategy.
Understanding this raises the question of Lithuania’s responsibility. Our primary responsibility is to seek partners and like-minded individuals to work together to change today’s “Western reality”. We are having a lot of discussions about the German brigade in Lithuania, about the purchase of German tanks and how to keep such a purchase secret (?!) – this is important, but it concerns only our individual security. Meanwhile, I do not see at all any broader and more fundamental discussions between us about how we can achieve a change in the current ‘Western reality’; what we need to do so that Ukraine’s unconditional victory and the crushing of Russia also becomes a Western goal; what we need to do so that the West is no longer afraid of Ukraine’s victory and its consequences for Russia; what we must do to ensure that the West sees Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration not only as an aspiration for Ukraine, but also as something that is vital for the West itself, because only in this way can the geopolitical reconstruction of the East of Europe be realised and the conditions for sustainable peace on the continent of Europe be created. This is no less important for the security of the whole of Europe and for our own security than what tanks or brigades will eventually be deployed in Lithuania.
Europe’s geopolitical problems (dangers and opportunities) are currently concentrated on the eastern borders of the Western area of the European continent. The political weight of the Western countries representing this region (including Lithuania and Ukraine) in the Western area has increased considerably. This region can fill the collective leadership deficit that is so painfully felt in the West. But the region still needs to demonstrate such efforts.
Because we do not yet feel that this is ‘our’ war either. If we did, we would be discussing not only NATO’s defence plans, which are important to us, but also whether a situation could arise where NATO or other Western coalitions of like-minded nations would consider committing their military forces to the Ukrainian war; we would also be discussing now whether we would be prepared to send our troops to Ukraine with such a coalition of like-minded nations if it really is ‘our’ war (and such a discussion is already taking place amongst Western experts).
We would also discuss how to give up the “veto” in European Union affairs and how to help Poland not to be afraid of competition from Ukrainian agriculture. We would also discuss how to convince the West that democracy is possible in Russia too and that the West need not be afraid of a Ukrainian victory over Russia and the resulting collapse of the Putin regime.
As long as we do not consider such things, we are a silent part of today’s “Western reality”. And that reality should not be satisfactory to us. If it is not, we should be trying to change it, not thinking about how to adapt to it.
Once upon a time, during the Sąjūdis, the “Western reality” (“just don’t rock the Soviet Union’s boat, because the reformist Gorbachev has to be saved”) did not suit us either. And we managed to change it. We are working with all like-minded countries: the Baltic States, Poland, Scandinavia, Great Britain, and the US Congress. Now is a historical moment of equal importance. And the fundamental problem is the same – “Western reality”. We have the experience to change it. That is what we must do.
That is our greatest responsibility today.