Bernard Guetta: Now Is the Time to Stop Putin

2024-03-18 | Political initiatives, Geopolitical analysis

Three words have been enough. By saying that “nothing was excluded” in order to prevent Putin from winning in Ukraine, Emmanuel Macron made it clear that we were indeed at war because the Russian autocrat had declared war on us, that a defeat for Ukraine would put the whole Union in danger, that we might have to fight without the United States if Trump were elected in November and that the only way to avoid having to send our children to the battlefield one day was to immediately supply the Ukrainians with enough weapons to repel the aggression.

In the television sets just as in the restaurant on the corner, that is all anyone is talking about now. Some approve, others are outraged, but the same political debate, passionate and furious, is turning the Union into one and the same political arena where three main questions recur again and again.

The first is to know whether the Baltic States, Finland, Poland, Germany and France would really be threatened in the event of Ukraine’s defeat. Many people would argue: “This hypothesis alone is absurd, given that Putin would not have the economic or military means to pursue such ambitions and that all these countries are in any case members of the Atlantic Alliance and therefore under the nuclear protection of the United States”.

Yes, both things are true, except…

Except that if Vladimir Putin were to succeed in controlling Ukraine, this show of strength would strengthen him in Russia itself; it would undoubtedly impress and fracture more than one European country and would give him prestige in Africa, Asia and Latin America as an adversary of Western primacy. The circumvention of sanctions would increase, while calls for them to be lifted would multiply. The regime would then gain the years it needs to repair its economy and build up the stockpiles of weapons it needs for new battles, and the Russian President could then assault other countries.

He could do so because the American umbrella has already been undermined by Donald Trump’s attacks on the Europeans and the priority that the United States as a whole, including the Democrats, is now giving to its arm wrestling match with China. Vladimir Putin could go and test American reactions on the Baltic or Finnish borders, and the absence of any real reaction from the United States to his provocations would create a new situation.

Russia would increase its pressure by seizing, for example, Russian-speaking Estonian territories and would then propose negotiations leading to a “European balance” excluding the United States and introducing arms control which would consecrate Russia’s superiority over the European Union. Vladimir Putin would then no longer even need new annexations to dominate the continent of Europe because it would impose on it the semi-freedom that Finland enjoyed during the Cold War.

The time to stop this man is now, while there is still time, and this raises the second question now shaking the European political scene: do we have the means to do so?

“No”, say all those who are calling for immediate negotiations with the Kremlin on a division of Ukraine. They say that we don’t have a European defence system and that, despite its armies and nuclear deterrent, France alone cannot protect the 26 other EU member states. Here again, both things are true, except…

Except that the EU is finally laying the foundations for a common defence by buying ammunition jointly and relaunching its production lines, that the Russian economy is deeply weakened and that a general mobilisation order would give rise to serious political discontent. Electoral masquerade or not, there is absolutely nothing invincible about Vladimir Putin today. On the contrary, he is perfectly resistible on the sole condition that we Europeans want him to be.

While there is still time, this man must be stopped now, and this raises the third question now shaking the European scene: do we really want to and are we really unanimous in wanting to stop him?

With the exception of Viktor Orban and even more incidentally Slovakia, the answer is yes, absolutely. All our capitals and almost the entire European Parliament are now convinced of the need to put a stop to Vladimir Putin’s imperial ambitions and the international destabilisation they bring with them. Money is being released. The idea of a European loan of some one hundred billion euros is gaining ground. Ukraine will soon have an air fleet capable of changing the situation. Although cruelly lacking, ammunition is arriving, albeit late. Ukraine risks suffering cruel setbacks in the months ahead, but it is not defeated.

Ukraine will soon be able to turn its fortunes around, and the disagreements between Europeans over Germany’s delivery of long-range missiles cannot mask a far more important reality. In this battle, a new Union is emerging and asserting itself so rapidly that 2024 could well be the year of the birth of political Europe.

Originally published here (also available in French, Hungarian, German).