Russia has inflicted enormous damage on Ukraine and terrible cruelties on its people, and continues to do so. However, a war that was supposed to lead to the capture of kyiv in a matter of days has now lasted almost three months. There is no indication that Russia is winning or can win, and this is due not only to the heroics of Ukraine, but also to the help provided by NATO.
The resurgence of the Atlantic alliance has been another unforeseeable consequence of this war, very contrary to the supposed objectives of Putin.
For many in the West, especially in the heart of the European Union, NATO was just a relic of the Cold War. Like a Trabant or a jukebox, it looked like it belonged in a museum.
For most on this side of the Atlantic, international relations after 1991, when the Soviet Union went to its grave without regret, meant the European Union. It grew steadily to 28 countries, absorbing many states from the former Soviet bloc. With Russia diminished, humiliated, introspective and mired in corruption as it built a post-Soviet existence, the EU felt entitled to embrace its self-proclaimed destiny to command the future of the continent.
Inevitably, in that heady moment of triumph, a triumph caused more by the economic and moral weakness of the Soviet Union and the firepower of the United States than by anything the EU had to offer, it too began to overreach.
As treaty after treaty was signed (Maastricht, Amsterdam, Lisbon) and the ambition and central control of the EU grew, talk of a federation and its accompanying trappings became more common. One was a European army, meaningless if NATO served its purpose.
Nonetheless, France, Britain (under Tony Blair) and Germany agreed in principle to a European Defense Force at St Malo in 1998, albeit in a very different world.
The dream was aided by a streak of anti-Americanism in Europe that became especially apparent during the second Gulf War.
France in particular, but also Germany, imagined that they wanted the United States to separate itself from the defense of Europe and that doing so would not affect its security. Such attitudes helped turn Britain against the EU and led, six years ago, to a vote to leave the bloc altogether. They also fostered an arrogant mindset that, prior to 2014, had Brussels toying with Ukraine over its chances of EU membership.
When Russia made its first move in eastern Ukraine in the winter of 2014, the EU headed for the hills, too terrified to pick a fight with a powerful neighbor over something as trivial as a little boy who showed an interest in joining the club. Reality had intervened.
If it has taken a major attack on Ukraine to expose the real weakness of Russia and its deluded leader, it has also exposed the real weakness of the EU as an actor in international relations on its own continent, and the utter indispensability of NATO if Europe is not to repeat the bloody mistakes of 20the century in the 21stSt..
One of the reasons Putin offered for attacking Ukraine was that if it were to join NATO, he would see it as a Western threat to Russia, even though NATO is a declared and unequivocal defensive alliance, not an offensive one.
Putin’s excuse may well be a lie: virtually every public statement he makes is. One suspects that the real reason for the attack was to achieve a conquest that would make him look powerful and make his ignorant people feel better about the Russia he has created, and throw his weight around the world, as thugs do, with the expectation of intimidating others.
The West was caught off guard: despite having its own nuclear deterrent, it was deterred for a time by Putin’s deranged threats to deploy his own.
However, it is now clear that his attempt to stop NATO’s expansion is actually fueling it. Finland, whose 800-mile border borders Russia, resisted NATO’s temptation for decades. Now its president, Sauli Niinisto, and its prime minister, Sanna Marin, have issued a joint statement stating that “NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security” and that “Finland should apply for NATO membership without delay”.