Russia is no longer a partner of the European Union; Ukraine has been accepted as a candidate member; the United States supply weapons and advanced intelligence to an ex-Soviet Union member; NATO is back on the front stage; the UK and Turkey are part of a new ‘European Political Community’… Nobody, a year ago, could have predicted these dramatic changes on the European chessboard. And Vladimir Putin’s behaviour is making these changes increasingly irreversible.
An assessment follows about the current situation, what it means for the transatlantic relationship, what it changes in the debate on enlargement in the European Union and what might be its implications for the future.
The war in Ukraine
The war in Ukraine did not start in February 2022. It started in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and launched military operations in the Eastern Ukrainian oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk. But the reaction of the world at the time was rather subdued: the Obama administration condemned the annexation of Crimea but let France and Germany alone participate in the ‘Minsk process’ with Russia and Ukraine in the so called ‘Normandy format’. This process quickly entered into a deadlock – with Ukraine’s military only discreetly supported and supplied by Western countries – and Putin concluding that there was therefore no real obstacle to the restoration of Russia’s lost Empire.
The scenario completely changed on February 24, 2022. What Russia called a ‘special military operation’ was seen by the rest of the world as a massive invasion of an independent country, the first ‘war of aggression’ in Europe since the end of world two and a violation of the most basic principles of the UN charter and the current world order.