16 Mar 2022

Some thoughts on the situation in Ukraine

I would like to share my opinion on the war in Ukraine. This desire stems from the fact that I have Ukrainian friends whose families are affected by the situation. It’s also because my country, Romania, has been taking in Ukrainian refugees. And of course: this should concern all European citizens, and even citizens from across the globe, in places as far away as Taiwan.

Sanctions vs Military Aid

I wouldn’t say that sanctions are useless—but it’s clear the EU has relied on them too much. When a country starts an unprovoked invasion of their neighbour, it’s not like a trade dispute or a diplomatic spat; military action should be countered, and can only be countered, by military counter-action.

That said, sanctions can do useful things, but we have to be selective about them, and think about unintended consequences. For example: sanctions targeting individual oligarchs, like seizing their yachts and freezing their accounts, hurts those loyal to Putin. It gives them incentive to pressure Putin into stopping the war. Or killing him outright.

Another sanction that has proven extremely effective is seizing Russian foreign currency reserves, as this has made the ruble plummet, which makes it harder for them to buy military hardware on the international market. Even domestically produced arms usually require components manufactured outside Russia, such as chips.

Sanctions that punish ordinary Russians, however, are more likely to make the Russian populace support Putin. Of course, not all sanctions fall into neat categories. Removing Russia from swift makes it harder for them to finance the war, but it also hurts ordinary Russians.

What history has shown time and again is that when an ally is attacked by an aggressive neighbour, the best response is always military. The weapons that have been sent to Ukraine have accomplished more than any sanctions. They have saved civilian lives; destroyed Russian material; limited Russian territorial gains; and forced Putin to seriously negotiate. If the war hadn’t been going so badly for Russia, they would never have entertained serious talks.

The EU should stop deluding itself into thinking that diplomacy and sanctions make up for a strong military. Diplomacy only works when it’s backed up by military might. Or, as Mao Tse-Tung put it: “Power grows out the barrel of a gun.”

Anyone who argues for pacifism needs to seriously evaluate their world view. We do not live in a world ruled by international law, UN crap, or even by economic forces; the world remains the same place as it’s always been since history began. A jungle.

Jets or no jets?

Some eastern European NATO and EU states, most notably Poland, have offered to send Ukraine Mig fighter jets and S-300 SAMs (surface-to-air missiles). Ukraine doesn’t have pilots who know how to fly American or European jets, so they can only use Soviet equipment they have trained to fly in.

The plan was to exchange Polish Migs for American F16s, after which the US would donate the Migs to Ukraine (making sure they changed the insignia and so on). Biden, however, got cold feet at the last minute.

Frankly, I don’t see why sending Migs or SAMs would be escalating when sending Javelins, NLAWs and Stingers is not escalating. Even if the war does escalate, so what? Russia clearly can’t win a conventional war against Europe or NATO. Their military is hampered by bad logistics, corruption, and limited spending power.

Nor am I convinced that we should allow Russia to conquer Ukraine, because as WW2 has shown, appeasing a tyrant never works. Give them a Suedentland and they’ll take Czechoslovakia, Poland, France… The sames goes for Putin.

The nuclear scare

Nobody wins in a nuclear war. Everyone knows this, including Putin. But Putin is relying on the so-called “Madman Doctrine” to scare everyone into believing he will use the red button. NATO and the EU should not allow themselves to be intimidated. I don’t think Putin’s threats are anything more than sabre-rattling, and if not, somebody rational will probably put a bullet in the back of his head if he gives the order.

As Benjamin Franklin put it: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

What is the future of Ukraine?

I could be totally wrong here, but I’m betting this war will be over in several weeks or a few months. The invasion is too expensive for Russia in manpower, material and sanctions; they also have little to gain aside from offshore gas in Crimea. Most likely, Ukraine will cede Crimea and Donbas in exchange for withdrawal of Russian troops.

Zelensky and Boris Johnson have implied that Ukraine will not join NATO as part of the negotiations. To be honest, I don’t think this is such a great idea, as it will give Russia the option to try another invasion at some point in the future.

But, supposing Ukraine does not join NATO, they can still join the EU—which obliges member states to protect each other. Article 42.7 Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) is much like Article 5 of NATO:

If a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. This shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States.

Of course, joining the EU will take a long time. Even though I support Ukraine’s Accession to the Union, like Poland and the Baltics, I agree with Macron and other Western European leaders. Ukraine can’t join in a day. The rules are there for a reason: they aren’t just for the benefit of the EU—its Single Market, political cohesiveness and institutional functioning—but for Ukraine as well. Tackling corruption is vital.

Moreover, let us not forget the huge economic disparities between Ukraine and the EU. Poland has 4 times the GDP per capita of Ukraine: Ukraine has just €300/month for each citizen, whereas Poland has €1200 and Germany €3400. You can’t just give Ukrainians unlimited freedom of movement. Their country will need many years of financial aid, loans, and private/public investment to become a full member of the EU.

With that said… Nothing prevents the EU and US from cooking up a Marshall Plan. This could include money for rebuilding but also military training, equipment, and financial support to buy weapons systems. With a population of 40 million people, Ukraine can defend itself—provided it has enough hardware and the training to operate it.

I would even be in favour of stationing the EU army (which is going to happen) on Ukrainian soil—although that will be a hard sell for some EU countries, and will require a loose interpretation of the word “neutral”. But hey, Russia’s promises aren’t worth shit, so why should the West pretend otherwise?

Changes to the EU

Putin’s invasion has been terrible news for Ukrainian people… but great for the EU! East Europe and West Europe are united like never before. Putin has even driven a Russian-shaped wedge between Poland and Hungary. Orb├ín is alone now, with Poland and Slovenia distancing themselves from his pro-Putin politics.

As for the aforementioned EU army, it might not necessarily be called the EU army. Officially, it will be called the Bundeswehr, and the Luftwaffe. But it will be the EU’s army. It will be fuelled by German money, French military tech, and I’m willing to bet it will have an English-speaking foreign legion comprised of EU nationals.

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