Giving in to Putin would be our defeat. From his apartment in Bucha, Illia Ponomarenko of The Kyiv Independent writes about what Europe can learn from the war in Ukraine.
Kyiv, Ukraine. It’s not that I feel particularly entitled to lecture someone, specifically the European Union, about the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine.
But after what we have seen over the last nine months — and we have seen the world turning upside down here — I think there are a couple of very simple though very important lessons we all must learn if we still want a better tomorrow for ourselves and our kids.
European peace and security are things that need to be worked on and ensured all the time, with no delays or excuses. And when dark times arrive, we must make tough decisions. We cannot bury our heads in the sand.
What were European leaders thinking all these years as they were step by step enabling and encouraging an aggressive, corrupt, and expansionist regime in Moscow?
It’s not a shockingly groundbreaking revelation, of course.
But what were European leaders thinking all these years as they were step by step enabling and encouraging an aggressive, corrupt, and expansionist regime in Moscow? What were they thinking of as Europe plunged into severe dependence on Russian natural gas supplies, and as many European nations neglected their militaries for decades? As a result of European leaders looking away, opting for tempting and easy deals with the devil for so many years, we are where we are now in the year 2022.
Over the last few decades, Europe has been peaceful as never before, especially since 1991. No one seemed to expect a critical, existential threat. Historical figures were replaced by regular managers trying to avoid ”unpopular decisions” for as long as possible.
”Do not provoke Putin,” they said. God forbid voters will have to pay more for gas this winter, while there’s still seemingly the option of just giving Vladimir Putin what he wants and forgetting about the trouble — for some time, maybe.
Europe became one of the best places to live on Earth, because at some point it decided to stick to certain principles.
Europe became one of the best places to live on Earth, because at some point it decided to stick to certain principles — democracy, freedom, rule of law, honest business, and cooperation. Now we have a situation where false prophets of “peace” and “compromises” suggest that Europe should betray its fundamental values and give in to blackmailing for the sake of a deceptive sense of comfort.
But it is exactly this sort of betrayal that has resulted in what we all have to deal with now. A mafia formation in the Kremlin besotted with European money and connivance unleashed an insanely aggressive propaganda of hate, revanchism, and territorial expansion. Then came the biggest European war of conquest since 1945. And the threat of nuclear war, the risk of a global food crisis, natural gas intimidation, cities razed to the ground, and the giant exodus of refugees.
This is a lesson for us all — values matter. The comfort, freedom, and prosperity of Europe are not to be taken for granted. You have what you have now as long as you stand for it and defend it. The end of history never happened. The peace and security of Europe are now challenged, and will be challenged again in the future. The time when Europe could afford to be generally careless is over.
This is a lesson for us all — values matter.
Historic times require historic decisions. When the darkest hour comes, there needs to be action. Not a spineless attempt to sacrifice someone else to possibly delay the doomsday. I must say it’s a bit weird to see some people in Europe so bitterly upset about the air temperature in their flats in the winter — while next door there’s a giant nuclear power so mad about its failing conquest in Ukraine that it openly declares war on the very essence of the Western way of life and the fundamental rules it is built on.
So yes — what we have seen in the last nine months in Ukraine makes it clear that Europe must be ready to stand for itself if it wants to continue enjoying what it deserves. Maintaining effective militaries, strong defensive alliances, and cooperation matters. Even if it means spending over 2 percent of the national GDP on defense. And helping Ukraine makes sense because if Ukraine falls, Europe will be next. You don’t want to face a very encouraged, resource-boosted empire of conquest that knows that no one will come to help its next victim.
Moreover, as the last nine months show, putting up a fight actually works. Without the Ukrainian decision to fight and the Western decision to assist, we wouldn’t be seeing the war’s course reversed, there would have been no victory at Kyiv, no Kharkiv operation, and no triumph in Kherson. There would have been no realistic hope to put this war to an end. Right now, I am writing these words in my apartment in Bucha only thanks to all the people who made the tough call.
Faceless managers turned into historic decision-makers.
The good news here is that Europe seems to have made the right choice. During Russia’s full-scale war, we’ve seen many European leaders come a long way from weak attempts to suggest a ”compromise” with Moscow at the expense of Ukraine, to being publicly ardent about the necessity of the Ukrainian victory and constantly increasing military and financial aid to Kyiv.
Faceless managers turned into historic decision-makers. They have assumed responsibility and leadership in going the hardest way – though the only right way – of helping us win the war and neutralize the threat.
I remember January 6, 2022, when I was invited to a press gaggle with the EU High Representative Josep Borrell in Kyiv. On that day, the EU’s top diplomat just chuckled when I asked him how he couldn’t see that his vague and uncertain rhetoric regarding a possible EU response to a Russian invasion was seen as a sign of weakness and encouragement by the Kremlin. That was just six weeks before the worst eventually happened. A lot of things could have been prevented had there been more courage and resolve.
But today, as one googles ”Josep Borrell”, the first thing that appears is his most recent statements: Moscow does not demonstrate the will to make peace, and peace is not possible until Russia withdraws from Ukraine.