Putin has awakened a sleeping giant in Europe – Twin Cities

BERLIN — I’ve been writing about the war in Ukraine non-stop since the invasion of Russia on February 24, but I admit that it took coming to Europe and meeting politicians, diplomats and entrepreneurs here for me to understand fully what happened. You see, I thought Vladimir Putin had invaded Ukraine. I was wrong. Putin had invaded Europe.

He shouldn’t have done that. It could be the biggest act of madness in a European war since Adolf Hitler invaded Russia in 1941.

I only fully understood this when I arrived on this side of the Atlantic. From a distance, it was easy to assume – and probably easy for Putin to assume – that Europe would eventually come to terms with Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, in much the same way that Europe is reconciled with its 2014 devouring of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, a remote slice of land where it met little resistance and unleashed limited shockwaves.

Fake, fake, fake.

This invasion – with Russian soldiers indiscriminately bombing Ukrainian apartment buildings and hospitals, killing civilians, looting homes, raping women and creating the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II – is increasingly additionally seen as a 21st century repeat of Hitler’s attack on the remnant. of Europe, which began in September 1939 with the German attack on Poland. Add to that Putin’s apparent threat to use nuclear weapons, warning that any country that interfered with his unprovoked war would face “consequences you’ve never seen,” and that explains it all.

  • This explains why, virtually overnight, the German government renounced nearly 80 years of conflict aversion and kept the defense budget as small as possible, and instead announced a huge increase in military spending and plans sending arms to Ukraine.
  • This explains why, almost overnight, Sweden and Finland abandoned more than 70 years of neutrality and applied for NATO membership.
  • This explains why, virtually overnight, Poland gave up playing with pro-Putin and anti-immigrant populist Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister, and opened its borders to more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees while transforming into a crucial land bridge. to bring NATO weapons to Ukraine.
  • This explains why, virtually overnight, the European Union rejected years of baby-step economic sanctions against Russia and fired a precision economic sanctions missile right at the center of Putin’s economy.

In sum, what I thought was just a Russian invasion of Ukraine became a European earthquake – “wake-up – boom! – and then everything changed,” as Joschka Fischer, a former German foreign minister, told me. “You are seeing a huge change in Europe in response to Russia – not based on American pressure, but because the perception of the threat from Russia today is completely different: we understand that Putin does not speak only of Ukraine, but of all of us and our path to freedom.”

Like it or not, Fischer added, modern Europe is now in “confrontation mode with Russia. Russia is no longer part of any European peace order. There was “a total loss of trust with Putin”.

Is it any wonder why? Putin’s army is systematically destroying Ukrainian towns and infrastructure with the apparent intention not to impose Russian rule on these towns, communities and farms, but rather to wipe them and their inhabitants off the map and make true by force Putin’s crackpot claim that Ukraine is not a real country.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, I interviewed Anatoliy Fedoruk, the mayor of Bucha, Ukraine, the town where Russia is accused of killing dozens of civilians and leaving their bodies to rot in the streets, or piled up in a mass grave in a cemetery, before the Russian troops were driven out.

“We had 419 peaceful citizens murdered in multiple ways,” Fedoruk told me. “We had no military infrastructure in our city. People were defenseless. Russian soldiers stole, they raped and they drank. … I’m really surprised that this is happening in the 21st century.

If this was the “shock” phase of this war – and it is still going on – the “fear” phase is something I detected among European officials in Davos and Berlin. To put it bluntly, while the United States of America seems to be falling apart, the United States of Europe — the 27 members of the European Union — have stunned everyone, especially themselves, by coming together to shake hands, along with a number of other European nations and NATO, to thwart Putin’s invasion.

You could almost feel the EU officials saying, “Wow, did we make that fist? Is it our fist?

Since February, the EU has imposed five sanctions packages against Russia – sanctions that not only seriously hurt Russia, but are also costly for EU countries in terms of lost business or increased cost raw material. A sixth package, agreed on Monday, will cut around 90% of EU oil imports from Russia by the end of this year while ejecting Sberbank, Russia’s biggest bank, from SWIFT, the messaging system vital global banking.

Perhaps the most impressive thing is the number of Ukrainian refugees that EU countries have agreed to host without much complaint. There is a realization that Ukrainian men are also fighting to defend them, so that EU nations can at least house their wives, children and elderly.

“They get the same health care, family allowances and education as the Poles,” Mateusz Morawiecki, the Polish prime minister, told me. “Why not? They work and pay taxes. The only thing they don’t have is the right to vote.

Putin thought the EU would quickly burst under his pressure, Morawiecki added, “but Putin was wrong. Europe is now much more united than before the war in Ukraine.

Yet many in the EU wonder how long they will be able to maintain that aching fist. It’s a legitimate question.

“Putin is counting on the fatigue of the West,” Morawiecki said. “He knows he has a lot more time because democracies are less patient than autocracies.”

It’s true. Some European leaders are already encouraging President Joe Biden to call Putin and explore terms for a ceasefire. Putin’s forces in eastern and southern Ukraine are now crushing the Ukrainian army at various strategic crossroads, firing volleys of rockets and heavy artillery. They don’t need to be precise; they just need to overwhelm the Ukrainian forces with their volume.

I hope the Ukrainians can hold out long enough for more advanced western weapons to even out the fight and for the EU sanctions on Russia to really hurt, so that the Ukrainians have real influence on Putin in any negotiated settlement.

That said, however, I couldn’t help but notice another theme that ran through my conversations here. It is a belief that because this is so Putin’s war, and because the barbarism of his forces in this war has been so criminal, as long as Putin remains in power in Moscow, it will be very difficult to trust Russia on anything concerning Ukraine.

I haven’t heard anyone advocating regime change, but I also haven’t heard anyone say that the West could return to normalcy with Russia without it. All this to say that something very important with Putin broke here, and this going to be a problem when we come to the negotiating table – as long as Putin leads Russia. But Putin is a problem for the Russian people, not for us.

Thomas Friedman writes a column for the New York Times.

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