The West has turned a blind eye to Russian actions in its near abroad for long enough. It is time to finally face Moscow heads-on.
As Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine nears the one-year mark, there is still no end to it in sight. With the prospect of another protracted conflict in the EU’s near-abroad, high-inflation rates and a looming energy crisis, there is a risk of waning support to Ukraine. Some Western states seem to be, once again, afraid of further agitating Putin by continuously supporting Kyiv with more financial and military aid, as Germany’s recent hesitancy to send Leopard tanks showed.
And yet, it is the West’s responsibility to help Ukraine amid Russia’s genocidal war, not just for Ukraine’s sake, but for the security and territorial integrity of the whole region in the future.
Blindness to Russian actions has long been the West’s primary course of policy towards Moscow. Looking back, the EU’s and the US’ inactivity when it comes to previous Russian aggression towards countries in what it sees as its “sphere of influence” has likely led to Putin annexing Crimea in 2014 and starting a war in eastern Ukraine and the crisis we are witnessing today.
In particular, the West’s weak international reaction to Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia and the quick “normalisation” of relations, particularly the Obama administration’s attempt to “reset” relations, are often seen as a crucial case in point in history. Thus, Western inaction paired with its dependency on Moscow in terms of energy is likely to have bolstered Putin in his belief that he can do what he wants in Russia’s neighbourhood without severe long-term consequences. And so, he continued his conquest in Russia’s near abroad by annexing Crimea in 2014 and starting a proxy war in eastern Ukraine that is ongoing.
Although Crimea’s annexation by Russia triggered the EU and US to enact sanctions and led to a worsened relationship, it somewhat recovered with time. In fact, relations to Russia after 2014 mostly continued as if nothing had happened – a prime example being the continuation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project.
Emboldened from previous experience, Putin had reason to be confident that, even though launching a war on Ukraine would lead to repercussions from the West, these would not last forever and relations would likely normalise once again. The EU’s continuous dependency on Russian energy and its reluctance to diversify led Putin to believe that it would continue to turn a blind eye to his actions.
However, Putin miscalculated when he launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Contrary to previous cases in point, the West stood firm in its united response through unprecedented unity and harsher sanctions than before even including contentious matters such as oil and gas.
Since the invasion, Putin has been isolated in Europe, with only a few governments wanting to continue their cooperation, such as Hungary’s Fidesz government, which seeks to continue the expansion of its Russian-financed Paks II nuclear power plant.
As the war drags on, support for Ukraine is slowly faltering. Decisions to send financial or military aid are taking longer, one recent example being the scrambling over Germany’s decision to send Leopard tanks to Kyiv over fears of escalating the war and becoming a party to the conflict. Yet, the West is already part of this conflict, as it finds itself in a non-kinetic war with Russia. Concerns over potential nuclear escalation by Russia are misplaced, as historian Timothy Snyder explained recently. Moreover, Putin’s warnings not to meddle in the conflict and his nuclear threats have time and again proven to be an effort to deceive the West and deter its support to Kyiv.
One year into this conflict, Kyiv’s efforts to secure financial and, above all, military aid to ensure its ability to defend the country from anticipated new offensives are continuously running high. Without outside support, Ukraine is at risk of succumbing to Russian aggression – an outcome that needs to be avoided at all costs.
Supporting Ukraine is vital not just for the sake of making sure Ukraine continue to exist, but also to demonstrate that the West is finally ready to face Moscow heads-on and that it will no longer condone Russia’s actions in what it sees as its “sphere of influence” and that future aggression towards independent states in the region will not be tolerated. This is also crucial because if Ukraine falls, other states in the neighbourhood will follow. Just recently, Moldova once again expressed fears over a potential Russian coup. Stepping up and showing support to Ukraine could thus signal to Russia that further aggression in the neigbourhood will not be tolerated and may potentially deter Moscow from escalating a war in another post-Soviet state.
The EU must not show weakness toward Moscow and once again back down on its support to countries whose existence is threatened by Russia. On the contrary, it must continue to help others defend the values itself stands for: democracy, respect for international law, and territorial integrity.
Turning a blind eye to Moscow’s actions and diminishing support for Ukraine over fears of cornering Putin is exactly what brought the West into this position in the first place. Instead of repeating the same mistakes it has in the past, it finally needs to face Russia heads-on and continue its unabated support to Ukraine, for as long as it takes.