Why Europe is backing its support for Ukraine
Napoleon’s foreign minister Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord once said: “A diplomat who says ‘yes’ means ‘perhaps’, a diplomat who says ‘perhaps’ means ‘no’ and a diplomat who says ‘no’ , is not a diplomat. ”
Talleyrand died in 1838, but the passage of time has not diminished the truth of his words. European diplomats use the art of the diplomatic “maybe” to deal with debates about an energy embargo against Russia or the prospects of EU membership for Ukraine. High-ranking EU officials regularly visit Kyiv and promise immense military, economic and diplomatic aid to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. These promises will be difficult to keep when they collide with the cold reality of European politics and the national interests of EU member states.
Given the stalled negotiations on an EU embargo on Russian oil at the end of the year, it is not clear when the large oil supplies from Russia to Europe can be expected to end. And even if a plan works, the current EU proposal is riddled with exceptions that would allow the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia to continue importing Russian crude oil until 2024, which would create ample opportunities to circumvent an embargo. Something similar is happening with natural gas: the European Commission has issued new sanctions guidelines that effectively allow European states to pay for Russian gas in rubles, as Vladimir Putin has demanded. Most importantly, the end of 2022 is far away. By then, an embargo could be obsolete.
The past few months have shown that many European countries are more concerned with ending the war than with who wins. Germany, in particular, seems interested in preserving the option of a return to the status quo from Ukraine. Berlin is not alone in this. After his successful re-election, French President Emmanuel Macron has hedged his bets, saying that any future peace in Eastern Europe must not involve unnecessary humiliation of Russia and could include territorial concessions to Moscow.
From the start of the war, continental support has been lackluster compared to US and UK responses To According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, the US provided $4.4 billion in equipment and other aid to Ukraine in the first month alone, twice as much as the EU and its member states. If Ukraine survives this war, it will be largely thanks to support from Washington and London, as well as some Eastern European states, notably Poland. But even war-hostile countries like Poland wanted US guarantees to stockpile their weapons before they agreed to send sophisticated weapons to Ukraine.
Germany seems increasingly willing to provide more and better equipment, but every promise seems immediately met with a bureaucratic or logistical hurdle that takes weeks or months to resolve. The most recent example is the delivery of the Gepard anti-aircraft tank, which lacked the ammunition required for the mission.
Given these developments, it would be overly optimistic to expect Ukraine to join the EU anytime soon. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock have signaled they would support such a move, but they both know that at least one of the 27 EU member states would veto full membership Kyiv. It’s not clear if such a veto would come from Hungary, Austria, France or even Germany itself, but Mr Macron gives the clearest indication of what to expect. He recently suggested creating a “European Political Community” alongside the EU – a kind of purgatory for states that would like to become full members but probably never will.
Despite the supranational ambitions of the EU and its most ardent supporters, national interests still dominate the political calculations of the member states. For Paris and Berlin, the Ukraine crisis is not only a security problem, it could also determine the future distribution of power in the EU.
The most prestigious positions in the EU are held by Western European politicians, reflecting a power imbalance between Eastern and Western Europe, from Ms von der Leyen (Germany) to European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde (France) to the Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell (Spain) and the President of the European Council Charles Michel (Belgium). Eastern European governments have made it clear that this status quo is increasingly unacceptable to them, and the war in Ukraine has given them added confidence to change it.
The EU is built around Germany and France, and both countries have jealously guarded their position as the ultimate decision-makers in Europe. Policymakers in both countries are aware that an EU with Ukraine could lead to a competing Warsaw-Kyiv axis, which neither France nor Germany want. Ukraine is politically and culturally closer to Poland than Germany, meaning German power in the EU could be significantly diminished and replaced by growing Eastern European influence.
These thoughts may seem cynical given the heroic struggle of Ukraine and its people, but it would be a mistake to think that power politics has been replaced by universal ideals. As Talleyrand pointed out, part of diplomacy is making promises, but ultimately actions speak louder than words.
Mr. Schöllhammer is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Economics at Webster Vienna Private University.
Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8