Putin wants the West to repeat the tragedy of Central Europe

A series of recent high-level talks between the West and Russia is not as fruitless as is perceived by their participants and political commentators.

It is true that negotiations in Geneva, Brussels and Vienna did not reach agreement on any major issue, and 100,000 Russian troops are still stationed on the Ukrainian border. A compromise may not be the most important thing to anyone.

From the ultimatum issued by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the retaliatory stance of the West (USA, NATO and EU as one voice), one can infer that both sides realize that Ukraine is now part of the West.

Neither Russia nor the West can be prepared for this. Despite striving for such a reality more than others, Ukraine is also not ready. But that doesn’t change anything. Ukraine is no longer a “middle” buffer or gray-zone state as it was until 2014.

This new truth will not be replaced by the fact that the West is currently unwilling to grant Ukraine membership of the European Union or NATO with or without a new Russian military offensive in the near future.

Starting in 2014, Russia’s massive war on Ukraine, claiming 14,000 Ukrainians, has not ended. This fierce war has not affected Ukraine’s civilizational choice towards the West. On the contrary, it has become established in the society as before.

In November 2021, 58 percent of Ukrainians said they supported Ukraine joining NATO, In 2014 this figure was 51 percent, Other than this, 59 percent of Ukrainians do not think that Russia will give up its aggressive policy towards Ukraine if Kiev gives up its intention to join the European Union and NATO.,

Putin’s intentions to obtain premature guarantees of non-expansion of NATO are yet another proof of Ukraine’s belonging to the West. However, he is attempting to reject and change reality against the will of the Ukrainians, relying on the West (paradoxical as it may sound).

Thus, the historical moment of this situation lies in the question of whether the West will abandon its own member, as it once did.

In 1983, the world famous Czech-French writer Milan Kundera described one such example. “The Tragedy of a Hijacked West or Central Europe.”

He had power-sharing in mind in the wake of World War II, when countries such as Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, which had always linked themselves to the West in historical, cultural and political terms, were “hijacked” from the West. , finding himself in the East, in the Soviet sphere of influence. Here Kundera also emphasized the fact that this coincided with the tacit approval of Westerners who did not see Poland, Czechoslovakia or Hungary as part of the West. This was evident during the anti-Soviet uprisings in Hungary in 1956 and in Prague in 1968, which were suppressed by the invasion of these two countries by Soviet troops.

Russia has occupied Crimea and the Donbass for the past eight years since the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine. The whole world has got an opportunity to witness the same symbolic drama unfolding in Europe, which Kundera had previously described.

Ukraine is now the place where the civilizational border between the West and Europe runs.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attended a meeting.
Alexey Nikolsky / Sputnik / AFP via Getty Images

In addition Russian drafts of agreements with NATO and the USAfter 1997, the Kremlin put Ukraine in the same boat as the Central European states, which joined the alliance after 1997. Putin wants the region to be NATO-free, regardless of any country’s membership status. He recently highlighted “Historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians.”

The Kremlin insisted that the United States had promised Moscow that NATO would never expand east—an agreement that was never made by the US or any other country.

Fortunately, unlike in 1945, 1956 or 1968, the West is still not silent and has not yet left Ukraine by consent. The current and possibly new sanctions, combined with the readiness to negotiate with Russia at any level and the supply of arms to Ukraine in any format, jointly confirm this point.

However, these efforts are insufficient.

“If Ukraine is to survive as an independent state, it must become part of Central Europe instead of Eurasia, and if it is to become part of Central Europe, it must fully part of Central Europe’s links with NATO. and the European Union,” Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in his 1997 book . written in grand chessboardAbout the new world order.

This does not mean that today the West is obliged to fight Russia because of Ukraine. However, in order not to repeat the terrible tragedy of Central Europe, the West must help Ukraine not only to prepare for defense, but also to be resilient.

And such flexibility can now be brought about by what Brzezinski said – Ukraine’s deep economic, infrastructure and political ties to the West, particularly Central Europe.

This has been practically confirmed by gas reverse delivery from Slovakia and Hungary to Ukraine, Trade with Poland, whose exports exceeded Russia in 2020 with this advantage still being maintained and by successful operations in Ukraine by companies such as Hungarian-owned OTP and WizzAir and Polish-owned PZU Group and LOT.

Not only Ukraine needs these relations. They could provide an impetus for projects such as the Three Seas Initiative and the Bucharest Nine, which would help rethink the relationship between the Old and New West, adding value to the latter, especially for Poland and Romania.

All these steps make up for one multiparty democracy in action And Work division Which strengthens the transatlantic community, especially its eastern side, which in recent years has turned into a springboard for Russia and China in a new great power competition with the West and the US in particular. In other words, the whole of the West needs relations within Central Europe.

Agreeing to Putin’s ultimatum is not part of real politics for peace and security in Europe. This would be treason.

If Putin’s ultimatum is followed, the West will effectively betray its allies throughout the Eastern part, from the Black Sea to the Nordic countries. That is why the real real politics for the West is to speak for Ukraine at present and not allow the new tragedy of Central Europe to repeat itself.

The West seems to be waking up.

Dmitry Tuzhansky is the director of the Institute for Central European Strategy (Ukraine), Think Visegrad Fellow 2020 and IVLP alum.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author.

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