Among the many effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, some are shattering and some are positively surprising. On one side of the ledger, Vladimir Putin is somewhere between being a winner and a loser. He wins a slice of Ukrainian territory, a small reward for a war of aggression that is costing Russia a huge price in terms of losses of men and material and in longer terms of time, in quality of life for the Russian people. Geopolitically, his crusade against NATO has achieved the opposite from what he intended. NATO is about to accept two new members, Finland and Sweden, an event driven by the West, establishing a new iron curtain that will cut off Russia and its money-making energy export capital.
The surprise is that the Ukrainian war has forced the West to search for and reach a high degree of unity, with a welcome corollary, that the unity that Europe is accomplishing is accompanied by the end of European dependence on the United States. This is the message that one of America’s allies, Italy’s premier Mario Draghi, brought to the White House in his meeting with President Biden: “Europe is the ally of the United States,” he said. “Thus, its visions are not in contrast but they are changing and we must talk about them.” In practical terms, Europe and the U.S. will have to reflect upon the objectives of the war and make a decision.
Obviously, Italy is not a major partner in the confrontation with Putin’s Russia but what Draghi said in Washington invites such reflection. The United States and the United Kingdom favor a military enforcement against Russia which has no end in sight. On the other hand, continental Europe — France, Germany, Italy and Spain in particular — look at ways to end the war and the emergency that impacts the availability of energy and grain, besides the impelling efforts of returning a large number of Ukrainians to their homes.
The devotion by Draghi, Macron and Scholtz to the NATO mission of protecting Europe and preserving peace is beyond doubt, yet Draghi has brought to the fore the simple fact that many people in Italy and other countries are tired of the war and deeply anxious about its consequences, among them the problem of heating their homes and the unrelenting rise of inflation. It is a situation that stresses Europeans far more than Americans, given the deep differences between the ability of the U.S. to sustain wartime operations at a cost that no other country, Russia included, can afford for too long. This may look to some as a glimmer of hope that Putin will come to terms with the fact that he has lost his gamble in Ukraine.
Last but not least, the growing ability of the Ukrainians to fight for the survival of their nation has opened the prospect of a negotiated cessation of the conflict. The crux of the problem lies with the need for Ukrainians to be satisfied with the results of such negotiations, whenever they may be concluded. The other condition is for President Putin to realize that he cannot win a war of attrition with the United States. To be sure, there will have to be a cease fire arranged by diplomacy. The European allies will press for more diplomacy. In the meanwhile, the United States will have the time to provide President Zelensky with more advanced weapons. The U.S. can wait, but the Europeans now are in a hurry. And everybody worries about what the new Russian czar has in mind