Europe wakes up to the Russian threat
For years, Western Europe has viewed Putin the same way much of the world still views climate change: as an intangible threat, deserving of serious debate, but not yet real or existential enough to warrant action. that changes society. Now that danger lurks at Europe’s doorstep, the continent has begun to wake up.
In Germany, a nation that recoiled from confrontation with Moscow after the fall of the Berlin Wall, proof of this is a historic military build-up announced in response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Berlin also suspended a new pipeline intended to supply German factories with Russian gas for generations. But equally telling of tectonic change is the way Gerhard Schröder – a former German chancellor who had grown close to Putin – is becoming a national pariah.
The former leader who landed lucrative positions with Russian companies has seen his allies leave him and outraged staff members resign over his failure to speak out against the invasion. Even his favorite German football club Borussia Dortmund fired him from an honorary position.
As public tolerance for Putin’s apologists evaporated, Russian conductor Valery Gergiev was fired from the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra for failing to speak out against his former Kremlin pal. Gergiev’s German manager dumped him as a client.
“In the light of the criminal war waged by the Russian regime against the democratic and independent nation of Ukraine, and against the open European society as a whole, it has become impossible for us, and clearly inappropriate, to defend the interests of Maestro Gergiev .,” the agent, Marcus Felsner, said in a statement.
To understand the drastic change, you need to grasp the German mindset: There is a need for stability and peace in Europe after the horrors of Adolf Hitler, and some acquiescence in Moscow as an acceptable price for peace. Since reunification, Germany has co-existed as a member of NATO and a friendly interlocutor between the West and Russia. When Merkel sought to impose sanctions on Russia after its initial aggression in Ukraine in 2014, polls showed a majority of Germans against them.
Fast forward to now. Germany – which embraced pacifism in the wake of World War II – abandoned its long resistance to sending arms to conflict zones and sent arms to Ukraine. More importantly, new Chancellor Olaf Scholz, once an expert in word analysis on Moscow, announced a historic increase in military spending to deal with the Russian threat. The nature of German “remilitarization” will require serious national debate and will be deeply contested by some. But in a bracing acknowledgment of the new Russian threat, a recent poll showed that 78% of Germans supported Scholz’s plan.
“The Germans don’t want war, they don’t want nuclear weapons, and there will be a discussion about how to respond properly without provoking more action from Russia,” said expert Stefan Meister. policy at the German Council on Foreign Relations. me. “We still don’t know where public opinion will go in the coming weeks. Corn [the invasion of Ukraine] is a shock to society. If Russia wins this war, which is very likely, the question is what is the next step? »
Eastern European countries – Poland and the Baltic states – have sounded the alarm about Russia for years. Now, Western parts of the continent are not just listening, but waging punitive sanctions against Putin and a regional defense overhaul to deal with the Russian threat.
In France, where President Emmanuel Macron was seeking a meeting with Putin before the invasion, a new poll showed that 84% of respondents believe that it is impossible to “negotiate” with Putin and 7 out of 10 supported arms deliveries to Ukraine. Surprisingly, a majority – 53% – even supported a step rejected by leaders in Washington and European capitals: the intervention of NATO armed forces in Ukraine.
As European leaders prepare for a defense summit on March 10 in Versailles, France, Macron is seizing the moment to push his vision of a European army – or the building of a powerful, local force that does not depend , like NATO, from the whims of anyone inhabiting the White House.
“We cannot let others defend us; whether on land, at sea, under the sea, in the air, in space or in cyberspace,” Macron said in a televised address Wednesday evening. “Our European defense must take another step.”
The historic push for stronger collective defense in Europe is the culmination of an awakening Russian threat after years of sleepwalking through Russian aggression. But it is also an acknowledgment of the unpredictability of American politics. Polls show public support for President Biden and former President Donald Trump, who praised Putin, as being roughly similar.
“I tend to think this could be an inflection point that sees Europe much more concerned with looking after its own interests,” William Drozdiak, a European affairs expert at the Wilson Center — and a former Washington Post reporter. “This is Macron’s thought. Since the Trump era, Europe could no longer rely on US security guarantees.
Western Europeans are generally the laggards against Russia. But nodding to the lead they are now taking through some of the most crippling economic sanctions ever unleashed, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire didn’t mince words.
A litany of European oil and gas companies – BP, Shell and Equinor – are shutting down their Russian investments, hitting the Kremlin where it hurts: its energy sector. The British government, a nation awash in the ill-gotten gains of Russian oligarchs, is accused of doing too little too late to rein in the billions spent by Putin’s cronies on Belgravia mansions, private clubs and elite schools.
But the Russian threat has crystallized for the British people. In a month of September YouGov survey34% of Britons saw Russia as a “hostile threat”.
After Russia invaded Ukraine, that figure nearly doubled to 64%.