Between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, Ukraine can become a banana republic. Only Europe is capable of a serious and responsible strategic attitude. For that, it has an historic example that, bridging the gap, can be useful: Finland. But also it is possible that the ongoing revolution in various parts of the world gets ahead of all the models.
The recent NATO meeting in London showed an unraveled West that cannot find a new strategy after the late Cold War.
The verbal fight between an old ignorant American bully—president Trump—and a squab of a French emperor—president Macron—barely served to conceal a somber and sad coincidence, namely that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is an obsolete and non-credible military alliance: the product of an outdated bipolar tension between liberal capitalism and soviet communism. The current world is something else. Neither liberal nor socialist, it is multi-polar and unstable.
Europe cannot decide whether to treat Russia badly or well –a Russia that is no longer socialist but has become vindictive. This indecisiveness should not alter an unavoidable understanding: even to treat the Russian power in a conciliatory manner, Europe must count on its own dissuasive power far superior to what it has. It can no longer count on the nuclear cloak of an automatic American protection. The alternative: to pretend that such protection continues, would result in a disunited and weak Europe, an easy prey for bilateral arrangements in favor of Russia. Even worse, such weakness and disaggregation would favor not only Russia but also the Chinese ambition to meddle in the richest and most populated region of Eurasia of which Europe is just a peninsula. Regarding this issue, the French are more lucid and less timid (for historical reasons) than the Germans. Their proposed strategy is clear and succinct in concept—a strong and at the same time conciliatory Europe—but hard in practice: there is no consensus on such a strategy because of the growing nationalism and populism in the continent.
On its side, United States have expressed a clear preference for a new isolationism. It is a broader tendency older than Mr. Trump´s demagogy. Already under previous administrations everybody noticed the weariness regarding failed military interventions and the desire of not only retreating from the Middle East quicksand but also of disengaging from the Atlantic alliance in favor of the Pacific theater as the main strategic priority.
The corollary is clear: from this perspective, Russian aggression in its own periphery is less worrying that what might have been during the old Cold War. Russian moves in Georgia and Crimea could be the equivalent of a Monroe doctrine in the “natural” Russian influence zone, not unlike the old and clumsy American interventions in Central America and the Caribbean. This is not just my fantasy. The more the United States retract and withdraw unto themselves, the more they will concentrate on their “backyard” (Latin America) as a priority influence zone. Latin America runs the risk of becoming the last frontier of an empire on decline. In that case, the American “vision” would become less ecumenical, more obstinate and closed. It is the mental result of a strategic withdrawal and in turn brings a corollary of greater tolerance—a sort of affinity—regarding other regional hegemonies in the planet. Such is the American attitude towards Russian agression in Ukraine and the Turkish invasion in Syria—apart from the personal sympathy of Mr. Trump for a czar and a sultan.
A better strategic position for the West lies outside the framework of the thinking inherited from liberal imperialism that would see the former USSR as the last frontier (but a frontier biased to the West) of freedom, democracy, and security (that is what many officers and opposition politicians still want in the United States) on the one hand, and on the other, a rightist nationalist thought that considers Ukraine as a former soviet state, corrupt and irredeemable, just a source of crocked deals that it will have to manage as best it can with its Russian neighbor; from one oligarch to another oligarch across their tense the frontier.
This second “realist” position, the cynical one displayed by Trump and his circle of friends, is interested in Ukraine just as a chess pawn in the American internal disputes. It is all about bout pressuring, frightening, and bribing Ukraine’s government to “investigate” the family businesses of former vice president Joe Biden, today a presidential hopeful in the forthcoming American election. Ukraine only matters either to play politics (this time, not state policy but electoral politics, and thus a breach of constitutional norms) or to make money in a particular way. That is how American politicians and citizens have frequently behaved in Latin America. This time, they have treated Ukraine as another Latin American country.
However, Ukraine´s geopolitical location is different. Ukraine seems more like Finland than Guatemala (not just in terms of its society but of its location). During the Cold War, Finland remained independent but neutral. It was able to defend its democracy and freedom but did not align either with Soviet Union or with the Western defense mechanism (NATO). With regards to soviet Russia it maintained a suspicious but respectful relation. Of course, Finland achieved such status because it knew how to defend its sovereignty in front of the Russian invasion in 1939. Can we draw a model from this example?
It is possible for the West to help Ukraine´s defense capability and, at the same time, guarantee its neutrality: sovereignty in exchange for non-alignment (that implies abandoning every attempt to incorporate it into the European Union and even less into a decrepit NATO). In exchange for that, they can offer Russia a lifting of sanctions and favorable conditions for investment and trade. This does not imply tolerating Russian interference in western democracies s it does now, and especially in terms of cyber-attacks. In other words, Europe needs to update the old saying of American president Theodore Roosevelt: “Speak softly and carry a big stick”.
A more amicable attitude towards Russia, but from a position of strength, is exactly the opposite of what Trump is doing. Regarding this, let us remember the poet Jose Hernandez. One of the characters in his epic poem Martin Fierro, Sargent Cruz, rightly ponders, regarding certain politicians identified by him as “puebleros” (today we would call them populists): “… but they do as the lapwing birds / that hide their little nests: / in one place they shout / and in another they keep their eggs.” The Europeans are capable of more than one rational position. As president Macron spat president Trump in London: “let´s be serious.”
Such a shift in the mind frame would also bring a geopolitical benefit in another context. By getting closer to Russia, Europe could separate it from China, whose design is more insidious for Europe than Russian interference, (the latter does not go beyond espionage and security). Chinese meddling is economic and is prima facie much more attractive. The Chinese bring with them financial power and technological capability and (for now) they do not have an internal political front that prevents them from taking audacious initiatives in foreign policy. Unlike Russian crony capitalism, Chinese state capitalism is successful. It is capable of seducing not with moral inspiration but with hard currency and advantages in applied science and technology. For its part, Europe can seduce other nations with its culture, quality of life, and as a model of society.
At this point in reasoning, it is not difficult to notice that the decisive variable for a solid European position depends on its unity, its political will, and leadership. In a not so distant past, Europe had such leadership. We almost do not need to repeat the names: from the authors of the Manifesto de Ventotene up to Churchill, De Gaulle, Adenauer, Monnet, Schuman, De Gasperi, Mitterrand, Kohl and many more. However, we should also remember that in a more distant past, Europe produced characters at the same time sinister and ridiculous, such as Kaiser Wilhelm II—an early version of Donald Trump.
Neither one nor the other, neither brilliant nor ridiculous: today´s European leadership is rational and competent but it lacks strength and persuasion, or if it has them, it conceals them as the lapwing hides the eggs. The European Union flag they hoist is not capable of eliciting enthusiasm. It is not, as it was before, a mobilizing utopia, but rather, as Borges might say, a utopia of tired men. The fatigue of the capable paves the way for the enthusiasm of the worst: the “puebleros” of Sergeant Cruz in the Martin Fierro. These also have names and are legion: Viktor Urban, Matteo Salvini, Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, and Boris Johnson, among others.
In front of all these leaders, today´s “good-guys” and the bad ones, technocrats and puebleros, popular anger pops up everywhere. Many people are sick of the alternation between technocracy and demagogy. But the protests and revolts that today are rampant everywhere need organization and leadership. They need proposals and not just emotion. As in Luigi Pirandello´s work, they are characters in search of an author—or authors (new parties and teams). For now, they do not find them, but history shows that it may for them to emerge not take too long.
To end this article, I’d like to offer two quotes that are worth repeating. In Ukraine, Russia, France, Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, Hong Kong, Colombia, Chile, etc. rebel youngsters do the preparatory work of that old mole, the revolution.
The ghost says again: “Swear by his
Hamlet says: “Well said, old mole! Canst work i’ th’ earth so fast? A worthy pioner! Once more remove, good friends!”
Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 5.
“But the revolution is thoroughgoing. It is still traveling through purgatory. It does its work methodically. And when it has accomplished this second half of its preliminary work, Europe will leap from its seat and exult: Well burrowed, old mole!”.
__Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, VII.
These are optimistic
expressions, but they belong to 1603 and 1852, respectively. In 2020, it is the
survival of the specie what is at stake. Today, even small children go on
strike in their schools in order to challenge the planetary irresponsibility of
 . This relocation rests on a wrong geopolitical presumption: thinking that today the Atlantic and the Pacific are not connected. They are for the Chinese. Since Cristobal Colon, we know that you can reach the East by travelling towards the West.
 . It is evident that Vice-president Biden’s son went to Ukraine not out of love for freedom and transparency or to play the balalaika, but to take advantage of his patronymic and stuff his pockets, legally of course, as any other foreign investor in an underdeveloped country.
 . Finland is one of the less corrupt countries in the world. Ukraine is one of the most corrupt countries.
 . In the “Winter War,” in December-January 1939, when the Soviet Union seized the Karelian peninsula and pretended to occupy the whole Finland, the reduced but patriotic Finnish army suffered 25,000 casualties but infringed 240,000 to the Russians. The latter convinced themselves that the annexation was not worth.
 . The Ventotene manifestó written in June 1941 and whose complete title is For a free and united Europe, manifesto project, is a text forerunner of the idea of European federalism. Their authors are Altiero Spinelli, Ernesto Rossi, and Eugenio Colorni.
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