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War in Ukraine Has Changed Europe Forever – by Roger Cohen for the New York Times – 26.02.23

No event has transformed the continent more profoundly since the end of the Cold War, and there is no going back now.

HELSINKI — A year ago, the day Russia invaded Ukraine and set in motion a devastating European ground war, President Sauli Niinisto of Finland declared: “Now the masks are off. Only the cold face of war is visible.”

The Finnish head of state, in office for more than a decade, had met with President Vladimir V. Putin many times, in line with a Finnish policy of pragmatic outreach to Russia, a country with which it shares a nearly 835-mile border. Suddenly, however, that policy lay in tatters, and, along with it, Europe’s illusions about business as usual with Mr. Putin.

Those illusions were deep-rooted. The 27-nation European Union was built over decades with the core idea of extending peace across the continent. The notion that economic exchanges, trade and interdependence were the best guarantees against war lay deep in the postwar European psyche, even in dealings with an increasingly hostile Moscow.

That Mr. Putin’s Russia had become aggressive, imperialist, revanchist and brutal — as well as impervious to European peace politics — was almost impossible to digest in Paris or Berlin, even after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. An increasingly militaristic Russia might swim, quack and look like a duck, but that did not mean it was one.

“Many of us had started to take peace for granted,” Mr. Niinisto said this month at the Munich Security Conference after leading Finland’s abrupt push over the past year to join NATO, an idea unthinkable even in 2021. “Many of us had let our guard down.”

The war in Ukraine has transformed Europe more profoundly than any event since the Cold War’s end in 1989. A peace mentality, most acute in Germany, has given way to a dawning awareness that military power is needed in the pursuit of security and strategic objectives. A continent on autopilot, lulled into amnesia, has been galvanized into an immense effort to save liberty in Ukraine, a freedom widely seen as synonymous with its own.

“European politicians are not familiar with thinking about hard power as an instrument in foreign policy or geopolitical affairs,” said Rem Korteweg, a Dutch defense expert. “Well, they have had a crash course.”

Gone is discussion of the size of tomatoes or the shape of bananas acceptable in Europe; in its place, debate rages over what tanks and possibly F-16 fighter jets to give to Kyiv. The European Union has provided some $3.8 billion in military assistance to Ukraine.

Overall, European states, as part of the union or individually, have pledged more than $50 billion in various forms of aid to Kyiv, imposed 10 rounds of sanctions, absorbed more than eight million Ukrainian refugees (nearly the population of Austria), and largely weaned themselves off Russian oil and gas in a sweeping shift under acute inflationary pressure.

“Zeitenwende,” or epochal turning point, is the term Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany used almost a year ago in a speech announcing a $112 billion investment in the German armed forces. He meant it for Germany, a country traumatized by its Nazi past into visceral antiwar sentiment, but the word also applies to a continent where the possibility of nuclear war, however remote, no longer belongs in the realm of science fiction.

The post-Cold War era has given way to an uneasy interregnum in which great-power rivalry grows. “Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia,” President Biden said this past week in Warsaw. He spoke as China and Russia held talks on their “no limits” partnership and Mr. Putin suspended Russian participation in the last surviving arms control treaty between the two biggest nuclear-armed powers.

It is the Age of Reordering, and Europe has been obliged to adjust accordingly.

“The war has sent Europeans back to basics, to questions of war and peace and our values,” said François Delattre, the French ambassador to Germany. “It asks of us: Who are we as Europeans?”

For the full 12 page article in pdf with several images, please click here:

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia addressing a rally this past week in Moscow. Credit...Nanna Heitmann for The New York Times

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