The global consequences of the aggression against Ukraine

The European attempt to negotiate, its failure, and the consequences of an avoidable conflict.

War is always the worst of all possible events. It involves destruction and loss of life. What happens in Ukraine is still a tragic testimony of this. The responsibilities of Russia as a country that has mobilized unlimited military means in aggression against a country that can resist but doomed to lose is beyond question. Russian aggression was predictable. One hundred and fifty thousand soldiers are not massed on the borders of a neighboring country without having foreseen and planned the invasion.

The question remains, however, whether the assault was avoidable. American intelligence had not only predicted the attack, but had indicated the day. Not a sudden and unexpected war. The question that has arisen and which now belongs only to historians is whether the predicted aggression could have been avoided.

Indeed, the tragic bone of contention was clear, as it was Ukraine's inclusion in NATO. It had been talked about for over a decade. In other cases, entry into NATO took place more or less naturally, setting conditions and times. Thirty countries are part of NATO, most of which belong to Europe.

The aim was to establish a political and military alliance that would dissuade any attempt at aggression against an alliance member country. But it was also an opportunity to deploy the alliance, or part of it, in a war far from Europe, as happened in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and, initially, in North Africa. In any case, membership of NATO was not mandatory and, in fact, a certain number of European countries are not part of it as in the case of Norway, Sweden and Finland, to mention the Scandinavian countries.

Was it necessary in this context to provide for Ukraine's association with NATO? Its borders are a few hundred kilometers from major Russian cities and only seven hundred kilometers from Moscow, an airplane flight of less than an hour. A theoretically impassable health cordon has been established on the borders of Russia. Moscow's opposition was predictable.

The interest of the European countries was, on the other hand, doubtful if not non-existent, since the countries of Western Europe have important trade relations with Russia, make significant investments in it, depend on it for oil and gas, a decisive reserve for an important part. Western Europe. In any case, it was clear that Russia viewed Ukraine's entry into NATO as an intolerable threat on its borders.

In these circumstances, a negotiation is not only useful but necessary. And, in fact, the negotiations had begun. This was the meaning of Macron and Scholz's trips to Moscow to meet Putin. But despite the two countries, to which Italy must be added, whose economic and political relations with Russia date back to a distant period, were interested in a negotiation, the real solution had shifted to Washington.

For the major European countries - Germany and France - the Ukrainian government's declaration of entry into NATO could not be prevented, but remained far from a possibility of realization. In fact, admission requires the unanimity of the 30 countries adhering to NATO, and the position of France and Germany, to which Turkey can be added, made Ukraine's accession essentially impracticable. This was obviously the meaning of the talks between the French and German leaders with Putin in Moscow. But Washington's position was decisive for Russia. And, for the US government, Ukraine had the right, like any other country, to apply for NATO membership.

A politically abstract position given that NATO membership, by its very nature, automatically changes the political and military relations that currently regulate international balances. The issue recalls Kennedy's opposition in the early 1970s to the introduction of a Russian nuclear base in Cuba and the tacit agreement with Khrushchev on the withdrawal of the threat. Just as today it is out of the question for Washington to consider the inclusion of Mexico in a political-military alliance under the scepter of Russia a case of war.

Indeed, to assess the American position it is necessary to consider it in a global context that includes relations with the Asian countries of the Pacific coast. In this vast area, China is a problem that pushes the United States to forge relations with Japan and South Korea. More generally, the alliance for nuclear-powered submarines with Great Britain and Australia should be considered. It is the goal of developing close relations with India in order to create a possible cordon of sanitation around China.

In more or less analogous terms, on the eastern side of the Atlantic Alliance, America seeks to isolate Russia, with the introduction of Ukraine into NATO, in an arc of political and military control that would extend from the North Sea. where the Baltic countries overlook, the Black Sea.

The reasons for the dissent with Russia were obvious. The only reasonable solution was to place Ukraine in a position of neutrality foreign to NATO and outside the sphere of Russian control. It can be observed that Ukraine itself is a complex country with populations of different origins and several predominant languages. But this is a theme that goes back to the history of the country and whose solution was, as happens in other regions such as in Belgium between the Flemings and the Walloons, to allow the constitution of a national unity within the regions that maintain an own administrative autonomy.

On the other hand, ethnic and linguistic differences have been and remain an indelible feature of Ukraine, regardless of a unitary and democratically elected government. History cannot be erased. Northern Ukraine is basically Russian-speaking. (Khrushchev himself was born in Ukraine and assigned Crimea to Ukraine).

Eventually, Europe fell into a trap. With Russia invading Ukraine and Western European countries forced to break with Russia, that is not in its economic and geopolitical interests. This is the picture that emerges from the war, for which Ukraine tragically pays the political and human consequences.

  But this is only one chapter of European history. The problem of the relationship with Russia will inevitably reopen. Germany and France belong to a history that has included Russia in the European framework since the founding of St. Petersburg. On the other hand, the different political position on a global level does not cancel out common interests. In its own interest, Russia cannot isolate itself in an alliance with a prevailing Asian character in which the dominant iconic power is China.

Western Europe remains an area of ​​essential economic and trade relations for Russia. And, beyond the different ideological and political horizons, an area of ​​common interests. A condition that in both senses, of conflict and collaboration, was a constant and significant example during the years of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But the story doesn't stop there. Germany is a world economic power that tends to circumvent political and ideological differences, as in relations with China. And Germany, like the rest of Western Europe, needs Russian gas and the opening of the second pipeline to ensure the supply of its industrial system. Just as France and Italy need it.

The Russian aggression cannot be justified. But Washington-dominated European politics failed to secure reasonable positions for Ukraine's independence. Russia is on the way to creating new outlets on the Black Sea. Biden will say that he has imposed harsh sanctions on Russia to defend her position, but the effects are dubious and will help to settle relations between Russia and China.

Historians will be tasked with tracing the mistakes that led to these disconcerting results at the European and global levels.

Antonio Lettieri

Editor of Insight and President of CISS - Center for International Social Studies (Roma). He was National Secretary of CGIL; Member of ILO Governing Body and Advisor for European policy of Labour Minister. (