The Irish Times view on Europe and Ukraine: Putin’s miscalculation

Germany and other EU states are breaking taboos with their response to Putin’s aggression

German chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany would deliver anti-tank weapons, Stinger anti-aircraft defense systems and howitzers to Ukraine. Photograph: EPA/Clemens Bilan

These are likely only the opening days of what could be a long Russian war against Ukraine. But already it is clear that Vladimir Putin's aggression has succeeded in reinforcing the very thing he claimed to be trying to stop: a united Europe standing with a resilient Ukraine, actively working to defeat him.

European powers that just weeks ago baulked at sending arms to Ukraine are openly arranging to ship lethal weapons to Kyiv. EU divisions on sanctions against Russia have melted away; strong measures have now been taken to freeze the assets of Putin and his circle, exclude key Russian banks from the Swift payments system and restrict the Russian central bank. The latter could be a devastating blow for the Kremlin. At the stroke of a pen, hundreds of billions of euro in international reserves have been made inaccessible, eliminating one of Putin's key insurance policies against all the other sanctions.

Nowhere is the shift in European attitudes more remarkable than in Germany, where chancellor Olaf Scholz yesterday signalled an abrupt shift in the country's post- cold war foreign policy by announcing a massive increase in defence spending. A €100 billion defence fund, confirmed to loud applause in the Bundestag, would push defence spending beyond the Nato minimum. Through decades of European dealings with Russia, Germany has been the most confrontation-averse of the big powers – a position informed partly by self-interest (Germany takes half its gas from Russia) and partly by a misplaced faith that close trade and political links could coax Moscow down the path of democracy. In the space of a week Berlin's outlook has radically shifted. Scholz, facing an international crisis after just three months on office, announced on Saturday that Germany would send weapons to Ukraine. He has halted the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and shut German airspace to Russian aircraft.

Putin assumed that Europe’s divisions and its reliance on Russian energy would blunt any response to his aggression. It is not the only miscalculation he has made, but it will be a decisive one.