The Irish Times view on the Ukraine crisis: forcing the west to unite

Moscow should not count on a crumbling western alliance

UA krainian serviceman checks the situation at the positions on a front line near the Avdiivka village, not far from pro-Russian militants controlled city of Donetsk, Ukraine, on Tuesday. Photograph: Stanislav Kozliuk/ EPA

UA krainian serviceman checks the situation at the positions on a front line near the Avdiivka village, not far from pro-Russian militants controlled city of Donetsk, Ukraine, on Tuesday. Photograph: Stanislav Kozliuk/ EPA

 

If, as he claims, it is Vladimir Putin’s strategic intention to curtail Nato expansion and weaken European security infrastructure, the Russian president’s aggressive posturing over Ukraine would appear to be a diplomatic own goal. Putin’s miscalculation of the likely western reaction to the build-up of troops on Ukraine’s border has not only resurrected a somnolent Nato, described only two years ago as “brain dead” by French president Emmanuel Macron, but succeeded in dragging a US preoccupied with China forcefully back into the European arena.

The Biden administration is now reportedly considering deploying thousands of troops to eastern Europe. Washington says it is working on the diversion of natural gas supplies from around the world to Europe in the event that the flow from Russia is cut, has delivered a first supply of hundreds of anti-tank Javelin missiles to Kyiv, and is working on the most radical sanctions package yet that will include restrictions on exports to Russia of crucial software and hardware.

Importantly Joe Biden has also firmly rejected Russian attempts to confine negotiations to bilateral discussions between Russia and the US, a move that would certainly have been viewed favourably by his predecessor Donald Trump, and rightly insisted that no deal can be done without Ukraine or the European allies.

There was never any chance that Russia would secure its maximalist “security guarantees”, the withdrawal of Nato from all countries that joined the alliance after 1997, essentially a demand to return to the Cold War order before Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin agreed that former Soviet states could choose whether to seek Nato membership. To put that agreement in question has also reopened a dormant discussion further afield in non-Nato Sweden and Finland, who are insisting that their right to join the organisation should be theirs alone.

Has Putin, on the other hand, as some suggest, succeeded in fostering divisions within the alliance? Some hawks suggest that Germany’s reluctance to commit more forcefully to the anti-Russian alliance with weapons and a closing off of the important NordStream 2 gas pipeline, because of its dependence on Russian gas and economic ties, marks it out as an unreliable ally and weak link in Nato. Last weekend the chief of the German Navy had to resign after saying that Putin deserved “respect” and that Crimea would “never” be returned to Ukraine. Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Berlin of effectively “encouraging” Russian aggression.

But the Russian president should not count on a crumbling alliance. Berlin’s new government is still finding its feet and Chancellor Olaf Scholz has warned that Russia will suffer “high costs” in case of a military intervention. Putin’s reinvigoration of Nato’s raison d’etre is not lost on Berlin.

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