Posts Tagged ‘European Union’

Ukraine, Day Six. Which Way To The Exit?

Tuesday, March 1st, 2022

In May, 1944, Jean-Paul Sartre’s one-act play No Exit premiered at Paris’s Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier. It tells the story of three people in Hell and how they deal with that particular calamity. It is a play about the “devouring” gaze of the other and how that restricts one’s freedom. I thought of No Exit and one of its famous lines as I watched from afar Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin’s all out attempt to devour a sovereign country, its people, and its leadership. The line that came to mind was, “Life begins on the other side of despair.”

For Sartre and his followers, life may have begun on the other side of despair, but for Ukraine, life began on the other side of Russia.

Today’s Ukraine was born with independence from the Soviet Union on 24 August 1991. Since then, Ukrainians have been building a nation state with all the mistakes that come with it. Ukraine is still a developing democracy going through birthing pains, just as America did. Think about where the U.S. was after just thirty years of independence. For Ukraine, democracy will be a generational thing, just like America’s was.

In case you haven’t noticed this last week, Ukrainians are optimistic. They have what the eminent Russian and Ukrainian scholar Uri Ra’anan called in his writings a “national personality” based on optimism. They’ve always thought: Life begins on the other side of Russia.

Now, Ukrainians are doing what no one thought possible. They are fighting off Putin with bravery, skill, and determination. And they’re holding their own — at least for now. Not a lot of countries would have been as committed to freedom and democracy as Ukraine is demonstrating it is right now.

Yesterday, Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy signed an application for his country to join the European Union, and today the EU moved Ukraine to Candidate status, a necessary part of the vetting process for new members. European Union membership will take time; there are many steps. One hopes the EU will move as swiftly as possible in its consideration, which, if it leads to approval would be another rigidly straight and upright middle finger offered to Vladimir Putin.

After submitting Ukraine’s application for membership, Zelenskyy addressed the European Parliament from his headquarters in Kyiv explaining in vivid terms how his country is fighting for “its very survival.” After he spoke, the EU Parliament’s President Roberta Metsola delivered a hard-hitting and on-point speech highlighting Europe’s unity in the face of Russian aggression and laying out four Principles to guide Europe’s future, all aimed at isolating and crippling the momentarily underperforming Bear to the east. The Principles were easy to say, but will certainly be monumentally difficult to carry out.  She said:

  1. “Europe can no longer remain reliant on Kremlin gas.”
  2. “Europe can no longer welcome (Russian) Oligarchs’ cash and pretend there are no strings attached.”
  3. “Investment in our defense must match our rhetoric.”
  4. “We must fight the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign. Tech companies must take their responsibilities seriously. There is no being neutral between the fire and the fire brigade.”

In addition to Ukraine’s unanticipated, heroic, and, for the moment, successful, resistance, a unified and strong European Union must have been a complete surprise to Putin. After all, in 2008 he invaded Georgia and in 2014 it was Crimea, both with barely a ripple of response, except for some rhetorical hand-wringing and wimpy economic sanctions, and both for the same strategic and political reasons he gave for the current invasion in his rambling, wrong-headed, televised speech to the Russian people last Monday, 21 February. He maintains these former cogs in the Soviet Union’s wheel, Ukraine, Crimea and Georgia, historically belong to Russia and are integral to maintaining  its “sphere of influence.”

“Russia perceives itself as entitled to a historical sphere of influence, the so-called ‘near-abroad’, and doesn’t allow anyone else to infringe on it,” said Nicoló Fasola, an expert in Russian military strategy at the University of Birmingham in Britain.

“Russia is always anxious about foreign penetration – not only in terms of military involvement and political engagement but also in cultural terms,” Fasola told FRANCE 24 on the first day of the invasion.

Whatever his reasons, it appears being stymied by an army one-fifth the size of his has thrown a demonic, electrical  switch in Putin’s brain. Yesterday’s illegal and inhumane cluster bombs, leveling neighborhoods, a shopping center and a school in Kharkiv, demonstrate he will do whatever it takes to achieve his goals regardless of consequences from the West. The indiscriminate and wanton killing of innocents is now part of the strategy going forward.

Realizing what an unhinged Putin could now unleash, European and American leaders are searching for ways to accomplish two contradictory objectives:

  1. How to end the bloodshed, avoid a Third World War and guarantee an independent, European-based, Ukrainian democracy, while,
  2. Providing some kind of minimally face-saving off-ramp for the Moscow megalomaniac who is quickly on his way to becoming a bona fide war criminal,

In his Art of War, Sun Tzu called the second objective, “Giving the enemy the Golden Bridge upon which to retreat.”

Does Vladimir Putin deserve any kind of Golden Bridge? If not, how does this end?

Which way to the exit?