From proxy war to open intervention: the next phase of escalation in Putin’s war against Ukraine has begun. By now, heavily armed units of the Russian army are operating in southern Ukraine. The next target of this offensive appears to be Mariupol, the third largest city in Donbas, an important port and industrial hub. Its seizure would be a significant step on the road to creating a land bridge between Russia and Crimea. Thousands of civilians have already fled the city.
What has been foreseeable for weeks has now come to pass. While Putin professed his “desire for peace,” and Lavrov ingenuously insisted that Russia had “no interest in the destruction of Ukraine,“ the Kremlin strengthened its grip on the country’s eastern region. Following the earlier deployment of heavy military equipment and Russian mercenaries, regular Russian troops are now entering the country.
The signal is clear: Putin is not ready to let go of eastern Ukraine. A democratically reformed and economically successful Ukraine is a nightmare for the Russian ruling elite. If it is not possible to bring the whole of Ukraine back into the Russian sphere of influence, then the industrial heart of eastern Europe should at least be broken and destabilized by a “frozen conflict.” Is Europe going to watch as a state is destroyed that had chosen in favor of European values? Will we allow the Russian leadership to unhinge the peaceful order of Europe? The West came to terms with the fragmentation of Georgia, it accepted the amputation of Moldova – will it sacrifice Ukraine in order to avoid conflict with the Russian leadership?
Every credible policy begins with using language that reflects the reality of a situation. We therefore expect Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Steinmeier to speak of Russia’s war against Ukraine, as other European governments have done. The EU must not leave any room for doubt that aggression against a state with which it has struck an Association Agreement will have a high political and economic price. New sanctions must aim at changing the cost-benefit analysis of the Russian elite in a lasting way. At the same time, support for Ukraine at all levels must be strengthened. This includes broad-based humanitarian aid for the people affected by the war, securing Ukraine’s energy supplies, and increasing financial assistance to prevent the country’s economic collapse. Especially in this critical situation, in which the Ukraine must defend itself from a militarily far superior neighbor, European governments should ensure that the doors to the EU are open to the country. The suspension of the visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens would be a meaningful signal of solidarity.
The undeclared war by Russian leadership against Ukraine has become a test case for the EU’s political capacity to act. It cannot allow Russia to resurrect the doctrine of “limited sovereignty” from the relics of the Cold War. Let’s not deceive ourselves: this is not “only” about the future of Ukraine. What’s at stake is the future of Europe.
This is not only the responsibility of governments. This is a wake-up call for European civil society. We call on all democrats: Take action! Stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and speak out against the military intervention by Russia’s leadership!
Jurij Andruchowytsch, writer
Marieluise Beck, Member of the German Bundestag
Oleksandra Bienert, Euromaidan Wache Berlin
Pamela und Wolf Biermann
Olaf Böhnke, Head of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations
Marianne Birthler, former Head of the Federal Commission for the Stasi records
Franziska Brantner, Member of the German Bundestag
Viola von Cramon, former Member of the German Bundestag
Peter Franck, lawyer
Ralf Fücks, President of the Heinrich Böll Foundation
Rebecca Harms, Co-Chair of the Group of the Greens/EFA in the European Parliament
Gerd Koenen, historian
Sergey Medvedev, iDecembrists e.V.
Markus Meckel, former Foreign Minister
Stefan Melle, German-Russian Exchange e.V. (Deutsch-Russischer Austausch e.V.)
Ruprecht Polenz, former Chair of the foreign affairs committee of the German Bundestag and President of the Society for Eastern European Studies (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Osteuropakunde)
Dr. Eva Reich, Doctor of Medicine
Prof. Jens Reich, molecular geneticist
Manuel Sarrazin, Member of the German Bundestag
Stefanie Schiffer, European Exchange (Europäischer Austausch)
Prof. Karl Schlögel, historian for Eastern Europe
Ulrich Schreiber, Literature Festival of Berlin
Werner Schulz, former Member of the German Bundestag and Member of the European Parliament
Thomas Sparr, Publishing House Suhrkamp
Sylke Tempel, Chief editor of “Internationale Politik”
Helga Trüpel, Member of the European Parliament
Reinhard Weißhuhn, President of the Robert Havemann Society
This article was originally published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation North America.