War or Peace

After nearly 10 months of fighting in Donetsk, all parties agree on at least one point: this is war. Declared between the separatists and Kiev. But also undeclared, between Ukraine and Russia, even if Moscow continues to deny — against all evidence — its involvement in the fighting. For some time, Europeans have been able to believe that it would remain a low-intensity conflict, contained and without consequence for the continent. It is true that the economic crisis, tensions of identity, questions on Greece and the emergence of the Islamic State have ceaselessly diverted attention from this slow Ukrainian rotting, which today threatens to destabilize all of Europe.

For this is a conflict which Europe has refused to see thus far: Vladimir Putin is also at war against the “West,” being persuaded himself that he is victim to a warped plot by the United States and its sidekicks to weaken Russia. That war is, for the moment, pure propaganda. But the risk of such a blaze is not out of the question. The risk is that Western arms — though Washington hesitates, several European capitals are pushing this direction — would respond to those of Moscow in a fight becoming more and more bloody between Kiev and the separatists.

France and Germany finally took action on this reality when they announced, Feb. 5, their new peace initiative. “It will not be said that France and Germany together have not tried everything, undertaken everything to preserve the peace,” explained Angela Merkel, while François Hollande added that “the diplomatic option cannot be prolonged indefinitely.” That is where we stand. The threat does not come solely from Russia. The Ukrainian crisis represents a significant risk of division between Europeans and between Europe and the United States.

If this plan has failed so far — due in large part to the offensive of the separatists — how should it be given a second chance today? The “global” approach requires a determination of Ukraine’s sovereignty — Crimea included — and its future economic rebuilding. This sovereignty cannot be negotiated. On the other hand, what can be offered to Russia by France and Germany — backed up by the EU, the United States and NATO — are new guarantees on a form of neutralization of Ukraine, to ensure that it does not rejoin a military alliance. Kiev must understand that this would also be in its best interest.

Some will think this is too much concession toward Moscow. But what is the alternative? Putin is ready for a war of attrition. It could well become “total,” as the French president clearly said.

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