If Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a European conflict on a par with its geographical location, the balance of power at the regional level may come as a surprise.
A reduced population
Russia currently has about 145 million inhabitants. If we count the nine countries in Western Europe, we arrive at a total population of 197 million; which is equivalent to saying that, at the demographic level, Russia does not pose a danger to Europe.
An enclosed army
At the military level, it is currently estimated that Russia has an active armed force of 850,000 men. But if we add the armed forces from France, Germany and Poland and the United Kingdom, we will reach about 700,000 men. The conclusion is that Russia’s capabilities to wage an offensive war against Europe are, to say the least, limited. In fact, Putin is targeting Washington by attacking Ukraine; Europe is only the battlefield. A Europe that has proved, to say the least, unprepared to face what was an announced crisis.
ONE Absent Europe
After practically delegating its security to the United States during the Cold War years, Western Europe was at the fall of the Berlin Wall both without independent defense and without its own vision after the Cold War. But like the fall of the Ottoman Empire or the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the fall of the Soviet Union was a time bomb whose leadership would have demanded the equivalent of a Congress of Vienna. But the establishment of such a mechanism would have required, from the two major European actors, France and Germany, a long-term vision and political will. Both failed.
Washington in command
As a result, in the absence of Europeans, the whole post-USSR problem was controlled by a number of US administrations under the US-Moscow relationship rather than under a Europe-Russia relationship with Washington in the background.
What followed, on the Western side, focused relations with Russia on an enlargement of NATO rather than being part of a geostrategic report that was the result of a long-term negotiation of which France and Germany would have been a part. However, this expansion on the Russian side leads to fueling a worsening nationalism, not to mention a security occupation that led Putin to say in 2021 that “we have no more room to withdraw”.
On the western side, the warnings against the management of this enlargement were multiplied. Thus, Jack Matlock, former US ambassador to the USSR, described it as a “serious strategic mistake”. For Bill Burns, former director of the CIA, it was “a red line not to be crossed. A provocation against Russian interests. Henry Kissinger wrote that” Ukraine should not be part of NATO. Finally, Rodric Lyne, former British ambassador to Russia, said that “if you want a war with Russia, this is the right way to do it.”
no one to listen
In fact, the warnings were there, but there was no one to listen; or to wonder what the reaction of a person traumatized by the fall of the Soviet Union would be.
The result today is an autonomous Europe without defense or consolidated diplomacy, which is overwhelmed by a conflict over which it has virtually no control.
A latent conflict
Meanwhile, and in the increasingly plausible hypothesis that Putin will never be able to control Ukraine, we are heading for a latent conflict for which there is no end in sight. Admittedly, such a scenario that would exhaust Putin is perhaps in Washington’s interest. But it is not necessarily in Europe’s interest. That is why it is necessary for Europeans to find a way out as soon as possible. A resort that will include Moscow’s recognition of the annexation of Crimea, an agreement on the Donbass, an Austrian-style neutral Ukraine with guaranteed borders and, finally, and above all, a new European security architecture, designed and negotiated by Europe, of which Washington and Beijing would be spectators, but not the actors.