Precisely one year ago, on February 24, 2022, Russia launched its military assault against Ukraine, shattering the order established after the Cold War. The security and prosperity achieved through the efforts of whole generations of Europeans were on the brink of crumbling down. Russia has embarked on its imperial conquest with a single goal in mind: reconstruct the former Soviet sphere of influence regardless of the costs and victims. We must do everything in our power to prevent that most terrible geopolitical nightmare. What is the state of play? We have witnessed 12 months of unheard-of cruelty from Russia. The months were measured out by regular bombings of schools, hospitals, and civilian buildings. They were counted not by days, but by the number of victims. The Russians have spared no one, killing men, women, old people, and children. The acts of genocide in Bucha, Irpin, and other towns provide chilling evidence that Russia has committed the most horrendous crimes imaginable. Mass graves, torture chambers, rapes, and abductions—this is the true face of Russian aggression. But it has also been a year of great heroism on the part of the Ukrainian nation led by Volodymyr Zelensky. That nation has stood up to Russia’s evil empire with faith, perseverance, and determination. Ukraine is fighting not only for its own sovereignty, but for the security of the entire continent. How do we stop this war? The last year has taught us many important lessons that Western countries should take to heart if they really want to live in peace and security.
Lesson number one: the war concerns us all.
We need to start by getting rid of a false image of the Russian invasion. This is not a local conflict. Russia wants to set Europe ablaze. Its aim is to destabilize the entire global economic order. The aggression against Ukraine is part of a plan that was hatched a long time ago and has been implemented by Vladimir Putin for at least a decade. As early as 2008, during Russia’s invasion of Georgia, Polish President Lech Kaczyński gave this warning: “We know perfectly well that, today, it is Georgia that is at stake, tomorrow it can be Ukraine, the day after the Baltic states, and then maybe my own country, Poland.” This prediction came true sooner than Europe had expected. Six years later, in 2014, Russia annexed Crimea. Today, we are witnessing a full-scale military attack against Ukraine. What will the future hold if we do not stop the Russian war machine? From a distance of hundreds of kilometers one cannot hear the exploding shells, the air-raid sirens, or the crying of parents who have just lost a beloved child in a bombing. But the distance from Kyiv must not be allowed to appease our conscience. I am sometimes afraid that the West is populated by many for whom having a lunch in a favourite cafe or watching a Netflix series is more important than the lives and deaths of thousands of Ukrainians. We can all see the war happening. No one will be able to claim that they did not know about the atrocities being committed by the Russian army. This is why we must not be indifferent. Russia’s imperial plans go beyond Ukraine. This war concerns us all.
Lesson number two: Russia fuels the global economic crisis.
The war in Ukraine is only one front of the battle for the future of Europe. Russia is also attacking our civilization in the areas of cyberspace, information, and the economy. Carl von Clausewitz once said that war is the continuation of politics by other means. Apparently, Vladimir Putin has understood that famous adage very well. Moscow adapts its techniques of aggression to the adversary it faces. Putin cannot conquer Europe militarily, at least not before he destroys its economy. The energy crisis and global inflation we are all grappling with have their origin in Russia’s imperial aggression. The precursor to the invasion of Ukraine was the Kremlin’s hawkish gas policy back in July and August 2021. At the time, Putin’s gas blackmail led to hikes in gas prices on European markets. This was just the beginning. Russia hoped that the paralysis of the energy sector would weaken European countries and convince them to stay away from the war in Ukraine. Right from the outset, the strategy employed against the West was to escalate the crisis. Russian military activity is one of the main reasons for rising global prices. We are all paying dearly for the Kremlin’s decisions. It is time we understood that Russia is fueling the global economic crisis.
Lesson number three: de-Putinization is a prerequisite for Europe’s sovereignty.
For several years now, the weakness of the West has been Russia’s strength. Dependence on Russian hydrocarbons, dubious dealings with Russian oligarchs, and utterly incomprehensible concessions on Europe’s part, including those concerning the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, all paints a picture of disordered relations between the West and Russia. Many European governments believed they could agree to perfectly normal contracts with Moscow. In fact, the contracts turned out to be pacts with the Devil, and Europe’s soul was at stake. This is why going back to “business as usual” is impossible. One cannot normalize relations with a criminal regime. It is high time Europe became independent from Russia, especially in the energy sector. Poland has long stressed the need to diversify European supplies of oil and gas. New sources of these products open up new opportunities. De-Putinization—that is, breaking off relations with the dictatorial machine of violence created by Putin—is a sine qua non for Europe’s sovereignty.
Lesson number four: Solidarity is stronger than fear.
The war has already changed Europe. When it invaded Ukraine, Russia hoped that the West would not wake up from the geopolitical slumber into which it fell years ago when it naïvely began to believe in the “end of history” myth. Russia has miscalculated. It wanted to divide us, but we became more united than ever before. As with any other totalitarian regime, the most powerful weapon of the Kremlin is fear. We must counter Russian threats and blackmail with solidarity. Help for Ukraine is already coming from all corners of the world in the form of food, supplies, and weapons. What we are giving Ukraine is hope and a chance of victory. Germany’s approval to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine—an approval Poland called for—is of great importance here. We know already that the German-produced vehicles will be accompanied by American Abrams tanks. In the end, cold calculations were put aside in favor of the Euro-Atlantic alliance. NATO has proved that besides being the most powerful military alliance in the world, it also stands truly united. Together we shall overcome evil. Solidary is stronger than fear.
Lesson five: Rebuild Ukraine and strengthen Europe.
Victory in the fight against Russia is closer not only thanks to the successes of the Ukrainian army, but also because the Russian bear has been weakened by sanctions. We owe this to the West, which has formed a strong alliance for freedom. However, defeating Russia in the present struggle is not enough. In order to win the war, we need to build an entirely new political and economic security structure. What will be the building blocks of our common European home? Security depends on our unity in shared values and interests and is consolidated by strong economic and social ties. We will not recover from the current economic crisis without this all-important unity. Europe faces two possible futures. Either Ukraine wins and there is peace in the continent, or the winner is Russia and Putin’s imperialism is free to expand. If Ukraine is to come out victorious, we need to start thinking about a paradigm shift in European politics. The idea of a community of security and peace is now the only possible development model.