Putin earns around one billion euros a day from Russian oil and gas exports, according to expert estimates. And the higher the prices, the faster the Russian President’s war chest fills up. Yet Germany and others continue to reject a boycott of Russian oil and gas, arguing that it is simply too expensive for their own economies. And as for Ukraine’s stated wish to join the European Union, the Europeans could find no better answer than the usual empty diplomatic formula.
There was a divide between older members of the European Union and newer ones, and a debate about what kind of signal the EU could now send to Ukraine about the country’s desire to join. Everyone here knows that it would be a symbolic gesture, something that would give tortured Ukrainians hope and a sense of being welcomed by Europe. Because after all, this pro-Western view is exactly why Ukraine is now paying a terrible price.
But Eastern European countries that wanted to be more accommodating to their Ukrainian neighbors were blocked. There was resistance from the Netherlands and others, who pointed to EU rules on membership, saying no exceptions could be made and the process usually took many years. That seems like a bad argument indeed, for a country that is currently being bombed by Russia.
Barbara Wesel, DW Europe correspondent
The most cautious and doubtful in the EU prevailed. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he was disappointed with the outcome – and he has every right to be.
EU leaders still brag about the harsh sanctions they imposed on Russia immediately after that country invaded Ukraine. With a few more turns of the screw, no doubt a few more banks will be blocked and a few more oligarchs blacklisted. This obviously hurts the Russian economy in the medium and long term. But that doesn’t seem to make the slightest impression on Vladimir Putin. In any case, it certainly did not bring him any closer to a ceasefire or to the negotiating table.
Everyday war crimes
Instead, new war crimes are committed daily, the civilian population in Ukraine is bombed, rockets are fired at those trying to evacuate, as well as at maternity hospitals and kindergartens. Putin’s strategy is a scorched earth strategy.
And at the same time, the Europeans continue to fill its war chest to the tune of one billion euros a day by buying Russian oil and gas.
When is the right time to turn off the Russian tap, if not now? But again, self-interest trumps morality.
This would seriously harm the German economy, said the country’s leader, Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Other countries, including Hungary and Bulgaria, also reject it because they are too dependent on supplies from Russia. Even though the majority of Germans now favor such a boycott, their leaders’ sense of caution and fear is stronger.
We probably won’t get a boycott until the very end, when Ukraine is in rubble, when the number of people killed is too high to bear and the flow of refugees can no longer be accommodated. But by then it will be too late. It is now that this last resort sanction could have an impact. Instead, Europe is helping Putin win his war, and all the desperate messages from the courageous Ukrainian president don’t change that.
Too little, too late
You also have to ask yourself if it was a good idea to rule out a no-fly zone from the start. EU member states, most of which also belong to NATO, quickly retreated in the face of Putin’s vague nuclear missile threats. Smarter strategists might have left this option on the table. But in fact, EU leaders have said one thing very clearly. No matter what happens in Ukraine, no matter how bad things happen there, we will stay away.
At the start of this war, there were big words about how this invasion was an attack on all of Europe and its security. The EU deduces from this that it must learn better to take care of itself, of its economic autonomy, of its defense and of its place in the world order. It’s not false. In fact, in geopolitical terms, this should have happened years ago.
Faced with the tragedy currently unfolding in Ukraine, we can only say that it is too little, too late. The cautious, restless and avaricious Conservatives won. They abandoned Ukraine to Putin’s missiles and his delusions about the return of the Russian empire.
The EU is happy to provide aid and arms, and to take care of Ukrainian refugees, but does not seem willing to take more risks or make more effort than that. Only the coming weeks and months will tell if this is a huge miscalculation.
This piece was originally published in German.