French President Emmanuel Macron (centre), German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (right) and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi travel on board a train bound to Kyiv after departing from Poland on Thursday. AFP
What does the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis to Kyiv on Thursday mean? Deputy head of Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev dismissed it as of “zero use” with the promise of European Union membership and old howitzers to Ukraine. But the European leaders were loud and clear in their support for Ukraine, and of course they promised only membership of EU and not of Nato. The military implications of admitting Ukraine into the Nato at this stage of the war would mean that the scope of the war would change immediately, and instead of a Russia-Ukraine war, it would become a mini world war with the United States, the United Kingdom, Turkey, and the European members of the Nato dragged into the conflict. Perhaps, Ukraine would welcome the expansion of the war more than its membership in EU, which is an economic and political federation.
The statements of the four leaders left no doubt that Ukraine is now considered part of free Europe. Scholtz said, “My colleagues and I came here with a clear message: ‘Ukraine belongs to the European family.’” Macron chimed in: “We all four support the immediate EU candidate status” for Ukraine. And Draghi: “The most important message of our visit is that Italy wants Ukraine in the EU. And it wants Ukraine to have candidate status and will support this position in the European Council.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky remained unsentimental about the expression of support and made a simple demand for more arms: “We appreciate the support already provided by partners, we expect new deliveries, primarily heavy weapons, modern rocket artillery, anti-missile defence systems.” And he drew the simple inference: “There is a direct correlation: the more powerful weapons we get, the faster we can liberate our people, our land.”
The statements of the European leaders were full of empathy and good will. Zelensky was quite specific about Ukraine’s needs to keep the war against Russia going. Whether Ukraine becomes a member of the EU or of Nato or not, it will fight against Russia to retain its territory and identity. And the fight will continue despite the fluctuation in the fortunes of war. Russian President Vladimir Putin had to prune his war aims from demilitarising and de-Nazifying Ukraine to wrest Donbas in eastern Ukraine and keep it as a buffer zone. Zelensky is equally determined that he would not let Russia bifurcate Ukraine. So, it is going to be a drawn-out war, which could last a few years like the war in Chechnya. The people of Ukraine refuse to be amalgamated to Russia in any form.
And the relations between Europe and Russia are getting colder by the day. Russia has reduced the Nord Stream gas supply to Germany. The Russians are as fiercely determined to wage the war in Ukraine because Moscow too considers Ukraine as part of the Western military alliance as an existential threat to Russian security.
It seems clear that there will no clear end to this war. Russia and Ukraine will not win. They must conclude a peace agreement, and each side needs to step back a little from their maximalist positions. France’s Macron wanted to play the mediator, but he did not manage to do it. Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not given up, and he seems to be taking small steps by asking Russia to make small concessions like allowing Ukrainian wheat to be exported through its ports in the Black Sea. The final ceasefire will come at the end of these kinds of small concessions.
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