Let us get ahead. Let us get far ahead, since this war may still last and take even more sinister turns, but let’s prepare ourselves, as of now, for the day when the weapons will fall silent, because two precedents oblige us to do so.
The first is that of the Treaty of Versailles, that major historical error which led the victors of the First World War to impose such conditions of peace on the vanquished that indeed peace did not last, and the world is still paying the price. It was not only that the burden of reparations imposed on Germany had contributed greatly to the rise of the National Socialists and thus to the outbreak of the Second World War. It is also that the savage dismantling and amputations that the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires underwent at the time are still being paid for today in the unrest and nostalgia of their former territories.
The world, in a word, would have been much more stable if the victors had been able to find, at Versailles, the intelligence that led them, after Hitler’s defeat, to root the Axis countries in democracy rather than to take revenge on them. When Mr. Putin will have lost the game definitively, when that day comes, when he no longer has the weight he has today, we must remember the benefits of the helping hand and the harms of revenge; but that is not all.
The second mistake that must not be repeated is the one made by the countries of the Atlantic Alliance after learning, in December 1991, that Ukraine, Russia and Belarus were burying the Soviet Union by withdrawing from it and that they had thus won the Cold War. They had only won it by the adversary’s forfeit, yet they emerged as masters of the game to such an extent that it should have been up to them to come up with the rules and the political landscapes after the battle.
Everything was yet to be done. The Cold War and the territorial conflicts frozen by the USSR were about to resurface from the past. Russia was likely to be tempted to stir them up to reassert its regional influence. Not only the Baltics but also Ukraine and Georgia would soon be knocking on the door of the Atlantic Alliance. If left unresolved, these issues would lead to new tensions between yesterday’s belligerents in a very short time, but no one cared about preventing them rather than just having to get out of them.
“The family”, as it was called, that of Yeltsin, only thought of getting rich by privatizing the best resources of the defunct Soviet Union. The Westerners, themselves converted to Thatcherism at the time, could not believe their eyes when they saw the Mecca of communism embracing a capitalism with no rules other than the survival of the fittest.
There was such intoxication and blindness on all sides that it is in this common inefficiency and not in the enlargement of NATO that the Russian humiliation of the 1990s and the war in Ukraine have their roots. The West is not guilty of this, or at least not more so than the Russians who so preferred Yeltsin to Gorbachev, but the very day this war ends, we must be ready to lay the foundations for the world after.
It should be all the more inexcusable to not prepare ourselves for this negotiation with the Russia of tomorrow, as we would be putting ourselves in a position where we could only repeat the mistakes of 1920 or 1991, when all we have to do is update what was done half a century ago with the Helsinki Agreements.
The borders of European countries must once again become intangible and would only be changed by agreement between the parties concerned. The fate of disputed or annexed territories must be determined by negotiations and referenda. The establishment of confidence-building measures would meet the security concerns of the various countries. No country should be prevented from joining a military alliance, but every country should give its neighbors all the assurances of non-aggression and non-interference necessary for their security.
The European countries will commit themselves to restarting the process of reducing arms levels and, with stability thus assured, negotiators can move on to the prosperity agenda by ensuring transparency and security of investment. All the countries of the continent will finally engage themselves to respecting the rule of law and freedoms under the ultimate authority of a Council of Europe with truly binding powers.
What was done in the early 1970s can and must be done again, even better, in the early 2020s. It is only a matter of timing and political will, but with the support of the United States and the G-7 as a whole, the European Union should go further.
While further helping Ukraine to repel Putin’s aggression and entering accession negotiations with it, the EU should already be thinking about the post-war period. Without delay, it should propose a plan to revive the Russian economy, a new Marshall Plan financed by raw materials and developed in line with the progress of political negotiations, because we do not only have to sign a peace agreement with Russia.
We must also make Russia a partner with which to affirm, step by step, the continent of Europe as a pole of wealth and peace that could then radiate all around the Mediterranean.
Not only is there nothing utopian about this, not only would the North, the South and the East of the Mare Nostrum find a common balance, but the Union will only be able to influence the course of its Russian neighbor by opening up new and tangible perspectives to its new urban middle classes and to that large part of the ruling forces which sees no more future in the North Korean model than in a tête-à-tête with China.
The Union must propose a shared future to the Russians and sketch it out today in order to open a horizon other than the long descent into hell that Mr. Putin’s defeat now portends.
A journalist, author and geopolitical analyst, Bernard Guetta has served as the corrispondent for Le Monde from Warsaw, Vienna, Washington and Moscow. He is today a member of the European Parliament, elected in the Renew Europe group.
This article was first published in Italian in La Repubblica.
Cover Photo: Police officers detain a woman during a protest against the conflict in Ukraine in Manezhnaya Square – Moscow, March 13, 2022 (AFP).
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