The invasion and occupation of Crimea by the Russian army effectively constitutes an act of war. The EU must now realize that it should no longer be allowed to get away with semantic acrobatics. It is a point of departure from which a strong and determined political response can be resolutely developed, in conjunction with the U.S., Canada and the largest possible number of democratic countries.
It is not enough to merely understand the significance of Russia's latest "initiative." It is, however, essential to understand the nature of the present regime in Russia. Timothy Snyder's definition -- "a national-Bolshevik regime" -- may well be the most useful, as it focuses on the regime's two main features. "National" underlines the central importance of regaining Russia's former grandeur, within a wider project of imperial restoration mainly inspired by Aleksandr Dugin's Eurasianism. "Bolshevik" describes the nature of the current regime in which the state, beyond democratic aesthetics, is ruled by a state within a state: the "structures of forces" (silovicracy) today, like the Communist Party yesterday.
If, as we believe, this definition best describes the reality of the current Russian regime, we cannot deem Mr. Putin to be living "in another world" as Mrs. Merkel put it. He does live in this world and it is a world that is both real and the very antithesis of our ideal, or at least, the ideal of those of us who still consider freedom, the rule of law and democracy to be the foundations of our civilization. So we cannot agree with the German Chancellor when she says that the Russian president is, or has become, "out of touch with reality." This assumption is yet another avoidance of the basic question. Mr. Putin is in full touch with reality -- his own reality. It is a reality that revolves around ensuring the continuation of the current regime, its power and the vertical of power on which he has built his political (and not only political) fortune. It is a reality in which the actual priority is to stop or even eradicate any possibility of the Ukrainian democratic virus spreading to Russia.
It is only on the basis of these assumptions that it may be possible to work out an effective response for Ukrainian people and their prospects of democracy and security and, in the foreseeable future, for Russian people too. To be successful, this strategy must "convince" President Putin that his Ukrainian adventure (public in Crimea, undercover in Eastern Ukraine) is even more dangerous for the future of his regime and his own power than a possible democratic infection of the Russian people by the Ukrainian revolution.
In order to be credible, this strategy must be crystal clear about Ukraine's future status. In other terms, there can be no ambiguity regarding Ukraine's full sovereignty. An essential prerequisite must be a solemn declaration by the EU and its member states affirming that they would not recognize under any pretext the annexation of Crimea -- in the same way that the democratic states of the time did not recognize the Soviet annexation of the Baltic States. Simultaneously, the Russian authorities must be informed that due to the blatancy of the violations of the Russo-Ukrainian agreement on the Russian bases in Crimea, the return of Crimea to Ukraine, whether rapid or otherwise, must be accompanied by the transfer -- within a reasonable timeframe -- of the whole of the Russian fleet stationed in Crimea to Novorossiysk or other Russian Black Sea ports.
With a view to preventing any possible return of the infamous Brezhnevian doctrine of "limited sovereignty," the EU and its 28 States owe it to themselves to organize the ceremonial signing of the Association Agreement with Ukraine as soon as possible and declare that Ukraine has every right to seek membership of the EU.
Leaving Mrs. Lagarde to her qualms and inviting Mr. Draghi to be as creative as he was when he found over €800 billion to lend to European banks, the EU and the 28, jointly with the U.S., Canada and the IMF, must urgently work out a financial aid plan for Ukraine of a much larger scale than the one so far announced (15 billion).
Sending signals to the Kremlin
On the basis of Forbes' magazine rankings, the European Commission could ask the 28 member states to divulge any information they may have on the assets held on their territory by Russian oligarchs and members of the Duma and the Russian Senate so that they can be rapidly and simultaneously frozen if necessary.
Similarly, the EU could soon decide to introduce a Magnitsky Act forbidding the entry into EU territory, not just of those implicated in the assassination of Sergei Magnitsky but also of all those implicated in violations of international law in Ukraine.
The 28 member states must decide to suspend all arms contracts with Russia (starting with the delivery of Mistral warships).
Germany, France, Italy, Britain and the Presidents of the European Commission and the European Council must state that their participation in the G8 summit to be held in Sochi in June depends on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine.
Also, the EU member states that will be selected for the football World Cup in 2018 in Russia must state that their participation depends upon the withdrawal of Russian troops from the whole of Ukraine territory.
A European energy policy
It has become vital to agree on a common European policy. Such policy would comprise:
- Gathering all EU gas distribution companies into a purchasing center in charge of negotiating all gas purchasing contracts with Russian suppliers.
- Building new gas terminals (liquefied natural gas) and developing existing facilities.
- Launching a large-scale EU-funded R&D scheme on intermittent energy storage (solar-powered, windmills...).
- Developing a European standard banning member states from purchasing more than 30 percent of an energy source (gas, oil, coal...) from the same country outside the EU.
- Large-scale EU funding of improved interconnection between the electricity networks of the 28 members.
- Significantly increasing the European Investment Bank's capital allocated to funding or co-funding large-scale thermal insulation projects for public facilities (schools, hospitals, public buildings...) throughout the EU.
A European foreign and defense policy
Three or four mini-powers (UK, France, Germany...) -- to use Arnaud Leparmentier's words -- coming together do not necessarily make up a larger power, but often just cancel each other out. In a historical context in which the EU's large neighbor's political system is the antithesis of its basic values, the absence of a European security and defense policy is not just a serious shortcoming -- it is a major political failure.
As the British are neither ready nor willing to participate in a more integrated EU, the move to a two-speed Europe is even more urgent. An EU of the four freedoms -- free movement of people, goods, services and capital -- and, at its heart, a more integrated Union with a real foreign and defense policy. A common (not single) European army organized along the lines of the community method (and not by adding national contingents) is both essential and possible if France were to finally decide to lift its political veto.