Ukraine is being shot to pieces, but Europeans will collectively pay a price for succumbing to Putin’s intimidation

Ukraine is being shot to pieces, but Europeans will collectively pay a price for succumbing to Putin’s intimidation
Ukraine is being shot to pieces, but Europeans will collectively pay a price for succumbing to Putin’s intimidation

TWhile Europe watches Ukraine struggle and one additional anti-aircraft system – perhaps, eventually – was promised to Ukraine in the past two weeks, top American diplomat Sonata Coulter visited The Hague for consultations. She holds a senior position in the State Department and knows Russia well, where she was last posted from 2018 to 2021. Russian strategy, she told me, has been “fairly consistent” since 2007. “It is clear that Russia occupies a special place in the world and should have the ability to dictate to its neighbors what their course and their alliances should be. That perspective is out of step with the modern world.’

Coulter saw how the Kremlin took ‘a series of measures’ in the years before the invasion that allowed it to increase internal repression. ‘During the war this was increased immensely. The space for free expression is collapsing. There are approximately seven hundred political prisoners in Russian prisons, an incredibly high number. This internal repression makes external aggression possible. And maybe the arrow points both ways.”

Coulter is clear about the American commitment in Ukraine. “We are talking about the strategic failure of Russian aggression – not of Russia. We have no policy against Russia, as a country or as an incredible cultural power or the amazing Russian people. We are trying to reduce the Kremlin’s ability to wage war in Ukraine now, as well as its ability to commit aggression in the future. The Kremlin is trying to create the feeling that Russia and the West are in some kind of inevitable conflict, when that is simply not the case. What happened is that the Kremlin unilaterally invaded a sovereign European country for no other reason than that it disagreed with the choice the Ukrainians made. That is not in line with the global consensus, and it simply cannot be allowed to repeat itself.”

But the fact that Putin is allowed to unleash his imperialist revanchism on a neighboring country without internal resistance is not solely due to repression or propaganda. The idea behind it, that the surrounding countries and certainly Ukraine and Belarus somehow belong to Russia, is commonplace in Russia. The problem of Russia as an imperialist, colonial power – and not the ‘friend’ of oppressed peoples – is recognized, let alone acknowledged, by few in Russia.

Some ‘free Russians’ are also having a hard time with it. When colleague Tom Vennink asked Maria Pevchich (who heads Navalny’s anti-corruption organization in London) about ‘Russian exceptionalism’, she responded (in an excerpt not published due to space limitations) with a you-bin: exceptionalism is part of every national identity. “I don’t think that Russia as a nation shows any traces of a slave mentality or imperialist views.”


Think of how much effort, and blood and struggle, it cost old colonial powers like France, Great Britain or the Netherlands before they could look in the mirror. Russia has yet to start that process, but the country is larger and has nuclear weapons and can therefore hardly be forced from outside to undertake critical self-examination. That is very worrying – for the future of Russia, Ukraine and European security.

Because then you keep a frustrated, aggressive nuclear power on the edge of Europe – forever eager for revenge. Coulter hints that there are other options for Russia. But how to get there? Not with the American and German red lines that now dictate aid to Kyiv, but by convincingly defeating Putin’s aggression and imperialism, including in Crimea. This is the opinion of retired American generals such as Ben Hodges and Russian independent minds such as former chess champion Garry Kasparov.

And they are right. Good for Europe, good for Ukraine, and it will offer Russia an opportunity to ‘give itself a different future’, writes Russian journalist Yulia Latynina. “The alternative is completely dystopian,” she adds – and that is the direction the West has been on for two years now. Stop and take in Ukraine, and accept that you will forever be stuck with aggressive revanchist power as a neighbor. A fatal prospect not only for Ukraine, but for the whole of Europe. The price we collectively pay for giving in to Putin’s intimidation.

About the author
Arnout Brouwers is a journalist and columnist for de Volkskrant, specializing in security, diplomacy and foreign policy. Columnists have the freedom to express their opinions and do not have to adhere to journalistic rules for objectivity. Read our guidelines here.

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Ukraine shot pieces Europeans collectively pay price succumbing Putins intimidation


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