War in Ukraine has exposed the truth about Europe

Mateusz Morawiecki

How did the EU allow itself to be caught out by the rise of Russian imperialism?

8 August 2022, 7:21pm

The war in Ukraine has exposed the truth about Russia. Many refused to see that Vladimir Putin’s state still has imperialist tendencies. Now they have to face the fact that, in Russia, the demons of the 19th and 20th centuries have been revived: nationalism, colonialism, and totalitarianism. But the war in Ukraine has also exposed the truth about Europe. European leaders allowed themselves to be lured by Vladimir Putin. In the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine, they are in shock. 

Yet the return of Russian imperialism should come as no surprise. Russia had been rebuilding its position slowly for almost two decades, right under the nose of the West. Instead of maintaining reasonable vigilance, the West responded by going into a geopolitical slumber. It preferred not to see the problem rather than face it in advance.

Europe today is in the situation it finds itself in, not because it was insufficiently integrated, but because it refused to listen to the voice of truth. That voice has been coming from Poland for many years. Poland has no monopoly on the truth, but in matters of relations with Russia we are, put simply, far more experienced than others. Poland’s president Lech Kaczynski was right. Like Cassandra foreseeing the fall of Troy, he said many years ago that Russia would not stop at Georgia and would reach for more. No one listened.

The fact that Poland’s voice has been ignored is an example of the broader problem that the EU is struggling with. Each country is meant to be equal, but political practice has shown that the voices of Germany and France counts above all else. As a result, we are dealing with a formal democracy and a de facto oligarchy, where power is held by the strongest. 

The safety valve that protects the EU from the tyranny of the majority is the principle of unanimity. Seeking compromise among 27 countries whose interests are so often in conflict can sometimes be frustrating. The compromise may not satisfy everyone fully. However, it guarantees that every voice will be heard and the solution adopted will meet the minimum expectations of each member state.

Some suggest abolishing the unanimity rule, ensuring that the EU’s actions depend even more than before on German decisions. A brief retrospective analysis of German decisions shows why this is a bad idea. If, in recent years, Europe had always acted as Germany wanted, ask yourself this: would we be in a better or worse situation today?

If all of Europe followed Germany’s voice, not only on Nord Stream 1, but also on Nord Stream 2, the continent’s dependence on Russian gas – which today serves Putin as a blackmail tool against Europe – would be almost irreversible.

If all of Europe accepted Germany’s proposal in June 2021 to hold an EU-Russia summit, Putin would likely have been recognised as a full partner. The sanctions imposed on Russia after 2014 might have been lifted. If this proposal – blocked at the time by Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – had been adopted, Putin would have gained a guarantee that the EU would not take any real action in defence of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

If Europe had sent weapons to Ukraine on the same scale, and at the same pace, as Germany, the war would have ended long ago: with Russia’s absolute victory. And Europe would be on the eve of another war. 

Today, any voice from the West seeking to limit arms supplies to Ukraine, or to ease sanctions, or to bring ‘both sides’ (that is, aggressor and victim) to dialogue is a sign of weakness for Putin. And yet the truth is that Europe is much stronger than Russia.

If we really want to talk about democratic values today, it’s time for a great reckoning of Europe’s conscience. For too long, the most important value for many countries has been the low price of Russian gas. Yet we know now that it might have been so low because the ‘blood tax’ that Ukraine pays today was not added to it. 

Defeating imperialism in Europe is also a challenge for the European Union itself. International organisations will only be able to successfully oppose imperialism if they themselves defend fundamental values, such as freedom and equality of all their member states. This is particularly topical in relation to the EU.

The EU faces increasing deficiencies in respecting the freedom and equality of all member states. We hear more and more that it is not unanimity but the majority that should decide the future of the entire community. Moving away from the principle of unanimity in subsequent spheres of EU activity brings us closer to a model in which the stronger and bigger dominate the weaker and smaller.

The deficit of freedom and the deficit of equality are also apparent in the euro area. The adoption of a common currency does not guarantee sustainable and harmonious development. In fact, the euro introduces mechanisms of mutual rivalry. This can be seen in the permanent export surplus of some countries, which counteract the appreciation of their own currency by maintaining economic stagnation in others. In such a system, equal opportunities remain only on paper.

Such deficits also make the EU particularly vulnerable and weak when confronted with Russian imperialism. Russia wants to turn Europe into something familiar: a concert of powers with jointly-defined spheres of influence. It goes without saying what such an ‘international order’ means in reality for European peace.

Common good used to be a value which lied at the very heart of the European project. It was the driving force of European integration since its very beginning. It is precisely what is threatened by particular interests, usually inspired by national egos. The system puts us in an unequal struggle between the strong and the weak. In this game, there is room for both the biggest countries holding vast economic power, as well as the small and medium-sized, deprived of this asset. The strongest ones reach political and economic domination, the latter are sentenced to political and economic clientelism. To all of them, the common good is an ever more abstract category. European solidarity is becoming an empty concept, brought down to enforcing acceptance of an actual dictate of the stronger.

So, let’s just say it: the EU order does not protect us enough from external imperialism. It actually does quite the opposite: its institution and actions, while not being free from the temptation to dominate the weaker, remain exposed to the infiltration of Russian imperialism.

Now, we are at a turning point. Imperial Russia may be defeated, thanks to Ukraine and our support for her. The victory in this war is but a matter of our consistency and determination.

Thanks to the supplies of equipment on a scale which – judging by the West’s capability – is still relatively little, Ukraine began reversing this war’s direction. Russia keeps attacking, spreading death and destruction and committing heinous war crimes, but for almost half-a-year, Ukrainians’ morale has not been broken. The morale of the Russian army, in contrast – as the intelligence data suggests – becomes ever weaker. The army suffers heavy losses. The supplies of arms and other equipment are not inexhaustible. And the production of these things by sanction-stricken industry will get more and more difficult.

We must therefore support Ukraine in her struggle to recapture the territories that have been taken from her and force Russia to retreat. Only then, the real dialogue and an actual end to this war – and not just a temporary break preceding the next aggression – will be possible. Only such an end will mean our victory.

We must also defeat the threat of imperialism within the EU. We need a profound reform that would bring back the common good and equality to the top of the Union’s principles. It will not take place without a change of optics: it is the member-states, and not the EU institutions, that must decide about the directions and priorities of the EU’s actions, since it is the institutions that are created for the states, and not the other way round. The basis for cooperation must always be the development of consensus, instead of the domination of the strongest over the rest.

Today’s circumstances force us to think in a different framework. We must have the courage to admit that the EU has not performed as it should in the face of the Covid-crisis and the ongoing war in Ukraine. 

The problem, however, is not that we walk our path to integration too slowly and should rapidly accelerate this process. The problem is that this path is wrong. Instead of taking two steps forward, it is sometimes good to take a step backwards and look at a particular matter from a distance. The prospect of returning to the principles underlying the EU seems the brightest one. The purpose is not to undermine, but to reinforce them instead of building across them. Europe needs hope more than ever. And hope can only be found in the return to principles, not strengthening the institutional superstructure.

WRITTEN BYMateusz Morawiecki

Mateusz Morawiecki is prime minister of Poland


  1. The Polish PM is right. But I’d go a lot further. Poland is a bad fit for the EU; it has integrity.
    As I have been saying for years, there needs to be a new trade, military and intel-sharing bloc consisting of The Five Eyes, Japan, Poland, Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia and Pribaltika.
    I would consider applications from Slovakia, Czechia, Romania, Bulgaria and others, provided that they understand the main purpose of such an alliance is the defeat of Russia.
    Such an alliance should also ban all political parties and media figures that shill for Russia. There would be no diplomatic, travel or trade relations whatsoever with Russia.

  2. This war – indeed, the entire affair with mafia land since its rape of Georgia and Chechnya – has not only exposed the EU’s deficiencies … weak, greedy, disunited, unduly influenced by Germany … but also NATO’s. Both entities should either be cleansed of useless members or disbanded all together and new ones formed. I have not much confidence that there is enough courage, strength and foresight to put mafia land in its place, much less to stand up to China, when the time comes. If – IF – there should be real politicians who have the necessary intelligence, courage and foresight, then things could be put right. But, this must exclude such losers as Scholz, Macron, Sarkozy, Merkel, Orban, whatever Italian guy is currently in the ever-changing government in Rome and others. Europe and NATO have been weakened in incredible fashion by these bimbos.

    • I blame Merkel’s actions in 2008 for Putin’s imperialistic wet dreams. If she would have stood up to him then, none of this would have happened and nothing would have happened in Georgia either.

      • I agree. She carries the most blame for all of this, although Obumer also has a huge share.

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