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Looking back over the past two months, a definite increase of voices in the EU arguing for a more direct involvement in the war in Ukraine, in order to achieve a Ukrainian victory and, a Russian defeat can be observed. At the same time and, obviously in line with this trend, preparation-like developments have been accelerated. In two months, we’ve  moved very quickly from the papal ’white flag’ – a signal of willingness to negotiate and a hope for peace – to the stage where some European countries would be ready to send troops to Ukraine. To strengthen these voices, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister says that a responsible Europe can’t afford to ignore the possibility of war, while the President of Ukraine warns that war could reach Europe in very short time. Meanwhile, the former head of British intelligence believes that Europe is already engaged in a grey war and Polish PM Donald Tusk believes Europe is in a pre-war era. 

Just two months left since Pope Francis has come under fierce verbal attacks from both the West and Ukraine, for his view expressed in an interview to a Swiss tv channel. In this February interview, sending a clear message to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, he spoke about the ’courage of the white flag’ while calling for a ceasefire and negotiations between the two sides. Pope says Ukraine should have ‘courage of the white flag’ of negotiations | Reuters 

Following this statement, the pope received fierce criticism for alleged urging of Ukraine to capitulate. Later, the head of the Catholic Church denied these allegations. Francis spoke about a ceasefire and negotiations, and not the surrender of Ukraine, the Vatican clarified. Pope’s ‘white flag’ gaffe triggers outrage in Ukraine – POLITICO In light of this incident, remembering the second anniversary of the war in Ukraine, not a single European leader dared to quote Francis’ idea, despite its wisdom. 

Referring to the Church’s ’virtual attampts to mediate’, President Zelenskyy reacted only indirectly and briefly to the Pope’s ’white flag’ interview. On behalf of Ukraine, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba responded to Pope Francis’s suggestion regarding the negotiations and words concerning the white flag.’Our flag is a yellow and blue one. This is the flag by which we live, die, and prevail. We shall never raise any other flags’, he said on X, adding that ’when it comes to the white flag, we know the Vatican’s strategy from the first half of the twentieth century. I urge them to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past’

It should be noted that this aggressive, even offensive response was given by Ukraine’s Foreign Minister – the one who should, normally, be engaged in developing various viable diplomatic solutions to find ways to stop the war, including negotiations even with the agressor’s representatives. 

However, this expectation may appear to be unrealistic, given that in 2022, President Zelenskyy passed a law prohibiting negotiations with Putin. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/zelenskiy-decree-rules-out-ukraine-talks-with-putin-impossible-2022-10-04/  The statements and comments of the head of Ukrainian diplomacy are obviously driven by such written and unwritten rules. It’s worth recalling two other recent comments by Mr Kuleba when he demanded in a particularly agressive tone that Ukraine’s Western partners boost arms and ammunition deliveries. 

Returning to Francis’s words about the ’courage of the white flag’, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, when asked by journalists about the ’white flag’ responded that she didn’t understand the pope’s comments and suggested him to visit Ukraine to see the damage caused by Russia. Pope’s ‘white flag’ gaffe triggers outrage in Ukraine – POLITICO Following the pope’s ambivalent interview, a strong opponent of negotiations, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski immediately protested against the suggestion to raise the white flag. ’How about, for balance, encouraging Putin to have the courage to withdraw his army from Ukraine? Peace would immediately ensue without the need for negotiations’, Sikorski wrote on X. https://edition.cnn.com/2024/03/10/europe/ukraine-pope-negotiations-russia-intl/index.html 

The scandal of the white flag set the tone for a completely new concept of President of France Emmanuel Macron who couldn’t rule out the possibility to send Western troops to Ukraine, which also opened up a new phase. Macron’s idea has received support from only a couple of countries – Poland, at the level of its Foreign Minister, was one of them. To the shock of many, Mr Sikorski during a discussion marking the 25th anniversary of Poland’s accession to NATO in the Polish parliament said that ’the presence of NATO troops in Ukraine is not unthinkable’. https://apnews.com/article/poland-nato-russia-france-abd144aee256a72388c196dae8acaf7f

Though not only Berlin objects Macron’s vision regarding sending Western troops to Ukraine but NATO Secretarty General Jens Stoltenberg also claims that NATO has no such plans, in addition Polish PM Tusk also joins those who oppose the idea, https://apnews.com/article/nato-stoltenberg-ukraine-troops-france-slovakia-5d4ed747861a3c0edb8f922fa36427c2 France started to build an alliance of countries which share its opinion and, the Baltic states seem to be open to it. https://www.politico.eu/article/france-finds-baltic-allies-in-its-spat-with-germany-over-ukraine-aid-sikorski-nato-macron-troops-war/

Macron’s rhetoric about possible presence of Western troops in Ukraine is based on an idea claiming there should be no red lines. ’If Russia wins this war, Europe’s credibility will be reduced to zero’, Macron said. In these words, it’s not too difficult to recognise Ukraine’s rhetoric which is based on keeping Europe’s conscience under constant pressure.

In the dispute about sending troops to war, a very sober position was expressed by Italy – a country which cannot be blamed with being anti-Ukrainian, given the strong support of Rome for Kyiv. ’The West should avoid grand statements – such as sending NATO to Ukraine trying to make itself look better, Italian Defence Minister Guido Crosetto said. Europe needs clear, united strategy against Russia, Italy minister says | Reuters 

As far as concience is concerned, Ukraine’s leaders, first of all, should explain their own responsibility in the huge number of victims of the war and the masses of refugees who have fled the country. According to a recent research by the Ukrainian Centre for Economic Strategy (CES), as of the end of January 2024, 4.9 million Ukrainians are living abroad because of the war. The largest share of Ukrainian refugees in Europe is in Germany (30%) and Poland (22%). According to the estimates of the CES, between 1.4 million and 2.3 million Ukrainians may remain outside Ukraine under various scenarios. Ukrainian refugees. Future abroad and plans for return. The third wave of the research – Centre for Economic Strategy (ces.org.ua) 

Given the above statistics, which refer to men as well, the question arises: if there won’t be enough soldiers in Ukraine, who will fight there? European troops, perhaps?

In view of the above developments, particularly in the context of the disputes over the white flag and sending Western troops to Ukraine, the continent seems to be facing a major challenge.

The question is, whether Europe can convince itself or, whether Ukraine can convince Europe to continue supporting Ukraine not only with arms and funds, but also by sending its own troops to Ukraine. 

’While Ukraine has never asked for ’European combat troops’ boots on the ground’, EU leaders need to get used to the idea that the day may come.’ – Dmytro Kuleba said to Politico, adding that he’s ’perfectly aware that Europeans are not used to the idea of war. But this is a carelessness Europeans simply cannot afford – neither for themselves nor their children’. https://www.politico.eu/article/give-us-the-damn-patriots-ukraine-needs-air-defenses-now-minister-says/ In an interview with the American CBS News 27 March, President Zelenskyy went on with the same idea, claiming that the war ’can come very quickly to Europe’. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ukraine-russia-war-zelenskyy-says-putin-will-threaten-nato-quickly-if-not-stopped/ According to the former chief of the British intelligence service MI6, the UK is ’already engaged in a grey war against Russia’. Richard Dearlove spoke about it to Politico mid-March. https://www.politico.eu/article/war-right-now-britain-former-spy-chief-richard-dearlove-mi6/ In late March, Polish PM Donald Tusk has warned Europe is in a ’pre-war era’ adding that European citizens have to mentally get used to the arrival of this new era. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-68692195 His statement has perfectly framed the month when Poland signed a $2.5 billion deal with the United States to buy the Integrated Battle Command System to synchronize Poland’s air and missile defence weapons. https://www.defensenews.com/global/europe/2024/02/29/poland-signs-25-billion-deal-for-us-air-defense-software-hub/

In case the war continues, even though Europe decides against a wider and deeper commitment, the EU is going to face another major challenge soon. This vital subject concerns the question of what Europe’s going to do with the millions of Ukrainian refugees, especially those who don’t want to return to their homeland? These people, along with African and Asian migrants, will put an additional strain on the European labour market and housing conditions and will appear permanently in European health care system which is already under strain. 

Top European politicians avoid to put greater empasis on discussing these sensitive issues, in addition, the vast majority of them rejects negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. On realistic grounds, the question of who will ultimately raise the white flag not only remains unanswered but in light of the developments of the last two months, also seems to be out of date. If the incumbent politicians, driven by their short-term messy objectives refuse to stop the war, in the absence of any other initiations, it may be up to European citizens to raise the white flag in the European Parlament elections in June. 

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