Felix Bruch and Leo Zirwes, board members of Club Alpbach Tyrol and Germany, talked to EFA vice president Katarzyna Pisarska about the war in Europe, parallels in history and future perspectives for Ukraine.
24th February 2022. “Hello, I’m sorry, but we have to reschedule this meeting.” The timing of our first interview turned out to be more than problematic. Katarzyna Pisarska is used to having a packed schedule. This day, however, was different. More precisely, it was the day Russia started waging war against Ukraine. Instead of having the time to discuss her stance on current foreign policy issues, Pisarska was using all channels available to her to bring as many Ukrainians as possible from the war zone to her home country, Poland. Fast forward three months – Pisarska is still agitated when talking about the war. The well-prepared questions for the initial interview seem so trouble-free that one might think they have been written ad usum Delphini: “Do you think the current conflict can still be solved without weapons?” today resembles distant wishful thinking rather than a realistic eventuality. Three months ago, certainty took hold of the fact that 2022 is the year in which war has returned to Europe.
Has Russia’s invasion and seizure of Georgia in 2008 been the Rhineland moment of our time, has the annexation of Crimea in 2014 been our Sudetenland?
Pisarska: The war in Ukraine has a lot of similarities to what Europe has gone through, especially during the Second World War. In 1991, the Kremlin felt that they were stripped from an empire and their dignity, entering a phase of strategic retreat. This led to preparations for war by the Kremlin, which we as Europeans missed out on for over three decades. After Yelzin’s miserable failure to introduce democracy, Putin stepped in and grew on these feelings of resentment and imperialism. Empires only exist if one expands its territory. It was in a sense natural that Georgia and parts of Ukraine have been attacked. So yes, history repeats itself mainly because Europeans believed that hard power has died. On the contrary: the Kremlin has continued to use those lenses to convince its own population that they are fighting for a righteous cause, when in fact they are the aggressor.
But why did Europe stop acknowledging that the world is shaped by hard power?
Pisarska: We had to do so. Hard power was at the heart of the Second World War which destroyed the European continent. Liberalism has been our driving force for over 70 years. We correctly assumed that only like this, peace would prevail in the world. Now we have to realise that if we have reached the end of history in the West with the achievement of a democratic-liberal system, as Francis Fukuyama famously wrote in 1989, history has definitely now begun anew.
What can be done, from a European perspective, to protect Eastern European regions, such as the Baltics, from potential future Russian aggression?
Pisarska: At the moment, there is no replacement for American power in Europe. This does not mean that Europe should remain as complacent as it was in recent years. This war is just the first of many to come. Future chapters might or might not include China. If we don’t have functioning armies nationally that cooperate well inside the European Union and fully cooperate with NATO, then we won’t be able to stand up to the real challenges. NATO and the EU are luckily already working together closely, but we have to increase our capabilities. At the moment, we are basically blind without the Americans and their intelligence. But we also need a strategic culture and to define who decides whether we are going to enter a war.
Many progressive politicians outlined that the EU should be transformed more and more into a political union. What would be your opinion on that?
Pisarska: In a sense, I already see the EU as a political union, but there are a few adjustments that need to happen. We need, among others, a qualified majority voting in matters of foreign policy, instead of unanimity. It is ridiculous that one country bought by the Kremlin can unilaterally block sanctions of the whole EU, as we have recently seen with Hungary. This discredits the whole union. Foreign policy is something where we can do much more together, and this is an easy fix. What is way more complicated is the joint approach regarding defence. Here I would argue to stay with NATO, as it is effective. We should not fix something that is already working.
What is your view on Ukraine’s possible entry into the EU?
Pisarska: The Ukrainians deserve such a perspective; they have shown that they are willing to pay for this membership by blood. They have shown to be more in accordance with European ideas of freedom, democracy and liberty than any other country. Not giving them a membership perspective actually goes against all the promises we have made and against all that we believe in the European Union. We have to support and thank Ukraine and do whatever they ask for as they are fighting our war – they are being killed for us.