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Polish and Czech Foreign Ministers Weigh In: More NATO Now!

Polish and Czech Foreign Ministers Weigh In: More NATO Now!

Radosław Sikorski and Jan Lipavský argue Putin's ambition extends far beyond Ukraine.

Jan Lipavský, Radosław Sikorski

After the Cold War, our common vision across the West was of a “Europe Whole and Free.” Today, Vladimir Putin demands a new Yalta, with a Europe weak and divided and American power diminished. There is a new line being drawn in Europe by a dictator who is not shy of committing the same heinous crimes we know from the past. In the heart of Europe, cities are being bombed, civilians are being killed, children are being abducted.

“Never again” we said almost eighty years ago, after the guns of the World War II finally fell silent. Today, instead of learning from our history, we seem to be repeating it. Germany’s defense minister warns Russia could attack NATO in five to eight years. His Danish counterpart concurs but argues we have even less time–three to five years. Historians ask whether we are entering Cold War II or World War III. Politicians and experts suggest Russia may even present an “existential threat” to Europe. And yet we are still not doing enough to rise to the challenge. We move in the right direction—but too slow, and late.

At the recent Munich Security Conference ordinary Ukrainian soldiers pleaded for help. President Volodymyr Zelensky and his ministers warned that without new rounds of military assistance the country’s air defense capability may run dry in weeks. Kyiv and other major cities would be left vulnerable to Russian attacks conducted with Iranian drones or North Korean missiles. The lives of millions of Ukrainian civilians at Vladimir Putin’s mercy will be the result.

For months now, Ukrainian soldiers have heavily rationed their munitions and are currently outgunned by a ratio of eight to one. This is no way to fight this war—and to win. But we can still set things right. We must invest in our security to create a deterrence so powerful it dwarfs what Putin and his cronies have at their disposal. We must deepen and widen our alliances to secure a lasting peace from a position of strength. It’s time for a new vision for a more secure and stable world.

The first critical step: We must first help Ukrainian defense forces—now. They are brave and determined but they are not superhumans. There losses are real. 

First, top-up the European Peace Facility by €5 billion this year. 

Second, buy artillery shells from sources and countries identified by the Czech initiative. It is not a time to be picky. Developing European long-term defense capabilities and industry is crucial but Ukraine needs these shells immediately. On the battlefield it matters not where they came from.

Third, make use of the Russian frozen assets. Either directly, or by using them as collateral to raise debt or as guarantees for loans. Who ought to cover the cost of war–the victim and its allies, or the perpetrator? We should not be looking for excuses when help is so desperately needed and so readily available.

Let’s take these actions not to escalate the conflict but to end it. Not to endanger our citizens but to keep the danger at distance. Not to “provoke” Putin but to help his victim. And maybe even Russia itself.

Bear in mind that the Kremlin’s unprovoked aggression is nothing more but the last colonial war in Europe. Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor to President Jimmy Carter, once said that “without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, but with Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire.” Imperialist Russia will never be a democratic one.

It is not only about Ukraine. Putin’s insatiable ambitions go much further. Do not forget the Kremlin’s demands made in 2021 as Russia pretended to negotiate a deal with the West: “withdraw your forces to positions they occupied in 1997, or there will be consequences.” In other words, roll back history back to a time when none of the states formerly subdued by Moscow was part of the Alliance.

The risks of yielding to Russian aggression stretch beyond borders, echoing the haunting history of past appeasements. Every day that passes with Putin occupying swaths of Ukrainian land, makes the appetite of other authoritarians seeking to redraw borders grow.

The choice is clear–we can either deal with a defeated Russian army at Ukraine’s eastern border, or a victorious, emboldened one right at NATO’s doorstep. Today, we can either lament how the world has gotten so unstable, or we can act to bring the stability back.

Jan Lipavský is the Czech minister of foreign affairs.

Radosław Sikorski is the Polish minister of foreign affairs. 

A version of this article was originally published in the Gazeta Wyborcza.

Image: Portraits of Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs Jan Lipavský (L) and Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Radosław Sikorski (R). Credit L: Pirátská strana/CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED). Credit R: Ministry of Foreign Affairs/CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED

AuthoritarianismDemocracyEastern EuropeRussiaU.S. Foreign PolicyUkraineEurope