Amb. (ret.) Piet Steel, Chairman of the Europe – Asia Center: Statement on Ukraine

The address by Amb. (ret.) Piet Steel is a transcript of his keynote given at the webinar “Ukraine: What happened? What’s next?”, hosted by CCG – China Center for Globalization.

H.E. Violeta Bulc

While we are discussing this morning the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, Putin’s air force continue to bomb indiscriminately Ukrainian cities. Kyiv is the new front line in this atrocious war.

Before entering more in detail on the short term and long term repercussions of this invasion, let me express my utter horror and disgust at the blatant, unprovoked attack by Putin against an independent, sovereign, peace loving country. This is Putin’s war, not the war of the Russian people.  

In my long career as a Belgian diplomat, having been a privileged witness of the end of the cold war, I have never been so shell-shocked, never been so numb, listening to the news last week of the Russian invasion into Ukraine. This was unprovoked, without any justification whatsoever except lies and fake facts, without any legal ground, nothing, pure blatant military power on innocent Ukrainians.

This is a senseless war, perpetuated by a cold dictator who thinks he can reshape the world according to his own wishes.

Very emotionally, I say: NO PASARAN

I want to pay tribute to the Ukrainian people and President Zelensky for their heroic resistance. They will prevail whatever the price they will have to pay for their ultimate victory.

Sorry for this emotional words, but I am not only a retired diplomat but more importantly a father and a grandfather. How can I explain to them this kind of barbaric medieval violence coming from Russia, a country known for its rich culture and civilization?

As I said, while we are discussing the faith of the valiant Ukrainians, their faith is left in the balance. What will happen after another terrible night in Kiev?

Will there be a ceasefire soon to save lives and reputations? An even greater bloodbath?  Total war?  Total surrender? A tactical retreat of the aggressor? A civil war ?

There are still too many open questions, but what is now already certain the Russian invasion of Ukraine will reshape, redraw the geopolitical map of Europe.

Gone is the era of prudent appeasement and active cooperation with the Putin regime. Putin is definitely revealing himself as the archenemy of the free world, as a military gangster within Europe.  This was already apparent after his incursions in Georgia, Crimea, East Ukraine, Moldavia, Syria, and recently Kazakhstan. It was further apparent after the shooting down of a passenger plane in 2014, and the poisoning and assassination of his political opponents. Until last week, the West tolerated his behavior and did not resist, or very little.

Not anymore.

Putin has achieved in one week what he has been trying to avoid the last twenty years. NATO, which last year was still declared “brain dead”, has found a new lifeblood, new vigor and new unity. In the short term we can expect to see more American boots on the ground in Europe, and in the medium term a genuine European defense. The defense spending, the strategic cooperation, the geographical presence: this will become more and more European. How Europe will pay for it, remains to be seen. The most amazing unintended consequence of Putin’s invasion is Germany which has this week decided to become a true military power in Europe, the first time since the end of the Second World War.

As long as Putin is in power, democratic Europe will be in a permanent flux of conflict with Russia. Every European democracy, not a member of the EU or NATO will feel strategically threatened by Russia. The further expansion of the EU and NATO is now predictable. A new iron curtain will be erected.

The invasion of Ukraine is a wake-up call for Europe’s relations with China. We will have to review significantly our relationship and our mutual dependencies. War should not mean politics but with other means. China’ first reactions against Putin’s invasion were ambiguous but its decision to abstain in the Security Council condemning Russia’s invasion is a hopeful sign that China eventually will choose to be standing on the right side of history, and side with the nations in favor of a rules and value based international order and opposing the law of the jungle.

We remain hopeful that China will take up a mediation role to bring back peace and the rule of law. It is in its own interest and in the interest of the survival of this planet.