Everything changed in just a few hours. European leaders and ministers had been negotiating in typical European fashion whether sanctions would include Gucci products, despite Italy’s push to exempt luxury products from the measures. Analysts with knowledge of backstage realities in Brussels had seen no chance of Europe agreeing to Russia’s even partial ejection from SWIFT or the provision of military assistance to Ukraine. Even the closest aides of senior European leaders had said that such radical measures were out of the question.
And yet, in a very short period of time, we saw things that would seem most improbable before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin obviously miscalculated Europe’s reaction. He believed that it would once again appear divided and uncertain; that European leaders would need days, if not weeks, to agree on a course of action. The truth is that Putin had for years played his cards well and his tactics seemed to be paying off. The alarm clock of history had sounded too many times in recent years without prompting a reaction.
So what changed? The Russian strongman made a mistake by lying to – essentially humiliating – the presidents of France and Germany. Wanting to avoid a crisis, Europe’s two most powerful leaders had pushed Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to accept a compromise and underestimated American warnings of a full-scale Russian invasion. They obviously realized that they were now facing a whole different Putin.
Meanwhile, Zelenskyy was playing his own cards right. In the early days of Russia’s incursion, a friend observed that Zelenskyy was wrong to appear in green military fatigues, teary-eyed, lacking the shape of a true war leader. However, this is exactly what strengthened his appeal in the world of social media. Zelenskyy was the perfect David against a Goliath that did nothing to win the communication war.
The Europeans have suddenly realized that there will be no more free ride for them in security and energy. The Americans were smart to let the European leaders spearhead the reaction to Russia, which lent them a fresh sense of confidence. Changes came fast and they are tectonic. Germany is taking its defense seriously. Finland is discussing the possibility of NATO membership. European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell looked like a priest holding a gun in his hands for the first time. Even Viktor Orban of Hungary was forced to adjust his stance.
Necessity has given birth to a new Europe. First Donald Trump, then the Covid-19 pandemic and now the crisis in Ukraine have made Europe realize it needs to grow up. The true implications of this remain to be seen after the dust has settled. Greece will be able to claim a role for itself in the new Europe – from its participation in the joint production of military equipment to the provision of security guarantees.