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The end of EU-topia

The Russo-Ukrainian War is a world-historical event that will change Europe, and thus the West, regardless of its outcome. Europe will have to abandon its utopian aspiration to be a new form of human community destined to attain all imaginable goods. Europe will have to choose: between doing the right and painful thing in the short run or doing the wrong and painful thing in the long run.

Since the formation of the European Union in 1992, most Europeans — and many Americans — have lived in a utopian world of supposedly increasing peace, stability, prosperity, democracy and liberalism. For many in the West, the EU represented the future, to which all countries, sooner or later, would aspire. The euphoria wasn’t completely delusional, but as the terrorist assault on the World Trade Center, the Yugoslav wars, America’s interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Hungary’s abandonment of liberalism have made clear, the transition to utopia wasn’t quite as easy as proclaiming the end of history. Even so, that Europe itself would remain an island of the blessed seemed to be indisputable.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine destroyed that assumption. The past four months have demonstrated that several abominations deemed extremely unlikely in the West had reared their ugly heads. The Kremlin showed that war, imperialism, genocide and fascism are back, with a vengeance. Russia showed that Europe, at least in its geographic boundaries, is not immune to the forces that almost destroyed it in the 1930s and 1940s.

To be sure, the sources of these four phenomena are in Russia, and Russia isn’t quite a part of utopian Europe. But Europe and America had consciously observed, tolerated, ignored and/or directly and indirectly supported Vladimir Putin’s progressive destruction of democracy and its replacement with fascism; his massive rearmament of the Russian armed forces; his increasingly unhinged denial of the Ukrainian nation’s right to exist; and his “hybrid” encroachments on his neighbors’ sovereignty.

The West watched Russia’s transformation into a war-mongering fascist dictatorship with a genocidal, imperialist agenda and did next to nothing. Instead, Putin and his actions were “understood” — and hence, implicitly justified — as being just what the Russian people needed and desired, and inasmuch as Russia made Putin, the West had to learn to live with his regime and his policies. Naturally, a good part of this blind spot had to do with the West’s happy collusion in Russian corruption, by opening its banks and real estate markets to piles of dirty Russian money.

Now that Putin’s fascist regime has openly embarked on war, imperialism and genocide in Ukraine, Europe faces a very unpleasant dilemma — one that threatens to upend the West and possibly even destroy it as a repository of certain kinds of values.

Quite simply, Europe must choose between two equally painful alternatives: Europe can help Ukraine win the war or it can help Russia win the war. Helping Ukraine win the war means providing it with financial and military assistance for the foreseeable future, even if economies decline, unemployment rises, energy becomes expensive and Western belts must be tightened. Helping Russia win the war means doing too little to enable Ukraine to win and then living with the dreadful consequences of Ukraine’s destruction: the routinization and normalization of war, imperialism, genocide and fascism.

Other things being equal, helping Ukraine makes infinitely more sense. War, imperialism, genocide and fascism would be defeated and, although the status quo ante could not be revived, the West would stand a good chance of rebuilding itself in a way that would preclude the reemergence of these terrible phenomena and ensure the future of Western values. A Russian victory would effectively change the rules of the game in Europe and the world and, at a minimum, demonstrate that war, imperialism, genocide and fascism are plausible alternatives worth emulation.

But helping Ukraine win now means enduring economic pain now — and no politician and no public wants that. In contrast, helping Russia win would spare the West such pain now, while pushing the day of reckoning into the future. And since the future is, in fact, unknowable, policymakers and publics could be tempted to pretend that, somehow, the worst-case scenario — the triumph of war, imperialism, genocide and fascism — will not occur.

Either way, EU-topia will end. The West will either succumb to short-term delusional, but highly comfortable, thinking and destroy Ukraine and itself. Or it will bite the bullet and realize that the Russo-Ukrainian War isn’t just about Russia and Ukraine but, above all, about saving Europe from itself.

Alexander J. Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction, as well as “Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires” and “Why Empires Reemerge: Imperial Collapse and Imperial Revival in Comparative Perspective.”

Tags European Union Inflation military aid to Ukraine Russian aggression Russian invasion of Ukraine Vladimir Putin

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