Editorial | The culprit remains Russia

The EU must never turn its back to Russia but in doing so it has to make it clear that Ukraine’s territorial integrity and security are non-negotiable


The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to Austro-Hungarian throne and his wife, the Duchess of Hohenberg in Sarajevo in 1914, served as a catalyst for World War I.

A month after the assassination, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and Europe rapidly descended into chaos.

One incident ignited the flames of war that eventually claimed the lives of millions of people.

History teaches us how even the slightest of seemingly inconsequential actions can cascade into ruinous war that draws neighbours into conflict.

The stray missile that hit a Polish village on the Ukrainian border on Tuesday, killing two people, risked being one of those incidents where escalation becomes a natural consequence.

The initial fear that the missile might have been a Russian attack – intentional or not – caused jitters. An attack on Poland would have been an attack on NATO and the EU.

The facts as ascertained by the Polish authorities and NATO officials later attributed the explosion to Ukrainian air-defence systems that were in use at the time to ward off Russian missile strikes on their territory.

The news will be of no consolation to the friends and family of the two victims but Europe could breathe a sigh of relief.

However, the incident came as a stark reminder of the serious dangers that accompany Russian belligerence in Ukraine. The incident served as a wakeup call for Europeans who may have been lulled into complacency months after Russia invaded Ukraine.

The missile that struck the Polish village may have been a Ukrainian air defence system gone astray but the truth of the matter is the Ukrainians would have had no business using these missiles to defend their territory had Russia not invaded.

The culprit remains Russia and this must not be forgotten even in such an unfortunate circumstance.

Europe is suffering the consequences of the Ukraine war. Russia’s retribution for sanction levied on it has led to a spike in energy prices that is causing inflation to soar. The war has disrupted grain and oil supplies from the warring countries but also disrupted international trade links, making it more expensive to get goods across the world.

Europeans are hurting, which is why the EU must also act on the domestic front to ease this pain. The EU’s ability to sustain Ukraine’s war effort is dependent on the moral support of the peoples who live within the bloc. And that support can easily be withdrawn if economic pain leaves people destitute.

This material view must not be ignored but neither should the morality behind the decision to impose sanctions on Russia and offer support to Ukraine.

Russia’s unopposed invasion of Crimea, a region in Ukraine, in 2014, only emboldened Vladimir Putin to go all the way six years later. Before Crimea, there was Georgia in 2008 when Russia invaded on another false pretext.

The pattern of belligerence has been there for a long time. It was only the resilience of Ukrainians, aided by the military equipment supplied by the West, that stopped Russia’s grand design to take all of Ukraine in its tracks.

The EU has to learn how to live with its large erratic neighbour but in doing so it must not bow to Russia’s every whim. The EU must dialogue with Russia but in doing so it must also assert its values of freedom and respect for the rule of law.

The EU must never turn its back to Russia but in doing so it has to make it clear that Ukraine’s territorial integrity and security are non-negotiable.

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