Europe’s response to the war in Ukraine – What the head of the European Commission says

For Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, the stakes of the war in Ukraine are clear: “Democracy stands against autocracy”, she declared to France 24 in an interview carried out on March 18. in French.

In an interview that lasted nearly 20 minutes, she detailed the EU’s position on Russia and Ukraine, covering all the main points, from the threat to global food security to humanitarian aid and military to Ukraine. The recording of this interview is worth watching in its entirety:

If you watch the video in the original (Click here) you will see that Von der Leyen is comfortable in French, it is a language she knows well. She was born in Brussels in 1958 and was raised bilingual in French and German, as her father Ernst Albrecht was one of the first to serve as a European civil servant in the first European institutions before turning to politics and family. returned to Hanover. in 1971.

Von der Leyen became involved in local politics in the 1990s and first joined the Christian Democratic Union (UDC), Angela Merkel’s party, then her government in 2005 where she held increasingly important ministerial positions. She was the first woman to serve as German Defense Minister from 2013 to 2019 when she was elected by the European Parliament to head the European Commission.

The interview begins with Von der Leyen noting the excessive cruelty of this war and the damage done so far in terms of lives lost, over three million displaced and another three million fleeing and seeking refuge in Europe. As she said, “we welcome them with open arms”.

Watching this video, it is helpful to put what it says in the context of what is happening right now.

The situation in Ukraine today

The news of the war is once again a confirmation of what she says, especially with regard to the urgent need to help Ukraine. And the news this morning is not good: Russia has launched its Kinzhal hypersonic missiles into Ukraine, hitting a large fuel and lubricant storage site” in the Mykolaiv region near Odessa as well as a military base in western Ukraine; and Mariupol, the southern port city that had resisted Russian forces for weeks fell yesterday.

Russian forces backed by Chechen fighters are now in Mariupol. City council officials said early this morning that thousands of residents had been forcibly removed and expelled across the border into Russian territory.

Control of Mariupol has strategic implications: It was the last city preventing Russian troops from connecting Crimea to the two separatist regions of Donbass.

Will Putin stop now? Unlikely, he unleashed his most powerful weapon, hypersonic missiles which only Russia has developed so far – the United States and China are said to be working on their own version, but it is not ready yet.

Hypersonic missiles seem (or are intended) to do what the Russian army, slowed down by logistical difficulties, is unable to do. However, they do not change the overall strategy which is clear: (1) surround the cities and terrorize the population with bombardments, leaving them without water, food or electricity until the invasion is facilitated; (2) hitting the whole of Ukraine with hypersonic (and other) missiles, including the western part, to stop both the influx of refugees and the influx of weapons from the West.

Some military experts say the war is heading toward a “stalemate,” a term used by the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank. The basis for this assessment is the high number of daily casualties suffered by the Russian military as well as the loss of equipment and the slow progress on the ground. Russian forces could be close to reaching what military strategists call the “high point” of its offensive, that is to say, reaching their limits of capacity – which would also explain the sudden recourse to hypersonic missiles.

This could pave the way for negotiations – but don’t hold your breath, the next two weeks are crucial. Russian troops could regroup if they succeeded in conquering Mariupol and the war could continue, in keeping with Putin’s ruthless strategy of decimating and terrorizing the civilian population.

All the humanitarian rules of war are violated by Russia. And Mariupol is a symbol of both Ukrainian bravery and the ruthless violence of Russian forces, reminiscent of what happened in Chechnya when Grozny was obliterated and in Syria when Aleppo was bombed. Yesterday Ukrainian President Zelensky described Russia’s siege of Mariupol as “a terror that will be remembered for centuries”.

The EU’s response to the war

In this context, and given NATO’s decision not to intervene in the conflict, the EU’s response is of paramount importance: the EU, much more than the United States, was a major trading partner for Russia and its main market for gas sales. The EU is therefore in a key position to cripple the Russian economy and ensure that Putin cannot finance his military effort.

That’s what sanctions are for, von der Leyen stressed in the interview, and, she noted, they will have a lasting effect. This is what gives the EU’s response unparalleled strength. Inflation in Russia is rising, the ruble is collapsing, the stock market is closed, Russian banks cannot operate across borders, European and American companies are leaving Russia. And for now, even if gas deliveries stop completely, Europe has enough gas for the rest of the winter.

When asked if the EU should not do more, she replied that the EU had never done so much in its history. He supports “the brave Ukrainian people in their fight” by providing them with weapons, which they have never done before.

The European Commission is paving the way for a future response with specific plans to solve the main problems caused by the war: food security and energy.

With regard to world food security, we must realize that Russia and Ukraine are “wheat countries”, major suppliers for Europe and many other countries in the world, including Egypt, Turkey , Bangladesh, etc. The war in Ukraine is clearly going have an impact on everyone’s food and food.

Russia could continue to produce, but with the war, Ukrainian farmers will not be able to sow their fields and this is a major risk for world food security, says von der Leyen, echoing what the The FAO Director-General said a few days before.

In the field of energy, the EU is preparing a energy transition plan which should give Europe “strategic autonomy” by 2027.

In fact, politically, the war in Ukraine has had a clear positive impact on Europe: it has brought Europeans closer together than ever before. It was evident in the way von der Leyen responded to France 24 reporters when asked what she thought of the courageous trip by the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia to Kyiv there. Two days ago, under bombs, just as a 35-hour curfew had begun.

In particular, he was asked if the war could change the actions of the European Commission against Poland which has now for several years challenged the judicial system and democratic principles of the EU – to learn more about this ongoing controversy with the Poland and Hungary who have repeatedly snubbed and attacked straight Europeans, see here.

She carefully avoided the question, focusing instead on the new European solidarity. For now. Watch the video, it’s a revelation.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own and not those of — In the featured photo: France 24 interview with the President of the European Commission, March 18, 2022 (screenshot)

Aurora J. William