One move from Putin and behold: Western unity tightens overnight | National policy

By RAF CASERT – Associated Press

BRUSSELS (AP) — In a matter of days, Russian President Vladimir Putin achieved what remained out of reach for the European Union for many decades — jointly buying and sending weapons to a war zone — and restored something that was broken for years – trans-Atlantic unit.

For years, Putin has been able to sit back and savor unseemly scenes of Western disunity – ranging from Britain’s Brexit exit from the EU in 2016, Hungary’s longstanding antipathy to its EU seat and , also, of the divide created by former President Donald Trump. which is far from completely healed under Joe Biden.

For Putin, the timing seemed perfect for his invasion of Ukraine, as it had the potential to open the cracks of division even further, with a war on the continent forcing everyone out of their diplomatic comfort zones.

“And just as Vladimir Putin thought he would destroy European unity, exactly the opposite has happened,” European Council President Charles Michel said in an interview with a small group of Europeans on Monday. journalists.

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“The cooperation is rock solid,” he said. “This is required by the circumstances of the story. Required by circumstances none of us could have imagined,” added Michel.

On Monday, Biden was leading another videoconference with the EU, Britain and other Western leaders to solidify a common set of sanctions of unprecedented scope and unity. Over the weekend, Brussels and Washington announced financial sanctions within minutes of each other, all targeting the central bank and cutting Russia off from much of the SWIFT international financial transaction system.

Together they closed their airspace to Russian planes, agreed on lists of Russian oligarchs to hit. Seeing the West merging instead of splitting apart, Putin on Monday picked up on the old lingo the West loved to use during the Cold War era of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.

Centering his anger on Washington, he described Western allies as “American satellites who humbly flatter him, bow down to him, copy his conduct and happily accept the rules he proposes to follow”.

“So it’s fair to say that the whole western bloc formed by the United States to their liking represents an empire of lies,” Putin said.

Western powers will take such unity as a compliment these days, and it was unheard of before Putin started massing troops on the Ukrainian border.

In particular, the position within the EU27 is a sea change that has been achieved in some ebb and flow.

“This is a watershed moment,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said following Sunday’s EU decision “to fund the purchase and delivery of weapons and other equipment to an attacked country”.

This is the same European Union based on a post-World War II peace project that would only turn swords into ploughshares to recreate a continent of welfare of unprecedented wealth. It was this same European Union that received the Nobel Peace Prize 10 years ago for what it could achieve without the use of weapons.

It’s also the same bloc that for years has touted the value of what it calls soft power – diplomacy, aid, cultural exchange – instead of the raw power that comes through the barrel of a rifle.

All that changed in just a week. Now, Michel says: “There is no room for weakness and we must be firm.”

Nowhere has the change been more pronounced than in Germany, the EU’s leading economic power, but also a country that has been reluctant to invest heavily in military might, largely because of its militaristic past that has led to the horror of World War II.

Germany has faced persistent criticism in recent years for failing to meet the NATO target of spending 2% of its gross domestic product on defence. On Sunday, however, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that Germany would commit 100 billion euros ($113 billion) to a special fund for its armed forces and increase defense spending above 2% “from now, year after year”.

Scholz also flip-flopped on Germany’s refusal to export weapons to conflict zones, pledging to send anti-tank weapons and surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine.

“If our world is different, then our politics must be too,” Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said. The political U-turn was executed by a government led by centre-left Social Democrats sometimes criticized as soft on Russia and a Green party that has a pacifist heritage

This world has also changed for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban – often seen as Europe’s version of an autocratic leader not unlike Putin. For years he denounced the EU as indiscreet, was friends with Putin and was seen as someone who could break the bloc from within.

Especially since the EU sanctions against Russia require the unanimity of the 27, the time had come. Yet Hungary has aligned as much as the others on sanctions – within days.

“I spoke immediately with Viktor Orban when we faced this new situation and I can tell you that it was less difficult than expected to have the support of Hungary,” said Michel.

However, the war may still be in the early stages and tougher times could come with even bigger decisions to make, especially since Putin and his entourage have had time for many years to prepare for any eventuality.

“They have the ability to go on for a while despite the pain,” said Amanda Paul of the European Policy Center think tank. “So that means the West will have to be very engaged and very determined to keep pushing and pushing.”

Geir Moulson in Berlin, and Lorne Cook and Mark Carlson in Brussels, contributed to this report.

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