The Great Awakening
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When Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded the former Soviet republic of Ukraine late last month, he claimed he was pushing back against aggressive Western powers that were impinging on Russian interests. If that was Putin’s strategy, it arguably backfired. A great awakening has spread across Europe as nations have banded together, abandoned their pacifist inclinations and strengthened their defenses under the banner of democracy and human rights.
“The EU’s illusions about the nature of the Russian threat to Europe have crumbled,” wrote the Financial Times. “Where European capitals once favored dialogue, they have turned to deterrence.”
Germany’s decision to spend more than $100 billion on defense in a one-shot expenditure and boost annual military spending to the two percent of the gross domestic product that NATO members are supposed to allocate to their militaries, as Deutsche Welle explained, is perhaps the greatest sign of the change that has occurred on the continent.
But it’s not the only one. European countries have overhauled their policies toward Russia, the Washington Post noted. They banned Russian-controlled media in the European Union, enacted tough sanctions on Russian institutions and, perhaps most importantly, spent EU funds to give Ukraine weapons.
Additionally, Poland, Bulgaria and Slovakia are working on giving their Russian-made fighter jets to Ukraine – a potential game-changer in the country’s fight against Russia. As NBC News noted, they want assurances that the US will allow them to buy modern American jets to replace the ones they lose, however.
Even neutral countries like Finland and Sweden are getting into the act. NATO leaders are now including the two countries in their deliberations, according to Defense News. More than half of the Finnish public and more than 40 percent of Swedes now support joining the alliance. Neutral Switzerland, meanwhile, has joined the US and EU in imposing economic sanctions on Russian elites, Radio France Internationale reported.
Perhaps Putin has effectuated a self-fulfilling prophecy regarding a Europe unified against his homeland, the Los Angeles Times claimed. The Encyclopedia Britannica defined the psychology behind the concept as an “originally false expectation [that] leads to its own confirmation.” The idea is that Putin prophesized European aggression, took actions to counter it in Ukraine and thereby forced Europeans to become more aggressive, fulfilling his worst fears.
British journalist Peter Hitchens would disagree. Writing in the Daily Mail, he argued that such analyses ignore the West’s and Ukraine’s role in ratcheting up tensions with Russia over the years.
Either way, the possibility of World War III in Europe is more real than ever. Putin has described economic sanctions as the equivalent to “declaring war,” noted National Public Radio. Calls for a Western-imposed no-fly zone over Ukraine, for example, could force Russian jets to fight NATO jets in the sky over the country, warned Jacobin, a leftist magazine.
The Russian president might be assuming that Europe won’t spark a war in order to defeat aggression, violence and authoritarianism. He could be wrong. But he also might be harboring a death wish.