A Blog by Jonathan Low


May 31, 2024

Russia "Is Fragile, A Black Swan," While Ukraine's Economy Will Strengthen the EU

Among European and some US diplomats and officials, there is a growing sense that Russia is fragile, its battlefield aggression masking an unsustainable economy and military. 

Ukraine, on the other hand, is seen as a potential economic powerhouse whose capabilities will strengthen the EU, thereby making it an attractive candidate for membership soon. JL 

Sergei Sydorenko reports in Ukraine Pravda:

Russia is a very fragile structure that can be easily broken, a country that has no future, with no economic model that lets Russia continue. At some point we will see a 'black swan' scenario for Russia. Ukraine is fighting a war for independence, which gives it a moral advantage. And we cannot say that about the Russian army or Russian society. Russia is our strategic opponent, who has challenged not only Ukraine but all of us. In order to prevent an even greater war, the aggressor must be stopped, not encouraged with concessions. That Ukraine will be economically strong will increase the EU's interest in Ukraine's membership because accession will economically strengthen the EU itself.

David Stulík is one of the Czech diplomats who understands Ukraine best. Having worked there for many years, he speaks Ukrainian fluently and is well-known for his candid, non-diplomatic statements. Currently, he holds an official role in the Czech government as a Special Representative for the Eastern Partnership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

We met in Prague, where NATO foreign ministers are negotiating. The issue of Ukraine is at the forefront of their discussions. Czechia is using every opportunity to influence these negotiations, explaining to others that the ban on striking military targets in Russia should be lifted. As it turns out, Czechia did not impose such restrictions on Kyiv from the beginning of its arms supplies in 2022.


"We will see a 'black swan' scenario for Russia"

The key topic in Ukraine is the approval of striking Russia with Western weapons. This week, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal publicly thanked Czechia for its support after negotiations in Prague. Could you make the Czech position clear?

Czechia is very consistent in its support for Ukraine. We understand perfectly that without some things, defence against Russian aggression is impossible. In particular, it is impossible without the weapons supplied by Western countries.

We also uphold your right to self-defence.

Military targets or clusters of military force and human force on Russian territory are legitimate targets for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Because these Russian troops are there to continue illegal aggression against Ukraine from there. So striking them is self-defence, which is allowed for Ukraine by international law.

So Ukraine is only doing what is guaranteed by international law.

Not striking military targets in Russia is like fighting with one hand tied behind your back.

So we understand that this greatly complicates Ukraine’s defence against Russian aggression.

Does Czechia believe that Ukraine can and will win the war?

Yes, I believe in it. But if we talk not about Czechia, but more broadly about Europe, we can often see a pessimism that I do not share.

Moods in Europe are changing greatly. Last year, there was great euphoria here, expecting a counteroffensive. But when the counteroffensive turned out to be what it was, these moods shifted to pessimism.

But personally, I know Ukrainians well, I know Ukraine, and I understand that Ukrainians will not let themselves be defeated. But for that to happen, we must give the Armed Forces of Ukraine the maximum tools and opportunities for defence.

Now we have a situation where neither the aggressor nor the victim has enough strength to defeat the other. But there is an important difference between them. Ukraine is fighting a holy war, a war for independence, which gives it a moral advantage. And we cannot say that about the Russian army or Russian society.

Besides, I believe that Russia is a very fragile structure that can be easily broken.

Therefore, it seems to me that at some point we will see a 'black swan' scenario for Russia. Then everything in Russia will come to an end.

This turning point can happen at any moment.

This is something that cannot be predicted or proven with rational arguments, but I believe it will happen. It must happen!


"There can be no compromise in the war with Russia"

There is no doubt that you personally share the Ukrainian vision of victory. But now I am speaking not just with Ukraine's friend, David Stulík, but with an official representative of the Czech government. What is the government's position on Ukraine's victory?

It is very easy for me to answer, as the government's vision aligns with my personal view. Victory means the complete restoration of Ukraine's territorial integrity, including Crimea. Victory should also address the question "what next": we say, among other things, that Russia must compensate Ukraine for all damages.

Victory must also answer the question of what should happen to Russia next. But here I will refrain from specifics. Although there are real thoughts on this matter, they have not yet been publicly voiced by Czech representatives. I will not "set the tone." But this question cannot be avoided. And we often discuss this with colleagues from other EU countries – with those who are afraid of it (Russia's loss in the war – ed.). We try to convince them or at least show them different scenarios.

In any case, part of Ukraine's victory must include a decision on what to do with Russia next.

Indeed, some countries are afraid. But why? And why do not all European states share the Czech and Ukrainian vision of our victory?

Firstly, the psychological factor is very important. Secondly, there’s Russian influence through hybrid operations and informational-psychological operations (IPSO).

Russian agents in these countries can significantly influence public opinion and intimidate societies with what could happen if Ukraine won. It really frightens representatives of the political elite.

Politicians are afraid to enter what we call "uncharted waters," an unpredictable situation. For many in Western Europe, it is associated with even worse military conflicts, with refugees.

Russia skillfully convinces Europeans that if it loses, things will be even worse than now.

But we must not think like that.

We must not forget that Russia is our strategic opponent, who has challenged not only Ukraine but all of us. Therefore, there can be no compromise here, no "meeting halfway."

Either Russia wins, or Ukraine wins along with Western countries.

It is impossible to make concessions to Russia and at the same time believe that we have not lost.

What could show us that the West has "woken up"? A permission to strike Russia, the deployment of troops to Ukraine, or closing the sky?

Yes, the "red lines" from the West are constantly shifting.

Remember how many were frightened when Ukraine began striking Crimea? Then [Deputy Head of Russia's Security Council Dmitry] Medvedev and [Spokesman of Russian Defence Ministry Igor] Konashenkov were scaring us with stories of "nuclear ashes," but nothing happened.

Then, despite fears, tanks began to be supplied. Then, it was announced that the F-16s would be supplied.

And now several EU and NATO countries, as well as the Alliance's Secretary-General, are talking about reconsidering other restrictions as well.


I think that gradually we will also cross the 'red line' regarding strikes on military targets in Russia, which some NATO countries still adhere to – let me emphasise, not all.

Unfortunately, these changes are happening slowly. Russia's nuclear blackmail still works. Certain countries fear a major war in Europe, and Russia uses this.

But the reality is different. In fact, no one wants a war. But in order to prevent an even greater war, the aggressor must be stopped, not encouraged with concessions.

Is it possible to close the sky over Ukraine? I mean, for the Western aircraft to patrol the skies over Ukraine?

There are talks about shooting down 'illegal flying objects' – missiles and drones – from the territory of Ukraine's neighbouring states.

This issue is being discussed. There are still discussions about the consequences this might bear, but I can assure you that this discussion has never gone that far.

This decision is necessary right now, so of course, it's a pity that the discussion is taking time. Ukraine does not have this time, and its patience is much less. But Ukraine has to accept that its allies need to discuss all these issues. And the most important thing is that these discussions are on the right track now.

I repeat, we are constantly pushing the 'red lines' further and further.

Are there discussions about NATO fighters taking off from NATO countries' airports to patrol the sky over Ukraine?

I have not heard of such discussions at the moment.

This is hindered, among other things, by the existing desire in the West to maintain unity, so that all NATO and EU countries speak with one voice. And this is not easy, as there are a few countries, which constantly express their disagreement and hinder reaching unanimity.

This is, unfortunately, part of the 'genetic code' of Western institutions.

"The EU will not require you to love Russians"

In your opinion, is time on Ukraine's or Russia's side?

From a macro perspective, time is definitely on Ukraine's side.

Russia is a country that has no future. There is no economic model that would let modern Russia continue to exist in the future. Its economy is based on gas, oil or nuclear energy exports. These resources will eventually cease to work due to the transition to green energy.

But in the short term, unfortunately, time is against Ukraine. Ukraine is losing people, suffering increasing destruction. The destroyed can be rebuilt, although the costs will be colossal. But human lives cannot be restored at all.

So now time is against Ukraine.


And Ukraine's approach here is different from Russia's, which also loses people but doesn’t care about their deaths.

How can we convince our Western friends that Ukraine must not only win the war but also win as soon as possible?

I believe it is very important to bring them to Ukraine. When representatives of other countries, MPs, see Kharkiv, see the front line, meet with the military and hear about what these people did before the war, what careers and lives they had, this human approach greatly changes the perspective and perception of the war.

Western representatives who have visited Ukraine perceive it differently than those who have never been there.

Personal experience, for example, an air raid alarm, helps [them] understand what people are going through – and not through their own fault, but because of Russia. This greatly changes attitudes and understanding.

To maintain its development prospects, Ukraine must join both NATO and the European Union. But a few countries (such as Hungary) do not want to see us in the EU. Can we override this?

For this to happen, Europe must remember that after World War II, the European community was created for peace, so that the European continent would never experience a war again. Now is a similar moment, and the same instruments are needed.

In addition, procedures need to be changed. Czechia supports Germany's proposal to abandon unanimity in making certain decisions on enlargement so that no country can veto every technical step.

This decision is truly revolutionary for Czechia.

After all, we have always said and explained to our partners that it is important for our national interests that the EU maintains the principle of unanimity in foreign policy and that we are not ready to give up the veto.

But now, for the sake of accelerating Ukraine's accession to the EU, we are ready to deviate from our national positions. And this idea needs to be promoted in other countries. We cannot afford to miss the current historical opportunity.

Moreover, Ukraine can only join the EU after fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria, including those regarding human rights. Some parts of Ukrainian society fear that under the guise of respect for minority rights, we will be forced, for example, to 'love' Russians.

There is no requirement to love Russians in the criteria for EU accession.

As for the 'Russian minority,' we in the EU should not be legal fundamentalists. We need to consider Ukraine’s circumstances. And I see that this is taken into account. For example, when the European Commission reviewed the law on minorities last year, there was an understanding that the issue of the Russian language is very sensitive for Ukraine.

We cannot have expectations from Ukraine to meet peacetime requirements. We understand how sensitive this issue is for Ukraine.

Just as Jews could not immediately love Germans after WWII. There is a certain path to this.

Of course, the history of European integration shows that reconciliation between countries that once waged wars – for example, between France and Germany – is possible.

But steps are needed first, especially from the aggressor.

Czechia had a similar experience. You are an EU member, although you forcibly expelled Germans from Bohemia in the past.

Yes, two million Germans after WWII. It was a very sensitive issue when we were joining the EU.

After all, certain circles in Germany wanted to annul the decrees of then-President [Edvard] Beneš on confiscating German property in Czechia.

But without understanding the historical context, this issue cannot be considered. And in the end, no one forced us to take any actions in this context. Because the EU does not practice legal fundamentalism, it does not require 100% compliance, without considering the circumstances. And Ukraine can count on this.


When can Ukraine join the EU?

There is no definite answer.

It will happen when the EU is ready to accept Ukraine and when Ukraine truly shows significant progress in reforms and a sincere desire to become a Union member.

There is also a connection between Ukraine's victory and EU membership. Primarily because after the victory, you will experience an economic boom – just as Western Europe did after WWII. The process of reconstruction will begin, which will further boost economic growth.

In this context, understanding that Ukraine will be economically strong will increase the EU's interest in Ukraine's membership because your accession will economically strengthen the EU itself.


Post a Comment