Perhaps another factor is the lingering impact of the Great Power mentality in Germany and France, the EU’s originators and top-tier leadership. They still seem to see the world in terms of Powers – the USA, China, and Russia. The other countries are the footmen of history. Alexandrova, describing the situation as of the mid-1990s, also wrote that “…during the First and Second World Wars, German policy towards Ukraine had inevitably an anti-Russian character. Today, because of the heavy burden of history, Germany must by all possible means avoid any suspicion of an anti-Russian policy….”3Ibid., 151-52.
However, Germany did not make war on “Russia,” but on the Soviet Union. A relatively small portion of what is today’s Russia was actually under German occupation, while all of Ukraine, and all of Belarus for that matter, were occupied in their entirety. The Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine estimates that of the 2.8 million Ostarbeiter (slave laborers) taken to Germany during the war, 2.2 million came from Ukraine. Ukrainian cities in the Reichskommissariat Ukraine suffered from a deliberate policy of starvation. Ukrainian soldiers died fighting the Wehrmacht, and many also perished in German POW camps. In Belarus the Germans destroyed over five thousand villages. In hundreds of cases the inhabitants of these villages were also murdered.4For those who haven’t seen it, I recommend Elen Klimov’s film Come and See. It is a difficult film to watch, but captures much of the truth of what Belarus suffered under the occupation. This was not a war only against Russia.
Since everyone knows it, there is little need to discuss Europe’s dependence on Russian gas and oil. Germany and France are in the top ten percent of gasoline guzzlers in the world. As to consumption of natural gas, according to one source, Germany ranks number 8 and France number 28 out of a total of 113 counties.5Worldometer, worldometers.info/gas/gas-consumption-by-country/ (accessed 28 May 2022). These economic considersations are, in the final analysis, crucial. The dependence on fossil fuels from Russia is the most important reason for the EU’s reluctance to embrace Ukraine.
Yet this should not discount the matter of spheres of influence. Germany has a sphere of influence in southern Europe that is largely economic. It rarely interferes in its former colonies and territories such as Namibia and Poland, except to pay reparations for mass murder and pillage. But France still considers its former colonies and mandates, particularly in Africa, as belonging to its sphere of influence. The French settled the civil war in Côte d’Ivoire twenty years ago and, until very recently, were deeply involved in the civil war in Mali. From the behavior of the EU towards Russia and Ukraine, I deduce that sphere-of-influence thinking is still a relevant current in the European worldview. Ukraine is in Russia’s sphere. After all, it was once part of Russia and once part of the Soviet Union. And the 2001 census showed that Russians constituted 17 percent of Ukraine’s population. However, almost exactly the same is true of two EU members, Latvia and Estonia. Both were part of the Russian empire and the Soviet Union, and both have ethnic Russian minorities accounting for about a quarter of the population. It is difficult to understand the logic of keeping Ukraine out and taking Latvia and Estonia in.
This is probably not just a matter of logic, or hard petrol-economics, but also informed by a prejudice against a submerged East European nation that has only in recent decades achieved what has turned out to be a fragile independence. Ordinary Europeans did not know about Ukraine before it became independent in 1991. But things have been changing. The Orange Revolution of 2004 and the Euromaidan of 2014 brought independent Ukraine into the news and into the consciousness of ordinary Europeans. And now the whole world is only too aware of Ukraine, and fear it might be the Serbia of World War III. Moreover, within the last two decades there has been an explosion of academic interest in Ukraine, in Cambridge, Paris, Basel, Vienna, Greifswald, and Lund, just to name places that come immediately to mind. Change may be afoot, but I fear it comes rather late.
We should remember that the EU does not speak with a singular voice. There has been quite a divergence of views among the footmen in the EU, such as Poland and Hungary. Poland has had a quarrel with Ukraine over memory politics ever since the presidency of Viktor Yushchenko. Yushchenko initiated the glorification of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and its armed force, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (known by its Ukrainian initials as UPA). Because OUN-UPA slaughtered tens of thousands of ethnic Poles in 1943-44 in the western regions of Ukraine, the promotion of the nationalist cult during the presidencies of Yushchenko (2005-10) and Petro Poroshenko (2015-19) has been galling to Poland. Nevertheless, whatever the complexion of the government in power in Poland, the country’s position towards Ukraine has been generous. As mentioned earlier, Poland was the first country to recognize Ukraine’s independence. Today Poland is the most energetic promoter of Ukraine’s membership in the EU, a proponent of severe economic sanctions on Russia, and the host of millions of Ukrainians fleeing the war. It has also delivered $1.6 billion worth of weapons to Ukraine. Poland’s main motivation is fear of Russia.
On the opposite end of the spectrum regarding Ukraine is Hungary. Hungary opposes sanctions on Russia and has agreed to pay for Russian energy in rubles. Together with Italy, it wants Ukraine to call a truce and negotiate with Russia. It refuses to allow lethal weapons to cross its border into Ukraine. Hungary’s stance in part probably derives from the friendship between Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Russia’s Putin. And this “friendship,” I imagine, derives mainly from some shared perspectives on how to run a government. While the EU strongly disapproves of Orbán’s backsliding into authoritarianism, Putin sees authoritarianism as the wave of the future. Authoritarianism is a political perspective that can easily be shared, but ethnonationalism is a trickier proposition. And both Orbán and former Ukrainian president Poroshenko were ethnonationalists.
There is a substantial Hungarian minority Ukraine, about 150,000 altogether, but mainly concentrated in Trancarpathia oblast, where they constitute roughly 12 percent of the population. Most of the Hungarians there speak Magyar among themselves. I’ve travelled through Transcarpathia several times and heard for myself how ethnic Hungarian and Romanian minorities spoke Russian with some difficulty and could not speak Ukrainian at all. There had been schools with Magyar as the language of instruction, but they started being phased out after Poroshenko restricted the use of minority languages in education in 2017. The educational reform in particular soured Ukrainian-Hungarian relations.
But neither Poland nor Hungary have much influence in the EU. Both are in the EU’s bad graces for being insufficiently democratic. And even had they been paragons of democratic virtue, they could not count for a great deal among the twenty-seven countries of the EU. Furthermore, they are located on the periphery of Europe, in the East, although they like to think of themselves as Central Europe.6The whole concept of Central Europe is quite politically charged. See my article, “What’s in a Region? (Notes on Central Europe),” in What is Central Europe? An Exchange in HABSBURG, 17-28, https://la.utexas.edu/users/arens/austint/habs.pdf (accessed 3 June 2022).
To conclude this part: I think that the EU created conditions for Ukraine’s contemporary tragedy when it did not include Ukraine in its enlargement at the beginning of this century. I believe that this error has harmed Ukraine immeasurably and that now its consequences are being felt throughout the EU and the world. I am not saying that the EU is responsible for the war. Russia is. But the EU left Ukraine in the lurch. One escalating result of this is that, in the absence of an extremely unlikely if not impossible independent development of defensive capacities, Ukraine has been forced to look for allies further away. There was a brief flirtation between Ukraine and China in the summer of 2021, but the serious relationships developed only further to the west with Canada and the US. Canada has been Ukraine’s unwavering friend, but it is the US that has the military and financial clout to really make a difference. We turn now to this ally, which has sought to fill in the vacuum created by EU’s exclusion. Of course, the EU is not completely independent of America’s influence, but it is useful to consider the US separately in order to understand its particularities.
The United States and its allies present the Russia-Ukraine war as a battle between dictatorship and democracy. It’s much more accurate to categorize it as a war between a dictatorship and a limited democracy, but the difference in government between the two countries is far from a salient issue in the eruption of this war. I do not think I need to persuade the readers of Spectre that the US has a very selective understanding of democracy and human and civil rights. The US has a long and well known history of supporting dictatorships in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. It decries the treatment of Uighur Turks in China, but will not denounce the appalling treatment of Palestinians who have spent over a half century under Israeli occupation. (Both the Uighurs and Palestinians, incidentally, are regarded by the states they live in as infected by terrorism.) Nor do I need to explain that the US is a neoimperialist power and a ruthless defender of its own sphere of influence. Hence, relying on the US tars Ukraine with the American brush, and makes support for Ukraine weak in countries where there is strong anti-American sentiment – most of Africa, large portions of Latin America, and much of the Middle East. Add to that the Great Power rivalries between Russia and the US and China and the US.