By authorizing delivery of top-of-the-line battle tanks to Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz set aside his evident reluctance — along with opposition within his own party and among many Germans — and joined other NATO allies in a deepening military and economic commitment to frontally challenge Vladimir Putin’s blood-soaked war. His decision, taken under pressure from NATO allies, was a smart, courageous reaffirmation of the West’s resolve to prevent a Russian victory and protect a basic precept of the international order: the impermissibility of wars of aggression.
The alliance’s challenge is to maintain what has been its extraordinary solidarity in confronting Moscow — despite risks of the war’s escalation, ideological strains between Eastern and Western European governments, and domestic political opposition in some NATO countries.
For now, Russia is a pariah. At the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in Vienna — whose 57 participating states make it the world’s biggest regional security entity — Russian representatives who use official forums to give vent to Moscow’s propaganda are generally met with stone-faced silence, even by representatives of their allies from former Soviet republics in Central Asia. Only Belarus, a Russian puppet state, tends to pipe up in assent. Despite Russian obstruction, including blocking the approval of OSCE’s annual budget, the organization has fashioned workarounds to continue its mission, including showcasing Russian war crimes in Ukraine. Western diplomats say Russia would likely be expelled from the OSCE if there were a mechanism to do so, which there isn’t.
The breadth of support for Ukraine, with the added muscle of tough sanctions against Russia, improves the chances that Kyiv will be in a strong negotiating position whenever the war reaches its end game. That’s why the West’s solidarity is so critical: to reinforce the message that Mr. Putin cannot profit from his imperial fever dream. Yet it would be a mistake to take NATO’s relative unity for granted, or to ignore fissures that might look small for now.
What foreign editorial boards are saying about Western unity
The allies’ solidarity owes much to popular outrage triggered by an illegal war and Russian atrocities on the ground. There has also been the good luck of an unusually mild winter in Europe so far, which has calmed fears, arising from Russia weaponizing energy supplies, of depleted natural gas reserves for heating. Importantly, major European countries are quickly weaning themselves from decades of dependence on Russian oil and gas, another strategic bodyblow that Mr. Putin doesn’t seem to have expected.
In key European elections since the invasion, politicians who previously fawned over Mr. Putin changed their tune, reading the popular mood. That was the case in France, where right-wing presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who lost, was reported to have destroyed more than a million campaign pamphlets featuring a grip-and-grin photo of her with Mr. Putin. And it was true in Italy, where far-right candidate Giorgia Meloni, who won the prime ministership, shifted from her previous credulous admiration of Mr. Putin after blistering criticism. Populists across the continent who have questioned Europe’s backing for Ukraine have gained little traction. That holds also for Britain, where public opinion in Ukraine’s favor remains rock-solid despite soaring inflation and other economic woes that, while not caused by the war, might be fodder for political opportunists who oppose it.
While the United States has poured weapons and economic aid into Ukraine, Europe has also stepped up in both those areas, as well as by absorbing a tide of Ukrainian refugees, most of them women and children. Several million, driven from their homes, have settled in Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic and elsewhere — a challenge for those countries’ social safety nets and, especially, their schools. Yet so far there has been no major backlash.
The spat over sending German tanks is a warning sign for other tensions that might challenge the alliance’s unity as the war drags on. Russia’s systematic missile attacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure are adding to the bill the West will have to help pay to maintain Ukrainians’ electricity, heating and water. Kyiv will continue to demand more ammunition and military hardware to fend off Russian assaults and win back its territory. While NATO is only now starting to ramp up military spending toward wartime levels, Mr. Putin has gone all in on a crusade he regards as existential for Russia — and for his own political survival.
Also on the Editorial Board’s agenda
- The misery of Belarus’s political prisoners should not be ignored.
- Biden has a new border plan.
- The United States should keep the pressure on Nicaragua.
- America’s fight against inflation isn’t over.
- The Taliban has doubled down on the repression of women.
- The world’s ice is melting quickly.
By closing ranks in response to the biggest military invasion in Europe since World War II, NATO has surmounted what had been a recent history of querulous relations. Keeping that cohesion, and guarding against “Ukraine fatigue,” will require dexterous leadership.
There will be tests on both sides of the Atlantic. President Biden will need to continue to make a forceful case for an ongoing commitment to defeat Russian aggression. He would be smart to direct that message to a broader international audience — in the Global South especially, where popular opinion could be mobilized against a conflict strikingly akin to an imperial war against a former colony.
Leadership will also be key on Capitol Hill. Last year, liberal Democrats wrote, then retracted, a letter urging Mr. Biden to nudge Ukraine toward negotiation that would likely mean giving up its sovereign territory. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), now the Republican House speaker, said there could be “no blank check” for Ukraine before quickly retreating, saying he meant that Ukraine should be accountable for the U.S. aid it receives. Members of Congress might bear in mind that mixed messaging from Washington will only hearten Russia’s sympathizers in Europe, who will exploit it to undercut support for Ukraine.
In Europe, leaders will have to manage ideological tensions. They are already evident in the divide between the views of German and French officials on the one hand, who have clung to hopes for negotiations to end the war, and the more hawkish approach in Poland and the Baltic states, which suffered under decades of Soviet domination and are intent on defeating Russia. Both should keep in mind that Ukraine is not an alien nation. It is part of Europe, and Ukrainians are sacrificing and dying to defend part of the continent. “By helping Ukraine,” said Ambassador Yevhenii Tsymbaliuk, the country’s representative at the OSCE, “Europe helps itself.”
The argument that a dictator’s aggression cannot be rewarded has met a receptive public response in Europe, whose 20th century wars left a residual trauma. Leaders on the continent, as in the United States, should hammer home the point that Ukraine has been victimized for wanting nothing more than to be fully Western — free to say, think, vote and join alliances as they please.
The Post’s View | About the Editorial Board
Editorials represent the views of The Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.
Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus: Opinion Editor David Shipley; Deputy Opinion Editor Karen Tumulty; Associate Opinion Editor Stephen Stromberg (national politics and policy, legal affairs, energy, the environment, health care); Lee Hockstader (European affairs, based in Paris); David E. Hoffman (global public health); James Hohmann (domestic policy and electoral politics, including the White House, Congress and governors); Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics); Heather Long (economics); Associate Editor Ruth Marcus; and Molly Roberts (technology and society).