Dear Mr. Verhofstadt,
I write to you out of deep concern over the crisis in Ukraine and what it means for the future of Europe and the world. Tomorrow is the European Union Presidential Debate. You and the other main candidates will discuss many important topics, to be sure, but the greatest crisis the EU has faced in its existence, the ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Putin’s Russia, must be the top priority. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and continued paramilitary assault on a European nation are a threat to the entire European experiment. This crisis requires an unequivocal and principled response that condemns aggression, that insists on territorial integrity, and that defends the European ideals of unity and democracy.
Since the horrific lessons of World War II, the indispensable principle of territorial integrity has ruled in Europe. The internal collapses seen in the USSR and Yugoslavia did not interrupt the security of international borders that held after 1945. Putin’s invasion and annexation of Crimea ended the notion that the borders of Europe were inviolable. Putin has crushed human rights and democratic institutions in Russia and has aggressively sought to export this dictatorial model to the near abroad. Under Putin, Russia uses its financial and energy resources to influence and corrupt public and private institutions across Europe and the world. The protestors of Maidan were willing to give up their lives to preserve their democracy against the despotic plans of Putin and his puppet Yanukovych. The Maidan protestors’ courage and correctness, and the integrity of those who supported them in Kiev as you did, stands out even more today, in hindsight, as we see clearly what Putin and his allies have in mind for Ukraine. Civil rights are already being eliminated in Crimea as free speech and ethnic and other minority groups come under direct assault. Putin’s entire agenda is alien to Europe and European values and it must be rejected categorically and fought against vigorously.
That the European Union is still vacillating about how to respond to Putin’s aggression only adds to his arrogance and ambition. The Baltic states and Moldova are already feeling pressure due to the EU’s unwillingness to take a clear position and adopt a strong plan of action in support of Ukraine. Many EU nations instead focus on their individual business deals with Russia, putting short-term economics ahead of principles and thereby guaranteeing an eventual disaster on all fronts, including economically, as instability and division spread.
Putin and his kind must not be ignored. If we have learned anything it is that dictators stop only when they are stopped. They do not cease intervention and aggression on their own accord. Had the EU responded with stiff penalties when Putin invaded Georgia in 2008, it is very unlikely he would have attacked Crimea. Had the EU brought overwhelming sanctions and a unified protest against Putin and his cronies at the first sign of aggression in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine would not now be under paramilitary siege. We have reached a point where some in the EU are recommending negotiations with masked terrorist invaders of European soil at the table! There is no future in such appeasement and no future for a Europe that does not protect its own territory, its own citizens, and its own ideals.
If international conventions such as the 1994 Budapest Memorandum have no value, the spirit and law that govern and protect unions like Europe and NATO are gravely weakened. Europe must speak and act together. Ukraine must be supported against Putin’s plan of violence and instability. Every kind of aid should be on the table. Sanctions must be expanded against Putin, his allies, their companies, and the family members they use to hide their immense wealth abroad. Putin’s cronies have no desire to live in the Russia they are destroying. Their assets and families travel and live in Europe, meaning the EU has immense leverage if only it has the courage to use it to defend itself, its member states, and its principles.
To you, Mr. Verhofstadt, and to all the candidates for the EU presidency and to all the leaders of Europe, what will your Union be worth if it fails in this crisis? If Ukraine is not safe, Europe is not safe. Putin and other dictators will prove that aggression is rewarded. The many fragile democracies in the world will understand they are on their own. You must not fail this test.
Chairman of the Human Rights Foundation
May 14, 2014