3 min

When he was mayor of St. Petersburg in the early 1990s, Vladimir Putin's office was not presided over by Boris Yeltsin. Instead, an image of Peter the Great reigned. Pyotr Alexeyevich Romanov, the emperor and father of all the Russias, founder of St. Petersburg and the driving force behind the expansion and westernisation of Russia.

Vladimir Putin is an autocrat with a historic mission. In fact, he has been executing his expansionist desires and theorising them for 22 years, as he did last July, when he published the essay On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians, in which he asserted that "the two nations are one people sharing faith, culture and language". A little over a week ago, in the speech in which he declared the invasion, he disparaged modern Ukraine as a creation of the Soviet era and the sovereignty of which is only possible as part of Russia. For him, the invasion he has ordered in blood and fire is a reunification, a restitution, and not a violation of international law. In his vocabulary, the war is a "special mission" with the aim of "denazifying" Ukraine.

At his inauguration in 2019, in Kyiv, Volodymir Zelensky stated, "I do not want my picture in your offices. The president is not an icon, an idol nor a portrait. Instead put up the photos of your children and look at them every time you make a decision."

Zelenski and Putin represent two opposite ways of understanding life, the world, power and political communication.

In short: Putin talks about denazifying Ukraine while he bombs civilians and the memory of the 150,000 victims of the Shoah at Babi Yar and tries to assassinate a democratically elected pro-European president and grandson of a genocide survivor.

While independent information in Russia is definitely fading into black and Putin appears icy and isolated, Ukrainians flood the cell phones of Europeans through social media showing a courageous man of European principles trying to defend freedom by his people.

"No to war" vs. "No pasarán"

It has been ten days since we Europeans have seen the scorched earth of the Russian wars on our continent and the moral dilemma is stark and affects us all. Who in good will does not subscribe to "No to war"? Who is not disgusted by the images of dead civilians, burning houses and children displaced or born in subway stations under the bombs? Who does not recognise in Russian or Ukrainian soldiers the young people around them?

Today, however, there is a war and there is an aggressor and an aggressed, more than a million displaced people and an undetermined number of civilian and military deaths. The Russian operation has not been a military stroll. Ukraine has not imploded, but has grown nationally thanks to the resistance, but the Russian army is not only beginning to control Ukrainian territory in the south and east, but is suffocating numerous cities throughout the country, condemning them to becoming ghost towns or cities besieged by fire and famine. Putin's barbarism is well known to peoples like the Chechen and the war is now entering its bloodiest phase.

The big question is: where will Putin stop? Nobody knows, but the military escalation is a narcotic for him. Will he stop in Ukraine or will the next pieces be Georgia, Moldova or the Baltic countries?

In this scenario, Europe and NATO could keep out or wade in. They have decided to act, for the time being, on the less dangerous flank: large-scale economic and financial sanctions (to a lesser extent in the UK), the reception of refugees and supplying military hardware.

The strategic balance has changed in a few days on fundamental issues such as the increase in the defence budget in Germany or the sale of weapons by a Social Democrat and Green coalition government.

Poland and Hungary must be valuing EU membership more than ever, and China and India have not condemned Putin, but neither have they fallen in line behind him. Perhaps Finland and Sweden will review their neutral status under the threat of the imperial eagle.

Whilst after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 Putin rightly understood that the costs were low and he could act with impunity, on February 28 sanctions are destructive and swift. European consumers should take into account which companies have decided to join the boycott and which ones have kept their shops open as if our world were not on fire.

Providing weapons to those who want to defend themselves in a war they have not started is painfully just. War is never the right option and all parallel efforts have to be directed to force the parties to negotiate, but resisting is the lesser evil to get to a negotiating table opposite a tyrant. We cannot abandon the Ukrainians.