The most significant aspect of current EU-Russia relations is the realisation that instead of being a strategic partner, Russia has chosen to become a strategic challenge for the EU. This challenge must be approached accordingly.
Eastern European countries and the Baltic states know from experience that Russian leaders tend to respect strength rather than softness. The EU as a 'soft power' is not used to demonstrating strength, unity, resolve, or readiness to sacrifice short-term interests of individual states or industries for the long-term interests of the whole union.
The litmus test for the new international order, will be whether the return to spheres of influence and the 'might is right' approach in Europe will decide the fate of Ukraine. Russia has clearly and shamelessly violated and continues to violate Ukraine's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
"The European Union must act to help Ukrainian people who have proved their fortitude and willpower to live in a European country with democratic ideals"
It has launched a 'hybrid war' against Ukraine's European choice, and is testing the boundaries of the permissible in small-scale incidents on Nato borders. I have no doubt that Russia will be tempted to further test if article five really works in unconventional circumstances, and it is quite possible that Russian president Vladimir Putin will try methods of the 'hybrid war' against and within the EU and Nato member states, who are not ready to counter these challenges.
Ukraine is at a critical juncture in its history, and the EU must act to help the Ukrainian people who have proved their fortitude and willpower to live in a European country with democratic ideals. It is our responsibility to ensure that Ukraine emerges from this conflict as a strong and independent European nation.
We Europeans must realise that this conflict is not only geopolitical, but also a conflict of values. If the 'might is right' approach wins, Europe will once again be divided by a new iron curtain. Unfortunately the response to this challenge and a solution for Ukraine cannot be only political, diplomatic or economic in nature; it must include a viable defence component.
This defence must include traditional capabilities but also alternatives such as cyber security, information and psychological warfare. The EU must therefore be prepared to invest significantly in 'preparing for peace'. In order to prevent and deter any further occupation of Ukraine's territory, it is crucial to support Ukraine's defence capacities, to expand defence cooperation with Ukraine, and to support its military.
Needless to say, we must also strengthen the defence of our potentially most affected member states and boost solidarity among all 28. In an interview in the Parliament Magazine, Russian ambassador Vladimir Chizhov said strategic convergence between Russia and the EU in the long run is mutually beneficial and natural, I cannot but agree.
However, this convergence will not happen through acquiescence to the principles of Putinism. I hope for an opportunity for Russia to return to civilised dialogue with Europe once Putinism is gone and done with. As our values are irreconcilable, we must prepare for the worst.
For Putin, the dissolution of the USSR is the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century. For us, it is the opportunity to finally build a whole, free and peaceful Europe. Despite our hopes, the world has not changed in the past few months. Even after the short ceasefire in Ukraine, we will not be able to go back to business as usual with Russia. The changes are tectonic and our response should be strategic.