Is it possible to applaud the heroism of Ukrainians defending their homeland, approve of giving them as much European aid as possible to rebuild their wrecked country, and still be highly critical of the gung-ho way in which some European leaders and international media organisations are speaking? Of course.

Let’s begin with media reporting – or, rather, how a lot of it has blurred into war propaganda.

There’s a lot that is excusable or – not the same thing – understandable. Reporting always suffers under the fog of war. It’s not easy to be sure if Russia’s assault on Kyiv was a failed attempt to capture the city (though most experts agree it was) or if it was only meant to divert some of Ukraine’s resources from the east.

But some coverage doesn’t bear scrutiny. Is this invasion down to Vladimir Putin being ill or over-isolated because of COVID?

We have no idea what’s going on in his head. But experts do know – and the public deserves to know – that he’s pursuing a Russian security policy that he’s been warning NATO about since 2008, and which is based on an understanding of the Russian national interest that goes back to the czars.

Was Putin misled by Russian intelligence about the ease of invading Ukraine and toppling its government? Presumably. He wouldn’t have begun the war with only around 40 per cent of the ground forces he needed. If his troops were sufficiently prepared, he wouldn’t now need his generals to be directly involved in tactical operations.

But US intelligence can’t have been too different. The US offered to fly Volodymyr Zelensky out of Ukraine as it warned of Putin’s belligerent intentions. The US must have expected a quick collapse, too.

A lot of this matters. It’s not nuance. If Putin is acting in the way that most Russian leaders would, then calling for his replacement won’t make a difference in the long run. In the short run, however, it does make the world a much more dangerous place because it makes not losing necessary for his personal survival.

If Putin’s strategy is not to reconstruct the Soviet Union (and he’s on record as saying that would be delusional), but simply to inflict destruction upon Ukraine for daring to be more than a buffer zone, and to peel away enough territory to create his own buffer, then so far he’s not failing.

It also means he’s not Hitler or Stalin. He’s a dangerous autocrat, and war criminal, whose power depends on the high price of oil and gas (which is why an unstable Middle East always suits him). But that’s a different kind of enemy.

If rising food prices are prolonged by the conflict in Ukraine, we could see the southern Mediterranean destabilised further- Ranier Fsadni

Russia’s propaganda media machine, RT, was blocked from the European public because it was decided that we might be fatally misled by its disinformation. That made it even more important for the Western media to maintain their independence from the information war.

Some of the prominent victims of the spin appear to be certain European leaders, whose pronouncements lack self-awareness about how their narrative might actually feed the one that Putin’s regime is propagating in Russia itself.

If the great losses in Ukraine, and economic sacrifices at home, are being justified as the price to pay to protect Mother Russia from encirclement by NATO, does it make sense for the European Central Bank chief, Christine Lagarde (among others), to tell an interviewer that one of the accomplishments of the war is “the resurrection of NATO”?

Putin tells Russians that they’re fighting neo-Nazis (a small Ukrainian militia is indeed neo-Nazi). Who needs RT to feed that line if you can have Ursula von der Leyen, the Commission President, tell the German daily, Bild, that she urges all EU member states to send all the weaponry they can, light and heavy, to Ukraine?

You could agree with her while still thinking that, perhaps, given the propaganda about Nazi threats, a German should be more circumspect in urging a military intensification of a struggle that Putin says is existential.

None of this is an apologia for Putin. Nor is it to say that European leaders should do nothing.

Roberta Metsola got the balance right by going to Ukraine personally – the first institutional leader to do so, as it happens – and pledging European solidarity to help rebuild the country.

But the missteps need to be pointed out, not least because they are being committed by leaders who, largely, came of age in a different European epoch, the 1990s and early 2000s.

That was an age of Russian weakness. European institutional ambition was so unfettered that it could dream of extensive enlargement to the east and a Mediterranean free-trade area by 2010.

It’s another world now. For Europeans, the Ukraine war comes after a decade of recession and pandemic. For Mediterranean Europe, you can add the Arab uprisings, the refugee crisis and human trafficking.

If rising food prices are prolonged by the conflict in Ukraine, we could see the southern Mediterranean destabilised further – at a time when most European resources, human, financial and military, are taken up by the eastern boundary.

That’s a worst case scenario but it’s not an impossible one. If we shouldn’t rule out the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, we can’t rule out a second upheaval in the south, either.

That’s why we should be discussing the wider repercussions of the war more soberly, less propagandistically.

ranierfsadni@europe.com

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