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Op-ed of Czech and Polish Foreign Ministers Lipavský and Sikorski

Jan Lipavský, Radosław Sikorski

“It is our common purpose, over time, to do for Europe’s east what NATO has already helped to do for Europe’s west. Steadily and systematically, we will continue erasing the line drawn in Europe by Stalin’s bloody boot“, said the then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 1999, while welcoming the first new NATO members since the Cold War’s end.


Exactly 25 years later there is a new line being drawn in Europe – by a dictator of a
different name who is not shy, however, of committing the same heinous crimes as the
previous one. In the heart of Europe cities are being bombed, civilians are being killed,
children are being abducted.

“Never again” we said almost 80 years ago, after the guns of the World War II finally fell
silent. Today, instead of learning from our history, we seem to be repeating it. German
defence minister warns Russia could attack NATO in 5 to 8 years. His Danish
counterpart concurs but argues we have even less time – 3 to 5 years. Historians discuss
if we are entering Cold War II or World War III. Politicians and experts claim Russia
presents an “existential threat” to Europe. And yet we are still not doing enough to rise
to the challenge. We are moving in the right direction but too slow and too late.

At the last Munich Security Conference ordinary Ukrainian soldiers pleaded for help.
President Volodymyr Zelensky and his ministers warned that without new rounds of
military assistance the country may run out of air defence missiles in a few weeks. Kyiv
and other major cities would then be left vulnerable to Russian attacks conducted with
Iranian drones or North Korean missiles. Lives of millions of Ukrainian civilians would
be thrown entirely on Putin’s mercy.

Ukrainian soldiers have for months heavily rationed their munitions and are currently
outgunned by a ratio of eight to one. This is certainly no way to win. But we can still set
it right. In the long run we should invest in our security to create a deterrence so
powerful it dwarfs Putin and his cronies. We can deepen and widen our alliances to

secure a lasting peace from a position of strength. We can create a more secure and
stable world.

To achieve these goals, however, we must first help Ukrainian defence forces here and
now. They are brave and determined but they are not superhumans. Urgent actions are

First, top-up the European Peace Facility by €5 billion this year.

Second, buy artillery shells from sources and countries identified by the Czech
initiative. Is not a time to be picky. Developing European long-term defence capabilities
and industry is crucial but Ukraine needs these shells immediately. On the battlefield it
matters not where they came from.

Third, make use of the Russian frozen assets. Either directly, or by using them as
collateral to raise debt or as guarantees for loans. Who ought to cover the cost of war –
the victim and its allies, or the perpetrator? We should not be looking for excuses when
help is so desperately needed and so readily available.

Let’s take these actions not to escalate the conflict but to end it. Not to endanger our
citizens but to keep the danger at distance. Not to “provoke” Putin but to help his victim.
And maybe even Russia itself.

Bear in mind that Kremlin’s unprovoked aggression is nothing more but the last colonial
war in Europe. Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to president Jimmy
Carter, once said that “without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, but with Ukraine
suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire”. Imperialist
Russia will never be a democratic one.

It is not only about Ukraine. Putin’s insatiable ambitions go much further. Do not forget
Kremlin’s demands made in 2021 as Russia pretended to negotiate a deal with the West:
“withdraw your forces to positions they occupied in 1997, or there will be consequences.”

In other words, roll back history back to a time when none of the states
formerly subdued by Moscow was part of the Alliance.

The risks of yielding to Russian aggression stretch beyond borders, echoing the
haunting history of past appeasements. Every day that passes with Putin occupying
swaths of Ukrainian land, makes the appetite of other authoritarians seeking to redraw
borders grow.

The choice is clear – we can either deal with a defeated Russian army at Ukraine’s
eastern border, or a victorious, emboldened one right at NATO’s doorstep. Today, we
can either lament how the world has gotten so unstable, or we can act to bring the
stability back.


Jan Lipavský is the Czech minister of foreign affairs.
Radosław Sikorski is the Polish minister of foreign affairs.