Ukraine: red lines and ambiguity

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, front right, looks at US President Joe Biden, front left, during a group photo during an Extraordinary NATO Summit at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Thursday March 24 2022.

Editorial of the “World”. If a symbol of the unity of the transatlantic alliance forged over a month against Russia was needed, the presence of the American president, Thursday evening March 24, at the summit of the twenty-seven heads of state and government of the he European Union in Brussels provided a powerful one, as did Joe Biden’s number of visits to Europe – three – in just over a year. The participation, by interposed videos, of the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, in the three summits of the day, NATO, G7 and EU, was to mark another symbol, that of solidarity with the attacked Ukraine.

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But we do not make war with symbols and Mr. Zelensky did not hesitate to recall this, asking Western countries to deliver to his armed forces even if only 1% of their tanks and planes. He came up against the refusal of the leaders gathered in Brussels, who limited themselves to continuing their deliveries of military equipment “lethal and defensive” to Ukraine, such as anti-tank or air-to-surface missiles. The supply of tanks and warplanes to kyiv would place the NATO countries in the position of co-belligerents. It is, President Emmanuel Macron told the press, a ” Red line “ that the Alliance is unwilling to cross, so as not to escalate the conflict.

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“Stop the war without making war” : it is, thus defined by Mr. Macron, the entire limit of the exercise that Western countries impose on themselves. The war, launched a month ago by Vladimir Putin against Ukraine, does not stop and the limit is increasingly tenuous. Evidenced by the difficulty of the same leaders of the NATO countries to establish another ” Red line “, that of a possible use by the Russian army of chemical and biological weapons. This time, President Macron refuses, pleading “strategic ambiguity and discretion”, which are, in his view, in this case much more effective. President Biden has promised a “retort” if this type of weapon were to be used, but without defining it: The nature of the response will depend on the nature of that use”he said.


This deliberate vagueness is understandable, and probably wise, in view of the disastrous precedent of August 2013 when, despite the evidence of the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria, President Barack Obama gave up applying the red line. which he had fixed himself. But these March 24 summits testify to the difficult situation in which the countries of the Alliance find themselves, despite their unity and the massive nature of the sanctions imposed.

Vladimir Putin does not bother with red lines. As images of apocalyptic destruction of Ukrainian cities flood our screens, as millions of women and children wander in search of refuge, as President Zelensky’s much-celebrated courage escalates desperate appeals to elected officials of the free world, ambiguity becomes more and more delicate to cultivate.

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Two urgent matters are necessary at this stage. First, manage the flow of refugees at EU level, organize their protection, their transport and their settlement in countries other than those in which they arrive and which are already overwhelmed. Second, take serious, consistent and immediate action to reduce the supply of Russian gas and oil as quickly as possible. The differences between Europeans on this subject are logical, but they must be confronted. Without ambiguity.

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