Many inside the EU seem unwilling to admit the twenty-five year honeymoon period of European peace and prosperity since 1991 is over. They cling to the idea of a return to the old ‘business as usual’ status quo, and appear to believe Russian aggression is only an issue for Moscow’s immediate neighbors. This policy of obstinate denial is not only morally bankrupt—it also encourages the Kremlin to escalate a hybrid war campaign designed to reverse the results of the Cold War and break up the European Union itself.
When viewed from a safe distance, history tends to look neat and tidy. It appears to us as a succession of clearly defined eras and exact dates. Up close, things are usually far more muddled. Not everyone realized it at the time, but it is now obvious the Russian invasion of Crimea in February 2014 marked the end of the post-Cold War era. By marching into another country and seizing its territory, Russian President Vladimir Putin was effectively tearing down the entire security architecture of modern Europe. In retrospect, this was the appropriate moment for an overwhelming international response. Instead, EU leaders expressed their customary “grave concern” but essentially did nothing. Unsurprisingly, this only served to encourage the Kremlin. With the ink on the Crimean annexation documents still wet, Putin inaugurated the far more ambitious Novorossiya project and sent his “little green men” into eastern Ukraine. The Age of Hybrid Hostilities was well underway. Brussels called for dialogue.
It took the deaths of nearly three hundred passengers and crew on board flight MH17 to awaken the EU from its slumber, but even the sanctions imposed in the wake of the July 2014 airline attack failed to force a radical rethink in Russian strategy. The Kremlin’s military plans in Ukraine ultimately ran aground thanks to stronger than expected Ukrainian military resistance and weaker than anticipated local support for Putin’s vision of a wider Russian World. Nevertheless, the hybrid war continues.