In my concluding words when we last met – in December of last year, also here in Berlin – I said that “we must face the uncomfortable fact that we might have left the post-war period in Europe, and entered the pre-war one.”
Since then, we have left the pre-war period.
Europe is at war – a war far more consequential than the decade of war we had to face in our south-east for a decade in the 1990s.
We are at war. And the overriding issue for all of us in the years ahead is if and how and when peace can be restored in our Europe.
I’m not talking about ceasefires or temporary fixes or whatever the diplomacy of the day might be preoccupied with.
I’m talking about a peace that lasts and that brings security and prosperity for generations.
Germany and France fought three horrible wars for nearly a century. Their wars tore apart large parts of our continent – indeed, our world. With the setting-up of today’s European Union, peace – genuine peace – has been restored to the west of our continent.
The much later wars in our south-east have ended, and they will not come back, but we all know that genuine peace hasn’t yet been achieved.
And there is war in the east of our Europe.
Vladimir Putin launched his all-out aggression on 24 February with the explicit aim of getting rid of Ukraine and restoring his version of Greater Russia.
It wasn’t about NATO or Donbas or whatever – it was about getting rid of a Ukraine that, in his opinion, should never have been allowed to exist.
Europe hasn’t seen anything like this since Adolf Hitler launched in September 1939 his attack in order to get rid of Poland and create the conditions for his Greater German Reich.
It was imperative then to defeat Hitler.
It is imperative now to defeat Putin.
Putin will not give up on the mission that he believes the history of Russia has given him.
And let’s be clear: until he has been defeated, we will have war in Europe in one form or another. Kinetic. Hybrid. Economic. Cyber. Political. Call it whatever – war it will be.
But genuine peace will require even more.
It’s a question of the entire order between the Vistula and the Volga. The borders of this vast Europe haven’t always been set in stone – they have all been drawn in blood.
And the fundamental prerequisite for peace is that the existing borders are fully respected. Until that is the case, the risk of blood starting to flow again will always be there.
The European Union will, in the coming week, take the historic decision to welcome the membership of Ukraine and Moldova.
It’s a commitment of momentous importance.
We must rebuild, we must reform, and we must secure this entire vast area of the east of our Europe. And to rebuild, reform, and secure, we must move together. One without the others will never endure.
It’s an undertaking of decades.
Of course, it relates primarily to Ukraine – but also to Russia.
We should always be clear: our aim is not to defeat Russia – but to defeat the regime of Putin.
But we must understand that peace will not come to Europe until Russia fully recognises that its future is to build a nation and not an empire.
And that is unlikely to happen until it’s clear that we will succeed in rebuilding, reforming, and securing Ukraine.
Then we would, with joy, welcome Russia to the family of European nations that it has now left.
ECFR is an important part of the intellectual and political arsenal of free and democratic Europe.
Our task is to think hard and deeply beyond the issues of the day. Our task is to give guidance and inspiration. Our task is to provide light at a time when darkness otherwise risks descending.
Carl Bildt is co-chair of ECFR’s Council.