political revue


Year LXIV, 2022, Single Issue, Page 47






À ce retour brutal du tragique dans l’Histoire,
nous nous devons de répondre
par des décisions historiques.[1]


With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the world has been plunged back into a reality shaped by a very precise concept of international relations: that of power politics, which holds that the national interest is not just paramount, but indeed so overwhelmingly important that protecting it can and must entail threats and reactions, economic if not necessarily bellicose. This is what immediately transpires, in the direst form imaginable, from recent declarations by the President of the Russian Federation: “Whoever tries to hinder us, and even more so to create threats for our country, for our people, should know that Russia's response will be immediate and will lead you to such consequences that you have never experienced in your history.”[2]

While the invasion of Ukraine has undoubtedly led to an exacerbation of this concept, it has to be acknowledged that this mindset, albeit manifested in different ways, is now spreading to leaders across the entire spectrum of political players involved in the resulting scenario. We need only consider, for example, some of President Biden’s remarks in response to the situation: “He thought [Putin] the West and NATO wouldn’t respond. And he thought he could divide us at home. Putin was wrong. We were ready. […] Let me be clear, our forces are not engaged and will not engage in conflict with Russian forces in Ukraine. Our forces are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine, but to defend our NATO Allies – in the event that Putin decides to keep moving west. For that purpose, we’ve mobilised American ground forces, air squadrons, and ship deployments to protect NATO countries including Poland, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.”[3]

This claim is further supported by the speech given by President von der Leyen before the European Parliament plenary on 1 March, 2022: “This is a moment of truth for Europe. Let me quote the editorial of one Ukrainian newspaper, the Kyiv Independent, published just hours before the invasion began: ‘This is not just about Ukraine. It is a clash of two worlds, two polar sets of values.’ They are so right. This is a clash between the rule of law and the rule of the gun; between democracies and autocracies; between a rules-based order and a world of naked aggression. How we respond today to what Russia is doing will determine the future of the international system. The destiny of Ukraine is at stake, but our own fate also lies in the balance. We must show the power that lies in our democracies; we must show the power of people that choose their independent paths, freely and democratically. This is our show of force.”[4]

Obviously, the declarations made by these leaders and the concrete measures taken in response to Russia’s aggression differ from and cannot be compared, in either a political or a moral sense, to the ideological positions and the military decisions adopted by the Kremlin. This, however, does not prevent them from falling into the trap of power politics, meaning a mechanism that, once triggered, inevitably sees all the players involved reacting to events with aggressive measures and issuing threats in response to those received.

The resurgence of power politics is closely linked to a strong revival of nationalist rhetoric. Nowhere is this more dramatically manifested than in the ideological motivations driving Russia’s aggression, which amount to a violent manipulation of historical facts and historical memory; and yet, from this perspective, too, we have to expect to see its influences spreading spontaneously across borders and contaminating not only the country that has been directly attacked, but also its allies, not to mention the world’s horrified onlookers. The neoliberal post-Cold War model seems to have been swept away, and with it the principle of deterrence: in the past, the nuclear threat served, paradoxically, for moderating international conflicts; now, however, this terrifying sword of Damocles, recognised as a means of preventing escalations (military at least), is instead being used as an actual instrument of war. To be precise, what we are witnessing is not the return of history tout court, but the return, to continental Europe, of the tragic side of history.

If one can manage to see things from broader, long-term perspective, looking beyond the acts of war that, as I write, are continuing to shock the world, it becomes apparent that a pernicious process is under way that is redefining the balance and rearranging the distribution of power among the world’s various political actors. That said, a clear understanding of the causes of this process and its possible outcomes can really only be reached through in-depth analysis and expensive, interdisciplinary research, as well as longer observation of the unfolding of the phenomenon itself.

Nevertheless, in my view, three key aspects can already be identified: i) the gradual erosion, as a result of endogenous and exogenous crisis factors, of the USA’s ability to be keepers of the international order; ii) the progressive growth of political and/or economic influence exerted by powers that are not de facto aligned with the West (e.g. China and Russia); iii) the impasse that is preventing the process of European integration from culminating in the formation of a fully political union able to fill an increasingly evident power vacuum.

In the face of disorder, power vacuums and changing international balances, and therefore of new threats and opportunities (depending on one’s perspective), divergent ambitions emerge and the logic of division and of power politics increasingly finds fertile ground. And it is important to view the war that is currently shaking the world in the light of this profound process. Putin’s appalling audacity is not born from a sense of duty to pursue the goal of national reunification; nor do his actions really stem from the absurd and deplorable idea of “de-nazifying” the Ukrainian government, or the desire to counter the pro-Western tendency that has emerged in recent years in a region that has traditionally fallen within the Russian sphere of influence. The Russian president’s brazen actions stem, rather, from the fact that he recognises the precariousness of the old order, led by NATO, and grasps, quite correctly, the existence of a huge political weakness at the heart of Europe.

This is an unfolding scenario. It is impossible to predict the effects of the turbulence that is currently manifesting itself in such a tragic way in Ukraine, and could have terrible repercussions elsewhere. Even so, I would argue that an understanding, albeit partial and transitory, of the situation can nevertheless be built on the basis of awareness and acceptance of two facts. The first is the erosion of the US-led unipolar world. The second is the fact that the West’s capacity to influence the defining of a new stable (inevitably multipolar) world balance, and promote peaceful international relations, will depend, to a large extent, on Europe’s readiness to make the decisive federal leap. This means its readiness to establish itself as a power for peace, using its political and diplomatic weight, which is of course also directly proportional to its military capacity, to establish, together with the other global players, a new equilibrium. In so doing they will be able, together, to resume the long and non-linear process of building a world that, in the face of ever greater material interdependence, recognises the need to impose more stringent rules, in order to avoid tipping into chaos once again.

Opportunely, the Conference on the Future of Europe has anticipated this need. This ground-breaking exercise in supranational participatory democracy has resulted in clear calls, further legitimised by the dramatic developments of recent weeks, for more European democracy, democratic mechanisms for defining EU policy, and more effective European institutions with a greater capacity to act.

In the present deeply tragic and crucial historical phase, these calls simply cannot be allowed to go unheeded. Instead, these demands must be embraced and realised through concrete reforms that will lead to the birth of a true democratic and sovereign Europe, for the sake of Europe’s future, and that of the world! 

8 April 2022 

Andrea Apollonio

[1] Emmanuel Macron, Address to the Nation, 2/03/2022,

[2] Full text: Putin’s declaration of war on Ukraine, The Spectator, 24/02/2022,

[3] Remarks of President Joe Biden – State of the Union Address as Prepared for Delivery, 1/03/2022,

[4] Speech by President von der Leyen at the European Parliament Plenary on the Russian aggression against Ukraine, 1/03/2022,




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