Australia needs to sit at the global table
This week the European Union boldly voted to start admitting Ukraine to the group while that nation is still fighting for survival. The NATO summit that Mr Albanese will join will debate permanent alliance bases in the vulnerable Baltic states, their populations now nervous of Vladimir Putin’s murderous army just next door.
Yet many Europeans are also anxious about sacrificing their own comforts, and some want an off-ramp for Russia that buys the psychopath off. President Macron has mused that it would be dangerous to “humiliate” Russia, which Europe still has to live with. The uber-realist Henry Kissinger says Ukraine might have to trade land for peace, and polling shows half of inflation-weary Europeans might support him.
The global weight of war
But Europeans are also acutely aware that while they (and everyone else) overestimated Mr Putin’s military, they also badly underestimated his willingness to use such force. Chancellor Olaf Scholz concluded this week there can be “no victor’s peace dictated by Russia”, a reward for Russian behaviour that the German leader knows would bring no peace at all.
Russia is weighed down by a prolonged war it was supposed to easily win, and for which its military and economy is not prepared. At very least, the West must speed up new energy sources, show Mr Putin that energy blackmail fails, and demonstrate that being a distrusted supplier of last resort is a dead end for Russia.
Even as Mr Putin’s armies rain 50,000 artillery shells a day on the slow-moving frontlines of the Donbas, he still has plenty to lose that might bring him to the negotiating table. When he does, Ukraine’s unthreatened access to the Black Sea for its 130 million tonnes of exports a year must be guaranteed to prevent Mr Putin impoverishing Ukraine in the future, and holding the world food economy hostage.
But that tipping point has not yet been reached. Nobody expects Ukraine to beat Russia, but if it can hold out long enough to make Russia jointly sue for negotiations, then it is going to need more military help from us and from others.
Australia lives in a tense region, too. A recharged Australian diplomatic activism, supporting multilateralism, backing other nations and expecting the same solidarity, may pay us back at the right time.