Rarely has there been so much left unsaid in a war as in this one: what do we really want to achieve in the end?

The Ukrainians apparently have a clear goal: to regain their entire territory. But could they be satisfied with that if Russia did not give up the fight one day? And who would be willing to invest in a country threatened with invasion at any time?

The Russians, too, apparently have a clear goal: to occupy all of Ukraine and turn it into a province of Greater Russia. But will they be satisfied with that? If the West accepts this situation, won’t they want to go further and annex all the other former republics of the USSR, including the Baltic States and even Poland, which was once Russian?

The Chinese, for their part, have an explicitly ambiguous position: not to get involved in the conflict, while making it clear to the Russians that they will not accept excessive escalation, especially nuclear escalation.

The West, for their part, is in a state of total vagueness: at first they wanted to do everything possible to prevent the conflict. Then they paid lip service to the Ukrainians, fearing that Russia would see them as cobelligerents. Little by little, they became more involved, until they were soon supplying arms that could hardly be described as purely defensive. What happens next? What will happen if Russia bombs Odessa or the historic centre of Kiev? And what will the West do if Russia wins this war? And if Russia withdraws from Ukraine, will they be ready to renew ties with Putin’s regime? Unless, as some whisper, their ultimate goal is to cut Russia into three pieces, one attached to Europe, one to China, and one to the Persian and Turkish world?

To all these questions, there is no answer. History teaches us that wars can only be won when there is a very clear war aim. This was the case of the Americans and the British in 1941 who wanted to bring down the Hitler regime, without ever negotiating with it. This was not the case in Vietnam, Iraq, Libya or Afghanistan, and the results were disastrous.

For the West today, it is therefore urgent to set a war goal, especially for Europeans, who are neighbours in the conflict. And who are already paying the price.

For me, this goal is clear: to put an end to all dictatorships in Europe and its neighbourhood and to build a democratic and peaceful Europe. Of course, we cannot imagine going to war with Russia to change its regime. On the other hand, we can, and must, prepare for the moment when the Russians will have found the path to building a democracy, which they had taken at the end of the previous century. And to do this, we must make them see what their fate would be in this case.

As the battles raged in Europe, the Allies were beginning to prepare for the post-war period: as early as 1942, the British and Americans were imagining post-war institutions, and preparing to offer a place in them to their enemies of the moment, becoming democracies again.

This is what needs to be done today. The West should make it clear that their aim in this war is to ensure that Russia is no longer an aggressive, human rights-trampling, vindictive dictatorship; that it is not in their interest that it should be cut into pieces and a gigantic Islamic empire structured on the border of Europe, while China reclaims the territories and raw material reserves of Siberia. And that it is in their interest, on the contrary, to include it irreversibly in a European democratic whole.

To do this, it would be useful to openly prepare, with all the competent institutions, a massive plan for the reconstruction of the region, from Belarus to Albania, from Kiev to Vladivostok. A plan that would integrate with each other, and that would only be activated in a country once it was back on the road to democracy

Such a plan would be rejected today by everyone, first and foremost by the Ukrainians, who do not want to hear about Russia’s presence in the European institutions of which they dream of being a part. And yet, it will be necessary: it is by setting a goal of peace that we will have a goal of war, and that we will be able to win it.


Painting: Nicolas-Bernard Lépicié, The Peace, 1772