On Tuesday, Davos should be the most prominent evening in Europe. At the tables of a secluded hall of the congress center sat three prime ministers of the Union – Belgium, Greece and Spain – the President of the European Central Bank Christine Lagarde, two heavyweights of the Brussels Commission like Paolo Gentiloni and Frans Timmermas, many ministers from different countries, the head of the external secret service in Paris. But the most awaited guest was missing: Kiev’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. Announced the night before but never showed up.
On the surface, Kuleba didn’t lose much because the European establishment at the highest level avoided mentioning the war on the Union’s borders almost entirely all evening. But it was precisely this sometimes surreal silence and the absence of the Kiev guest that revealed the creeping tension between Ukraine and some of the Union’s key countries. It is precisely into this space that Boris Johnson is trying to invade, with an initiative that seeks to disrupt the maps in Europe: the prime minister of London is proposing a new system of political, economic and military alliances – an alternative to the European Union – which brings together countries united by Distrust of Brussels and also of Germany’s response to Russian military aggression.
Boris Johnson has been weaving his web for over a month, say some people familiar with the talks, presenting these days at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The prime minister first presented his idea to Volodymyr Zelenskyy when the Ukrainian president welcomed him in Kyiv on April 9. The European Commonwealth model envisaged by Boris Johnson would be led by Britain and would include Ukraine, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and possibly Turkey at a later date. Since the Prime Minister’s visit to Kyiv from London, talks have continued and Britain’s courtship of Ukraine has become more urgent and more detailed.
According to the few informed people outside London, Johnson proposes an alliance of states jealous of their national sovereignty, economically liberal and determined to the point of utter intransigence against Moscow’s military threat. For its part, the Kyiv government has not commented on the British initiative, but has not stopped it for the time being. The Ukrainian elite is convinced that few in the powerhouses in Germany and France hope that Vladimir Putin will be defeated: The delays in sanctions and the delivery of weapons have now dug a political ditch. Zelenskyy is therefore awaiting the European summit on June 23, when the heads of state and government of the 27 countries will be asked to decide whether to grant Ukraine the status of a “candidate” for the formal start of negotiations to join the European Union. The June 23 decision is not said to be what Ukraine is hoping for, partly because it would provoke protests from Albania and North Macedonia, which have been waiting for “candidate” status for years. Therefore, according to some negotiators, there is also another hypothesis: the leaders of the 27 can limit themselves to vaguely declaring that Kyiv has a “European perspective” (the so-called “Thessaloniki formula”).
Then Zelenskyy would take Boris Johnson’s alternative offer more seriously. It’s also possible that rumors about these contacts are now circulating, precisely to put pressure on European leaders in the face of June’s decisions. The British project is also likely to have shaky feet: London has neither the European Union’s capacity to provide financial aid to Ukraine, nor is it said that Poland or the Baltic countries will take any initiative that could jeopardize relations with Brussels . .
Johnson is certainly aiming for a political dividend, a European minister notes: The prime minister hopes to have an additional card in the deal with Brussels, which he himself would like to reopen on Brexit. So London tries to upset the balance on the continent. And in doing so, it could end up exposing a fault line that really exists on the European continent now: between the countries that are most decisively helping Ukraine – Britain and Poland in particular – and those that are more cynical about it doing wisely and hesitantly. According to estimates by Arianna Antezza from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, London alone has given Kyiv more economic and military aid during the war than the entire European Union. And Poland has more data than Germany, France and Italy. Thus, the fourth month of Vladimir Putin’s war begins to open the first political cracks in Europe.