Neutrality can be the way forward for both Ukraine and Lebanon
There is a French saying that literally translates into English as: “Everyone sees noon at his own door.” It means that we each see our own interests in any situation. And so, when I see the news from Ukraine, all I see are the warnings that have been emanating from the Middle East to Europe, as well as the similarities between the situations in Ukraine and Lebanon, past and future.
Not to compliment Arab News, but the number of opinion articles (including some of mine) that warned of a coming security, energy and political crisis in Europe could be made into a book. The fact is that politicians and thought leaders in the West chose to ignore these views and instead shifted to another virtual vision of the world. I would say that their obsession with a false understanding of equality, exacerbated and catalyzed by social media, has brought about this situation. There were many warning signs, starting with the refugee crisis in Syria, but they chose to ignore all that and the voices of their true friends in the Middle East.
This is why I consider the Ukrainian situation not as a Russian crisis but a European one. Europe alone will pay the price of this situation. Russia has seen austerity and can accommodate it. Europe is used to comfort. It is a crisis of both identity and strategy. And so, going back to the French saying, everything in this situation has echoes of Lebanon for me, especially as the Ukrainians are fighting bravely but are in fact caught in the middle of another, much bigger confrontation. This is exactly what Lebanon has been suffering from for too long. And so the solution for Ukraine could be similar to the one for Lebanon.
French President Emmanuel Macron last month proposed Finlandization as a solution for Ukraine. This means that Ukraine would choose neutrality vis-a-vis Russia. I wrote on the same topic in October 2021. Lebanon has gone through enough and cannot be caught in the middle of larger fights that have — more than anyone thinks — an ideological undertone. The country has made sacrifices and deserves its independence. Today, Ukraine is (again) going through the first part of Finnish history, which is the sacrifice and war against Russia. After that, neutrality — whether positive or negative — needs to be brought forward, especially as the Ukrainians will see that the Western world is unreliable or inconsistent in its help, as it too has its own risks and interests that are dictated by what takes place on the ground. Sovereign Lebanon has lost its ground to the Iranian occupation and now no one is capable of helping. The country should be allowed a prosperous future and this comes only with neutrality.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky should take a strong and courageous initiative and call Vladimir Putin to propose the neutrality of his country. We never learn from history but, going back to the Finland example and its invasion by Russia in 1939, Ukraine has also stood firm, clearly showing that it cannot be taken over easily. It has established a deterrence, just as Finland did, after which came neutrality. In Ukraine, this can be shifted into a new political era. It would require the EU to intervene strongly and confirm these commitments, while also warning Russia against any future intervention. In fact, the EU would also need to sell this deal to Washington. And in that sense it is time for Europe, which must stay committed to the transatlantic alliance, even if the US gives it up, to take the lead when it comes to European affairs. It should ask for forgiveness rather than permission.
If Ukraine cannot agree this understanding with Russia and sell it to the West to get the proper guarantees, then it will probably end up being split. It can slow the Russian advance, but it will not stop it. There will be two Ukraines and a buffer zone, which will be imposed by Russia. In Lebanon, this option has been suggested not by the invader but by some Lebanese who cannot live under this occupation any longer. I strongly believe we can still find a solution.
Like the Lebanese, the Ukrainians are fighting bravely but are in fact caught in the middle of another, much bigger confrontation.
Khaled Abou Zahr
All these topics should be on the platform of the coming legislative elections in Lebanon. Beirut will also face the pressure of a nuclear deal that favors the Iranian regime. This means that the allies that were supporting Lebanon will be busy doing business in Tehran and trying to bring Iranian energy to Europe to replace Russian supplies. This is why the only way forward is for the Lebanese to reject the voices of the past and unify with a single voice of resistance, just like the Ukrainians. They need smart resistance with the ultimate goal of reaching neutrality, even toward the current occupier.
This is why the Lebanese need to show deterrence and resistance to the Iranian takeover of the country, so that it accepts this neutrality. Ukraine has become the focal point of the confrontation and deal-making between the West and Russia. It is what Lebanon was — on a smaller scale for the Middle East — in the 1970s and during the civil war. Lebanon was too small to be given the opportunity for neutrality that Macron has suggested for Ukraine. Today, the Lebanese should fight for this option once more.
- Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.