While the Russian invasion of Ukraine has dominated the news in America, the war of aggression by Moscow against the former Soviet republic has far greater relevance for those on the Continent as anxiety is pitched about potential further territorial ambitions by Vladimir Putin in the event Russia successfully conquers Ukraine.
Michel Hoogeveen is a member of the European Parliament and is part of JA21 Party (Juiste Antwoord-Right Answer), a center-right Dutch political party. MP Hoogeveen fielded questions about the war in eastern Europe, what encouragement Putin may have indirectly received from the Biden Administration, his view of the Trump Presidency, and the largely unnoticed yet significant historic ties between the United States and the Netherlands.
MP Hoogeveen represents the Leiden Constituency in the EU, an area with a particularly significant connection to colonial America.
MB: What’s your take on the Russian invasion of Ukraine?
MH: Tensions have been rising for the last couple of years, starting with the occupation of the Crimean peninsula. And what you now see is a Russian leader who is desperate to expand his influence (in his sphere) to counter NATO but having overstretched in the process. He (Putin) already has in Belarus a puppet regime and now he is looking for a way to do the same in Ukraine.
MB: What do you believe the West should do to support Ukraine while also not contributing to a greater conflict?
MH: First of all, Vladimir Putin changed the ball game. At the beginning we felt that he might not be seeking aggression, now he is the aggressor. And as he said (in one of his speeches), Ukraine is a geopolitical mistake made by Lenin in 1917, which in the West should totally change our perspective of how Vladimir Putin sees the world and how he operates in it. I think NATO should really seek to reconnect a transatlantic relationship, we should bolster our military defense. As (former) President Donald Trump said, countries really need to pay up. (The invasion) is definitely a warning sign. We as NATO, though we are friends, we must tell the truth that (Europe) has not paid up for the defense of western Europe and we should start paying up.
MB: At what point do believe a “red line” exists where there would need to be direct military intervention by the West?
MH: When you look at NATO and the territory that constitutes NATO, we should invoke Article IV of the NATO treaty. We need to also bolster our military defenses and form a military ring around the NATO territory in order to deter Putin from going any further.
MB: Do you believe NATO membership should be expanded to Finland if they were to seek it?
MH: I’m all for sovereign countries making their own decision, so if Finland and Sweden were to apply for NATO, then they should be free to do so.
MB: Would you welcome Finland and Sweden into the military alliance?
MH: Firsf they would have to apply to NATO and then we would discuss the terms.
MB: Do you think the Russian invasion of Ukraine was invited by the haphazard American pullout of Afghanistan?
MH: It definitely showed that after President Joe Biden came in office. We have seen on the world stage it gave Putin a certain invitation. He definitely saw what happened in Kabul. He definitely saw that America was no longer as it was under President Trump. We saw it in Iran when Trump targeted (Iranian General Qasem) Soleimani and in Afghanistan when he deployed “the mother of all bombs” (GBU-43/B). And that deterrent that President Trump gave to the world and Vladimir Putin is gone now and he sees his chance to strike.
MB: The American media portrayed President Trump as a polarizing figure on the world stage. Do you believe that people in Europe who may have once held an uncharitable view of President Trump are now revisiting that in light of what has happened since Joe Biden took office?
MH: Donald Trump was an unconventional president who used unconventional rhetoric. But he made sure that he was negotiating from strength. We also saw on the Korean peninsula that Trump spoke the language of these authoritarian regimes that scares the hell out of them, to say it frankly. That rhetoric is gone now. On the other hand when looking at Western Europe and NATO, we are in this together, we are friends. We share a long history as you alluded earlier in our conversation about the American Pilgrims having set sail for New World from my constituency of Leiden. So we share a long history and when you are friends you tell each other the truth. And Donald Trump basically did that when he said that if you want us to defend your territory and if you want NATO to work then we all need to pay up our membership fee. And I now think that people are starting to see, that well maybe he had a point.
MB: Is an increase in American military deployment to NATO countries necessary at this point?
MH: I think it’s necessary right now because in Western Europe our defense is not where it should be. I think we really need this US-EU alliance to work. We need better cooperation with the US military. In the meantime we should start investing in our own military defense as Netherlands, as France, as Germany in order to deter things like this from happening.
MB: In America there has been some consternation over the Russian invasion of Ukraine, particularly amongst young people wondering about the potential return of the military draft. What’s the reaction in the Netherlands to what’s going on in Ukraine?
MH: Right now, the anxiety is not as great but I do believe that it has warned us. It’s a wake up call to the Dutch, it’s a wake up call to the Germans that this post-Cold War world that we thought we lived in where everyone could trade with each other and everyone including Russia and China would become like us, a western liberal market democracy. That’s not going to happen. Russia and China might have embraced some forms of capitalism but they’re still very authoritarian and as we see right now, expansionistic in nature. So it’s a wake up call and shifted the world view of many people.
MB: Is the rest of Europe prepared to step up to potential Russian aggression beyond Ukraine or are they clinging to a pre-World War II appeasement mentality?
MH: In the end, rapprochement and dialogue should not be confused with appeasement. And that’s a problem I have when talking about international relations that you’re either a Churchill or a Chamberlain. There is a middle ground and you should always seek dialogue and stay away from fiery rhetoric as long as possible but when you need to stand up and you need to stand your ground, then you should do so from a position of strength.
MB: If Putin were to withdraw Russian forces back to the areas of Ukraine where there was an existing Russian presence prior to launching his all-out invasion of the country, would you consider that as a legitimate point of negotiation or unacceptable?
MH: Negotiations are always on the table but what we’ve seen now is that Putin has invaded a sovereign country and that there should be consequences, one way or the other. But obviously, coming back to the negotiating table and initiating dialogue is something I am all for. It’s always better than war.
MB: In addition to Ukraine, Russia is in the northern part of the caucasian country of Georgia and in the trasndniestria region of Moldova. Do you believe there will be calls for Russia to withdraw from these countries as well or that the status quo will continue?
MH: These segments of countries where Putin is seeking recognition of independence are not recognized by a majority of United Nations member states, so I don’t think that will change. I do think that the invasion of Ukraine has shown that Putin crossed a line a long time ago and that when negotiations start, those parts of the world will be on the table for discussion.
MB: Do you support an increase in sanctions on Russia and the cancellation of sports and cultural activities with Russian entities?
MH: The European Union has looked into ways to sanction the Russian Federation and Putin’s regime as effective as possible. I think we should do so with cooperation with our allies from the United States and other countries in the world. Whether related to sports or the financial SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) system or targeted sanctions on Putin and his henchmen, I think everything should be on the table.
MB: What do you see as the current role of the United States in global politics?
MH: We as Netherlands and we as Europe share so much with the United States and we should really protect the values we stand for. We came from a unipolar world where the United States was the lone superpower but now we are moving towards a more multipolar world. And in order to stand up for liberal, free-market democracies, we should work more closely together also with Australia, South Korea, and Japan in terms of trade, in terms of military. We should really stand up for freedom and democracy.
MB: There is a unique relationship between the Netherlands and the United States rooted in four centuries of history, from the Pilgrims to the first international recognition of American independence came from the Netherlands at Saint Eustatius to the significant Dutch role in helping finance the American Revolution. Would you like to comment on this often unnoticed connection between the two countries?
MH: This special relationship between America and the Netherlands is bound to last for a long time. If you look at what the Dutch did in the United States, we set up New Amsterdam, which later became New York City. If you look at the people of Dutch lineage who would be of great influence in the history of the United States such as Martin van Buren, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the Roosevelts. We are essentially the same people with the same ideology and values is something important we share and we should continue to cherish in the future.