ECB President Mario Draghi holds a news conference at the ECB headquarters in Frankfurt. Photo: Reuters/Ralph Orlowski
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, shown here during his tenure as European Central Bank president in 2018, has resigned. Photo: Reuters / Ralph Orlowski

European leaders are now left with no other choice but to accept Ukraine as a full member of the European Union after the cowardly betrayal by the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization in its absolute failure to deter Russia’s military aggression.

Never in the history of post-World War II Europe has any people demonstrated such unqualified sacrifice and individual courage for the European ideal of democratic co-existence as the multi-ethnic and multi-religious coalition of everyday Ukrainian citizens rising up against Russian bombs and tanks.

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Volyn Regional Council official and Turbota Charity head Olexander Kulakov at aid center at the Galician Synagogue in Lutsk, Ukraine.

The heroism and determination of everyday Ukrainians is evident in Lutsk, the capital city of Volyn Oblast, the strategically sensitive region of northwestern Ukraine that borders Belarus and NATO member Poland.

While the common enemies are the Russian invaders, the people of Volyn and the rest of Ukraine do little to hide their contempt for the United States for failing to take even the simplest action of keeping the US Embassy open in Kiev with its contingent of US Marine Corps guards to prevent indiscriminate massacres.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the architect of the Afghanistan debacle, seemed determined to give a green light to the Russian invasion by first transferring US diplomatic personnel from Kiev to Lviv on February 14 before ordering all Americans out of Ukraine a week later.

In contrast, the Italian ambassador to Ukraine, Pier Francesco Zazo, remained at his post until March 1, while the Polish ambassador, Bartosz Cichocki, remains in the capital under Russian siege.

While newspaper headlines focus on the siege of the Azov Sea port cities of Mariupol and Mykolaiv, the industrial and agriculture hub of the Volyn region is hard at work guaranteeing supplies and materials to Kiev and the rest of unoccupied Ukraine.

A Ukrainian wrestling champion and Volyn Regional Government official, Olexander Kulakov, is coordinating the disbursement of foreign humanitarian and military aid supplies, mainly from Denmark, to the front lines while working with locally based industrial groups such as a Sweden’s SKF bearing plant; the locally owned Continuum-Trade food and oil and gas wholesalers West Oil Group (WOG); and Wuppertal, Germany-based Kromberg & Shubert automotive-parts and cable maker.

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Lutsk Zoo director Lyudmila Denisenko gives a tour of the municipal zoo with air-raid sirens.

Kulakov, who is organizing supplies in the Soviet-era gym that now occupies the historic Galician Synagogue of Lutsk, said it was vital that foreign companies and multinational development groups urge the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the US Development Finance Corporation (DFC) to maximize production in the relatively unscathed western Ukraine.

“We are preparing and working so all the impacted industries in central and eastern Ukraine can restart operations here in Volyn or elsewhere in the west,” the owner of an upscale furniture manufacturer said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and the political masters of NATO completely underestimated the willingness of ordinary Ukrainians to fight for self-determination and freedom against foreign and domestic oppression.

The citizen soldiers of the regular Ukrainian military, while standing guard against Russian invaders, even act against their own notoriously corrupt police force and despised local mobsters in defending the rule of law and democratic institutions.

The people of Volyn make no secret that their region could easily become an economic powerhouse like the Veneto region in Italy or Germany’s Bavaria.

Amid air-raid sirens warning of possible attack by Putin’s new hypersonic missiles, parents and their children visited the Lutsk Zoo overseen by its director Lyudmila Denisenko.

Kulakov’s young volunteers say they have no doubt that they can transform the defunct Bogdan automotive plant (ex-Isuzu/LuAz) into the top Tesla plant in the world by beating Freemont, California, and Berlin in quality and China in price.

Beating US/EU quality and Chinese costs is no idle boast, as thousands of foreign companies have transferred their manufacturing to Ukraine after facing increased costs, lack of quality control, and unreliable supply-chain issues in mainland China.

Putin’s bloody adventure to re-create a new Soviet Union is not only spurring the Kulakovs in their fight for a shared future under the EU flag but has reawakened the ordinary citizens of Italy, Poland and Lithuania to the original purpose of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC): a Europe so tied together that war was no longer possible.

The people of Volyn and Ukraine have no better friend than Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi in their life-and-death struggle to join the European Union.

Draghi has made it clear that he is fully committed to making Ukraine part of the EU, a process that should have already started after the illegal (under Russian and international law) annexation of Crimea in 2014.

The former president of the European Central Bank (ECB) who earned the moniker “Super Mario” for getting the world out of the 2008 financial crisis, Draghi holds the cards to resolve Putin’s lost war in Ukraine and avoid the world entering one of the greatest economic depressions of all time.

Such a crisis is almost inevitable if Russia goes ahead with threats to cut off the North Stream 1 gas pipeline connecting the EU from the small village of Kondrakti in northeastern Poland to the southern pipeline that provides 40% of Italy’s energy supplies.

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Russian Central Bank governor Elvira Nabiullina after a speech with then-IMF managing director Christine Lagarde in Washington, DC, on September 6, 2018.

Poland and Lithuania are continuing to tighten the noose on the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad by slowing down customs to a snail pace and unilaterally closing border crossings such as Goldap on the Polish-Kaliningrad border. A Polish truck driver delivering liquefied natural gas to Kaliningrad for reputedly Russian-owned Cryogas said that a trip that once took him a few hours and now takes more than 24 hours.

Any armed conflict between Russia and NATO members Poland and/or Lithuania may be the final impetus that brings Putin the negotiating table with US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.

Such a summit meeting will undoubtedly be organized and arranged by Draghi, the only leader to leave open lines of communications with all parties involved, including US Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell and ECB president Christine Lagarde. 

There is even cautious optimism among top financial figures in Milan that Draghi may be able to pull out another 2008-like miracle from his cap, a comprehensive peace deal that can return Russia to the league of Western nations.

“Putin knows he cannot win and has committed the greatest military catastrophe since Mussolini invaded Albania in 1939,” a Milanese banker said.

The best possible outcome would be a deal in which the universally respected Russian Central Bank governor Elvira Nabiullina becomes the near-term successor to Vladimir Putin in the same way Putin replaced Boris Yeltsin on December 31, 1999.

Peter K Semler is the chief executive editor and founder of Capitol Intelligence. Previously, he was the Washington, DC, bureau chief for Mergermarket (Dealreporter/Debtwire) of the Financial Times and headed political and economic coverage of the US House of Representatives and Senate.