DAVOS, Switzerland — The European Union failed to counter Russian President Vladimir Putin and needs to now strike flexible alliances across the world and search for new friends, current and former leaders told CNBC on a panel at the World Economic Forum.
“We are too Euro-centric on this crisis, in the sense we think this is Russia versus the West — it is much broader than that,” Alexander Stubb, the former prime minister of Finland, said in Davos.
Earlier this month, the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, explained how the West now needed to pay more attention to the rest of the world, excluding China, to try to persuade these nations to condemn Moscow and its onslaught of Ukraine.
Speaking to CNBC on the sidelines of a G-7 foreign affairs ministers meeting, Borrell suggested that Europe had basically given up on trying to align China with its own views on the invasion. “To persuade China, [it] is a difficult task,” he told CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick on May 12.
The Chinese authorities have so far refused to fully denounce Russia’s unprovoked invasion of its neighbor — having abstained during a vote for a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Moscow.
But China is not the only country that has been quiet amid the conflict. India, Brazil and the United Arab Emirates have all been coy when it comes to Russia.
Stubb, who also served as finance and foreign affairs minister of Finland, said that the war in Ukraine has ignited a bigger debate about the new global world order.
“It is an uncomfortable debate for us Europeans and the North Americans to have, because we fully realize we have more to lose than to gain in this one,” he told CNBC.
In order to achieve its foreign policy aims, the EU may have to look beyond the United States, with Borrell saying the bloc needed to work out how “we engage with everybody in the world in order to explain what’s going on in Ukraine.”
This is where the EU will have to “be a bit more flexible” in its thinking, Stubb said, suggesting that flexible alliances are the answer going forward.
“This is going to mean in some cases we are going to cooperate with countries that we don’t feel so comfortable with,” he said, pointing to a certain level of hypocrisy from European leaders.
Speaking on the same panel, Austria’s foreign affairs minister, Alexander Schallenberg, said the EU had been “naive” in the runup to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the war had become “like a shock therapy” for the bloc.
For many years, several European countries looked to do business with the Kremlin in an attempt to increase economic ties with Russia and at least try to keep Putin as close to western values as possible. This was certainly the case of Germany, for example, which rapidly increased its energy supplies from Russia, even after Moscow’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Hungary, another EU country, has also deepened its ties to the Kremlin in recent years.
These deals came in spite of warnings from the Baltic nations — Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — which, given their history with their larger neighbor, have tried to push closer to the West since the fall of the Soviet Union.
“You have said hypocrisy, you have said naivety and I will say some of it is just greed,” Natalie Jaresko, former finance minister of Ukraine, said at the same Davos panel this week.
“Because we had plenty of warning since the  Munich Security Conference where Putin announced his war against the liberal order, to the war in Chechnya … he invaded Georgia, he invaded Ukraine … what more did we need to know about his stated published intentions?,” she said.
For European Parliament President, Roberta Metsola, it’s no longer the time for the EU to blame itself, but rather to say that it will never suffer from inaction again.
“We have taken what could have been many years of comfort, looking away from problems that were at our doorstep, looking away from crises and big tragedies such as in Afghanistan that are happening because of our inaction. So I think that rather than look and say we were selfish, say mea culpa, now it’s time for us not to do that ever again,” Metsola told CNBC in Davos.