The lands lying between the Baltic and the Black Sea have had many names: the “bloodlands” of the second world war, the “captive nations” of the cold war, the “ex-communist” countries of the post-Soviet era and, for many, the “new members” of the European Union. Before the 2003 Iraq war, Donald Rumsfeld, America’s defence secretary, praised “new Europe” as pro-American, unlike “old Europe” (ie, France and Germany). The French president, Jacques Chirac, then chided the easterners as having “missed a great opportunity to keep quiet”.
The nomenclature must now change again, because of Ukraine. In its response to Vladimir Putin’s revanchism, Mr Rumsfeld’s new Europe is remarkably similar to the old one: divided roughly between north and south. Poland and the Baltic three are hawkish, believing that Russia has irrevocably changed the post-war order; Bulgaria and Hungary are among those opposed to tough sanctions who hope that business with Russia will somehow return to normal.
This spectrum might be a welcome sign of normality, if only the stakes were not so high. The divisions of eastern Europe aggravate those of the EU as a whole. Nobody tells easterners to shut up any more; even France is wooing them. But if the countries closest to Russia, with direct experience of Soviet occupation, cannot agree on sanctions, why should others endanger their still-fragile economies?