If you want an idea as to how pathetic the Ukraine crisis is making the EU look, consider the following two figures. €90 billion, and €274 billion. These are defence spending figures from 2012 of the Russian Federation and the combined European Union. In that order. Yeah, that’s right: in 2012 the EU spent over three times on defence what Russia spent. Yet is there anyone who believes that the EU has anything more than a fraction of Russia’s military capability?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not some sort of chickenhawk that thinks everything is solved by sending in the marines. But if there is one thing history has thought us, it’s that Russia will negotiate in good faith with forces it regards as its equal, and it does not regard the EU as an equal.
The problem is that Russia may indeed have our measure, and realise that this generation of European leaders can pretty much have sand kicked in their faces as long as the Russians don’t invade Poland (no, not the Baltics. I think we’d actually cede them. And probably Finland too. Maybe not a direct invasion, but certainly airspace incursions and cyber attacks.)
I’m not talking about defence free-loaders like Ireland who don’t actually matter when things get this serious anyway. After all, how many times was the Ukraine crisis mentioned at the Ard Fheis of our governing party this week? This is a matter for the grown ups.
By the grown ups, I mean the Americans, and even they can’t be relied upon to defend a continent with little interest in defending itself.
Europe needs a leader who can stand up and say what needs to be said: Europe needs a de facto army, and it needs it now, and if that means something as theatrically dramatic as moving a Polish, German and French armour division to the Ukraine border, if only to show that Europe still have some claws, so be it. It’ll come as a surprise to many Europeans that Europe actually has tanks, so no harm reminding the Kremlin. I’m not an armchair general, by the way. There may be an easier way of sending a signal to Moscow, but it has to be said, and it has to be clear: Europe will not roll over.
As for that leader? Poland’s foreign minister Radek Sikorski could be the man.
One thing is certain: if Europe is not willing to stand up to Russia as an equal, we might as well ask Putin for his Swiss bank account number. I’m not convinced that that’s not the most likely outcome, either.