This was a crucial test for the EU’s leaders. Once again, it appears they are intent on bottling it
STANLEY JOHNSON. 14 April 2022 •
Ukraine has suffered much in its torrid history. Now it suffers even more. What makes it doubly terrible is the naivety of our European neighbours in their handling of this crisis.
The 20th century – from the horrors of Stalin and collectivisation in the 1930s, to the German onslaught of 1941 and the Soviet counter-attack in 1944-5 – laid waste to an already impoverished country. Ukraine has since rebuilt itself, in recent years re-angling towards Europe. But the European Union’s leaders have responded with naive, weak policies that permitted Vladimir Putin to annex Crimea illegally – Ukraine’s sovereign territory – and encouraged the Continent to become addicted to Russia’s oil and gas, bolstering its economy.
I write all this as a once impassioned Remainer, but I have to admit that my faith in the “European project” has been shaken. I said as much in a recent radio interview, which caused quite a stir, but I stand by my view that Ukraine has shown that Brexit was probably a good idea.
At this moment, you have to say that Europe needs to pull its socks up. Take the example of the Continent’s reliance on oil and gas. Germany is saying that it can’t cut back on its imports of Russian energy, a vital economic lifeline for Mr Putin. Well, why isn’t the rest of Europe coming to help Germany do this?
Experts in the energy field say it will take the Germans two or three years to build the liquefied natural gas terminals they will require if they are no longer to have the pipeline from Russia. My answer to the experts is: “Come off it!” I simply don’t believe there is no way that the EU, working as a bloc, could not ensure that within a space of days Germany has the energy supplies it needs. If EU solidarity means anything, surely it means that.
Why, then, is the EU fiddling while Mariupol burns? At the moment, Europe is paying for Putin’s war. The amount of energy being bought from Russia far outweighs the aid that has been offered to the poor, beleaguered Ukrainians. Did we buy oil and coal in the 1940s from Nazi Germany? No, we didn’t.
Of course, I was not a Brexiteer by instinct. For a number of reasons, not least the environment, I voted to remain. But now the EU looks like it is flunking the biggest test of all and Remainers – even ardent ones – simply cannot afford to look the other way.
In contrast, our Prime Minister has been able to lead from the front. Did I know he was going to Kyiv? No, I didn’t. And I certainly didn’t expect to have prior notice. Was he right to do so? Well, I think he has played a blinder. One of the reasons his actions as a standard bearer have been so welcome is because the EU, and in particular Germany, is incapable of providing the moral leadership we need.
President Reagan called on President Gorbachev in June 1987 to “tear down that wall”. The PM’s appeal to German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, last Friday, was “turn off that tap”. If Chancellor Scholz and the EU can do precisely that – and the UK, even outside the EU, should be ready to help get the energy supplies to Germany (a new Berlin Airlift?) – it may not be too late to save Odesa and the other cities and regions now threatened by Russian tyranny. It would preserve, in the end, a prosperous, democratic and independent Ukraine.
Ukraine was a crucial test for the EU’s leaders. Once again, it appears they are intent on bottling it.
Stanley Johnson, author, environmentalist and former MEP, is the author of ‘Kompromat’, published by One World