While European leaders dither and delay, the UK is standing to shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine
ZOE STRIMPEL. 18 June 2022 • 6:00pm
Two months ago, when Kyiv was still under threat, Boris turned up, without fanfare, to show solidarity to Zelensky while many other Western leaders stayed away. Afterwards, understanding that “shows” of solidarity are not even remotely enough for countries under siege, he continued to preside over by far the most generous donation of arms and military aid to Ukraine of any country in Europe. Zelensky has repeatedly singled Britain out for praise for offering real support – military and moral. We have not just talked the talk, we have walked the walk, unwaveringly supporting Ukraine and cutting all ties with Russia.
It’s a shame that Boris has got us mired in so much political rubbish, from partygate to the bewildering antics at the Treasury. For with each day that passes, Britain’s moral superiority to Europe becomes clearer. France, Germany and Italy, the three biggest economies in the EU, have been dragging their heels on supplying arms while continuing to pour billions of euros into Moscow’s war chest by buying its energy.
This fact doesn’t seem to phase the continental suits. Indeed, last week we were treated to the irritating sight of the leaders of the very countries from whom Ukraine has been begging for more help arriving in Kyiv in a self-congratulatory little posse. Emmanuel Macron, Mario Draghi and Olaf Scholz turned up in the city by luxury night-train in order to purr and pat Zelensky’s hand, and reassure him that his country’s dream of being in the EU will not be for nought (the European Commission made its recommendation on Friday).
But Ukrainians, though pleased to be considered for EU membership, are more concerned about the threat to order and safety if Russia ends up winning, which these European appear to be allowing to happen. Referring to one of many appeasing comments made by Macron, Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Zelensky, wryly observed: “They will say that we need to end the war that is causing food problems and economic problems … that we need to save Mr Putin’s face.”
He was, in so many words, quite right. Certainly, all the ceremonious and symbolic visits in the world do not make up for a lack of weaponry, for the real peril of Ukraine losing to a psychotic imperialist regime.
Germany’s bold promises months ago to send large hauls of state of the art weaponry seemed to signal that this lumbering, dangerously pacifist power had turned over a new leaf, finally understanding the importance of winning wars against morally bankrupt rogue states.
It was a mirage. Germany is dithering and holding back, still – still! – afraid of hurting Russia’s feelings, and petrified – along with the rest of Europe – of losing Russian gas supplies and of the food shortages caused by the war. Weapons systems promised months ago have not arrived: the Iris-T air defence system could take months more, and the rocket launchers are only due to arrive in August or September. France and Italy have also largely preferred to virtue-signal rather than burn all bridges with Russia. But it’s an odd kind of virtue. As Mykhailo Podolyak, a top adviser to Zelensky, told NPR this week, “How can the country that rapes our women be allowed save face? What do we need to win this war, to have this war come to an end? We need weapons.”
Even Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council and close Putin ally, sees things more clearly than Scholz and co. In an openly taunting tweet that appears to be legitimate, Medvedev cackled: “European fans of frogs, liverwurst and spaghetti love visiting Kiev. With zero use. Promised EU membership and old howitzers to Ukraine, lushed up on gorilka and went home by train, like 100 years ago. All is well. Yet, it won’t bring Ukraine closer to peace. The clock’s ticking.”
It is remarkable that with people like this in charge, Europe’s desire to avoid offending Russia is still so steadfast. Or maybe it’s not so strange: it was only 80 years ago that Western Europe showed itself very keen indeed not to offend Hitler and to keep Stalin sweet in the East.
Europe’s panic over gas and food – which came far too late in the day – has led to remarkable spectacles, such as Ursula von der Leyen visiting Israel last week and addressing its PM Naftali Bennett with something approaching actual respect, very rare indeed from the steadfastly Israel-sceptic EU.
With its technological and agricultural prowess, Israel should be able to help one way or another. And I sincerely hope it can; Europe needs to get over its obsession with Russian sensibilities – and fast.
As the sage East-Europeanist Anne Applebaum tweeted back in May: “Putin does not need an “off-ramp.” He needs to lose. And only when he loses – only when he is humiliated – will Russia’s wars of imperial conquest finally come to an end.” Letting Russia win does not just mean an end to European peace; it really could signal the start of the third world war.