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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When it comes to dealing with thugs, the UK becomes strangely popular in Europe

Soon to be a regular sight over Baltic skies?
The Ukrainian crisis has shown up the short-term limitations of the EU's 'soft power' in the face of a determined Russian regime not afraid of wielding its 'hard power'. Though we would argue that in the long-term, the odds still favour the EU due to Russia's disastrous demographic trends and relatively undiversified economy - and there are things the EU can do without resorting to Kremlin tactics - it's not a secret that Vladimir Putin responds better to the stick than the carrot.

Put differently, Putin doesn't exactly run for cover when Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy put out a joint statement. As this stand-off is now about hard economic and political power, enter London.

 As Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced in the Commons yesterday:
"I am able to advise the House this afternoon that we have taken the decision this morning to offer NATO UK Typhoon aircraft from late April to augment the Polish contribution to the NATO Baltic air policing mission. I hope that will provide reassurance to our NATO allies in the east."
The UK is therefore the first and so far only NATO or EU member to commit troops to strengthening the EU-Russian border. TVN cites the Estonian PM Andrus Ansip describing the UK's decision as "an important step" while Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu noted that it constitutes a "clear and unambiguous" response to Estonia's desire to strengthen NATO's presence in the Baltic.

However, other politicians who have been been very hawkish over Ukraine - but also the most vocal critics of David Cameron in Europe more broadly - have been quiet by their usual standards. We don't want to name names, but yes, Radoslaw Sikorski and Carl Bildt we're looking at you. (Although to be fair, while they have not commenting on the jet deployment specifically, both of them have praised the UK's stance on Ukraine more generally).

This is significant because some - not least Sikorski himself - have warned that if Russia is not stopped in the Crimea, the Baltic states which have significant Russian minorities could be next on Putin's hit list. It's easy to whine about the UK being Europe's grumpy, old man complaining in the corner. However, when it comes to dealing with thugs, all of a sudden, London becomes strangely popular.

This again goes to show that without the UK, the EU's geopolitical credibility would be sorely diminished. Perhaps one for certain foreign ministers to keep in mind when the waters are calmer.


Peter M said...

Should the rest of Europe also be grateful when Britain resists financial sanctions because of the billions of pounds of Russian Oligarchs' assets that flow through the City?

Open Europe blog team said...

Hi Peter - do you have any evidence to support your claim that the UK is resisting financial sanctions? At the European Council 2 weeks ago Cameron explicitly mentioned "financial relations" as an area for potential further sanctions.

Denis Cooper said...

"The UK is therefore the first and so far only NATO or EU member to commit troops to strengthening the EU-Russian border."

I'll just check the government's official pamphlet urging a "yes" vote in the 1975 referendum to see if it mentioned anything about possibly having to assume a responsibility to strengthen the border between Russia and this "EU" ... no, nothing there about that, in fact no mention at all of Russia or this "EU" entity or a border between them.

Jesper said...

I'm not sure if it is wise to imply that UK might be willing to put UK military under central EU command.
If UK is willing, then by all means imply it.
If not, then pretending that it is an option will only damage UK credibility in possible future negotiations.

Rollo said...

All meaningless Posturing. It is a fait accompli, the EU has been shown up for what it is: an Ashtonised irrelevance. They stirred up the mess in the first place, making promises that could not be kept. Then when the Ukraine gets itself suckered in by the blandishments and gets the reward, the EU produces a bit of hot air. And that's it.

Anonymous said...

The comment makes no sense whatsoever. The UK is acting within the context of NATO not the EU. Indeed, the UK has been the leading opponent for decades of the EU acquiring a mutual defence responsibility because of fears that were it to do so would weaken the Atlantic alliance i.e. remove big brother the US from the defence team.

The French have now offered to halt their defence contract to supply two helicopter ships to Russia provided the UK acts on the billions salted away by Russian oligarchs in London. A vous de jouer Londres!

Open Europe blog team said...

@ Anonymous 2:07PM - thanks, we don't imply that the EU should have a greater role in defence but rather that when it comes to hard power, it's a fact of life that Europe tends to look to the UK, one of few EU countries possessing hard power capacity.

Anonymous said...

From the other blog post!

"But as well as being a customs union, the EU has become a political construction with a defence element including a mutual defence guarantee mirroring that of NATO – inserted via the Lisbon Treaty."

This is a complete misreading of the Treaty on European Union (Articles 42.2 and 42.7)and would certainly come as a shock to Finland, by way of example, a country that knows Russia well and is not a member of NATO precisely for that reason and even less likely to accept that a mutual defence commitment exists from its membership of the EU.

The protection of the EU lies in the soft power i.e. non-military that it projects; a protection that is now going to be put to the test.

Anonymous said...

The EUSSR Commission is the biggest gang of thugs in Europe.

It's just that, as with most thugs, they are bullies, too.

And bullies are great at spouting off and threatening, but they go crying to Mummy when the fists start flying.

Rik said...

Wars should be won before they are started, not windowdressed after they are lost.
You are fooling nobody.

Anonymous said...

@Rollo: well-said.

I am surprised at the amount of collectivism at show in recent Open Europe articles.
Why should I care what happens in Ukraine, and even if I do, what gives me the right to force *you* to pay for actions I determine are in "our" interest?

The UK is not getting popular, but repulsive. It's maybe getting popular among the imperialist sociopaths in Brussels, but that's not the same as "in Europe".
It's utter nonsense to sell this as some sort of achievement to the UK taxpayer when the truth is completely the opposite: they finally get a chance to foot eurocrats' and oligarchs' bill for eastward expansion. And we should be delighted.
Well done, Open Europe!

And finally, I love it when people "analyze" the situation using Excel which is supposed to "prove" something.
As long as Russia has reasonable chances of striking any EU country with at least one nuke, they'd be crazy to give up on Crimea.
How does that fit in your spreadsheet based stategic analysis?

If this all was of any concern to me, I'd support the EU. But it's not and I hope the EU fails miserably because the more successful eurocrats are, the poorer I get.