Thursday

1st Jun 2023

EU countries to boost defence budgets in light of Ukraine

Military chiefs have said the Ukraine crisis is a “wake-up call” for EU countries’ defence spending, as the US backed Ukraine’s use of force in eastern regions.

Speaking to press after a regular meeting of EU defence ministers in Luxembourg on Tuesday (15 April), the deputy chief of the EU’s external action service, Maciej Popowski, said: “We’ve had 70 years of peace now [in Europe], but we see that power politics is back with a vengeance, so it’s a wake-up call and now we need to get serious about defence.”

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  • Recent data from Sipri, a Swedish think tank, says Russia many EU states are continuing to cut defence costs (Photo: Defence Images)

He noted that “this was the feeling around the table” at the Luxembourg event.

He added that EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton told the ministers: “If Ukraine is not a trigger to get serious about spending, about pooling and sharing, about smart defence, then what more do we need to get real?”

Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who attended the debate, told press: "We need to train and exercise more together, for instance the Nato Response Force and the EU battlegroups, so that we stand ready for whatever the future may bring.”

The EU discussion comes after member states last December pledged to co-operate more strongly on defence, but with few concrete results so far.

Tuesday’s meeting saw the ministers decide to prolong for two years a military training mission in Mali and to launch a new police-training mission alongside the military project.

But Popowski noted that EU countries are dragging their heels in terms of committing vital assets to a peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic in what he called a problem for “EU credibility”.

The debate came as Ukrainian forces launched what they called “anti-terror” operations against heavily-armed pro-Russian separatists - some of whom are suspected to be Russian soldiers in disguise - in eastern Ukraine.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin said the action means Ukraine “is on the brink of civil war".

He has massed elite troops on the Ukrainian border and pledged to defend Russian-speakers in the country by invading the Ukrainian mainland if need be. But his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, noted on Wednesday that high-level talks between the EU, Russia, Ukraine and the US due in Geneva on Thursday can still go ahead despite Ukraine's counter-measures.

Popowski underlined that neither EU countries nor Nato forces will help Ukraine if it clashes with the Russian army. “Neither at Nato nor in the EU was there a discussion of military intervention,” he said.

But the US has put its naval vessels in the Black Sea on high alert, in part due to an incident earlier this week in which an unarmed Russian military jet repeatedly flew close to one of it ships.

State department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told media in Washington: “We are certainly calling for de-escalation. But the [Ukrainian] government is overseeing all parts of Ukraine, and they have a responsibility to take steps needed to maintain calm in their country.”

“[That] is hardly a civil war. That is maintaining peace and calm in their own country,” she added in response to Putin’s statement.

Like Popowski, she noted: “We’re not actively considering military assistance [to Ukraine].”

But she said the US and the EU are ready to impose further sanctions on Russia if Thursday’s talks fail to see Russia take a constructive approach.

“Well, we certainly would encourage them [Russia] – would discourage them from having a reaction. The Ukrainian government is maintaining – taking steps to maintain peace and order in their own country. So it’s hard to see what the explanation would be for Russian action there,” she said.

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