5th Jul 2022

UK to help protect Europe from Russian aggression

  • Tallinn: Some 1,000 British soldiers heading to Estonia (Photo: Steve Jurvetson)
Listen to article

The UK is sending more troops to eastern Europe and threatening to seize Russian money in London, as the world waits for Russian president Vladimir Putin's next move.

Britain is to send 1,000 troops and rocket systems to Estonia, two warships to the Black Sea, and airforce jets to Cyprus to reinforce Nato's flank in the event of a new Russian invasion of Ukraine, it announced on Saturday (29 January).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

It also threatened to sanction "Russian companies involved in propping up the Russian state".

"We will not tolerate their [Russia's] destabilising activity, and we will always stand with our Nato allies in the face of Russian hostility," British prime minister Boris Johnson said.

"There will be nowhere to hide for Putin's oligarchs," British foreign secretary Liz Truss told Sky News on Sunday.

The US voiced similar urgency.

Russia had amassed an invasion force against Ukraine and "all of it packaged together, if that was unleashed ... it would result in a significant amount of casualties," Mark Milley, a top US general, said in the Pentagon on Saturday.

"You can imagine what that might look like in dense urban areas ... horrific," he said.

"The threat is very real and imminent," John Sullivan, the US ambassador to Russia, also told media in Brussels on Friday.

Central and Eastern European states were on equally high alert.

The Czech Republic was shipping artillery rounds to Ukraine, its prime minister, Petr Fiala, said on Sunday.

"We must show that the West is strongly standing behind Ukraine," he said.

The Baltic states, Britain, Turkey, and the US have already sent other weapons to Ukraine.

But France and Germany have been more dovish, while, for his part, Putin was giving mixed messages when he spoke out.

The West had flat-out ignored Russia's "principal [security] concerns" in Europe in a recent exchange of documents, Putin complained to French president Emmanuel Macron by phone on Friday, according to a Kremlin readout of the call.

But "he [Putin] didn't want an escalation", he also said.

The French president was "the only one with whom he [Putin] could have such a deep discussion" on world affairs and he "really cared" about their dialogue, Putin added, according to French officials who briefed Reuters and Politico.

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking in Kyiv on Saturday, told Western leaders not to "panic" about war.

"Destabilisation of the situation inside the country [Ukraine]", was the more likely scenario, Zelensky said.

And Russia had several non-military ways to hurt Ukraine, such as "cyberattacks, coups, sabotage ... they [Russia] have a wide number of intelligence operatives in Ukraine as we speak," Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg noted on Friday.

For some international relations commentators, Putin had boxed himself in by the "insane" nature of his Western security demands - for Nato to abandon some existing allies and forbid new members.

"Putin must either climb down ... or launch a military operation likely to lead to large-scale war in Europe," Carl Bildt, a former Swedish foreign minister, said in The Atlantic magazine.

But for others, such as Dmitri Trenin from the Carnegie Moscow Center think-tank in Russia, a military attack was "unlikely".

Even if Putin did nothing after the West had rejected his security demands, he would have "managed to get something out of it," Trenin said in an interview on Sunday.

The crisis would still have marked a new chapter in relations in which Russia was prepared to "demand respect for its national interests" in Europe after 30 years of geopolitical sleep, Trenin indicated.

And if Putin was temporarily accused of being a "bluffer" by having backed down this time around, then "it's no big deal overall ... we can live with this," Trenin said.

Putin's gun

Meanwhile, the man who hand-delivered America's rejection of Putin's demands last week - Sullivan, the US ambassador - also showed a lighter side in remarks to press.

"I delivered the US written response to the Russian foreign ministry Wednesday night here in Moscow.  And … if you're wondering what's going through the mind of an American diplomat in these tense moments and about to engage in complex diplomacy, it is: 'Geez, I hope I don't fall on my butt given the snow and ice here on the steps'," he said on Friday.

Russia-US diplomacy had been "diminished" and "severely impaired" by Russian cut-backs to US diplomatic personnel in Moscow, Sullivan noted, however.

And for all his sense of humour, the US ambassador portrayed Putin as a thug.

"It's the equivalent of if you and I were having a discussion or a negotiation, if I put a gun on the table and say that I come in peace, that's threatening. And that's what we see now," Sullivan said on Putin's foreign policy.  

EU ministers to condemn Russian 'aggression'

EU foreign ministers are to condemn "Russia's continued aggressive actions and threats against Ukraine", while promising "massive" sanctions at Monday's meeting in Brussels.

EU warns against Ukraine talks without Europe

The German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock warned in Washington that "it is out of the question, and let me make this very clear - there cannot be a decision on the security in Europe without Europe."

US and Russia clash in ugly UN talks

The US and Russian envoys exchanged heated comments at a UN Security Council debate on Monday, which did little to de-escalate tensions.


Nato's Madrid summit — key takeaways

For the most part Nato and its 30 leaders rose to the occasion — but it wasn't without room for improvement. The lesson remains that Nato still doesn't know how or want to hold allies accountable for disruptive behaviour.


One rubicon after another

We realise that we are living in one of those key moments in history, with events unfolding exactly the way Swiss art historian Jacob Burckhardt describes them: a sudden crisis, rushing everything into overdrive.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  4. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  6. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022

Latest News

  1. ECB announces major green shift in corporate bond-buying
  2. Ex-Frontex chief 'uninvited' from parliament committee
  3. Czech presidency and key nuclear/gas vote This WEEK
  4. The human rights aspects of Grenoble's 'burkini' controversy
  5. Council must act on core of EU migration package
  6. Nato's Madrid summit — key takeaways
  7. Czech presidency to fortify EU embrace of Ukraine
  8. Covid-profiting super rich should fight hunger, says UN food chief

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us