Europe needs to take its defence seriously

Blower cartoon
Blower cartoon

Anyone who had hoped that Vladimir Putin would be turned into an international pariah by his invasion of Ukraine will be dismayed to see so many world leaders beating a path to his door. The latest was Narendra Modi, the newly re-elected Indian prime minister, who greeted the Russian president not with a perfunctory handshake but a warm embrace.

Appallingly, Russia chose the moment of Mr Modi’s arrival to send a barrage of missiles against Ukraine’s cities, killing dozens, including patients in a children’s hospital. The Indian leader urged his “friend” to seek peace, but why should he when he can count on such support?

Other recent visitors have included Viktor Orbán, the premier of Hungary, in breach of an alleged EU block on diplomatic contacts. China remains on friendly terms, as do many countries known as the Brics, such as Brazil and South Africa. Iran and North Korea supply Russia with weaponry and Turkey retains reasonable links. It is the only Nato member not on Russia’s unfriendly countries list.

The mistake the West has made is to imagine the rest of the world objects to the Ukraine invasion as much as it does. Joe Biden, on a visit to Kyiv, said “the world” was backing Ukraine in its stand against aggression. Sadly, that is not the case. The sanctions on Russian energy sales have been thwarted by countries, such as India, prepared to buy oil and gas at knockdown prices.

But even within the Western bloc cracks are appearing just as Nato meets in Washington to celebrate its 75th anniversary. Germany, which for years underspent on its defence budget but announced a big increase two years ago after the invasion, has now recanted. The government in Berlin has just approved an increase that is a fifth of what its own defence minister said was necessary.

Sir Keir Starmer is at the Nato summit urging help for Ukraine, and yet he has so far only pledged to move spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP “as soon as resources allow”, which could be never. The outgoing chief of the Army, Gen Sir Patrick Sanders, said such dithering will leave the West at the mercy of the autocracies.

All this is happening against the backdrop of a possible return to the White House of Donald Trump, who has criticised countries happy to shelter under America’s generous financial and defence carapace to avoid paying their own way. European Nato powers need to start taking greater responsibility for their own security now.