Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 22 December 2022. © Richard Kemp
Naturally, President Zelensky’s appearance before Congress, as a war-time leader appealing for American support, has been likened to Winston Churchill’s address on almost exactly the same date in 1941. Yet by then the US had declared war on Germany and victory was arguably assured. Today in Ukraine, victory is far from assured. Putin could still win.
A more appropriate comparison would be with Churchill’s conference with Franklin D Roosevelt on board the USS Augusta and HMS Prince of Wales in August 1941. As with Ukraine, the US had been supplying arms to the UK. Churchill’s purpose, like Zelensky’s, was to consolidate US support for a long war ahead.
Though even this is not like-for-like. In 1941, with all of Europe occupied, Churchill had nowhere else to turn. That is, of course, not the situation today – Europe is free and prosperous. So why did Zelensky not make his address to the European Parliament in Brussels instead? Indeed, how extraordinary that after decades of peace on the Continent, with European nations claiming to have learnt the lessons of the Second World War, a fellow European nation battling tyranny still has to rely on the United States above its neighbours.
Despite a comparable GDP to the US, the EU has provided markedly less aid to Ukraine. Washington’s assistance alone amounts to 62 per cent of all provided. In military equipment, the comparison is even more stark: EU countries are supplying less than half that of the US.
It doesn’t help that EU countries are themselves reliant on America. Having hollowed out their armed forces since the end of the Cold War and developed a righteous arrogance on defence matters, their military cupboards have long been bare. Some of the wealthiest nations on the Continent have inadequate supplies to maintain their own sovereignty, let alone that of Ukraine or the West.
But this is no excuse. The weakness of European will since February has been disgraceful. Remember when, as Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s borders, several Western European countries were so terrified of antagonising Putin that they balked at the idea of providing even small, defensive-only equipment? For a time, Germany refused all arms exports, limiting military aid to 5,000 combat helmets and doing its best to hold up weapons supplies from Eastern European Nato members.
Advocates of EU governments would say that, in recent months, they have toughened their stance (even if only to save face, having witnessed the strength of Anglo-American leadership). But are they doing enough now? France, with the second largest economy in the EU, is still only the 11th largest donor in the world. Germany, meanwhile, has repeatedly failed to follow through on the commitments it eventually made. Its ‘tank swap’, a scheme to replace Soviet-era tanks with German models, still remains largely unfulfilled.
Thus, with the notable exception of brave Eastern European governments like those of Poland, Lithuania and Estonia, the Continent’s leaders have failed Ukraine.
No wonder Zelensky had far more praise for Boris Johnson than either Macron or Scholz. And who can blame him for travelling across the Atlantic first? For without British and American strategy and leadership, EU nations would almost certainly have defaulted to their habitual compromise and capitulation, pressuring Zelensky into negotiations on Putin’s terms. Indeed, Macron pretty much confirmed that on his recent visit to Washington when he ridiculously spoke of Nato making security guarantees to Russia if negotiations began, when his talk should only have been of Russian guarantees to Ukraine.
It seems absurd that just a year ago, there was talk of creating an EU army separate from Nato – a bureaucratic vanity project that would by definition weaken the Atlantic alliance and give even more power to the technocrats in European institutions who question the very notion of a Western alliance. The ineptitude in Europe compared to the US in supporting Ukraine underlines the sheer folly of any such move.
In 2022, the EU showed the world that, when push comes to shove, it is nowhere to be found. Now Britain, like Zelensky, is better off staying closer to Washington than Brussels.