European countries are already divided on many matters. There are fast-growing concerns that this could greatly worsen unless Russia and the United States can come up with some diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis. That looks increasingly unlikely.
Europe’s lack of influence compared with that of the US in the Ukraine discussions is because of a growing power imbalance in the transatlantic alliance.
That’s the view of Jeremy Shapiro, Research Director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. One can see this power shift in virtually every area of national strength, he says. At the time of the 2008 financial crisis, the EU’s economy was slightly bigger than that of America. From rough parity back then, the US’s economy is now a third larger than that of the EU and the UK combined.
The US’s technological dominance has also grown, while the EU’s military power has dramatically slumped. America now spends on military defence technologies seven times that of the EU member states together.
“When the Lisbon Treaty entered into force in 2009, it seemed to augur a new capacity for Europeans to forge a common foreign policy and harness the latent strength of what was then the world’s largest economy.
“Instead, the financial crisis divided north and south, migration and the  Ukraine crisis divided east and west, and Brexit divided the UK and practically everyone else. The institutions of the Lisbon Treaty, particularly the European External Action Service [and the EU office of Foreign Affairs and Security], have failed to bridge these differences in foreign policy. Overall, the EU has become ever more divided and incapable of speaking with one voice.”
Bruno Maçães, a Portuguese academic, author and specialist in European politics, says a consensus is beginning to form that a new war in Ukraine has become inevitable. “In large measure, this is due to the escalation in both rhetoric and military preparedness coming from Moscow. Combined they create a situation where the costs of retreating for Moscow might now be too high. The clout and credibility acquired over the last decade – which people in the Kremlin applaud as a return to superpower status – would suddenly evaporate were President Vladimir Putin to order the troops amassed on Ukraine’s borders to return home.”
Maçães, a former Portuguese Secretary of State for European Affairs, wrote a piece published recently in Time magazine headlined, “What Happens Next in Ukraine Could Change Europe Forever.”
He maintains that Europe has very little say in the current war of words over Ukraine. The tough talking from the West is all coming from the United States. Even Europe’s strongest nations have expressed little that will change Vladimir Putin’s mind, not that anyone is yet quite sure what exactly is on his mind. The “swift and severe sanctions” promised to be imposed by the West if Russia invades remain vague.
Germany’s new coalition government, the country’s reliance on Russian natural gas supplies, as well as its deeply troubling history of 25 to 31 million Russians killed during Russia’s defeat of the Nazis in the Second World War, are all preventing it proposing any really strong measures against the Kremlin. France is preoccupied with its election in April this year. Britain is steeped in scandal over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s honesty and behaviour. Peaceful Portugal and other EU members are simply on the sidelines of the current verbal US-Russian conflict.
Some European countries have joined the US and sent military support to Ukraine, but Germany is out of step with them in that it has offered only medical aid and several thousand helmets. In another seemingly pacifist move, it has banned Estonia from sending German Howitzer weapons to Ukraine.
In his recent writings, Bruno Maçães has emphasised Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas supplies. Put simply: “Vladimir Putin holds the cards when it comes to Europe’s energy needs.”
Portugal does not use or need Russian gas, but Europe as a whole imports 35% of its energy needs from Russia. The strongest European countries have increasingly turned towards cheap and plentiful imports of Russian natural gas, critical for electricity and heating,” writes Maçães.
Even if a Russian attack against Ukraine was to last for just a week or so, and mass casualties were avoided, Maçães believes neither Ukraine nor world politics would remain unchanged. The existing security order in Europe would be broken beyond repair.
By LEN PORT
Len Port is a journalist and author based in the Algarve. Follow Len’s reflections on current affairs in Portugal on his blog: algarvenewswatch.blogspot.pt