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Europe’s Unity Tested by Ukraine Conflict and Internal Challenges

The situation in Europe is significantly deteriorating due to its leaders’ response to the latest developments in the Ukrainian conflict, which see advantages for Russia. These developments, while not welcomed by the West, seem to lead to disunity among European countries, whose heads of state appear unable to maintain the necessary calm. A recent example of this lack of cohesion was the behavior of French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Specifically, Scholz found himself under pressure from allies and internal opposition, who demanded his center-left government provide Ukraine with Taurus cruise missiles, similar to the SCALP and Storm Shadow used also by Italy. Despite this, he maintained his stance of not sending such weapons to avoid the risk of escalation with Russia, in case they were used to attack Russian targets.

Scholz’s statements also officially confirmed the deployment of French and British military technicians and advisors in the coordination and support of the cruise missiles provided to Ukraine, a reality already known given the presence highlighted during the two years of conflict of advisors, technicians, and defense sector contractors, as well as special forces and “volunteers” from NATO countries operating in Ukraine in various roles, including combat. Some of these have been killed or wounded in direct clashes or bombings on Ukrainian command centers, as claimed by Russia.
Internal problems for Scholz also emerge following reactions from London and Paris, together with a problematic situation at home. A representative of the German Ministry of Defense recently confirmed the authenticity of a 30-minute audio revealed on March 1st by Russia Today. This audio involves four senior Luftwaffe officials, including the chief inspector, Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz, Brigadier General Frank Graefe, the head of air operations, and Lieutenant Colonels Fenske and Fronstedt of the operational air command of Gatow. The discussion revolved around the shipment of Taurus missiles to Ukraine, including the possibility of using some to strike the Crimea Bridge, and training Ukrainian forces to use such missiles.
There is concern in Berlin that this recording, released by the Russians, may be just part of a larger information leak concerning the Luftwaffe and other defense sectors, or even external entities. The magazine Der Spiegel, citing anonymous sources, reported that discussions held on WebEx are relatively easy to intercept. One of the people involved was connected via cell phone from Singapore, indicating how common it is for the German armed forces and the Ministry of Defense to use this platform for online communications.
This interception embarrasses Chancellor Scholz, Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, and the German government for several reasons: the vulnerability demonstrated by the high security of the German military, the illumination of discussions related to the supply of Taurus missiles to Kiev indicating Pistorius’s approval and Scholz’s hesitations, and the revelation of French and British military support in Ukraine in addition to the mention of the lack of Ukrainian air defense systems, such as the Patriot missiles. These elements not only question Scholz’s authority but also fuel speculations about a prevailing influence of NATO’s Anglo-Saxon powers on German military leadership, rather than directives coming from Berlin.
Ben Wallace, former British Defense Minister, has been particularly harsh in his criticism of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Speaking to the Evening Standard, Wallace accused Scholz of not being fit to ensure Europe’s security, criticizing his approach as inappropriate and often based on a distorted and inaccurate use of facts. According to Wallace, Germany has shown a tendency to be the last to provide assistance to Ukraine, acting only under pressure, and questioned the quality of German leadership. Despite these criticisms, it should be noted that Germany’s contribution to Ukraine, both financially and in terms of military supplies, has been higher than that of the United Kingdom.
Statements by French President Emmanuel Macron on the situation in Ukraine have revealed a certain misalignment between European leaders. Without prior consultation with EU and NATO allies, Macron opened up the possibility of sending NATO troops to Ukraine, a statement that contrasts with Scholz’s statements on the presence of French and German military personnel in the country. Macron acknowledged the delay in military assistance to Ukraine, but his openness was not well received, being criticized for irresponsibility by the French opposition of the Rassemblement National, leading NATO nations to deny any plan to send troops.
The Italian government has clarified in a statement its continued support for Ukraine, specifying, however, that this support does not include the presence of Italian military forces, or those of other European states or NATO, in Ukrainian territory. A similar position has been expressed by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who has excluded the sending of troops by European nations or NATO members. Spain, Sweden, Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Netherlands, and Lithuania (the latter open only to sending instructors to Kiev) have expressed concordant positions. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed that there are no plans for such a move. From Russia, it is warned that such action would be seen as an escalation in the conflict, with Putin highlighting the availability of Russian weapons to strike Europe.
Differences between Paris and Berlin on how to address the situation in Ukraine are a source of increasing tension. According to Bloomberg, these differences risk negatively influencing the course of the conflict. The disagreement escalated after Macron floated the idea of sending troops to support Kiev, triggering Berlin’s reaction and positioning itself in contrast to Scholz’s line, which had clearly excluded such a possibility. These tensions reflect a rift in the relationship between the two leaders, with some French officials describing Scholz as lacking courage and ambition, and Scholz’s collaborators perceiving Macron as more prone to grand statements than concrete achievements. This situation of contrast between allies occurs at a critical moment for Kiev, which is facing a lack of artillery munitions and the blockage of U.S. aid in Congress, with the fear that Russian forces could make significant advances in the coming months.
Recent words by Ursula von der Leyen at the European Parliament, suggesting emulating the approach used for the joint purchase of vaccines during the Covid-19 pandemic to strengthen the common acquisition of weapons and ammunition, seem more an exercise in rhetoric than a practicable proposal. The comparison with the management of vaccines raises doubts, especially because von der Leyen did not clarify the modalities of the secret agreements with Pfizer and the purchase of a disproportionate number of doses compared to the EU population, and also claimed to have lost emails related to such agreements.
Despite calls for a joint European defense policy, reality shows a different picture, with Germany abandoning projects with France in favor of American or Israeli armaments, and Poland opting for a massive military renewal with weapons from the USA, the United Kingdom, and South Korea rather than from Europe. Most European nations tend to purchase American F-35 and F-16 aircraft instead of European models such as the Typhoon and Rafale, and in Eastern European states, the USA provides considerable military support through the provision of second-hand equipment.
Von der Leyen’s announcement of a European agreement to produce American-made Patriot missiles underscores the discrepancy between intentions and the reality of the European defense industry, which needs a stable and prosperous internal market for years to come to be able to develop production capabilities and innovations. Currently, no European state has an arsenal of weapons and ammunition capable of sustaining a prolonged military engagement like that in Ukraine without depleting its stocks within a few weeks. Replenishing the stockpiles to pre-conflict levels would require significant investments and time, with Germany alone needing to spend over 40 billion euros.

In addition, inefficiencies, lack of funds, and personnel render numerous weapon systems across Europe inoperative. It remains to be seen whether Western nations are willing to politically and socially tolerate the heavy toll of human losses, comparable to those occurring among Moscow and Kiev’s forces. These reflections suggest that European leaders should temper their bellicose statements, given the limited military capabilities, and focus more on diplomatic solutions and negotiations to resolve conflicts.

The events surrounding Aleksey Navalny’s disappearance have demonstrated how often Western narratives do not reflect reality. The West quickly pointed the finger at Putin for Navalny’s death, detained in northern Siberia, despite the absence of concrete evidence. While Western capitals organized vigils and condemned the Russian president (with Biden calling him in disparaging terms), the narrative was questioned by the head of Ukrainian intelligence, Lieutenant General Kyrilo Budanov. Nine days after Navalny’s death, on February 25th, Budanov stated that the Russian dissident died from a thrombus, suggesting a natural death and somewhat confirming Moscow’s version of events.
It is complicated to label Budanov as pro-Putin, given that his remarks support the Russian interpretation of Navalny’s death, attributed first to an embolism and then to thrombosis, i.e., natural causes. Contrary to Western accusations, which suggested poisoning with Novichok or other violent causes, the head of Ukrainian intelligence offered a version of events that excludes direct Kremlin involvement. This statement embarrassed the United States and the EU, who had introduced new sanctions against Russia based on a narrative that Budanov effectively dismantled in a few seconds. Nonetheless, Budanov’s claims have been largely ignored or downplayed by Western media and governments, highlighting a certain reluctance to acknowledge a narrative that does not match theirs. Moreover, the international attention generated by Navalny’s death has not benefited Putin, contrary to what might be thought, since it led to global condemnation and internal protests in Russia, despite the interpretation provided by Ukrainian authorities.
Europe, and Italy in particular, find themselves in a difficult situation in the face of the Ukrainian conflict, exacerbated by the lack of an Italian institutional response to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s statements. Zelensky, during a press conference, announced the intention to create and share a list of Italian individuals considered favorable to Russia and Putin, proposing to limit their freedom of expression. It would have been appropriate for Italy to remind Zelensky that, unlike Ukraine, in Italy people are not imprisoned for their political opinions, newspapers are not shut down, political parties are not banned, and freedom of expression is protected, as enshrined in the Constitution.
Even considering the historical context in which Ukrainian nationalism was formed, linked to Nazism, the admiration for figures such as Stepan Bandera, responsible for the deportation and killing of Jews and Poles, and honored in Ukraine with monuments and squares, raises concerns. The question arises as to how Zelensky imagines he can “silently” target Russian sympathizers in Italy, without resorting to repressive or discriminatory methods that would echo totalitarian practices, as mentioned in the Guardian report.

In Italy, where we are not involved in an armed conflict with Russia, being sympathetic to one country or another is not considered a crime, and there are no laws that punish support for Putin, Zelensky, or any other foreign political figure. The right to freedom of thought and expression is a fundamental right, yet it seems that neither Italian politics nor part of the media have adequately contested Zelensky’s attitude and his inappropriate interference in individual rights in Italy. This situation highlights a lack of defense for freedom of expression and civil rights, despite the exceptions of some who have taken a stand against these statements.

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