Europe is painfully reliant on Putin

Vladimir Putin declared war on Ukraine in the early hours of this morning, starting with a massive air attack from the north, south and east, targeting military and civilian infrastructure. This is the worst-case scenario. Putin’s speech on Monday set the ideological groundwork. This morning he spoke again, calling Ukraine ‘our historic lands’. He said he was launching what he called a ‘special military operation’ with the goal, not of occupying the country, but of ‘demilitarising and de-Nazifying’ Ukraine. And Putin spoke too to us here in the West: To anyone who would consider interfering from the outside: if you do, you will face consequences greater than any of you

Are the lights about to go out across Europe?

Today’s snap decision by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to halt Nord Stream 2 — the new pipeline intended to export vast amounts of Russian gas into the EU — will make precisely no difference to European energy security, at least in the short to medium term. It could force a rethink of Berlin’s longer-term energy strategy, but the bigger question facing energy markets is whether Russia will curtail existing gas flows into Europe. Scholz on Tuesday instructed Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action not to allow the Baltic Sea pipeline to start pumping gas ‘for now’. Halting the certification process puts the project on hold but doesn’t

Ross Clark

It’s too late to break Europe’s gas reliance on Russia

So, Nord Stream 2 will not be plugged into Germany’s gas grid. A little surprisingly, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been first out of the blocks this morning in the western economic response to Putin’s recognition of breakaway states in eastern Ukraine. The block is not total: what Scholz says is that the certification process for the pipeline will be halted — leaving open the possibility that it might, after all, be connected if Putin starts to behave himself, or Germany becomes especially desperate for gas. Nevertheless, it is a significant move which will have an economic impact on Russia. But it is astonishing that the project was ever allowed to come

Will Putin now roll on to Kiev?

The White House told us with absolute certainty that there would be an invasion of Ukraine this week — instead Vladimir Putin bit off a chunk of Ukraine without firing a shot. Perhaps it seemed to him that recognising the two breakaway territories of Luhansk and Donetsk was a clever move: he had not, after all, ignored the warning that — in Boris Johnson’s phrase — one Russian soldier putting a toe-cap over the border would make sanctions inevitable. But sanctions will come anyway — the issue is only about how severe they will be — imposed because, as Johnson says, there has been a clear breach of international law.

James Forsyth

The seismic importance of Putin’s latest move

Vladimir Putin has tonight unilaterally recognised the two breakaway republics in Ukraine. In doing so, he has effectively ended the Minsk peace process. The move also begs the question of whether Putin is recognising the territory that these so-called republics actually hold, or the much larger territory that they claim. If the latter, then that raises the question of whether Russian troops will be used to take that land given that Putin immediately signed ‘friendship and mutual assistance’ treaties with them at the end of his speech this afternoon. The speech, though, went even further than recognising the break-away republics, carving off another chunk off Ukraine after the annexation of

Viktor Orbán or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Putin

Viktor Orbán first came to prominence when in 1989 he declared on live TV that Hungary must put an end to the ‘Russian occupation’. On the first day of February this year, he held his thirteenth meeting with Vladimir Putin. What’s changed? Like much of his generation, Orbán initially believed that the fall of communism would mean a ‘return to Europe’ — with not only western democracy but also a western standard of living. Yet after a brief and unpleasant stint studying in Oxford, the student politician discovered that Britain’s future elites were ignorant and decadent. Orbán eventually concluded that Hungary had to jettison its naïve faith in Western Europe

The crowd-free European city breaks to try this year

Finally, it looks like we might actually be able to go on holiday in Europe again. I’ve been overseas a few times since this pesky covid business began, but it’s always been for work, not leisure, and it’s always been a nuisance: tests on the way out, tests on the way back and yet more tests when you get home… However now travel restrictions are loosening up, a trip to the Continent no longer feels quite so fraught, and that magnificent indulgence – a short-haul city-break – seems like a practical option once more. So where to go? Well, you’re bound to have your own favourite destinations – but if

Have we reached peak human rights?

After the Colston debacle, you might be forgiven for having missed the other legal story that broke this week. The European Court of Human Rights has dismissed the complaint in the Ulster ‘gay cake’ case, so the decision in favour of the baker will stand. In case you need reminding, seven years ago a Belfast gay rights activist called Gareth Lee asked Ashers, a high-class bakery, to produce a cake inscribed with the phrase ‘Support Gay Marriage’ for an event he was organising. The bakery owners refused, citing Presbyterian religious scruples, whereupon Lee sued for discrimination. He lost. Our Supreme Court held that he had not been discriminated against because he

The problem with ‘vaccine equity’

‘A stain on our soul’. That was how Gordon Brown, in his latest missive on the subject, described the failure of the west to ensure that the whole world is vaccinated. In a previous attack on western policy — at the end of November, just as Omicron was emerging — he wrote of “hoarding” and ‘vaccine nationalism’. Take Africa: it is certainly true that vaccination rates in many countries are very low. While the UK has managed to deliver 195 doses per 100 people, Nigeria has only managed seven, Ethiopia and Somalia nine, and Chad and South Sudan two. Can all this be blamed on the failure of western nations to donate

France has the most to lose from Britain’s turn away from Europe

It was Napoleon who declared that ‘a state has the politics of its geography’. We do well to remember that in taking stock of European international relations as we speculate on a new year and beyond. By Europe is meant the European continent, ‘from the Atlantic to the Urals’, in de Gaulle’s words. Not the 27-member European Union, which Brussels linguistically and imperialistically conflates with the 44 sovereign states that the UN defines as Europe. Of those 44 states, four are still the European great powers, as they have been since at least 1870: Britain, Germany, France, and Russia. They are still the continent’s most populous, wealthiest (except Russia), and

Europe’s secret beaches: from Constanta to De Haan

As winter drags on and on, and warm sunny days become distant memories, discussions in our family always turn to summer holidays. We only go away together once a year so our trip has to tick all the boxes. My daughter won’t fly long haul, my son craves excitement, I like exploring places that are off the beaten track and my wife just wants to drop and flop. It’s a tricky combination but, as we’ve found out down the years, there are plenty of European seaside towns in unexpected places – places where you can do all the usual seaside stuff and still have a few adventures while you’re there.

Make History Great Again!

Why don’t today’s children know more about history? In an age when information has never been easier to access, it’s alarming how many youngsters are ignorant about the past. In July, a survey of 1,000 schoolchildren found that four out of ten had no idea what the Battle of Britain was, while another four out of ten had never heard of Cleopatra. More than half didn’t know the Romans spoke Latin. Of course every generation complains that children are ignorant of facts that we used to take for granted. Often it’s simply a question of changing priorities: where children once learned about Walpole and Gladstone, they now learn about the

Poland steps up its legal fight against Europe

Poland’s legal wrangles with Europe show no sign of ending. Back in September, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal determined that some parts of EU law might be contrary to the country’s constitution. Now the tribunal has lit another firework: doing the same in respect of the European Convention on Human Rights (the ECHR). Is this just another round in the war between the European elite and the ruling political party, the PiS (which is cordially detested in both Brussels and Strasbourg)? You’d be forgiven for thinking so. Yet this latest wrangle is much more significant, since it opens up an entirely new front. The ECHR is separate from the EU; it and the Human Rights

The fifth wave could break Macron

The fifth Covid wave has started in Europe. Some governments are already imposing lockdowns and wage cuts for the unvaccinated as hospitals are filling up. Mass protests against restrictions are popping up, some peaceful like in Austria, others turning violent like in the Netherlands and Belgium. A nationwide lockdown in Germany is unlikely, but local lockdowns may happen if hospitalisation rates continue to shoot up. Some patients in Bavaria have already been sent to Italian hospitals due to under-capacity, a reversal of what happened in the first wave. France is still counting on getting through the fifth wave with no restrictions. With only five months to go before the presidential

Ross Clark

Europe gripped by a fifth wave

How quickly things change. Just a month ago many EU countries were being praised for keeping some Covid restrictions in place, in many cases operating vaccine passport systems. By contrast, Britain was being attacked for removing most Covid restrictions in July. The UK suffering elevated infection rates ever since, leading to predictions that we could be back in lockdown by Christmas. Now, many EU governments are panicking as infection rates soar — and protesters have taken to the streets to oppose new lockdowns and, in the case of Austria, compulsory vaccinations from next February. What is the situation in the worst-affected countries? Austria Current number of people recorded as infected: 144,442 —

How Turkey is fuelling the Belarus-Poland migrant crisis

In the cold, damp forest lining the border between Poland and Belarus, thousands of refugees flown over from the Middle East have waiting to cross into the EU for days. Belarusian riot police are shoving them away from their gates and towards Poland, where only more forces await. The Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has recently been in conflict with the EU, which has imposed sanctions on his regime after last year’s contested elections which many believe to have been rigged. Lukashenko is pushing refugees towards Poland to be pawns in a fight, with the backing of Putin. The refugees find themselves between a rock and a hard place: in front

Poland’s Belarusian border conflict is becoming violent

The EU’s conflict with Belarus is heating up. The simmering migrant crisis on the Polish border with Belarus exploded into a new level of intensity on Monday, as large groups of migrants marched through Belarus towards Poland before attempting to storm barbed wire fences and force their way into the Schengen zone. The Polish government responded to the violation of its border with military force. Twelve thousand troops are now being deployed along the border. When migrants managed to break a section of the fence near Kuznica on Monday, a rank of Polish soldiers filled the gap as a military helicopter flew low overhead in an attempt to deter the

Why did neo-Nazis patrol the German border?

Just after midnight last Sunday, around 50 vigilantes gathered in east Germany to ‘patrol’ the country’s border with Poland. They were there to stop illegal immigrants, armed as they did so with batons, a machete, a bayonet and pepper spray. They were discovered by local police forces, but a certain nervousness from the authorities was palpable as they pleaded with residents in the eastern border regions to not take the law into their own hands. While the array of confiscated weapons suggests a well thought out plan, these ‘patrols’ are by no means coherent. The largest single group was reportedly stopped by the police in the border village of Groß Gastrose

How to beat Orbán? Copy him

Opposing Viktor Orbán is a formidable task. Support for his coalition hovers at around the 40 per cent mark while the parliamentary system makes it harder for opposition parties to break through. By 2018, all of the opposition parties, most of which are firmly on the left, realised they were individually incapable of breaking through. They began fielding joint candidates and had some early success when Gergely Karácsony won the mayoralty of Budapest. So they agreed late last year to select a common candidate for the prime ministership at next spring’s elections. Last weekend, a political outsider, Péter Márki-Zay, became the candidate. Márki-Zay’s appeal comes from the idea that he

Macronism is dead

President Emmanuel Macron was in an expansive mood this week as he presented his vision for France 2030 from the Elysée palace before an audience of business leaders and students. Macron is incapable of brevity. In a slick production that must have cost a fortune, presented to a fawning hand-picked audience, he spoke for two hours. His elocution was framed by a slick, Tik-Tokish video recalling the 30 glorious years of French economic growth and grand projects after the war. Macron is nothing if not busy. He’s just been on a series of pre-election grand tours, dispensing billions of euros in promises like confetti. That includes a proposed repair of