UK and Netherlands Increase Defense Spending Amid Rising Threats

Europe's Mounting Concerns as Russia Strengthens Ties with China

by Faruk Imamovic
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UK and Netherlands Increase Defense Spending Amid Rising Threats
© Getty Images/Omer Messinger

In a highly choreographed display of camaraderie, Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Beijing for another meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. The two leaders, all smiles, showcased a united front amidst global tensions. Meanwhile, the mood in Europe was anything but cheerful.

A Tense Atmosphere in Europe

On Wednesday, Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico was gravely wounded in an assassination attempt. Although Fico is now reported to be out of danger, the details surrounding the shooting remain murky. This dramatic event only heightened the sense of crisis sweeping across Europe. The region is bracing for further escalation, as it becomes increasingly clear that the situation could deteriorate rapidly.

Just ten days into Putin's fifth term as Russia’s president, Russian forces launched a surprise attack on northeastern Ukraine. This offensive brought them perilously close to Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, and resulted in the capture of several Ukrainian villages. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has since canceled all foreign travel, stated that Russia's aim is to stretch Ukraine's defenses thin.

Tactically, this move bolstered Russia's position before the anticipated arrival of U.S. military aid to Ukraine. Politically, it comes at a critical juncture, as the potential return of former U.S. President Donald Trump—who has suggested he would not maintain the current level of support for Kyiv—looms on the horizon.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron underscored the gravity of the situation, calling it an “extremely dangerous moment” and describing Russia's actions as effectively another invasion.

Rising Russian Influence and European Response

The European outlook darkened further with developments in Georgia, a former Soviet Republic. Ignoring massive street protests, Georgian lawmakers passed a controversial "foreign agents" bill, closely resembling legislation used by the Kremlin to suppress pro-democracy opposition. This marked a significant victory for Moscow and a setback for Georgians aspiring to join the democratic European Union.

The trend of Russian interference extends beyond Georgia. Moscow's meddling in Moldova and its efforts to influence elections across Europe reflect a broader strategy to destabilize and exert control without direct conflict. The Slovak foreign ministry has even accused Russia of interfering in the elections that brought pro-Putin Prime Minister Fico to power, although Moscow denies these allegations.

In Slovakia, the interior minister highlighted the political motivations behind the attack on Fico, warning that the nation stands "on the edge of civil war" due to rising political tensions. This incident serves as a stark reminder of the broader implications of Russia's aggression.

What began as an invasion of Ukraine has morphed into a profound challenge for Europe. With Russia making gains in Ukraine, the realization is dawning across the region that this conflict is about more than Ukraine’s sovereignty—it’s about the future of Europe.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico© Getty Images/Sean Gallup
 

Europe's Strategic Preparations

In Moscow, Putin made a significant move by replacing long-time Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu with Andrey Belousov, an economist with expertise in the military-industrial complex. This suggests a shift towards transforming Russia into a full-fledged war economy.

Europe is also ramping up its defense preparations. Norway, a NATO member sharing a crucial Arctic border with Russia, announced a massive 12-year military expansion plan. By 2036, its defense budget will double, and its army will triple in size.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently unveiled a substantial increase in defense spending, aiming to put the country on a "war footing." Similarly, the Netherlands plans to double its defense budget by 2029.

Perhaps most dramatically, French President Emmanuel Macron has hinted at the possibility of sending Western troops to Ukraine if Russia breaks through the front lines. This proposal, however, has faced rejection from European allies wary of provoking a direct confrontation with Putin.

The White House’s policy of restricting Ukraine from striking targets inside Russia has been criticized for compromising Ukraine’s defensive capabilities. As the conflict escalates, many argue that Ukraine should be allowed to fully defend itself, even if it means targeting Russian soil.

Shifting European Defense Policies

Germany is reportedly considering the reintroduction of mandatory military service for 18-year-olds, signaling a significant shift in national security perspectives. This move underscores the deepening realization that the current crisis represents a turning point with long-lasting implications for European security.

Finland, which shares Europe’s longest border with Russia, has been proactive in bolstering its defenses. The country has enhanced its civilian shelters, stockpiles of weapons, ammunition, fuel, and grain reserves, preparing for the possibility of conflict.

“Russia respects power,” said Finnish Lt. Gen. Mikko Heiskanen, emphasizing Finland’s commitment to national defense.

As Putin and Xi project confidence on the world stage, European nations are determined to ensure that their current advantage is temporary. By strengthening their defenses and preparing for the worst, Europe aims to safeguard its future in the face of mounting challenges.

Europe Russia China
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