The British Lion has awoken – how else to comment on the announcement from Prime Minister David Cameron that the UK will send 75 military instructors to Ukraine. At a time that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande were attempting to reach a ceasefire deal in Minsk, a number of analysts wrote that the UK was taking a back seat in the Ukraine conflict.
Not anymore, it seems. Although Cameron continued to talk about diplomatic solutions in Ukraine, sending the military instructors would be a step beyond that. The UK will also be sending 15 million pounds of humanitarian aid. A caveat is that the instructors will not be heading to the combat zone; they are bound for Kyiv.
Sticking to European values is certainly important for Estonia and other small countries, but of all the European countries, the UK is probably the one puts the most weight on the geopolitical situation. It isn’t imaginable that London would sit idly by as Berlin and Paris wheel and deal with Moscow and play first fiddle in the EU. German-French cooperation has always vexed the British and it has been seen as a dangerous road to further European integration. The British support developing the single EU market but not for further integration. The British aren’t in the Eurozone and the reason they supported EU enlargement was the hope that this could prevent deepening cooperation. London presumably also didn’t like it that Berlin and Paris became closer to Washington during the Ukraine conflict. It was Merkel and not Cameron who discussed the Ukraine conflict with Obama.
Besides foreign policy, Cameron is facing political battles. The British general election will probably be held this May. Thus Cameron needs to appear a strong leader who holds the British standard high on the international arena as well. In addition, hundreds of thousands of Eastern Europeans have settled in the UK since EU enlargement – mainly from Poland but Lithuania and other countries. These people are generally more for Kyiv than Moscow and many of them can vote as well.
Cameron, who has otherwise been critical of Eastern European immigrants, uses different language when speaking of Ukraine. “…“People will be looking at Mariupol as the next potential flashpoint, and if that were to happen I think the argument for further action would be overwhelming. I think that would be the view of countries like Poland, the Baltic states and many others,” he was quoted by the British media.
The question behind all this activity is, what will the EU’s common foreign and security policy be? Merkel and Hollande pursuing one line in Minsk, Cameron another line? Hungary and Cyprus have their own deals with Moscow. Still, we should credit the European Union for not lifting sanctions against Russia, even though Moscow was probably hoping for it after the Minsk ceasefire was reached. Yet the hail of fire on Debaltseve made it impossible to scrap sanctions.
It’s clear that the EU would only win, and Moscow lose, from Berlin, Paris and London behaving in united fashion toward Russia, with a mandate from other member states. In spite of the complexity of the European Union’s affairs, it shouldn’t be impossible to agree on a united approach.
It is also good news that a recent opinion poll showed that British support for the EU is growing. Currently 45 percent would favour remaining EU member with 35 percent opposed, the YouGov pollster said. Thus Cameron could take a much softer tone in relations with the rest of the EU. All this would come in handy for Ukraine, bogged down in conflict, as well as, of course, for Estonia. EU unity is of key importance here.
This piece, originally in Estonian, aired on Retro FM’s European news on 27 February.