PARIS – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was predicted weeks in advance and everyone know it was coming but Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said it was an “abrupt awakening” for the European Union, which has no military.
He told CNBC in in France on the sidelines of a meeting of EU leaders about Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been “very successful in strengthening the Alliance and awakening the European Union out of its geopolitical funk,” although imposed sanctions are the only weapon so far.
“In that sense, he has certainly succeeded in uniting us and making us aware that defense and security are paramount obligations towards our citizens,” without explaining how that could be without having a defense force.
The EU, to the derision of critics, has a policy of “soft power,” whose cornerstone is trying diplomacy, even with dictators, that has largely failed as actions require the consensus of all 27 member states who often bicker and dicker.
“We had been talking about the need for strategic autonomy for quite some time. We’ve been investing in our defense capabilities, we signed a bilateral agreement with France that includes a mutual assistance clause. So we’ve been big proponents for the EU being able to independently defend itself,” he said.
He said that the deals Greece made to acquire French Rafale fighter jets and warships “Is complementary to NATO,” as not all EU members belong to the defense alliance that has looked the other way as Turkey – which belong – keeps violating Greek airspace and waters with impunity.
Mitsotakis said the EU needs to stand together after the Russian invasion showed how being ill-prepared can be a dangerous signal to authoritarian leaders, Greece worried the invasion may have emboldened Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to make a move to take Greek territory.
“We need to send a clear signal that we are willing to defend our continent irrespective of our relationship with NATO and that is why the reference in the conclusions to article 42, par. 7 of the Treaty in my mind is so important,” he said.
He added that, “Of course as we are going to spend more on defense, we also need to get to an understanding (on) how we treat these defense expenditures in terms of our overall deficit calculations,” he added.
He noted that Greece “would significantly exceed” the 2 percent threshold that has been set by NATO as a minimum defense expenditure, one of only 10 countries of 30 to do so, not including Germany.
In 2019, Greece spent 2.28 percent of its budget on the military but under Mitsotakis, who’s been building an arsenal against Turkey, that has skyrocketed to 3.82 percent in 2021, or 7.086 billion euros ($7.73 billion.)
Besides Greece, only the United States, United Kingdom, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Lithuania, France and Norway meet the 2 percent threshold while while – along with Germany – Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, Turkey, Belgium, Denmark, The Czech Republic, Portugal, Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Albania, North Macedonia and Montenegro do not. The alliance has a budget of $1.2 trillion.
“So if we’re want to spend more on European defence we need to a) make sure that this is actually done in a proper way and b) make sure that it does not impose unnecessary burden on our fiscal position,” he said.
That was in reference to his government trying to help businesses and workers with aid during the COVID-19 pandemic that included lockdowns and now with fuel assistance because of soaring energy prices driven by the invasion.