SIMON HEFFER: Thank you Mr Putin for proving the EU is pointless

Russia's President Vladimir Putin smiles during a meeting  at the Kremlin in Moscow

Russia's President Vladimir Putin smiles during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow

Europe’s pitiful performance over Russia’s annexation of Ukraine this week has shown that, when it comes to peace and security, the EU is about as useful as a chocolate teapot.

Pro-European zealots have long argued that the EU not only boosts the economies of its member states, but also that it provides a bulwark of civilised values against those who would attack democracy and the rights of the individual.

Both arguments are an insult to our intelligence.

First, the euro has turned many of Europe’s economies into basket cases with endemic austerity and 60 per cent youth unemployment in Spain and Greece, while at the same time provoking the rise of the far Right.

Now the gangster Putin has invaded Ukraine in contravention of international law — and the EU, this supposed bulwark of civilisation, has done precisely nothing to stop him.

True, the 28 member states came up with ‘sanctions’ against Russia this week but these are nothing less than an embarrassment, the equivalent of a slap on the wrist for a dozen leading Russians.

The EU’s strategy — if it can be dignified with that term — is to join the U.S. in imposing sanctions such as travel bans and asset freezes on a group of individuals who have had a hand in the annexation.

Absurdly, Putin himself is not subject to them, nor are vast numbers of his corrupt oligarch cronies who may have had no hand in the invasion but have certainly brought their fortunes to Europe’s capitals and London in particular.

Oh, and the West has suspended Russia from the G8.

How they must be weeping in the streets of Nizhny Novgorod and Pinsk.

The fact is that Putin won’t lose a second’s sleep over any of this.

As kleptocrats, he and his cronies only panic when they lose access to their stolen fortunes.

Tragically, the chances of tougher action are infinitely remote. America is not going to do anything.

Mr Obama has enough problems at home, is uninterested in Europe, and is obsessed instead with the Pacific and China. Instead, he has asked Germany to take the lead role.

Yet Germany is craven, too.

Chancellor Merkel, effective leader of the EU and the reason for Putin¿s naked aggression being left untroubled by a supposedly powerful Europe that claims to defend democracy

Chancellor Merkel, effective leader of the EU and the reason for Putin¿s naked aggression being left untroubled by a supposedly powerful Europe that claims to defend democracy

It fears losing its Russian export market and is worried about having oil and gas supplies from Russia turned off — even though Germany has good reserves of both fuels and summer is approaching, so domestic demand will fall.

Since the EU invariably follows Chancellor Merkel’s lead, Putin’s naked aggression is left untroubled by a supposedly powerful Europe that claims to defend democracy.

What makes this all the more contemptible is Europe’s hypocrisy over Ukraine.

For years the EU has played footsie with Ukraine, urging it to break away from Russia and look towards Europe.

Having made this approach, the EU should stand by Ukraine, and not just perform a pathetic impersonation of Pontius Pilate.

Demonstrators died in Kiev three weeks ago because they had bought into the European ideal and wished to escape Russian hegemony.

Yet Europe now appears to value them less than it does Putin’s gas and oil.

On Tuesday, when I watched Vladimir Putin on TV announcing how Ukraine was in fact the cradle of Russia and how he was determined to protect ethnic Russians there, his words reminded me of the justification Hitler made in 1938 for annexing the Sudetenland, with its large ethnic German population and historic ties to Prussia.

The Nazis went on, five months later, to make the rest of Czechoslovakia a ‘protectorate’, and I imagine that is exactly what Putin will do with some or all of the rest of Ukraine.

The only way to stop Putin is for the EU to call his bluff. Russia depends on its energy exports.

If Putin was forced to cut them off, he would be seriously economically destabilised, much more so than the West, which could find alternative sources of energy.

And if the kleptocrats’ assets were frozen — there is $122 billion of Russian loot in Cyprus’s banks alone — his greedy cronies would soon force him to the negotiating table.

The EU is already deeply undermined by its economic failures and inherent corruption. Now, this moral failure to deal with Russian aggression in its own back yard renders it entirely pointless.

If Mr Cameron believes in the EU, he should tell Germany to put Europe’s shared values above self-interest, and to institute real sanctions on all of Russia.

The terrifying danger is that the next battle may be fought with weapons more dangerous than money and oil.

My prescription for Beeb's survival

Decriminalising evasion of the TV licence fee will be the end of the BBC as we know it.

There is already a problem with people legally watching on computers without having to pay the licence, and that is likely to increase.

If I were director-general Lord Hall, I’d urgently consider a subscription model for many of the BBC’s services, and negotiate a government grant to pay for the following essential public service networks: a news and documentary television channel, Radio 4 and — so the public can get some education — Radio 3. Once the licence fee is no longer properly enforced, the game will be up.


Why on earth has David Cameron promised the Scots more devolution if they vote to stay in the Union? 

All this means is the right to spend yet more English taxpayers’ money without having to account for it.

And no bribe is necessary, since I suspect Scotland has already decided to vote to stay with Britain, so fearful are Scots of having to have their own currency and being booted out of the EU.

If Cameron thinks it is going to make Scotland love the English more, he’s wrong. It will just breed yet more contempt for our weakness.


Ed Miliband’s pitiful speech in response to the Budget not only proved that he and his party have nothing to say about the economy, but also dealt a blow to his equally compromised Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls.

Mr Miliband’s chums blame Mr Balls for the party’s difficulties, saying the Shadow Chancellor’s credibility — and Labour’s — has been wrecked by his hysterical doom-mongering over austerity cuts.

If Labour can’t find a new narrative on the economy, a scapegoat will be required, they add; and it will be Mr Balls.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has had great success in the past year with his tougher welfare programme, reducing claimants by 24 per cent.

But other aspects of this policy are incoherent. Why remove child benefit from families who pay higher-rate tax, but then give money straight back through subsidised child care, or free school meals? 

What’s wrong with a simple tax allowance for married couples?

Anyone who has monitored Grant Shapps’s progress, or lack of it, as Tory party chairman will be unsurprised by his patronising advertisement suggesting that cheaper beer and bingo is all poor people need to be made happier. 

The chairman’s role is to look after the party members, but since there are hardly any left and local activists have deserted to UKIP, I wonder why the Tories need a chairman at all.

In any case, it shouldn’t be someone so ham-fisted as Mr Shapps. I’ve called before for Eric Pickles to have the job.


Jackie Doyle-Price is the no-nonsense MP for Thurrock in Essex, where she works hard to defend a majority of just 92. Good for her for attacking the Tory obsession with Boris Johnson.

She correctly asserts he is an irrelevance with little appeal beyond the M25 and does not connect with the serious issues affecting voters. 

Boris was unimpressive as an MP, lousy as a shadow minister and his reputation as Mayor is as a comedy turn. If he’s the Tories’ main hope, God help them.


We give South Africa £19m in aid, though we have said we shall stop this after 2015.

I'd stop it today.

An official country's corrupt, misogynistic, homophobic and racist leader, Jacob Zuma, for spending £13.7m of public money on a luxuriously-equipped country estate.

They manifestly don't need our money.