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‘Naive’ Europe must spend more to deter Russia, says Danish PM

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Europe must curb welfare spending and tax cuts to deter a “more aggressive Russia” with prolonged defence and security funding increases, according to Denmark’s prime minister.

Mette Frederiksen told the Financial Times that the “naive” continent had to avoid the mistakes of the 1930s and “step up and scale up” its defence industry to contain an imperialist Russia, which has made Ukraine just its first target.

“Freedom comes with a price,” the centre-left leader said in an interview at her Marienborg residence outside Copenhagen. 

“From a European perspective we have to admit that we haven’t used enough money on our own defence and security,” Frederiksen said, pointing out that since the end of the cold war in the early 1990s Denmark and others had cut military budgets.

She added: “When we did that, we were able to spend more money on welfare or tax reductions. We need to start the conversation that if the world is changing in the direction I think it will, then you cannot spend your penny, or your dollar, or your euro, or your krone two times.”

The Social Democrat’s comments are the latest in a flood of warnings from European capitals about Russia rearming rapidly, enabling it to potentially attack a Nato country within several years. It comes days before Sweden is expected to join the alliance.

Frederiksen’s remarks are significant as she was once talked of as a possible future head of Nato and is touted as a potential successor to Charles Michel as president of the European Council. She is also one of Ukraine’s strongest supporters and made her comments on the second anniversary of Moscow’s invasion.

“I see a more aggressive Russia in all aspects, not only in Ukraine. And I think we have to ask ourselves: is it the final destination for Russia? Or part of what they want to achieve in building a Greater Russia again?” she said.

“After two years of a full-scale invasion, you cannot just talk about one man. You have to talk about the country,” she added, pointing out the expansionist agenda was not only embraced by President Vladimir Putin but wider society. 

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, and Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, left, meet in Lviv © Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP/Getty Images

But Frederiksen said the new era was defined by a tougher geopolitical and economic landscape worldwide.

“We have been too naive, and in the western part of the world we have been too focused on getting richer, and therefore we also have built up dependencies on countries that we should not be dependent on — gas from Russia, and new technologies from China.”

She said it was time to have a “discussion with our populations . . . in general we haven’t paid a price for our freedom the past 30 years”.

Defence spending in Europe has gradually ticked up since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. From only a handful of European countries that met Nato’s informal military spending target, there are now 17 members alongside the US that are set to spend more than 2 per cent of national income this year.

Governments have been galvanised by comments from former US president Donald Trump, seeking to return to the White House next year, that Russia could do “whatever the hell they want” with countries that fail to meet the target.

Denmark’s left-right grand coalition has upped defence spending significantly to meet the 2 per cent goal this year, but Frederiksen said the government was already discussing the need to spend more on areas such as cyber warfare, AI and space. “Even though we are now meeting the 2 per cent [target], I don’t think it’s enough.” 

Frederiksen, who has worked with both Trump and Joe Biden as president in five years as premier, added: “In all American administrations as far as I can remember they have asked Europe to step up. I think they are right.

“We have to step up and scale up. It is our own responsibility to be able to protect ourselves.”

EU leaders are increasingly worried that Russia could target Moldova or Georgia next, and then test Nato on its eastern flank, perhaps in the Baltic states.

“They are building a war economy now in Russia and in a few years they will be able to attack or challenge a Nato country if we are not able to do deterrence and defence and if we are not united in Nato,” Frederiksen said. “What we have to do in the coming years is to ensure it will not happen.”

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