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Wider war in Europe ‘no longer a fantasy’, warns EU’s top diplomat

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Europe must prepare for potential war, as a full-scale conflict on the continent beyond Ukraine is “no longer a fantasy”, the EU’s chief diplomat has warned.

“Russia threatens Europe,” both through its ongoing war in Ukraine and hybrid attacks on EU member states, Josep Borrell said on Tuesday in a speech in Brussels.

“War is certainly looming around us,” said Borrell. “A high-intensity, conventional war in Europe is no longer a fantasy.”

It is the first time the former Spanish foreign minister has laid out the Russian threat so explicitly, after recent warnings from military chiefs and leaders in northern Europe about the risk of more Russian attacks beyond Ukraine. The Danish defence minister in February said Russia could test Nato’s solidarity within three to five years.

“The Berlin Wall has been replaced with a ring of fires around us,” he said, referring also to the Israel-Hamas war and instability in northern Africa.

The conflict on the EU’s border has exposed the bloc’s underinvested defence industry and military capabilities. It has also spooked capitals that are worried the US could retreat from its long-term role as the continent’s ultimate security guarantee if Donald Trump returns to the White House after the US presidential elections in November.

Russia’s armed forces in Ukraine are deploying vastly more weaponry and manpower than Kyiv is able to, sparking concerns in western capitals that Moscow could make significant territorial gains this year.

European countries, which gutted defence spending in the decades following the end of the cold war, have stepped up investments in their defence industrial production capacity in an effort to increase supplies to Ukraine and re-arm their own forces.

But more investment was needed, given that Europe’s security situation was an “existential crisis”, Borrell said. “We need a new intergovernmental financing vehicle . . . comparable to the one that we created during the [eurozone] financial crisis.”

Some EU leaders have called for that financing to be raised via joint defence bonds while others, who are resisting the idea of more common debt, back a loosening of rules that would allow the EU’s budget to fund weapons.

Trump, who polls suggest is running neck-and-neck with President Joe Biden, has threatened not to defend Nato allies in Europe that do not spend enough on defence. That comes amid a broader political push in Washington to focus its military might more on Asia than Europe.

“The US umbrella, which we have relied on since the cold war, may not be open all the time,” Borrell said. “Maybe, depending on who is ruling Washington, we cannot rely on America to protect us.”

“Within an alliance the priorities for individual members may change,” he added.

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