If you take a pea-shooter to a gunfight… at least, make sure your peas hurt

This week’s events clearly indicate that Vladimir Putin has already altered more than just the geo-political map of Eastern Europe; in one fell swoop, he has also radically re-dimensioned our entire concept of the balance of international power

It’s hard not to feel just a little sorry for Roberta Metsola these days. I imagine the situation she now finds herself in, is not quite what she herself may have envisaged just a few short weeks ago.

And let’s face it: it can’t exactly be easy, either. One minute you’re being showered with praise, and lapping up every single second of media attention you can possibly get… and the next thing you know, you are suddenly expected to actually come up with a meaningful response: when Russia launches a full-scale invasion of a European country, right under your nose.

Yep: that’s a tough position to be in, and no mistake. And to be fair, she did at least try to rise to the occasion, in the only way she possibly could. She tweeted. She posted. She uploaded dozens of photos of herself: all looking suitably ‘cross’ with Vladimir Putin, for having been so very ‘naughty’; or suitably ‘defiant’ and ‘resolute’, while promising ‘grave consequences’, or grand gestures of European unity (neither of which ever quite materialized, in the end…)

But, not to be unkind or anything (I’d say exactly the same thing for any other EP President): it’s all a little pointless, isn’t it? This week’s events clearly indicate that Vladimir Putin has already altered more than just the geo-political map of Eastern Europe; in one fell swoop, he has also radically re-dimensioned our entire concept of the balance of international power.

And in these new scales (not that they’re really ‘new’, but anyway): what relevance could the tweeted opinion of the EP President possibly have, anyway? Why should the rest of the world bother listening, when given repeated reassurances that ‘the Kremlin will be held accountable’? (Yeah? Really? How, if you don’t mind my asking?)

For even if that is indeed Metsola’s intention (and I have no doubt it is) she herself knows full well that she wields no real power to make good on any of those fiery threats. And, much more to the point: so does everyone else… including Vladimir Putin.

Ultimately, it is the 27 EU heads of state who have to converge upon a single strategic response – and while it is admittedly reassuring, to know that the European Parliament at least expects them to deliver the ‘harshest possible sanctions’ – we also know that there is, in fact, no such consensus among European leaders at all.

This is why, after so much big talk, the EU/USA only managed to scrape together a raft of sanctions that are – let’s be honest – rather embarrassing, at the end of the day. And given that previous threats of ‘serious repercussions’ were evidently not enough to deter Putin in the first place: how much less ‘deterred’ will he feel now, that the only repercussions he may end up facing, are so utterly… toothless?

Not, of course, that any of this is Metsola’s own fault: but it does mean that, while her own public condemnations remain welcome – like I said earlier: she did, at least, make a valiant effort to support the people of Ukraine, in the only way she possibly could - her own opinions, and input, are actually quite irrelevant from this point on.

The rest of the world, I should imagine, is now much more focused on what the genuine players may be thinking, at this stage: the ones whose pieces are already on the chess-board (or who actually do have pieces in their hand, ready to be played when necessary).

Naturally, these include US President Joe Biden, who – in those rare moments when he actually seemed awake, while talking - has so far excluded any form of direct military intervention in Ukraine itself (once again, leaving us only with economic sanctions, as a response.)

It includes NATO: which – as far as I can see – was the only international voice offering at least some form of ‘military protection’, in response to Russian aggression (even if it was only for its own member countries; and only if-or-when they themselves are invaded.)

And it would also have to include all the Defence Ministers, and (more importantly still) all the military Commanders-in-Chief, of those states actually bordering with Ukraine, not to mention Russia itself: Poland, Romania, Moldova… even Finland, which has the longest European land-border with Russia by far (and whose capital is within pea-shooter range of St Petersburgh, no less).

If there is any room in which I’d want to be a ‘fly-on-the-wall’, right now: it would be the secret bunkers (real or virtual), where the truly relevant people are no doubt meeting for discussions of their own.

But what do you know? For that very reason, they are most emphatically NOT the ones who are consistently ‘tweeting’ all their secret military strategies out loud, in the open: you know, so that everyone else out there – once again, including Putin himself – would be publicly informed (and therefore, ‘forewarned’).

And it is precisely because their own input is so valuable, that all those people – well, except Biden, perhaps – are keeping their gobs so very tightly SHUT, for the time being.

That, by the way, is a pretty good example for everyone else to follow, too (especially seeing as it comes from battle-hardened nations, some of which have a recent history of Soviet occupation). For, at the risk of stating the bleedingly obvious: if wars were fought with ‘tweets’ instead of ‘tanks’, and ‘Facebook status updates’ instead of ‘missiles’… oh, no doubt about it: by now, Putin would probably be cowering in a secret underground Moscow bunker, with his tail between his legs...

But that’s not quite what’s happening, is it? For some obscure reason, it seems that Vladimir Putin is entirely unfazed, by the collective opinions of literally millions of self-styled Facebook ‘military tacticians’. (Gee, I wonder why…)

All the same, however: it still leaves us with the question of how this war can actually be fought at all. For reasons that are pretty self-evident, any form of conventional ground-war to liberate Ukraine – even with full UN Security Council backing (not that this has ever deterred anyone in the past; but hey, let’s not bring all that up again…) – is clearly not on the cards.  We all heard the Kremlin warning that any military interference would unleash ‘consequences never before seen’; we’ve all watched movies like ‘The Day After’; so we all know painfully well what those words really mean.

Effectively, then, we are in a situation where both sides are threatening each other – one with ‘sanctions’, the other with ‘all-out military annihilation’ – and… um… that’s a little like playing ‘rock, paper, scissors’: only with the ‘rock’ in Putin’s hand, the ‘scissors’ in yours; and no ‘paper’ anywhere to be seen.

Much as it pains me to have to add: this also means that Ukraine has been left to fend off a full-scale, three-pronged Russian invasion… all on its own.   And without even needing C-3PO to ‘tell me the odds’: I have little doubt that, by the time you read this, Ukraine will already have fallen (valiantly, no doubt: but fallen all the same).

On the basis of that prediction, the only ‘response’ left available, for any country opposed to this invasion, is… well, the one Roberta Metsola has been so pointlessly tweeting about, all this time.

Which brings me to that ‘pea-shooter’ analogy in the headline. It is, as I said, already regrettable that Russia’s actions have excluded both military, and even diplomatic solutions at this stage. And it is even more regrettable that the only weapons left in Europe/NATO’s arsenal are ‘economic sanctions’ (not least, because Putin has made it abundantly clear that he has already factored them into his military calculations anyway).

But still: if the best weapon we can possibly come up with, is a measly little pea-shooter… the least we could do is make sure those peas actually do some damage, when fired.

And yet, we have all just seen the sort of ‘peas’ that Europe (and its allies) will actually be shooting back at Russia with; we all know that the EU-US brokered sanctions have stopped conspicuously short of certain measures, that would be harmful to certain European interests…

But before you all point accusatory fingers at Germany and Italy, for having so selfishly put their own energy interests ahead of the international war effort – well, it’s not as though Malta has behaved any differently, has it?

Consider, for instance, some of the comments Robert Abela gave to the press this week: “Malta’s energy prices will not be impacted by the international fall-out from the Russian invasion of Ukraine”; and “a preliminary analysis of the situation showed that the Maltese economy would not be significantly impacted by the situation.”

Now: leaving aside any doubts I myself may have, about Abela’s ‘preliminary analysis’ there – seriously though: is our Prime Minister NUTS?! Has he forgotten that our own gas supply comes directly by tanker from Azerbaijan… and therefore has to sail all the way through the Black Sea (which, in case no one’s noticed, Putin can now blockade at any time he chooses) just to even get here at all?!

But let us park such cynical misgivings to one side, for now. The real problem, as I see it, is: what is Abela actually saying there, anyway? What do those comments really tell us, about his (i.e., Malta’s) own contribution to an emergency EU summit, that was supposed to come up with the ‘hardest-hitting, non-military measures possible’, to counter Russia’s aggressive expansionism?

In a nutshell: how much of a fight did Prime Minister Robert Abela really put up, on our country’s behalf, to ensure that the rest of Europe – even with the limited options at its disposal – really did respond to this crisis in the toughest, most effective way possible?

Come on, let’s not delude ourselves. We, too, chickened out of helping the Ukrainians, in the name of ‘economic self-interest’ – but where Germany and Italy do at least have the (rather lousy) excuse of ‘energy-dependence on Russia’… what’s our justification, exactly? That we ‘want to keep selling passports to Russian oligarchs’?

Sorry, folks, but that’s just not good enough. (And it just won’t look good enough in the history books, either.) So tell you what: off you all go back to the drawing-board (yes, Robert, you too), and this time, try and come up with something just slightly more incisive, to use as ammunition for that dratted little pea-shooter of yours.

And if nothing else: that way, at least, Roberta Metsola might actually have something meaningful to tweet about, for a change…