The debate on the future of Europe and Britain within it is heating up. This week, Boris Johnson highlighted the problems with “EU foreign policy-making on the hoof”, suggesting that it had contributed to the protracted conflict in Ukraine. He was quickly branded a “Putin apologist” by adversaries.

None of Boris’s critics seem to have noticed that this is a clear case of shooting the messenger. What Boris has done is raise a legitimate concern. He is giving Europe a long-overdue reminder that in order to survive, it needs to get stronger.

If the EU does not heed Boris’s warning and improve its ability to handle foreign policy pressures, it is doomed – even if Britain votes to stay in on June 23 and the immediate crisis passes.

I do not say this lightly. I believe that the EU can be a force for good but there are clear problems with the way its foreign policy has played out in recent years. Ukraine is one example of this but the problem is actually a lot closer to home.

Britain’s own ability to defend its interests on the international stage is being compromised because it is constrained by a weak and indecisive EU foreign policy framework.

Let us face facts. The EU has not once taken the initiative in putting a stop to Vladimir Putin’s aggression and expansionism – it merely took a lead from the US in imposing sanctions. The EU has not ever taken the initiative in resisting any other aggressor, either. All we hear are timid words of disapproval followed by attempts at appeasement and compromise.

This approach to defence policy is simply not fit for purpose – it has created a feeble EU barely capable of defending itself, an EU that is compromising the interests of its members and its allies.

Politicians such as Jack Straw, who are quick to criticise Boris today, should take a long hard look at their record in office and start taking responsibility. Their policy of appeasement has weakened the EU and it is hurting Britain. When our country tries to defend its interests on the world stage, it is often forced to pull back because of EU pressures and weak European institutions unable to give its members real support.

This problem of a timid, fragile EU has been a contributing factor to the protracted crisis in Ukraine. Europe has not been strong enough in supporting Ukraine in the face of Putin’s aggression. As someone who has in-depth knowledge of the situation in Ukraine and loves the country – I was born there and I have personally played an active role in supporting Ukraine’s struggle for independence from Russia and a shift towards Europe – I know that Boris is making a valid point.

Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, has highlighted the importance of “support from the European Union and other partners” as the country tries to wrestle its independence from Russia and pursue a European development path.

Clearly, there is a lot more the EU could do – and it should. Boris actually started leading by example months ago. He was one of the first European figures to meet with democratic Ukrainian politicians at the start of the struggle against the old ways of the Yanukovich government. He has maintained contact with new Ukrainian leaders and shown genuine interest in the country’s future.

The thing that sets Boris apart is the fact that he is not afraid. A politician like Jack Straw can only deal with Putin by compromising or even giving in altogether on occasion. Boris can lead the country in actively resisting any aggressor, Putin’s totally and utterly corrupt Russia included. It is high time Britain and Europe also demonstrated the courage of their convictions.

We need a stronger Europe that can truly defend our democratic values and our way of life. Soft power just does not cut it in the face of brute force. We must be willing to exercise real power if we want to see a stronger Britain in a stronger Europe. Those who wish to live in a feeble and unreformed EU are acting as Putin’s fifth column in the UK and in Europe, allowing our country and the EU to be easily manipulated by Putin and his corrupt cronies. This cannot be the way forward.

Alexander Temerko is a Ukrainian-born British politician, businessman, leading energy industrialist and Conservative Party donor.

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