Updated: Feb 24
This article for the Telegraph begins with these words that are very true: "Europe is paralysed by its reliance on Russian energy" .
Not since its special session on the fiasco in Afghanistan last August has the House of Commons been so united as during the responses to the Prime Minister’s statement on sanctions on Russia. Unlike the impotent shroud-waving about what might have been six months ago, this time MPs were looking forward in anger.
The Government’s sanctions on three named Russian oligarchs with close ties to President Putin were widely dismissed as too little, too late. After all, since 2018 they have been under US sanctions, which have a global reach because so much business is done in dollars. Their loyalty to the Kremlin is undimmed. Similarly, the banking entities blocked from business in Britain don’t seem to do much here.
Some people, disappointed with the tepid response of Whitehall, looked to the Berlin bombshell that Germany was effectively cancelling the new Nordstream II gas pipeline from Russia. But was that sanction even all it is cracked up to be? After all, Nordstream I is still pumping Russian gas to Germany.
The United States has yet to announce any new measures and may see blocking Nordstream II as big enough for now. The EU, too, talks about preparing a severe sanctions package, but Italy and Austria don’t want to cut their energy imports from Russia.
British and European leaders have proclaimed their desire to achieve energy independence for years. But their policies of net zero and de-nuclearisation have meant that these pieties are parodies of St. Augustine’s prayer: God make me pure but not yet. Now tough choices can’t be avoided – or certainly shouldn’t be.
Of course, the Prime Minister is right to say that defence spending has gone up 10% recently, but sadly the money has been misdirected to paying for aircraft carriers to go on flag-waving exercises in the Far East. Seventy-five years after the humiliating fall of Singapore with its guns designed to face the wrong way, Britain like our European allies, faces the risk of war with inadequate conventional forces to deter it below the nuclear threshold.
For all the current craze for dissing Chamberlain for Munich, don’t forget he used the time bought by appeasement to build up the RAF and plan for war. Sadly our tough-talking Tory governments have run down the Army to fewer men than in the eighteenth century and failed to build new tanks or aircraft for our immediate European defence zone.
That’s why Russia will probably not be impressed by the Prime Minister’s threat of a very serious package of sanctions if a Russian “toecap” went further into Ukraine from where Russian forces had arrived overnight in the breakaway regions. This had ominous echoes of President Biden’s “minor incursion” remark last month.
Maybe President Putin will pause for a decent interval. But only on Monday, ex-President Medvedev recalled how when in 2008 he had recognised the two breakaway regions of Georgia as Putin has now done with the rebel Donbas districts, the West had sanctioned Russia but then “crawled back” to do business after a decent interval. Medvedev suggested the West would do the same again soon enough.
Although the Western states like to characterise themselves as “the international community” and regard Putin’s Russia as a “pariah” because of his aggression against Ukraine, an ominous silence rather than global echo has greeted Western calls for sanctions. China and India, to name only the world’s most populous states, are at daggers drawn along their Himalayan border, but both Beijing and Delhi court the Kremlin. Putin’s Asian rear is secure. Moscow will have planned to use it as a conduit for sanction-breaking.
Much of the rhetoric threatening “toughest ever sanctions coming down the line” is Shakespearian but not in the Henry V mode. More like King Lear’s “I will do such things — What they are, yet I know not, but they shall be the terrors of the earth!” Deterring Putin with our mouths simply won’t work.
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