Updated: Jan 23
For the first time in a generation Europe is on the brink of war. Only strength can stop Putin now. Article by Tom Tugendhat Chairman of the UK Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee 22.01.22.
In the past few weeks Britain has sent light anti-tank weapons to Kyiv, the US javelin tank-busting missiles and stingers that can bring down aircraft, and Turkey drones like those that decimated the Armenian forces so recently. Even Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are helping Ukrainians defend themselves against Russian aggression. This isn’t just defence of a free people. With a population of 44 million, Ukrainian citizens could be forced in exile by Russia, destabilising Eastern Europe.
In Kyiv, people are rightly worried. Only eight years ago, Russian forces invaded Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, they captured and illegally annexed Crimea, and left thousands internally displaced. For the first time since 1945 a European border was changed by force. Vladimir Putin now looks likely to repeat the order.
No one thinks Moscow’s 100,000 troops on the border are there for show. Fewer still believe that a surrender would satisfy the Kremlin’s hunger. Putin has made no secret of his belief that the fall of the Soviet Union was a catastrophe and has demanded Nato’s withdrawal from member states like Bulgaria and Romania. Russia’s president is worried the example of democracy on his borders could undermine him at home, so he wants the end of the alliance that has kept the peace in Europe for over 70 years.
Over the past decade, Putin’s failures have weakened Russia. Today’s threats to Ukraine are no different. The Kremlin is pushing neutral neighbours like Sweden and Finland into Nato’s arms. Invasion and the threat of war have energised national identities on Russia’s border and created enemies.
Though life seems normal in Kyiv, ministers say the army is ready and reserves are on the point of mobilisation. Every town has an arsenal ready to be issued to partisan-style militias. If the Russians come, the people will fight, I was told on my visit last week. The memory of Soviet occupation means that though the invasion may be easy, resistance would be fiercer than Moscow’s generals have planned.
This isn’t just about Ukraine. Our commitment to freedom is being tested. From Tallinn to Tbilisi, our actions are being weighed. If we are found wanting, a nervous, divided Nato will leave us all weaker. And the weaponisation of migrants that we’ve already seen in Poland and Lithuania, could destabilise more EU countries.
Brussels’ confused silence leaves a gap where policy should be. Russia has already forced Ukrainians to flee from the east. How many more will cross as refugees into the 27-member bloc if Moscow orders the invasion? That’s why Berlin’s decision on Friday to stop Estonia selling German-made weapons to Ukraine was a mistake. Coming after US President Joe Biden’s blundering statement that a small incursion may not attract a response, it makes Nato look confused. Looking weak will not prevent war, but encourage it.
Countries that won’t send arms should still help. Mobilising troops costs Ukraine millions and the debt could help Moscow by seeing Kyiv’s fractious political settlement collapse. Loans would at least give President Volodymyr Zelenskyy the option to call out the reserve and arm the partisan-style militias early. It would show that European states recognised their stake in the future of Ukraine.
The deafening silence raises questions. Is the EU so divided that it can’t meet the most important security challenge in a generation? Is Europe’s energy dependence on Moscow undermining its own interests? Or has Moscow’s capture of so many European elites – including some of our own – left leaders unwilling to act when defence would cost them personally?
Putin’s corrupt acolytes have grown used to the luxuries of London, Paris, and Berlin. They have bought homes, educated children, and invested in businesses to secure their place, and voice, in society. We need to close them down. Golden visas and hidden assets have no place in free markets, and the troops encircling Ukraine should be a wake-up call. This isn’t just oligarchs hiding the profit of crime: our national security is on the line.
Only Putin knows if he’s reckless enough to use the frozen ground and the distraction of the Winter Olympics to risk the lives Russian troops and Ukrainian civilians. In Moscow, asset freezes, visa bans, student expulsions from Europe and reminders of the 2014 protests Russian mothers held for their sons who died in Ukraine could challenge his control. In Kyiv, the mass mobilisation would show the danger to his army. In Europe, discussing refugees, sending arms, and agreeing loans would show we’re serious.
For the first time in a generation we’re on the brink of war in Europe. We need to be strong, not to threaten Moscow, but because only strength can stop them.
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