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Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has been a wake-up call for Nato

(Image | Alamy)

4 min read

At a time when the world is struggling with a disastrous global pandemic and recognising the vital need to work together to meet the increasing threat of climate change, it is impossible to exaggerate the shock of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

With record numbers of refugees from Iraq and Syria, further increased with those fleeing Afghanistan, a flood is now coming from Ukraine as well. Overnight, President Vladimir Putin has become a global pariah, without any active support except President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, a singularly unattractive companion.

With his massive superiority of manpower and weaponry he clearly expected that a rapid blitzkrieg would be quickly followed by a Ukrainian surrender and the installation of a puppet government, with few casualties, and before the rest of the world could react in any way.

As it is, thanks to the enhanced capabilities of the Ukrainian defence forces and the courage of the people and their president, it has become a much more drawn out event, and with significant Russian casualties.

This has also given time for other countries to give all the support that they can, led at an early stage by the United Kingdom’s supply of weapons, with the United States and now, exceptionally, the European Union contributing substantially as well. That world-wide support for Ukraine has now led to the most punishing range of economic sanctions, with the run on Russian banks and the collapse of the rouble. In addition, the decisions of the international sporting bodies to ban any Russian participation, has given the clearest message to the Russian people of the shame that Putin has brought on their country.

The recent debate on Ukraine in the Lords was marked by a number of most interesting contributions, in particular Lord Robertson, the former Nato Secretary General, and a maiden speech by Lord Sedwill, a former National Security Adviser and Cabinet Secretary.

Putin’s image is increasingly that of a paranoid isolated billionaire.

George Robertson talked of meeting Putin more than 10 times both in Moscow and Brussels when they instituted the Nato/Russia meetings, and said that Putin had personally signed an accord that the Ukraine had the right of a nation “to choose the means to ensure their own security and the inviolability of borders”.

Lord Sedwill stressed the need to attack the Putin regime on its weakest point, the fear of its own people. Putin’s image is increasingly that of a paranoid isolated billionaire, and the truth must be revealed to the Russian people, not just through the normal media and the BBC World Service, but all the new means as well of cyber and social media and information campaigns.

The recent brave demonstrations against the war in many Russian cities shows that the news is indeed getting through. There has however been one real benefit from Putin’s actions, and that has been to wake up Nato. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, with the Iron Curtain coming down and Germany reunited, attention switched elsewhere. With Saddam Hussein and the First Gulf War, the invasion of Iraq, and then Afghanistan, Nato seemed less critical and expenditure steadily fell.

Most noticeably, Germany, whose defence expenditure had fallen well below the 2 per cent mark, has immediately announced a major increase. In addition, Nato has been able to see at first hand the form that a Russian attack might take, and to appreciate that for all the expenditure on new systems like cyber attacks and drones, there is still a vital need for adequate armour and manpower.

However, while we draw that slender benefit from current events, this is dwarfed by the horror of it all. Putin has created his own quagmire. He can blast his way in and flatten major cities, but the legacy of bitterness will surround him for the rest of his time, and many people will pay with their lives for his disastrous actions.

Lord King of Bridgwater is a Conservative peer and former defence secretary.

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