Ukraine’s fight against Putin is our fight and one we cannot afford to lose
When Russian tanks crossed the border of Ukraine on 24 February last year the European order, which had survived seven decades, was shattered.
The world changed, maybe permanently, by an act of naked, unprovoked aggression by a nuclear-armed state on its neighbour.
Vladimir Putin has now challenged the West with a new kind of war. It’s not “your daddy’s war” which he is waging in Ukraine, but war it still is. The serious question is: are we up to meeting that challenge?
Frankly, based on present performance and glaring lack of national urgency, we are not. While Putin develops a war economy, we send a dozen Challenger tanks and think we have done our bit. It is hopelessly inadequate and as the Russians now regroup, rearm and trawl more young soldiers, we leave the Ukrainians to fight for us.
We send a dozen Challenger tanks and think we have done our bit. It is hopelessly inadequate
Indeed what is happening in Ukraine is as much about us as it is the people there. The front line of the defence of our people is no longer the White Cliffs of Dover or the North German plains, it’s in the blood and mud of Eastern Donbas in Ukraine.
If Putin prevails in Ukraine, then what hope will there be for Moldova, Armenia or Kazakhstan? If Ukrainians are beaten by a mighty nuclear-armed neighbour, what border dispute in the rest of the world will remain unaffected?
That’s why the sit-on-the-fence attitude of many countries in the Global South makes so little sense. They might have been seduced by the Russian narrative that this was simply a European regional squabble or some sort of pay-back for the misdeeds of the United States, but they are horribly and dangerously wrong.
The world has a fragile legacy of border disputes lingering to this day. If the idea that big countries can retreat into distant history and swallow smaller neighbours, then more than the European order will be upset. It is a recipe for global anarchy.
But are we doing enough to help Ukrainians defend their nation and recover the illegally annexed territory? We have done much in this country, and I pay a tribute to the government in being in the vanguard with political and military assistance. But much more needs to be done – more ammunition, equipment and training, has to be devoted to this cause.
Our post-Brexit isolation from the European Union and its united efforts means that our role in world affairs is diluted. The unity of the West and Europe has been one of the strengths of our stance and one of Putin’s grave miscalculations. We need to be closer to our European allies both inside Nato and in the European political community. Nothing will change the Russian calculation more than firm, resolute and committed pan-European unity.
Similarly, we need to use our influence with the US to maintain their leadership in this battle. America has been welded to Europe in this situation – another Putin miscalculation – but the partisan contest in Washington might yet fray the commitment to protecting freedom and democracy in Ukraine.
Britain’s traditional links with the US, especially on the military front, mean we have influence where others have not. We may have expended a lot of our political capital in the US with the shambolic governmental meltdown last year, but our intelligence agencies are still seen as stable and grown-up – even if our politics leaves an American audience incredulous.
We need to confront the fact that our previously predictable, stable world is as much a relic of the past as a discarded train ticket. We have to get used to volatility in events, technical changes well beyond even the geekiest young computer expert, and the new vulnerabilities created by both.
Ukraine is where the future is being tested. The fight there is our fight as well. If they lose, we lose too. And the consequences will be grave.
Lord Robertson, Labour peer, former secretary general of Nato and former defence secretary.
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