We must not allow Putin’s ‘gangster-regime’ to build an arc of instability around Nato
The situation between Russia and Ukraine is on a knife-edge. Under the iron fist of Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia has amassed around 130,000 troops on its border with Ukraine, supporting these with heavy artillery and armoured vehicles, including tanks.
These actions have been taken under the guise of a defensive strategy, with Putin arguing he is only responding to the expansion of Nato, something he perceives as aggression.
However, in or out of Nato, Ukraine poses no threat to Russia. Compare its relative military capabilities – Russia has 1,500 attack aircraft compared to less than 100 for Ukraine, and 12,000 tanks compared to Ukraine’s 2,500 – and this becomes evident.
The actions taken by Putin and Russia are therefore a clear and unequivocal act of aggression and should ring alarm bells. The fact that Moscow has a history of military interference, invading and annexing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and still holding troops on sovereign Georgian territory after first invading in 2008, means this concern should be heightened.
In response, Britain has acted admirably. Led by the Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, we have increased our deterrents and potential military force in Ukraine, sending 2,000 light anti-tank weapons along with troops to help train the Ukrainian forces. Inherently defensive weapons, such action will help advance the eastern European state’s ability to defend itself.
We need our fellow Nato allies to co-ordinate their responses to Putin’s aggression with ours
These actions must nonetheless be reinforced, and the message behind them repeatedly emphasised, if we are to continue to deter the Russian threat. On our part, this means a sustained, consistent and strong policy of deterrence, using diplomatic, economic and military elements. All measures, including giving further military equipment to Ukraine, must be prepared. We must make clear to Putin’s gangster-regime the high and continued price they will pay for their actions if they cross the border.
To achieve this, we also need our fellow Nato allies to co-ordinate their responses to Putin’s aggression with ours. The United States has already done so, indicated by its decision to send 2,000 additional troops to Germany and Poland, and move 1,000 troops already stationed in Germany to Romania. It is now up to our European allies to get in step. With Russia yet to have taken any military action, now is the time when deterrents will be at their most effective, and a united front among all Nato members will only serve to increase ours.
Fundamentally, this must be done because Ukraine is a sovereign and independent nation. It has a right to self-determination and non-interference, and should be able to choose freely whether to join Nato or not. Anything other than this would be against international law and break the concept of self-determination that we champion.
Furthermore, were we to allow Russia to impose its will on Ukraine, we would also be allowing Putin to achieve one of his core aims: the destabilisation of Nato. From the Arctic through the Baltic to the Balkans and the Caucasus, Russia is trying to build an arc of instability around Nato. Allowing it to prevent Ukraine from joining the military alliance would only serve to give it reason to do so again for other nations in the future.
It would also affirm in Putin’s mind that Russia has a right to control its near-abroad. A former Soviet KGB policy, giving in to the Russian leader would make him believe he has a veto power over the foreign and security policies of his country’s immediate geographic neighbours, thereby again breaching international law and our concept of self-determination.
Ultimately, with the high financial and human costs at stake, it must be stressed that nobody wants a conflict. But the world owes Ukraine a duty to uphold its independence and sovereign rights, and the west must show resolve to protect the values that it was built upon.
Dr Liam Fox is Conservative MP for North Somerset, and a former defence and international trade secretary.
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