It’s not all on Putin – Ukraine is our fault too

The Ukraine crisis is democracy’s biggest failure since 1945 – and our politicians deserve part of the blame

After massing some 200,000 troops on the Ukraine border.  De facto Russian dictator Vladimir Putin sent in the tanks.  The biggest war in Europe since 1945 has broken out in Europe following a textbook invasion.  That much everybody is agreed on.

But this one isn’t just on Putin.  Yes, he’s the aggressor.  But why does he think he can get away with it?  It isn’t just down to appeasers such as President Macron or the EU with their reluctance to deliver meaningful sanctions.  Western democracies have been ignoring the risk of the word’s growing band of expansionist dictators for decades.  Fuelled by wishful thinking it has gone on since the end of the cold war.  Surely now it is obvious even to the most committed free trader liberals that ties of trade and economics cannot change the nature of dictatorial regimes.  If we want to live in peace, in a world which respects our values, we need to stand-up to these dictatorships.

Many saw the Ukraine invasion coming because they’ve seen Russian aggression before in Crimea.  However, Russia was not only allowed to get away with annexing Crimea, there was Georgia too.  Closer to home we even saw brazen murder on the streets of London and Salisbury.   Yet it took until this week before the UK even went as far as the US’s 2018 sanctions.  When you can kill people with impunity in London and still use the ‘Londongrad’ laundromat is it any wonder Putin thinks he’ll get away with it?

Wednesday’s parliamentary debate on Russian sanctions was another farce.  Even by the dismal standards of today’s virtue signalling Commons.  Our politicians are truly world class at virtue signalling.  If only it could be weaponised.  The party heavyweights wrangled on sanctions.  Who could win the contest to say they would go further, faster.  Then up popped the unilateral disarmers and the tankies all suddenly demanding stronger action.  Despite the fact that many on the UK’s green nationalist left have done everything they possibly could to facilitate British economic and military disarmament.

All of this, from all sides, a contorted nonsense.  Aside from upsetting some wealthy Russians, what will these sanctions actually achieve?  Yes we can seize the odd yacht and ban their daughters form from the independent school sector.  But this won’t deter Putin.  It won’t make the 200,000 Russian soldiers storming through the Ukraine miss a beat.

Worse still, the rise in energy prices will drive yet more funds into the Kremlin’s coffers.  If they can’t sell gas in Europe – no problem.  They’ll sell it to China and we will still will buy the goods made with it without a second glance.  After all, we’re happy for China’s dictatorship to menace its neighbours and use slave labour.  As somehow trade with China’s dictatorship will make them a group of fuzzy liberals too.  A point which several MPs made in Thursday’s China / Russia debate, seemingly without irony.

Coupled to this blindness to the state of the world is the UK’s weak defence.  The British Army is at its smallest size since before the Napoleonic era.  Aided and abetted by deluded optimism, every Government since the 1990s has made deeper and deeper defence cuts.  Our political class is so stuck in this mind-set that our Prime Minister even told parliament that old concepts of fighting big tank battles on the European land mass… were over.  That was only last year.

The big tank battles are clearly not over.  Russia’s modern computerised tanks dwarf the capabilities of almost all NATO members.  Meanwhile, in the recent past the under then German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, German tanks went on exercise with broomsticks.  As for the UK’s Ajax programme; those vehicles are apparently more dangerous to their operators than to the enemies of the United Kingdom.

NATO can only function as an alliance if its members can meaningfully deliver mutual aid.  In reality, the whole alliance has outsourced its defence to the United States.  Yet, we could have an isolationist president in the White House in as little as two years.  All dictators like Putin need to do is wait and bide their time.  Worse still, it isn’t only Russia we need to worry about.  The world is becoming an ever more dangerous place.

China has taken its cue from the Russian Ukrainian conflict to make its own blood curdling threats against democratic Taiwan.  A nation which has never been part of the territory of communist China.  An allusion by a totalitarian state to an imperial past which extended well beyond its present borders.  China recently agreed a military alliance with Russia.  If we’re going to challenge the enablers of Russia’s dictatorship then we have to stand up to China’s dictatorship too.

Too many members of our political elite still think China is a candidate for reform through trade.  It is not as if they haven’t already broken a treaty with the UK over Hong Kong.  And are actively using trade to punish fellow democracies such as Australia and Lithuania.  The lessons from the 1930s could not be clearer.  You cannot trust dictators.  And if democracies fail to stand up to dictatorships eventually they will end up in the firing line.

If we’re not prepared to fight for our way of life there are plenty of nations willing to take it away from us.  We have to face this challenge by divesting our own economy away from these powers and rebuilding our armed forces.  If not, it will not just be Ukrainian citizens hearing the sound of air raid sirens above their cities.

Havard Hughes is CEO of Barndoor Strategy