As we obsess about whether Boris had a sip of lukewarm Chardonnay 18 months ago, Europe is poised on the brink of war. We might kid ourselves that Ukraine is a long way away, but that’s exactly what people said about Czechoslovakia in 1938. Time to get real.
Here’s what we’re up against, and it’s chilling. Putin has declared the breakup of the Soviet Union to be the greatest disaster of the 20th century. And he’s clearly determined to see that put right, with the subjugation of Ukraine the first step. Already, by pouncing on Crimea, he’s seized over 7 per cent of Ukraine’s territory, shrugging off sanctions. Does anyone seriously think that’s where his ambitions end?
We can be sure the people of Ukraine won’t take a Russian invasion lying down. Anyone whose visited Ukraine to speak to its political leaders in recent years, and I’ve had that privilege on several occasions, will know that Ukrainians will fight to the last to defend their country. In a recent poll, 30 per cent of Ukrainians said they would take up arms to fight. That’s a staggering 13 million people. And many millions more will resist in other ways. “We will fight to the last bullet and last drop of blood”, said one battle-hardened soldier on the frontline of the frozen war in Ukraine’s East.
Putin’s forces may be superior, but if he thinks the tanks can just roll into Kyiv, he’ll be much mistaken. There is no such thing, as Joe Biden mistakenly suggested, as a minor ‘incursion’ into sovereign territory. It will be bloody and brutal. Tens of thousands of lives will surely be lost, many of them Russian.
Which brings us to the EU. What the hell is it playing at? In umming and ahing about whether a confrontation will weaken individual member economies, the organisation is putting its own selfish interests ahead of what’s right. President Macron says Europe must open its own dialogue with Russia, separate from America’s and NATO’s. This is precisely what Putin craves: a divided, disunited West. And what on earth is Macron’s idea of a “security and stability pact” between Russia and the EU? If that isn’t appeasement, I don’t know what is, and it leaves the Ukrainians rightly afraid that their future might be decided without their own say. It’s all too redolent of great powers treating countries like pawns on a chess board.
Anyone with an ounce of knowledge about Putin and the Kremlin knows full well that Russia only respects strength. Weasel words and lily-livered compromise will be a red rag to the Russian bull. Anything less than complete Western unity will be fatal for Ukraine, and terrifying for other countries close to Russia’s self-styled ‘near abroad’, from Finland in the north to Georgia in the south.
Thank goodness Britain knows better, and Ukraine sees us as one of its closest friends – a country that punches well above its weight in Kyiv in terms of influence and power. Already, the UK has sent new weapons system to Ukraine, and troops to provide training, in marked contrast to Germany, which refuses to do any such thing. Ukraine doesn’t expect British and American troops on the ground. As her Minister of Defence, Oleksiy Reznikov said, “Just give us the weapons we need to defend ourselves, we will do our own fighting”.
This isn’t just about Ukraine, but about democracy, sovereignty, the right of people to determine their own future without being bullied and then subjugated. In short, it’s about freedom – something that 40 million Ukrainians have learned to love, and which the West is privileged enough to take for granted. Britain and America realise this. Others appear not to. Time is running out for the EU to stay on the right side of history.