Now is the time for the West to decide if it wants Ukraine to win this war

I start with a question. Do we want Ukraine to win? This might sound stupid. Of course we want Ukraine to win, most people would say. No national leader in the EU or the rest of free Europe – except perhaps Viktor Orbán in Hungary – wants a victory for Vladimir Putin’s aggression.

But I repeat the question, because there are differences about this in the West, and these differences will be severely tested this month. Ukraine’s foreign minister is surely right when he says his country needs more help now than ever before.

Russia’s withdrawal from the outskirts of Kyiv is indeed a mark of Ukraine’s phenomenal courage and Putin’s astonishing failure, but it is also the prelude to a bigger, more concentrated attack. Instead of his original botched coup against President Zelensky’s government, Putin now intends a sustained offensive, moving west from the current frontline in the Donbas to dismember the country.

Are we in the West determined to do all we can – which is much more than we have done already – to make sure Putin’s new offensive fails?

Our answer depends upon what we think is at stake. The more appeasing approach, favoured, it would seem, by President Macron of France, is to take a “We’ll all have to live with one another afterwards” attitude. There must be talks, therefore, in order to get the angry bully to calm down by giving him part of what he wants. In this analysis, the very fact that the bully seeks a crushing victory is reason to concede a bit.

Germany seems to have comparable feelings, despite its hardening mood against Russia. Behind its reluctance to replace its Russian gas and oil supplies at once, which the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz discussed with Boris Johnson in Downing Street yesterday, is not only a natural concern for its own citizens’ living standards. There also lies a feeling that if only we could get this Ukrainian difficulty out of the way, everything could return to normal.

For understandable historical reasons, Germany is reluctant to recognise change. It has had modern times incredibly easy, surrounded by friendly neighbours and saving many billions of euros by being demilitarised.

In the Jewish Chronicle last week, a remarkable headline read: “Outgoing Israeli ambassador to Berlin says Germany should be allowed to re-arm for the sake of world peace.” A call to arms from such a source is difficult for Germans to get their heads around. They still want to keep their quiet life if they can.

In the cases of both France and Germany, therefore, the sentiment is not so much that Ukraine should win (though of course they would not object if it did), but that the killing must stop. Jaw-jaw not war-war is the cliché.

Behind this attitude lies a fear so great that they do not speak of it directly. The euphemism is “full escalation”. What is meant is nuclear attack. Putin has threatened this in public at least three times (“consequences never seen before”). For the first time since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, our Continent is menaced by the first use of the Bomb.

This fear is justified, but we must consider why Putin is trying to instil it. It is because he sees his attack on Ukraine not only as the recovery of territory he deludedly thinks his country owns, but also as his instrument to destroy the existing world order.

That is why talk of a Third World War is not completely fanciful, and also why China is quietly backing Russia. It is their chance to end Western hegemony.

It follows that, if Russia wins, this means not only the destruction and enslavement of Ukraine, but also the overthrow of the world order by something infinitely crueller – an unholy alliance last visible in the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939.

From this, it follows in turn that Ukraine must win, not just to secure its national rights, but for all our sakes. I know Ukraine is not in Nato, but Russia’s attack on that one country definitely amounts to an attack on all.

If Nato lets the second-largest country in Europe be defeated by Russia, Putin will know there is nothing left to stop him. He will have succeeded in twisting the great purpose of nuclear weapons – to deter aggression – into deterring self-defence. Ukraine will have been left to swing. Then China will take Taiwan when it feels like it. Most members of the United Nations, currently voting against Russia, will transfer their loyalties.

Three major Western countries grasp this. They are, in descending order of ardour, Poland, Britain and the United States. They are perfectly aware of the nuclear danger but are trying to avoid being paralysed by it.

In her article for this paper on Thursday, the Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, wrote: “Now is the time to be strong to ensure that we see off Putin’s aggression for good.” She is surely right about the timing and the purpose, to hit Putin hardest when at his weakest, which is now. But the allies could be more creative about what is legitimate to give Ukraine to defend itself.

If, for instance, we gave Ukraine an intercontinental ballistic missile, we would put ourselves on the wrong side of the line, because we would be empowering it to attack Moscow. But if we give it artillery, mortars, armoured vehicles, even the famous MiGs with which the United States declined to assist, all these can be used in country for that country’s legitimate self-defence.

In the week when the world has discovered that Putin is a war criminal – confirmed yesterday in the terrible attack on Kramatorsk station – this should be more evident than ever.

We can also do more on sanctions. When I spoke to President Zelensky’s office yesterday, they were emphatic that the loss of revenue right now is crucial to weakening Russia. A third of the Russian budget is paid for by oil revenues, for example. If that were cut off, neither the war’s running costs such as fuel, pay and ammunition, nor fiscal obligations such as pensions and subsidies, could survive.

As for diplomacy, although we are starting to squeeze Russia out of the international system – suspending it from the UN Human Rights Council this week, for example – we are still inconsistent. It is weird that Russia remains one of our main parties in the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

Last month, Russia threatened to pull out, worried that it would no longer be allowed to ship out Iran’s excess enriched uranium and exchange it for natural uranium. Given some private “guarantees” from the United States, it decided to stay in.

These dealings clash with our stated position that the Russian government promotes “butchery, rape and torture” (Ms Truss’s words) and is no longer fit to take part in “rebuilding international security architecture” (ditto). How can uranium-swapping Russia be one of the trusted architects?

If the coming fight is well conducted, and the Russian army is severely mauled, there may indeed come a moment when negotiations can take place. The people to tell us when that moment has arrived will be the Ukrainians themselves. It would be disgraceful if we tried to push them into an unfavourable “peace” or failed fully to back their struggle.

In the meantime, err on the side of assuming that a Ukrainian victory is still against the odds, and remember that the story of David and Goliath would never have made it into holy writ if Goliath had survived.

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