Ukraine: Don’t Box Putin In

The West is making sure that Putin becomes the western world’s number one ogre. In its backing for Ukraine the West can see no bad in its new ally and no good in Russia, its old adversary. I have repeatedly warned of the dangers of this partisan approach to a humanitarian disaster on an epic scale.  The more arms that pour into Ukraine the more will die, not just in the military but ordinary men, women and children, old and young, too. Equally the more resistance Ukraine is able to offer, the more heavy handed the Russian invasion will become. Russia will not back down until it has something to show for its losses and Ukraine will not make peace until it sees it has squeezed the West dry. So a war of attrition will go on grinding down all civilised values in its wake.

To end it, Ukraine must feel that it has secured the independence and integrity of much, though not all, of its territory and Russia must be able to demonstrate that it has secured a neutral buffer between itself and NATO.

Unfortunately the initial Russian miscalculations about a divided West and a potential welcoming Ukraine heartland, have proved political blunders of historic proportions. Nothing unites democracies faster than the aggression of a dictatorship or autocracy. And nothing unites a somewhat divided nation faster than the full scale invasion by a foreign power. So a slumbering, fragmented NATO woke up big time and bonded back to a single formidable military entity. Moreover friendly neutrals, Sweden and Finland, are now likely to join fearing, I think wrongly, that Putin has his eye on them.

Meanwhile the feared Russian army appears to struggle at the tactical level when confronted by the professional elements of the Ukrainian military, relying a good deal on scorched earth bombardments of infrastructure with the inevitable collateral damage to civilian homes and lives. This increases both Ukrainian resistance and the West’s  willingness to provide ever more  capable weapons. The West now senses the Ukraine can work military miracles if armed sufficiently. Silly speeches by Liz Truss and other UK ministers,  in my view little better than ignorant war mongering, are evidence of a desire to humiliate Russia. This is a very bad idea.

I have  all my life admired Russia. It has been our ally against Napoleon, The Kaiser and Hitler. Its contribution in WWII was critical to the defeat of the Nazis and undoubtedly saved millions of allied lives, while costing tens of millions of Russian casualties. Russian science, literature, music and art is in the top league. Their preference for a  tough leader, a Czar however titled, is rooted in that history of trauma and sacrifice. This is not to say Russia is always in the right but it is to say Russia is not always in the wrong.

There can be no final peace in Europe unless and until all Europe is united together within a framework of common institutions and purposes. Put simply at some point Russia and all the component countries of the European parts of the old Soviet Union must eventually be welcomed into the EU and NATO. On the road to that goal are many potholes. Some kind of interim settlement requiring a lot of give and less take will be required between Russia and Ukraine and between  the West and Russia. But the goal of such a coming together must remain. It is the only one which makes sense, guarantees peace in Europe and offers real prospects of a better future for all the nations of the European continent, whatever their culture and history.