Stirring scenes in the House of Commons today where MPs today gave the Ukrainian ambassador a standing ovation. Some even wore Ukrainian ribbons. But Ukraine is being pulverized. Boris Johnson is now claiming that the noose is ‘being tightened round Putin’s neck’. But the only noose being tightened is around the cities of Ukraine, where thousands of civilians are now being killed indiscriminately. Hot air comes cheap.
Our Defence Secretary is comforted that the Russian invasion has not gone to plan, and Ukrainians are still resisting. More sanctions are being ‘drawn up’. RT broadcasts are now blocked. There is talk of war crimes. Russia has even been expelled from the Eurovision song contest.
But John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN had it right. Putin is a hard man on a mission. He won’t be stopped by a bit of economic hardship, or casualties, or collateral damage. If we’d thrown everything at Putin in the beginning, and frozen Russian energy exports, we might have stopped him. Instead, we engaged in symbolic gestures that would minimise harm to ourselves. All we have achieved now is to back an embittered Putin into a corner. Nothing could be more dangerous.
Meanwhile, Putin supporters and beneficiaries living it up in London (when they are not living it up in New York, Paris, or Monaco), their children educated at our top private schools, their assets hidden in the British Virgin Islands, have little to fear. For Johnson has said we should not blame the children for ‘the sins of their fathers’.
As for silencing RT, the voice of the Kremlin, what do we hope to achieve? I thought it was telling that in recent days, coverage on RT of the Russian assault on Ukrainian cities ceased altogether. Footage of rockets slamming into blocks of flats in Ukrainian cities was obviously judged counterproductive. Even Russian viewers fed on state media could have detected something was amiss. Instead, coverage centred almost entirely on the Donbas and alleged Ukrainian atrocities.
Russian propaganda? Some of it, no doubt. But a striking theme of these reports is (or was) the constant reference to Azov battalions. Anyone dependent on Western mainstream media would be none the wiser. But a quick search on Google is sufficient to reveal that these neo-Nazi ultra-nationalist paramilitary bands have been at work in the Eastern Ukraine since 2014, that they have indeed been accused of atrocities (not just by the Russians), that they form part of the Ukrainian National Guard, and their logo features the zigzag SS Wolfsangel symbol. It seems that the Russians have a legitimate grievance after all.
None of this can possibly excuse the indiscriminate slaughter of Ukrainian civilians, or indeed of Russian conscripts told they would be welcomed as liberators. But then if Russian interests and grievances had been taken seriously by the West in the first place, we would never have got to this perilous position.