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The dire cost of a failure to act now on Ukraine

March 24, 2014 11:32 AM
By George Smid - European Spokesperson in Lincolnshire Echo
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

EU PutinIn 1938 my father was 16 and the German armies moved to Czechoslovakia 'to protect German compatriots'.

In 1968 I was 16 and the Soviet Army invaded Czechoslovakia 'to protect proletarian compatriots'.

Both armies claimed to be invited. Both armies' move was the result of the political situation at home. Both invasions were upon the pretext of pacifying 'local unrest'.

Proof that the role of the aggressor was, and is, the same. But an aggressor can only play his role if there is a willing audience.

At the time of writing this article the Crimeans 'voted' to become a part of Russia and President Putin 'agreed' to 'absorb' Crimea.

The Ukrainians report one Ukrainian soldier dead. The Russians report one Russian soldier dead.

And all that after a week of activity from the West to 'de-escalate' the situation in Ukraine.

The West now must rise to the challenge in Ukraine. The only way to de-escalate the situation there is to escalate our response.

Mounting such a challenge presents twofold difficulties: Internationally the current response has been weak. We have to become pro-active and not waiting for the Russians to move first.

The Russian strategists are not stupid. They looked at the threat of sanctions and ignored it. To counteract that the West must wrest the initiative.

While using arms is out of question Ukraine should ask for military help - intelligence, equipment, high level personal expertise.

We should support the Ukrainian soldiers in their Crimean bases and we should help Ukraine to patrol the newly-created borders.

Robust response requires robust resolve. And here lies the second difficulty.

The public is not prepared to pay the cost of such a robust response. The general public opinion is split between 'a sense of danger' and 'business as usual with Putin'.

The public reaction oscillates between deference and indifference. The main problem is that Crimea is seen as an insolated incident which does not count one way or another. It is not. Ossetia, Abkhazia and Moldova preceded.

If Russia is not stopped, another march into a neighbouring state will follow. We have to be prepared to bear the cost now to avoid costs in the future.

Firstly, it was Russia which guaranteed Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity in 1994. This was in exchange for Ukraine to decommission nuclear warheads from the Soviet era.

If Putin gets away with Crimea, the incentives for smaller states to acquire nuclear arsenal will be very powerful indeed.

Putin called the bluff of the West, but he would have been much less inclined to mess around with a neighbour armed with nuclear weapons. Prior 1994 Ukraine held the third largest nuclear stockpile in the world.

So allowing Crimea without adequate response will lead to nuclear proliferation. This will impose additional cost on the West.

Secondly, 'Crimea' has created its own momentum in Russia to 're-establish' Russian influence within the former Soviet Union.

This was opaquely expressed in the Russian parliament vote which was ostensibly about Crimea but authorised Russian military action 'in the whole of Ukraine'.

On Saturday (16/3) Pravda newspaper formulated this in a much more assertive article "Former Soviet borders are being reconsidered" where Crimean solution was proposed for "the areas of compact residence of Russians in Latvia, where non-Latvian Russian communities began to consolidate."

Latvia is a part of NATO, new defences there will also bring an additional cost to the West.

Thirdly, Crimea does follow a historical pattern with the known outcome.

References to 'we are in the 21st century' and that Russia behaves in somehow outdated fashion or references to an 'uncharted territory' as if somehow this was a historically first case are misleading.

The history can repeat itself. Un roi, une loi, une foi" (one king, one law, one faith) cried Luis XIV; ein Volk, ein Reich, ein F├╝hrer, (one people, one state, one leader) echoed Hitler. We know what will follow. History proves that there will come a time when the next step is a direct challenge to the integrity of the West and the West will be forced to respond - with much higher human and material cost.

In 1938, when the Munich Agreement was presented to the public as the 'peace in our time' Churchill responded: "[We] should know that we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies: "Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting."

Churchill was right. The Munich Agreement led to the occupation of Czechoslovakia and speeded up the beginning of the Second World War.

For Ukraine, I echo Churchill's words which we still have time to rephrase as a warning for the future: "You will be weighed on the scales and you must not be found wanting." Act now. Otherwise Churchill's words will be a true reflection on our most recent past.