Ukraine war: Vladimir Putin's propagandist Margarita Simonyan, of RT, should be added to UK sanctions list as part of non-military efforts to prevent escalation of fighting – Stewart McDonald MP

The Ukrainian town of Avdiivka is a key part of the Donbas region’s heavy industrial footprint.

A Ukrainian soldier stands near the front line with Russia-backed separatists in the small town of Pisky, near Donetsk (Picture: Aleksey Filippov/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s home to a huge coke and chemical plant, the largest in Ukraine, and was constructed in 1963 when Ukraine was a Soviet Socialist Republic to meet the needs of the Mariupol steelworks. When you think of heavy soviet industrial architecture, it’s the Avdiivka coke plant that comes to mind.

Although it is still in limited production, the plant has been subjected to heavy shelling over the years since Russia’s war on Ukraine started in 2014. I was able to visit three years ago. A once-proud town with a bustling population is now right on the frontline of Europe’s forgotten war. It sits only two kilometres from illegally occupied Donetsk, where Russian-backed forces oversee misery, poverty and corruption. The coke-plant manager hasn’t been able to go home to Donetsk since the war began.

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After seven years of continuous violence that has claimed more than 13,000 lives and displaced over 1,000,000 Ukrainians within their own country, a fresh wave of fighting would only pile on devastation where there is already plenty of it.

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Vladimir Putin's threats as Russian troops mass on Ukraine border are a wake-up ...

As Russian armed forces assemble right along their country’s border in one of the heaviest military build-ups Europe has seen for a long time – over 100,000 troops backed up by heavy equipment, and worrying rhetoric coming from Moscow that all sounds a bit like the days leading up to the 2008 war in Georgia – the worry is very real.

Last week I spoke to Ukrainian MPs about the situation. The mood could not have been more depressing. Ahead of Cop26 in Glasgow, they were clear they would far prefer to use their energy on helping solve the climate crisis and accelerate their country’s path away from the pollution of coke plants. Instead, they are grappling with the possibility of a new wave of war.

The UK has, in fairness, sought to support Ukraine constructively, though there are significant gaps and contradictions in UK policy that must be fixed.

Ukrainian troops walk near the front line in war-torn Pisky, near Donetsk (Picture: Aleksey Filippov/AFP via Getty Images)

The government needs to rid its reputation as a safe washhouse for dirty Russian money. Too many oligarchs who have benefited hugely from Putin’s kleptocracy are living a high life on our own doorstep, mixing with Cabinet ministers and keeping sweet many in the House of Lords. This must end.

Margarita Simonyan, the global editor-in-chief of RT, has called on Putin to fully annex Ukraine’s Donbas region. To be clear, that means more war. As head of Putin’s state propaganda arm, she should have been added to the sanctions list long ago.

The UK should also adopt a far more robust stance on Nordstream2, an energy project that will see Russia amass billions of pounds that will undoubtedly be spent on further destabilisation across Europe, although Germany’s election results in September may see to that if, as looks likely, the German Greens form part of a coalition government.

The tragedy of Ukraine is a reminder that peace and security remain fragile on our own continent, non-existent in some parts. Nobody wants to see more fighting. If we want Russia to de-escalate, we need to act swiftly on the non-military options open to us. Further war is an outcome that can and must be avoided.

Julia, 27, holds her baby as she prepares a cup of tea in the small town of Krasnogorivka, Donetsk region, which was taken by pro-Russian separatists, then retaken by Ukrainian government forces (Picture: Aleksey Filippov/AFP via Getty Images)

Stewart McDonald is SNP MP for Glasgow South

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