Ukraine War: West cannot allow Russia to redraw borders of Europe in blood – Stewart McDonald MP

This week, as entire Portuguese villages were consumed by forest fires and Italian bishops prayed to God for rain, Conservative party members were polled on their political priorities.

Smoke rises after a Russian missile strike on a warehouse of an industrial and trading company in Odesa (Picture: Oleksandr Gimanov/AFP via Getty Images)
Smoke rises after a Russian missile strike on a warehouse of an industrial and trading company in Odesa (Picture: Oleksandr Gimanov/AFP via Getty Images)

Climate change did not feature among them. And, as Russian missiles rained down on European soil, they argued there were more important issues to focus on: winning the next election, reducing immigration, and addressing the cost-of-living crisis.

No one can deny the urgency of addressing the cost-of-living crisis: soaring inflation, skyrocketing energy prices and a looming recession threaten an economy already ravaged by 12 years of Conservative mismanagement.

But the survey which revealed those three priorities for Conservative members – win the next election, reduce immigration, sort out the economy – could have been taken at any point in the past 50 years.

However, Tory voters’ selective blindness to issues like climate change and the war in Ukraine is not unique to their political tribe.

Across the democratic world, political institutions have too often proved incapable of delivering the kind of long-term strategic policy making the modern world demands.

For an example of this, MPs need look no further than their place of work: the Palace of Westminster is collapsing around their ears, with passages and rooms often closed due to falling masonry and leaks. Unless major restoration work is undertaken over the next decades, the building will be uninhabitable and unsafe. And the longer politicians take to make a decision about the form and funding of these repairs, the fewer and more expensive options they will have.

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Raisa Kuval, 82, surveys the damage after Russia missiles killed three people in the city of Chuguiv, east of Kharkiv, on July 16 (Picture: Sergey Bobok/AFP via Getty Images)

We can also draw a more everyday analogy. I can go the supermarket today and buy ingredients that will feed me this evening, give me leftovers for tomorrow and allow me to cook several more meals in the days to come. Or, alternatively, I can wait until my rumbling stomach forces me to run for the first shop I see, where I will pay much more for a vastly reduced selection of food.

When it comes to Russia, western policymakers have already been forced into taking the second path. Leonid Volkov, chief of staff for the Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, describes rocketing fuel prices and runaway inflation as the “price of indifference and inaction” towards a state whose hostile intentions have long been evident.

For years, Putin’s Russia has probed and tested the boundaries of the western world’s will to action: the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal on British soil using chemical weapons, the illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea using so-called “little green men” as proxies, the downing of flight MH17 and the killing of all 298 civilians on board, the military support and political cover given to President Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own citizens in Syria… the list goes on.

All the while, Europeans have continued to buy Russian gas and, in London especially, allow illicit Russian money to flow through the streets of our capital cities. Now we must turn those taps off and face the consequences of this indifference and inaction.

Everything we have pretended is fine – from a Russian veto on the UN Security Council to our reliance on authoritarian regimes to heat our homes – must now be reevaluated if our institutions are to retain their legitimacy and Putin is to be defeated. And defeated he must be.

For years, our partners in Poland and the Baltic states have sounded the alarm about appeasing Russia. As Ralf Fuecks, former president of the Green-affiliated Heinrich Böll Foundation in Germany, recently noted: “In Germany, the lesson learned from the lost Second World War is: never again war – and certainly not with Russia. Our neighbours learned a different lesson from this catastrophe: never again appeasement. They have a better understanding of which Russia we are dealing with and what is at stake in Ukraine. And they are the more pragmatic and realistic ones when they insist that Russia must be stopped in Ukraine to prevent even greater harm.”

As Russia’s neighbours have long warned, Putin cannot be appeased. The atrocities in Bucha and Mariupol should have taught the world this as well. The annexation of Crimea and the de facto annexation of the Donbas puppet republics have only whetted Putin’s appetite and the West – and Germany in particular – must now recognise that his ambitions go well beyond Donbas, and even beyond Ukraine.

Our international institutions are not perfect. International law, more often than it should, has been influenced by power rather than justice. But the post-war international order has ushered in the longest period of relative peace and prosperity in the history of the human species. To allow one state to redraw the borders of the European continent in blood is to return to an almost antediluvian state of being, where might makes right and international law counts for nothing.

To return to my analogy above, the West – despite years of intransigence – still has a relatively wide array of policy tools at its disposal to ensure that Ukraine wins the war and to defend the principle of territorial sovereignty upon which the international system is build. But the longer we wait, the more those options will disappear and the more expensive – in both financial and political terms – those few remaining choices will become.

Already, signs of western short-term thinking are rearing their head. Earlier this month, the Bavarian Minister-President Markus Söder stated that “help for Ukraine is important, but of course we must first and foremost take care of our population in Germany”.

It cannot be said often enough: these are not different objectives because the fate of Ukraine is the shared fate of Europe. Yes, politicians must act in the best interests of their constituents. The inescapable truth, as the architecture of the international system crumbles around us, is that that means arming Ukraine.

Stewart McDonald is MP for Glasgow South and SNP spokesperson for defence

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