Russia's aggression should worry all who believe in democracy - Stewart McDonald

Saturday 24 November was, for many of us, just like any other damp weekend. For Ukrainians it was a different, more sombre day altogether.

Russian aircraft fly over the Crimean Bridge as a Russian tanker blocks access to Ukraine ports via the Kerch Strait. Picture: Getty

It marked 85 years since the Holodomor – the Stalin engineered famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in the 1930s. Despite this being one of history’s most horrifying episodes, it is curious that most Westerners have never heard of it.

As the Ukrainian nation and diaspora remembered the forced starvation of their ancestors, an altogether different assault on Ukraine was under way.

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The next day would see Russian attacks on Ukrainian naval vessels; shots fired by Russian forces and now over 20 Ukrainian sailors held captive by the Russian Federation. As I write this article, a blockade of Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov is also under way.

This latest development should worry all of us who believe in democracy and the sovereignty of nations. Any attempt to redraw the borders of a European nation by force must not become normalised, and that must also apply to the sea.

The war being prosecuted against Ukraine is far from traditional. The hybrid war – a strategy of kinetic and political tactics that the aggressor hopes can avoid attribution – has now taken a different turn altogether. Once Russia sought to deny any association with the “little green men” in Crimea, now their forces have openly engaged under the national flag.

As this attack was beamed across the world on Sunday evening, I was receiving text messages from my good friend Oleksiy Ryabchyn – a Ukrainian MP who, for a time, studied here in the UK. Like many in Ukraine, he was desperate for the international community to take notice of what was happening and fearful about what might come next for his country, not least because there are elections in just a few months’ time.

When Ukraine gave up its Soviet-inherited nuclear weapons, they signed up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in return for security assurances – the Budapest Memorandum, to which the UK is a signatory. It is therefore incumbent on the UK to honour that treaty in a meaningful fashion, and as a party that believes in the non-proliferation treaty, we in the SNP should not stand back from making that point.

The first thing the UK government should do is instigate a new wave of sanctions against Russian government officials and their associates. European sanctions remain woefully behind the depth and breadth of American sanctions and that should be remedied, as the SNP has called on for quite some time.

As well as tying those sanctions to a call for de-escalation on the part of the Russian Federation, we must also make clear that holding captured Ukrainian sailors in violation of international law is wholly unacceptable. These sailors – who have been paraded on Russian state television in violation of the Geneva Convention – must be returned to their families right away.

Thinking more long-term, the UK Government must now lead an international effort to halt the construction of the Nordstream 2 pipeline. Handing such economic and political leverage to the current Kremlin incumbent is an enormous mistake. MPs from all sides of the Commons have pressed the Government on this and their lacklustre response is surely proving to be a diplomatic and security failure. A change in tack is needed.

I believe that history will be unkind to those who choose not to stand with Ukraine at this point. We must never forget that this is a war in our continent that has claimed more than 10,000 lives, and displaced more than one million Ukrainians within their own country.

This isn’t about the internal politics of Ukraine or the even the political personalities involved. It’s about the right of a European nation to be able to live at peace without military, political or economic harassment from its much larger neighbour. After all, that’s what Europe is about.

• Glasgow South MP Stewart McDonald is the SNP’s spokesperson for defence