Arriving at Taras Shevchenko Boulevard in December 2013 I was greeted by a wondrous sight. Kyiv’s remaining statue of Lenin that stood just a few days earlier – and which I had viewed before with a mixture of bafflement and revulsion – had been pulled down and smashed into fragments. What remained was the pedestal; a poster plastered across it read ‘Ne sotvory sobi kumyra’ (‘Do not make yourself an idol’). It struck me as a pity that this undying but constantly forgotten wisdom was only revealing itself on perishable paper while clinging to the red granite simulacrum of the late communist monster whose achievements were rubbed out overnight.
I thought of this uplifting scene when I launched Labour Friends of Ukraine last month out of a growing irritation with the complacent lack of interest over the gravest threat to European security in several decades. With the exception of our Polish and Baltic colleagues, European capitals need very rapidly to understand that Vladimir Putin’s Russia has never been, and will never be, a reliable partner.
Western leaders of the post-cold war period believed they could sugar the pill of desovietisation with prosperity. Most, even now, have not fully realised that Putin was licking off the sweet stuff to leave the pill undigested.
The Minsk II peace will not hold, but, even if it does, Putin is pursuing Russian interests in a way that is antithetical to our values and makes coexistence virtually impossible. The European Union has been valiant against its friend – requiring Ukraine to wait until December 2015 before it can secure its own eastern border – and cowardly in the face of its enemy – conceding that Ukraine should rewrite its constitution to the benefit of Russia. This state of affairs is made more ludicrous by the fact that Russia is no match for the EU financially, nor a match for Nato militarily. It does, however, possess political resolve and a high pain threshold where we have none of either commodity.
To counter Russian aggression we must harden our hearts and pursue peace through strength. We should arm and aid Ukraine, dramatically bolster Nato capabilities in the Baltic states and, if the ceasefire fails, step up economic sanctions including removing Russia from the SWIFT international payment system.
In doing this we will be criticised by those who believe that Russian aggression is caused by our resistance to it. There is no convincing some people, but you can gently point out with whom they are siding: Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orban, Nick Griffin.
Currently, the international community is supporting Ukraine the way the rope supports the hanging man. But by overturning our understanding of Putin himself and restoring ourselves to our duty of a free Europe we will make peace more, not less, likely. We will also, by presenting a free and successful Ukraine as an example to ordinary Russians, go some way towards shaking these proud people out of their sullen political malaise. And then, just perhaps, Russia’s political elite and their chief gargoyle will learn the folly of making yourself an idol.
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