IN the non-nuclear world of the late 1930s, the West was not militarily ready to oppose German aggression against Czechoslovakia and Poland. The betrayal of these two countries has haunted us ever since, which may be why we have reacted so vehemently to Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
By 1942, and then only with the strength of the United States and the Soviet Union, we were able at last to tackle the formidable German war machine on more equal terms. With the dropping of the US atom bomb on Japan the world war was won. It had taken six years.
Whatever resemblance Ukraine’s plight bears to that of the Czechs and the Poles, we live today in a nuclear world in which both sides are capable of mutual destruction more or less overnight.
Former US congressman Pete Hoekstra, writing at the Gatestone Institute, is adamant that ‘there is no diplomatic way out of this war’. He can mean by this only that Russia must be defeated and Putin removed from power. The latter is already US policy.
The means, he says, would be to arm Ukraine with hi-tech offensive weapons to carry the fight to Russia on land and against the Russian Black Sea naval fleet which is steadily working destruction along Ukraine’s southern coast.
‘Ukraine must have – now – not only the weapons it needs to combat Russian carnage, weapons to “close the skies” such as S-300s and S-400s and MiGs that the Ukrainians could pull over the border,’ according to Hoekstra.
It may be that his phrasing was clumsy. But he appears to want Ukraine to turn round and attack territorial Russia, which Putin would not tolerate for a single second. Expecting a small nation such as Ukraine to attack a nuclear superpower, even if it were equipped with the West’s most powerful weaponry, would be to invite suicide – and not only for Ukraine.
It would be tantamount to the escalation, or wider war, that President Biden and Nato have struggled to keep the West out of, leaving the Ukrainians to take the full brunt of the Russian assault at devastating and probably irreparable loss to themselves.
Ukrainian troops pursuing the Russian army retreating from the area around Kiev as they are doing now is one thing. They have the logistical short lines and the manpower to do so. How does Hoekstra expect Ukraine’s forces, who are losing ground on two of the three fronts, to sustain an attack on Russian soil?
If what remains of Ukraine is to be saved, there must realistically be a diplomatic solution, whatever Hoekstra and the other hawks say. The initiative needs to come from Biden, who must accept that Nato is playing a losing hand which risks degenerating into an East-West nuclear confrontation.
Hoekstra accuses Biden of not doing enough when in fact he has already done too much by refusing even to discuss Russia’s long-standing security demands and encouraging the Ukrainians to fight alone.
No one doubts Ukraine’s absolute victimhood in this war. Putin has so far given the West a pass for arming its ally with defensive weapons. If Nato were to give Kiev offensive weapons to prolong what must be a losing fight and even to attack Russia itself, there is no guarantee that Putin would not consider Nato as an effective belligerent. Then what?
The plain fact is that there are no circumstances under which Ukraine can defeat Russia or even eject it from lost territory if the Russian army stands its ground; the West cannot intervene more than it has without risking a nuclear conflict in which everybody is a loser.
It would be foolish to ignore Putin’s warning to the West on the eve of Russia’s invasion that ‘no matter who tries to stand in our way or all the more so create threats for our country and our people, they must know that Russia will respond immediately, and the consequences will be such as you have never seen in your entire history. No matter how the events unfold, we are ready.’
Maybe that one passed by Hoekstra and the hawks.
Russia has never wavered from its belief that Nato’s invitation to Ukraine to join represented nothing less than an existential threat. Putin told his Russian television audience that Nato ballistic missiles if deployed in Ukraine could hit Moscow in seven minutes and hypersonic weapons in four minutes. In that timeframe, Russian early warning systems would not detect them.
Russia’s armed forces are still on nuclear alert status which Putin ordered in February and Nato leaders know that Russia, if pushed, has a pre-emptive strike policy based on the theory that the side which launches a nuclear attack first has the best chance of survival.
Uwe Parpart and David Goldman wrote in the Asia Times: ‘Russia has been preparing for a US nuclear strike for decades. Its anti-ballistic missile defences are far more advanced and denser than those of the United States.’
Putin believes more Russian missiles will hit the United States than vice versa and that fired first, they would put him at a huge advantage over the West. Urging on plucky little Ukraine is great for Western self-esteem but there are potentially apocalyptic risks involved which our gung-ho politicians should be telling us about.