WHAT, precisely, is Britain’s commitment to Ukraine?
This is the question we should be asking with some urgency. Amid rising tensions in the disputed territories along the Russo-Ukrainian border, the British government has sent RAF jets and support troops to the Black Sea as part of the conveniently-timed Operation Biloxi.
Both sides accuse the other of building up troops near Donbass, with Dmitry Kozak, Ukrainian-born Kremlin spokesman, saying that any conflict would be ‘the beginning of the end of Ukraine’, and that it would be ‘not a shot in the leg, but in the face’. Russia states it would intervene only to protect Russian-speakers in the contested areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, with Putin a few years ago invoking the possibility of a Srebrenica-like massacre of ethnic Russians. Ukraine states that Russia seeks to provoke it into hostile retaliatory actions.
For his part, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who was a comedian before entering politics, gave a good one-liner when he said that the only way to resolve the tension between Russia and Ukraine was for the latter to become a full-blown Nato member. I’m sure Putin enjoyed the joke, anyway. If anything was sure to stoke the conflagration, that would certainly be it. That must never be allowed to happen.
It’s not only Russia and Ukraine ramping up the rhetoric. Joe Biden, sagacious as ever, publicly referred to Putin as a ‘killer’ a few months ago. The potential positive outcome of coming out with such a remark is unclear to me, other than trying to differentiate himself from his predecessor Trump who suffered from four relentless years of baseless accusations of ‘Russian collusion’.
Indeed, so keen is Biden to return to a state of Russo-American tension that he ordered American vessels to the Black Sea. It wasn’t so many decades ago that the Russkis tried moving military assets into the Gulf of Mexico, to which, if I know my history, President Kennedy didn’t respond kindly.
I for one am already feeling nostalgic for the days of Trump and ‘Russian collusion’. It certainly seems that world has been hotting up a few degrees since a man who can scarcely remember where he is entered the White House. Alongside developments near the Black Sea, Chinese assertiveness in Taiwan grows by the week.
So what if Donbass boils over into a full-scale ‘hot’ war? My supposition is that it won’t, but if it were to, we would have to ask some searching questions. De Pfeffel Johnson has already stated that Ukraine has Britain’s ‘unwavering support’.
But why? Perhaps he imagines himself playing the next scene of the Great Game, during which the British and Russian Empires contended vast, remote swathes of Central Asia in the nineteenth century.
Back in the 21st century, however, Ukraine is not in Nato, nor is it in the European Union. Its membership of the first would compel our support if it were attacked. Thankfully, wisdom has prevailed and the country has still not been admitted into the organisation. Moreover, even if it were in the European Union, we no longer are. The EU, forever proliferating eastwards and luring ex-Soviet states into its orbit, should bear responsibility for its policy of creeping expansion.
By getting involved we serve only the interests of others: either as lapdog to American pretensions to world power and Cold War sabre-rattling, or as willing accomplice to the clearly provocative policies long adopted the by the EU.
Moreover, the burden of any Nato intervention into Ukraine would fall greatly on the United Kingdom and a few others who have a semblance of any armed forces left. States such as Germany which have allowed their militaries to rust under the subventions of American military support would have little to offer in the fight.
Here, for example, is an excerpt from a 2018 Bundestag report on the battle readiness of the Bundeswehr (Germany’s armed forces):
‘Material is lacking in all areas. The virtually non-existent operational readiness of [the battle tank] Leopard 2, a large part of the submarine force defective, less than half of Eurofighters and Tornados flight-capable and ammunition stocks reduced to a minimum.’
Hardly likely to strike fear into the heart of any adversary. Nevertheless, with the British Army’s 227 Challenger 2 tanks, which will be reduced to 148 upgraded Challenger 3 models by 2030, standing opposite Russia’s 2,800-plus active main battle tanks (T-90s, T-80s, T-72s), one is hardly filled with much confidence here either.
And even if we were to go ‘all in’ – what on earth would be the point?
I would wager that fewer than one in 100 Britons could point to Donbass on a map. What would there possibly be to gain in stoking conflict in Eastern Europe, a fight in which we surely have no dog?
If any lesson can be drawn from the last few decades of foreign intervention, it is surely that they are a waste of lives and money. In Iraq, 179 British servicemen and servicewomen died. In Afghanistan, 454. In both states, countless civilians were caught and killed in the crossfire, with entire societies destabilised. All thanks to venal, posturing politicians labouring under delusions of geopolitical grandeur: crimes for which they are yet to be held accountable.
‘Global Britain’ has been the much-touted rebranding of the UK post-Brexit. But let us not confuse ‘global’ with meddling in the affairs of others, potentially shedding the blood of British troops and pouring taxpayers’ money down the drain at the same time. We must tread an independent, intelligent path informed by our own best interests. Otherwise, what was the point of reclaiming our independence in the first place?
The problem of Ukraine’s eastern regions is a tragedy created by the expansionist European Union project and Nato’s desire to surround Russia with a hostile military alliance. We have left the first half of that equation, and we mustn’t let the second half of it lead us down an entirely destructive path.