As President Obama steels himself to do what he has tried to avoid, namely increase US military involvement in the Middle East, we should try to keep in perspective that he and the rest of us face a more significant threat. The extremists of the Islamic State are an affront to our sense of humanity but they are non-state actors who could be dealt with if the politics and governance of the states effected can be improved.
However, the situation in the Ukraine is of a different magnitude. President Putin, having previously dismembered Georgia, is now involved in the same activity in Ukraine. Crimea has already been annexed to Russia and now the full ambitions of the Russian puppets in eastern Ukraine are becoming clear. They plan the creation of “New Russia” a state that would take in the eastern and the whole of the southern part of the country all the way to the Romanian border.
No leader of a major power has behaved as overtly aggressive since Stalin in the post war period, and sadly Putin would be very pleased with the comparison. He has said the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest tragedy of the 20th century and he claims the right to act on behalf of Russian minorities in other states. As there are Russian minorities throughout the old Soviet Union and far wider he is in principle claiming the right to interfere in the affairs of all of the independent sovereign states of Eastern Europe.
Stalin’s policies pushed the world into the Cold War, Putin’s have the potential to be equally as dangerous.
No sensible person wants, in the face of the many other challenges, to be forced to find money for increased spending on arms. No one wants the economic consequences that extensive sanctions against Russia will have on our own economies, but Putin will not be deterred by resolutions passed at NATO or EU summits. So unless we want to gamble that this systematic aggression will fizzle out in the face of inactivity, and history tells us that doesn’t happen, we must find effective ways to deter him.
Both NATO and the EU have made a start but the small and reluctant steps taken so far sadly are not likely to be nearly enough.
All NATO countries should commit to reverse the recent decline in defence spending.
At the European level there is an urgent need to develop a strategy to decrease our heavy dependence on Russian energy.
And here in Britain there are steps that should be taken. The Prime Minister told the House of Commons recently “there is no need to look at the Strategic Defence Review of 2010” despite the fact that large scale cuts are still being imposed on our Armed Forces and we have an Army stuffed full of the kind of vehicles best suited to fight a counter insurgency in Afghanistan, not those best suited to offer reassurance to our European neighbours facing a Russia that is re-equipping its own forces.
These capabilities cannot be altered simply or quickly. All party agreement should be sought for a new review now, this side of the election to look at what can be afforded and the kind of training and equipment needed in the face of the new scenario.