The future of Ukraine and its people remains on the razor’s edge.
Putin’s gangster regime in Moscow may be playing dangerous political games, as its apologists would have us believe, or it may be on the verge of plunging part of Europe into an unnecessary and inexcusable war.
About 130,000 soldiers are now massed on the Ukrainian border, supported by heavy artillery and armored vehicles, including tanks.
Whatever happens, this is not a routine military exercise.
Russian claims that troops have been reduced are blatantly false, a propaganda tool that too many Western media outlets have been willing to buy into.
The truth is that 7,000 more Russian troops have been sent to the Ukrainian border.
Putin argues, ridiculously, that his actions are a response to the NATO threat when they are nothing more than another act of outright aggression.
Experience has taught us that unpopular totalitarian regimes at home often create an external crisis to rally the population behind them.
Having had to suppress numerous protests in recent years and arrest opposition leader Alexei Navalny, this may well be part of Putin’s cynical motivation.
It also has a record of unwarranted aggression, invading and annexing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and detaining troops in sovereign Georgian territory since its 2008 invasion.
Putin is a staunch supporter of Russia’s old Soviet and KGB “near abroad” policy, insisting they should have veto power over the security and foreign policy of their immediate neighbors.
We are witnessing a return to the Cold War era.
We in the West must uphold the concept of self-determination of nations and respect for international law.
This is what differentiates us morally and politically from them.
The response from the British government has been admirable.
We have sent 2,000 light anti-tank weapons and troops to help train Ukrainian forces and improve their ability to defend themselves.
Fortunately, Boris Johnson was also not among the Western leaders who rushed to be seen talking to Putin in Moscow, giving the Russian leader the boost he desperately needs.
Unfortunately, many of our European NATO allies have been slow to respond. Germany, for example, did not send defensive weapons to Ukraine despite the pleas of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The idea of a European army is “dangerous”
Worse still, many in the EU have resurrected the old federalist idea of a single European army.
Believing that European countries are too dependent on US defense policy, figures such as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen have argued that Europe must “step up” and provide a common military force.
Such an idea is dangerous. Many European members of NATO are already failing to meet their 2% GDP commitments to the security alliance.
The idea that they would finance a European army while maintaining their commitments to NATO is laughable.
Not only would this lead to duplication and a waste of resources, but it would play directly into Putin’s hands as he has seen a rift between some NATO countries and the United States, whose military is more larger than the next 11 largest defense budgets in the world combined, including Russia. and China.
As former Secretary of State Madeline Albright told the European Parliament in 2010, “NATO is the relationship that keeps the United States in Europe.”
Where some European allies hesitated to act to respond, the United States sent 2,000 additional troops to Germany and Poland and moved 1,000 troops already stationed in Germany to Romania.
This is a chance for the UK to play a leadership role, arguing that Europe is not synonymous with the EU.
From Norway to Turkey – both non-EU members, like the UK – Europe’s security must be coordinated at a higher level in Brussels.
Not only is Britain the second largest military power in NATO, but we have always shown our will to act when others have stepped back.
Alongside President Reagan, Mrs. Thatcher championed the Central European freedom movements that ultimately led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Empire.
We must build on our good relations with the Visegrad 4 countries which are key allies in the broader containment of Russian influence.
They are our friends and we should take advantage of our connections there.
Around the world, our enemies have their eyes on Ukraine.
The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the political ramifications it has created mean that now, more than ever, we must show unity, strength and clarity in our actions.
No one wants to see a conflict in Ukraine with the high human and financial costs it would entail, but we have a duty to its people to defend their independence and sovereign rights.
Surrendering to a tyrant has its consequences as history has shown us.
Wishful thinking is not a good basis for security.
Force and deterrence are.
* The Right Honorable Dr Liam Fox, MP, is the former Secretary of Defense and International Trade. He was the UK’s nominee for the post of Director General of the World Trade Organization in 2020.