By Max Abdulgani – Deputy Editor of YPR
‘Minimising the conflict will require immense strategic capability, an inevitable sense of cautiousness and the strongest asset of all; tough leadership in times of high turbulence.’
Vladimir Putin has invaded Ukraine. A sovereign nation with a democratically elected President has fallen to the hands of a pseudo-fascist state that was once known as the USSR. In most ways, it still retains its brutal aggression and anti-western narrative. Putin once stated: ‘Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart.’ And to think that upon entering power in 1999 Putin was welcomed with open arms as a leader the West could potentially work with. He was regarded as being open to meaningful cooperation despite his obvious hostility to western foreign policy interests. With recent events occurring, the world faces one of its largest foreign policy crises since the second world war. In the aftermath of the disastrous US withdrawal from Afghanistan, we find ourselves with an even bigger challenge- preventing the worst outcomes and eventualities from this bloodshed. Namely, a nuclear war. The consequences of which would plunge the entire world into a state of destruction.
Our mission now has to be these three objectives: Firstly, to minimise the conflict. That means not giving in to the temptation by some to impose a no-fly zone across Ukraine, something which would likely cause maximum loss of life. Secondly, to offer safe and legal passages for people from Ukraine fleeing refuge and to ensure this is handled in a way that is fair and transparent. Thirdly, to impose the toughest possible targeted sanctions against the Russian regime. These economic measures need to be implemented in a way that exclusively affects the oligarchy and the regime, not the people of Russia.
Of course, these three objectives could not be more difficult to achieve at a time like this. But with international cooperation, there is a chance we can defy expectations and prevent this war from escalating further. The reality is we have a situation whereby we have the worst possible government at the worst possible time. Johnson is all talk and no trousers. It’s true to say the government is repeatedly making the wrong big calls on issues such as the ongoing refugee crisis, the outcomes of these decisions affecting the lives of thousands of Ukrainians in desperate need of help. The government have an opportunity now to implement a long-term bold plan to put in place for people fleeing from the likes of war and terror in their home nation. Ukraine can be just one significant part of that. If the government were to equally distribute 3900 refugees across the country and into parliamentary constituencies, only 6 people would fill each of the 650 seats across the country. If implemented properly, this plan would not only be a viable solution to a long-term problem but would potentially put to bed reservations about the impact of immigration upon Britain’s infrastructure. Ambitious though this is, it is more than possible for the government to implement such a scheme if it has the political willpower to do so.
The refugee crisis also extends to visa applications. The government’s inaction on this has been nothing short of a disgrace. For applications to be considered let alone accepted, Ukrainian nationals have been required to travel to specified centres and put forward their case. Only now in the last few days has this changed, with online applications now being considered. In other European countries, however, visas for Ukrainian nationals aren’t even required. This alone tells us that this government is both oblivious to global coordination and to taking the lead when it comes to accepting people fleeing from Ukraine. To show compassion is to show tolerance. So far, Britain has failed miserably in this task.
With regard to minimising the conflict as a whole and achieving de-escalation, governments across the world face a far bigger challenge. In usual circumstances, the West would not hesitate to intervene at all costs when there is both a war involving a liberal democracy under siege and a humanitarian crisis. But these aren’t usual circumstances. We face the largest threat of nuclear war in world history, and it is right that Western leaders hold serious reservations about how to intervene. After all, any knee-jerk response involving military action would undoubtedly escalate the conflict. Minimising the conflict as a whole will require immense strategic capability, an inevitable sense of cautiousness and the strongest asset of all- tough leadership in times of high turbulence. The task ahead is daunting, but one which must be handled with care. And make no mistake; indecision is the biggest weakness in the arena of political leadership.
On economic sanctions, we must adapt to something different. The imposition of sanctions on countries that violate international law has historically been the natural follow-on step from using negotiation as a means of diplomatic leverage. Too often, however, they have failed to achieve their aims. Sanctions are in most circumstances economic measures that signal foreign policy change as opposed to causing it. Sanctions, in order to work, must have the following conditions. Firstly, they have to be multilaterally imposed. This means they must have the full support of the majority of countries in the global chain link. Secondly, they must target the regime and not the people on the ground. This involves specific measures to combat asset-rich oligarchs and political elites. Thirdly, the existence of prior trading must exist in order for the sanctions to bite within the first few years of their implementation. With Russia, Europe has to consider the possibility of cutting off all gas links. The UK only relies upon Russia for 7% of its gas imports, but Europe as a whole relies upon more than half of its gas imports from Russia. For these sanctions to bite, the west has to stand together and make the tough decisions necessary. Without this, Russia will face too few economic consequences.
When we refer to war and conflict, the priority for any country, and understandably so, is supporting the government in the national interest when it comes to making the key decisions. But the opposition also has a crucial role to play. Now more than ever, it is obvious that Labour should have one unifying voice on the war. Patriotism for one’s own country and solidarity with the institutions that protect it in times of international conflict is more than just a given, it is a precondition to restoring basic trust in the Labour party. It begs belief that at this time of international peril and with the biggest humanitarian crisis on our hands since the second world war, certain figures within the Labour movement are determined to take a neutral stance on war. From statements from the former Shadow Home Secretary calling for any claims that Russia is the aggressor to be ‘treated sceptically’ to the former leader of the party calling for Britain to ‘engage’ with Russia and consider enacting nuclear disarmament as a means of de-escalation in response to the war Putin himself declared. It is frankly a disgrace that these people were ever allowed to be in top leadership positions within the party and had such influence over others. The idea also that a minority of figures on both the far left and far right of the political spectrum chooses to hold a creeping romanticism for the likes of a pseudo-fascist regime is hugely frightening. Luckily, it is just a minority. The majority of people have united in support for Ukraine and in condemnation of Russia’s actions. There is absolutely no room for hesitation on this matter. The West must condemn Putin’s war without equivocation of any kind.
The consequences of this war will extend way beyond Ukraine. Economically, it will involve a huge amount of sacrifice. Politically, a strong degree of willpower. One thing, however, is certain about this conflict. Never should the West underestimate the extreme lengths Putin will go to in order to achieve what he wants. To do so would be catastrophic. For now, the west must work together to secure the least bad outcome of this brutal war. The challenge is immense. The stakes are higher than ever. But millions of lives depend on it.