I was invited on March 18th to speak to a conference at the Renaissance Hotel Brussels organised by the EU-Ukraine Business Council, to offer my reflections from a UKIP perspective on the situation in the Ukraine. I said something like this:
Ladies & Gentlemen: In my party, we take the view that the UK has been too eager in the last ten or fifteen years to engage in distant foreign wars, often with no evident or immediate national interest, and with less than satisfactory outcomes. The public in the UK, and across Europe, is weary of war, and there is little appetite for a new one. UKIP is also opposed to new EU enlargement (there had been previous suggestions that Ukraine should be fast-tracked into the EU). But of course our main concern is to get my country, the UK, out of the EU altogether, and when we leave there may well be room for Ukraine to join. (Laughter).
It seems to me that President Putin has created a fait accompli in Ukraine, and it is not clear what we can do about it in the short term. We took the “Peace Dividend” at the end of the Cold War. We have cut back on military spending. Putin knows all this, and calculates correctly that he is unlikely to face a military response. We lack both the resolve and the military capability.
On the other hand, Russia is weaker than Putin seems to realise. It may be militarily strong against Ukraine. But its economy is weak, and largely dependent on high-priced fossil fuel exports. Any serious attempt at sanctions would be very damaging for the EU, but potentially disastrous in Russia, and Putin’s hold on power will be threatened if the economy and the condition of the people worsen significantly.
So what do we need to do?
First of all, we have to reassure other central and eastern European countries. Ukraine is fortunately not a member of NATO. We have no treaty obligation to come to its aid in a military sense. But Poland and the Baltic states are NATO members. We have a clear obligation to defend them. We must reassure them, and we must make it clear to Putin that if their security is compromised, Russia will face a much more robust response
Secondly, we have to get serious about defence. The armed forces are not just some nice traditional hang-over from earlier times in history. They are not just a place where young men can learn teamwork and comradeship and leadership. They are vital to the Defence of the Realm, and just because we cannot say for certain what the next threat will be, that does not mean that we should not be prepared for it.
And thirdly, we must cut our dependence on fossil fuels imported from politically unstable areas. We can’t afford to risk energy blackmail from Russia. We must urgently develop indigenous British and European energy resources. And we are sitting on huge reserves of shale gas, which despite the black propaganda of the green NGOs, is cheaper and safer and cleaner than coal. We must ask the European Commission why it worries privately about public resistance to fracking, while subsidising the very green NGOs, like “Friends of the Earth”, who spread the lies and black propaganda. Time to start drilling.
While Putin has played a blinder in the short term, he may have missed the medium-term economic implications of his Crimean adventure. If Europe urgently develops alternative sources of gas, as it surely must, the damage to Russia’s economy will be substantial, and the bear will find that its claws have been clipped.