By Andrew Allison, Chief Executive
Three weeks ago I thought that Putin would not invade invade Ukraine; that he would continue to play a game of brinkmanship, try to divide NATO and the West, and take over parts of Ukraine using salami tactics. But after his deranged television addresses last week, it was clear that he is an old man in a hurry. So when I woke up to the news on Thursday morning that Russian forces had invaded Ukraine, I can't say that I was surprised.
Earlier last week, Putin tried to con the world that the invasion into Donetsk and Luhansk wasn't an invasion. Russian troops were there to maintain peace, he said, but he wasn't fooling anyone. I wasn't impressed with the sanctions announced by the Prime Minister on Monday in response to this invasion, but in all fairness to him, his hands were tied as Western powers attempted to move in lockstep with each other. After the full invasion of Ukraine on Thursday morning, the package of sanctions were much more robust, but we know that other countries have been in appeasement mode.
The German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, announced that he has halted the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea gas pipeline project, designed to double the flow of Russian gas direct to Germany. But there is still Nord Stream 1. Germany didn't want Russia cut-off off from the Swift banking system. It has now been agreed that it will, but it took days to happen when it should have happened immediately. Germany spends just 1.36 per cent of GDP on defence, although the news that Germany plans to correct that and spend two per cent - NATO's minimum - is welcome news.
Italy still wants to send luxury goods to Russia. In other words, it stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, but doesn't want to feel any pain!
Hungary under Viktor Orbán is not much better than Russia under Putin. He eventually distanced himself from Putin, but only when he realised that Hungary would be isolated. He faces elections in just over a month's time. I am sure that played a crucial part in his decision. I have spoken to free speech and free market activists from Hungary, and many of them fear being imprisoned if they upset Orbán's regime. Freedom is not alive and well in Hungary.
In 1994, Ukraine unilaterally gave up its nuclear weapons in a non-proliferation treaty. The United Kingdom, United States and Russia reaffirmed their commitment to respect the independence, sovereignty, and the existing borders of Ukraine. There was an obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and a commitment that nuclear weapons would not be used against the country.
Russia has not respected this international treaty.
Nations bordering Russia are desperate to join NATO. Why? It’s not because they want to attack Russia. The opposite is true. They fear a Russian attack, and this is why Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, are all on a heightened state of alert, despite being NATO members. They have every reason to be fearful.
Article 5 of the NATO Treaty states that "an armed attack against one or more of them [NATO members] in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area."
Joe Biden is (and I choose my words carefully) clearly not well enough to be President of the United States. Unless he makes a firm commitment that America will honour Article 5, NATO will not be fit for purpose and the Baltic states and other NATO countries like Poland and Slovakia will be left to their own devices.
During times of adversity, you find out who your friends are. Poland is willing to accept all refugees, even if millions of people cross over its border with Ukraine. Slovakians are busy fundraising so they can offer assistance to Ukrainian refugees. Other neighbours are offering their wholehearted support, too.
Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has been leading from the front. Biden has offered to evacuate him, but Zelenskyy told the US President that "the fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride." He would rather die defending his country than go into exile.
A new axis is forming. The Chinese Government has told its citizens living in Ukraine to place Chinese flags on their cars. This is the 21st Century equivalent of the Passover. It is clear that despite being traditionally hostile to one another, Russia and China have been moving closer since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014. It won't be long before Iran joins this axis, if it hasn't done so already. Pakistan's Prime Minister, Imran Khan, met Putin a few days ago. India abstained in a vote condemning the invasion in the United Nations Security Council on Friday.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine is a major assault on liberty, freedom, and democracy. It’s implications will not stop with Ukraine. It encourages other totalitarian regimes to act in similar ways. This is why Putin's actions are not, rightly, going unpunished.