The headline’s the last sentence in an article by Martin Wolf in the FT, arguing that sanctions will not win the war but are the least bad option available to those in the West (the others being to do nothing to intervene with military force).
If we search for a macro answer to Russian aggression, then we have to conclude that all options are “bad”, there is no good option other than the immediate cessation of fighting and the withdrawal of Russian troops. This will happen but not without huge suffering for the Ukrainian people.
This blog looks at macro policy (economic and political) and tries to find how individuals like me and you – contribute – at a micro level. As always, it is not good intentions but commitment and sacrifice that count, we need to do more than look concerned
Wolf argues that the West should strengthen sanctions, though they may ruin Russia’s economy without changing its policy or regime. He sees Putin’s rule shifting from a reliance on spin to terror.
Meanwhile the Russian army bumbles on , smashing high explosives into blocks of flats it built, killing people it promised to protect and slowly grinding itself to a standstill. It is not an army inspired by passion, it is already showing signs of disillusionment.
The impact of a co-ordinated response from Europe, the US and the remaining western alliance leaves Russia with only two major power bases with which to trade, China and India, neither of which are unequivocal allies. Parallels have been drawn between Russian aggression today with German aggression 80 years ago, but these reckon without nuclear weapons , which are actually stopping the military escalation (for the moment).
The 1% threat that Putin might press the button is sufficient to prevent the Americans delivering to Ukraine the Mig 29s, parked on their runways by the Polish. I was struck by the words of an American general
“the Ukrainian pilots could literally walk across the border into Poland and fly them back into Ukraine”, which seems like a much easier, much smarter move. The long-term ultimate goal of getting additional MIG-29s into Ukrainian hands is a noble one, it’s a good one, but we’ve got to have people sitting down who know what they’re talking about and coming up with a plan that is executable”
The mix-up, reveals a split in the western response to the war in Ukraine. Crucially it also leaves Ukraine – whose President, Volodymyr Zelensky, has repeatedly pleaded for fighter jets – vulnerable as it attempts to fend off Russian advances.
The Polish government said yesterday that 28 Soviet-made MiG-29 planes were ‘at the disposal’ of the US and ‘ready to deploy – immediately and free of charge’.
The rejection of the plan makes one thing clear: western countries remain worried about doing anything to further inflame or widen the war. Russia’s defence ministry has warned that if warplanes based in another country attack Russian targets it ‘could be considered as those countries’ engagement in the military conflict’.
Fears about what the Russians might do in response explains Poland’s initial decision to use the US as an intermediary. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said while his country was prepared ‘to hand over our entire fleet of fighter jets… we are not ready to make any moves on our own’. It also explains why the US kiboshed it. Although Biden’s officials have blamed the rejection on the fact this is a ‘surprise’ move on Poland’s part, the reality is that the US views supplying Ukraine with jets as a step too far.
Zelensky told MPs in an address to the House of Commons last night that Ukraine would fight Russia ‘in the air’. But without western support, Ukraine’s air force remains vastly outgunned. Russia’s air force has 1,170 combat-ready aircraft, while Ukraine has just 172, according to an International Institute for Strategic Studies report. Given that no country – or Nato – is willing to unilaterally supply Ukraine with MiGs (the only aircraft its pilots can fly) it seems likely that the pleas for more jets will fall on deaf ears.
Ukraine continues to be well supplied militarily by the West. Nearly 20,000 anti-tank missiles and several thousand Stinger anti-aircraft missiles have been delivered so far. But handing over fighter jets which could be deployed on bombing raids against Russian troops – or shoot Russian jets out of the sky – is a red line Nato is not willing to cross.
We need to be smart as well as bold, and sometimes the smart thing to do is nothing.
Instead of force, the West must hope that Russia cannot enforce a credible occupation of Ukraine and that the Ukrainian morale holds out till disillusionment turns to desertion (something I see as likely from an army that seems bewildered).
The good choices that Britain can make today are those laid out in Boris Johnson’s six point plan.
- World leaders should mobilise an “international humanitarian coalition” for Ukraine
- They should also support Ukraine “in its efforts to provide for its own self-defence”
- Economic pressure on Russia should be ratcheted up
- The international community must resist Russia’s “creeping normalisation” of its actions in Ukraine
- Diplomatic resolutions to the war must be pursued, but only with the full participation of Ukraine’s legitimate government
- There should be a “rapid campaign to strengthen security and resilience” among Nato countries
The six point plan does not include military intervention but it does ask for mobilisation. To date we can’t so much as mobilise a visa service.
If Britain is seen to fail to provide humanitarian help then it has little moral authority for any of its proposals. As my protest blog yesterday tried to point out, we are very obviously saying one thing and doing another. And seeing pictures of Ukrainian refugees in Calais reminded me of the refugees we do not see.
As a person of Christian faith and as I discovered yesterday “an ally to women”, I want my voice to be added to the millions like me that wants a tiny fraction of the pain of others to be felt by me in the relief of personal suffering of refugees.
This article from the Big Issue explains the chaos of our Visa application system very clearly.
As does this thread.
Remember my story of the Ukrainian women in Aberdeen trying to get their family a UK family scheme visa to flee Ukraine? They found out after a whole day filling out one application that the visitor visas (they were granted before war broke out but which were lost by UK) mean
— Lindsay the Bruce (@LLBruce) March 8, 2022
This is the video of these ladies’ appeal. I find it shameful that it had to be made.
This is the video of their appeal for help 👆
— Lindsay the Bruce (@LLBruce) March 9, 2022
From the macro to the micro
It is within the West’s grasp to make a victory for the Ukrainian people possible. But the generosity and purpose we show over the next few weeks will be the mark of our effort, not our statements of intent.