The Reporting Back from Westminster column with Sir Greg Knight: The Russian invasion of Ukraine will have long-term implications for us all
Russia’s appalling assault on Ukraine is an unprovoked, premeditated attack against a sovereign, democratic state and Britain is right to support Ukraine through these dark hours. We should also have no doubt that the Russian invasion will have long-term implications for us all.
The Government’s main and immediate focus is on the unfolding tragedy. The United Kingdom has a good relationship with Ukraine and our armed forces have enjoyed a close partnership. The two nations have regularly collaborated in training opportunities across sea, land and air. British troops have helped to train tens of thousands of Ukrainian armed forces.
We are now providing Ukraine with state-of-the-art military equipment, including anti-aircraft missile systems.
We have participated in – indeed helped to lead – the extraordinarily successful implementation of comprehensive sanctions against Russia. The size and scale of coordinated measures from the US, EU, Japan, Australia, Singapore and other nations is unprecedented. Many multinational corporations including McDonalds, Starbucks, CocaCola, IKEA, Nike, Apple have all shut down retail outlets and manufacturing activity inside Russia to show their solidarity with Ukraine.
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We are working with allies to support Ukraine with food and medical supplies and stepping up our intake of Ukrainian refugees.
But what of the long-term impact of this tragedy? The cost will be significant; there is simply no getting away from that. With disruption to the supply of oil and gas from Russia, the UK is urgently looking afresh at our energy policies. As the relative costs and benefits of different options shift, so too should our energy decision-making.
We need to look again at options for extra nuclear energy production. And other opportunities need to be re-assessed but the government must also find ways of involving the British public in this decision-making.
The cost-of-living jolt will not just be through increased energy prices. These will ripple through into those of manufactured goods and foodstuffs. Ukraine is a significant food producer and the loss of its production will be felt.
We also need to review our own food production strategies and consider whether land use subsidies and some current regulations make sense, as our priorities change.
The UK and the rest of Europe are now looking anew at defence spending and strategies. Mr Putin has unintentionally succeeded in jolting and uniting the West out of its complacency. Germany has already committed to increased defence spending.
NATO is uniting in the face of aggression on European soil and in the face of Russian belligerence, it has become stronger, not weaker. The UK will be re-examining defence spending and strategy too.
This needless war, which is devastating Ukraine, has focused minds and attitudes around the globe. It has reminded us of the dangers of inactivity in the face of evil.
We in Great Britain take many of our freedoms for granted – the right to say what we think amongst them. In Russia Mr Putin has announced harsh punishments, including over a decade in jail, for anyone criticising his war.
The Ukrainian people by their heroic defiance are showing Mr Putin that you can damage and destroy buildings but you cannot change ideas and minds by bombing, nor will a desire for freedom forever be quashed by army tanks.
As a nation we are right to be punishing Vladimir Putin’s regime with the most severe package of sanctions Russia has ever seen.
And we are right too in supporting Ukraine as their largest bilateral humanitarian donor, providing almost £400 million in aid, alongside defensive support and our offers of sanctuary to innocent Ukrainians.
Diplomatically, politically, economically and eventually, militarily, this hideous and barbaric venture of Vladimir Putin must end in failure.