Ukraine Crisis: How Labour is pushing for a better UK response

In my last article, I stated that Putin was likely seeking to achieve one of two things: Ukraine to be denied entry to NATO, and to gain influence over the sovereignty of Ukraine.

As we have seen, committed diplomatic efforts, unfortunately, did not lead to an agreement that would satisfy Putin. Although, given the accuracy of British Intelligence prior to the invasion, it seems likely that Putin was not looking for a realistic diplomatic agreement. Now we see the Dictator, invading another of its neighbours and committing war crimes in Europe.

Despite a languid start from the Germans who required persuasion to come on board, the NATO response has been wide-ranging and united.

The German shift in policy will impact European security dynamics for years to come. Germany is reversing its policy to send weapons into a war zone and it has committed €100 billion to modernise its military and finally increase defence spending to meet the NATO goal of 2% of GDP. This historic response is positive for European security, and it will be alarming to Putin, who was hoping for a disunited NATO, not a united, stronger alliance.

The British response has been good in some areas:

  • Pushing other nations to ban the Russians from the SWIFT bank transfer system has been a significant move that has piled pressure on the Russian economy.
  • Sending handheld anti-tank and anti-air weaponry to Ukraine is the right thing to do and is having a significant impact on the ground.
  • Banning imports of Russian oil, even with a time lag, at a time of rising energy prices is bold and will add to Russia’s economic pain.
  • Doubling our troop commitment in Estonia will reassures the Baltic States and other NATO members bordering Russia that an attack on them is an attack on us all.

Keir Starmer has made it clear that the Labour Party stands united on the Government’s response but calls for more to be done – whilst he has also rejected any pro-Putin rhetoric from the fringe of the Labour Party. At the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting, he said there would be “no room” in Labour for anyone seeking to blame the western alliance [NATO] for the invasion of Ukraine.

Despite unity on actions so far,  the Conservative Government’s response is both lacking in parts and its rhetoric at times contradictory:

MI5 will likely have provided the Government with a long list of oligarchs that the UK should sanction for maximum economic impact on Russia. But unfortunately, at the time of writing, the Government has sanctioned just 11. This sluggish response raises questions about how seriously Boris Johnson is taking this critical sanction method; is he worried about losing donors, or is it the economic impact of losing dirty Russian money in the City.

The long-awaited Economic Crime Bill promised in 2016 and then drafted in 2018 was only bought forward to this Monday (7th March) after significant Labour pressure. Labour also tabled a sensible amendment to reduce the grace period in which foreign entities must apply to the register of their assets from 18 months to 28 days. This critical change would reduce the ability of Russian Oligarchs to offload and move money and assets; however, in an incredible move, the Conservatives voted down the change, deciding to opt for a 6 month period instead. The already sluggish response to Oligarchs and now this, shows that the Conservative priority lies with protecting Russian money – as much as they can get away.

The United Nations estimates that more than 2 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the conflict. As a result, the European Union has agreed to grant temporary residency to Ukrainians fleeing the invasion and give them access to employment, social welfare, and housing for up to three years. The Conservatives have only opened visa schemes for those who have family in the UK.

The process for these desperate individuals to apply for a visa is complicated and unclear,  which is likely why at the time of writing, only 500 had been issued, compared with Germany’s 30,000. Such reluctance to help those in need, combined with Home Office incompetence is embarrassing for the Government and is certainly not a good look on the international stage. But, of course, as the Conservatives continue to push through its Nationality and Borders Bill, which makes travelling here a criminal offence and creates a two-tier citizenship system, it’s no surprise and seems to be just an extension of the Tories’ hostile environment policy.

The Government has rightly praised the Russian people for their brave actions in Moscow when standing up to the Government with protests that the Russian police are struggling to suppress. However, it smacks of hypocrisy, given that these protests would likely be illegal here, after the Government pushes through its anti-democratic Crime and Punishment Bill that legislates being too noisy or causing too much “annoyance” would be grounds to shut them down.

The Conservatives continue to say one thing and do the other. Even when there is war in Europe, and our National Security is at stake, we can’t trust the Prime Minister and this Government to follow up words with actions. The need for a Labour Government is evident more now than ever.

As the conflict develops, it is likely that, due to incredible Ukrainian resistance led by the brave and heroic Volodymyr Zelensky, Putin’s tactics will turn toward attrition warfare in some major cities. It sounds from recent reports of indiscriminate mass shelling that this may already have begun.

We must continue to provide weaponry and aid to the Ukrainian military to enable its defensive. As the conflict develops, it will become increasingly difficult to move support and weapons to those who need them. British Intelligence Officers will be working with our allies to establish creative supply routes into the country, vital to any future resistance.

This tragedy also highlights that the EU and Western Nations must work together to eliminate western reliance on Russian energy. The UK has made the right call on cutting out Russian oil, but we must put Green alternatives at the forefront of the effort – a Green New Deal if you will, that will clean up energy and create thousands of new jobs.

NATO should develop and make clear its red lines. For example, will an attack on Moldova, Georgia, Finland or Sweden trigger a response? If so, it needs to made clear to Vladimir Putin.

It must bolster its borders with Russia; enough to repel any invasion, the time for deterrent forces has passed – we now need to take a defensive posture and ensure Putin knows where he must not tread.

We must proceed with caution to ensure that this conflict does not escalate, considering diplomatic exit routes for Putin. And we must prepare for escalation that we have no control over – from the unpredictable, dangerous dictator.

For more on the Ukraine crisis see Mike’s previous piece. Ukraine Crisis: The Role Of NATO, Britain, And Labour and Paul Richard’s piece The Anti NATO Left: A Shameful Legacy