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Ukraine, Russia and the implications for Britain, Europe and NATO

On Monday 2nd March 2015, Mike Gapes MP contributed his views on Ukraine, Russia and the implications for Britain, Europe and NATO in a parliamentary debate (Towards the next Defence and Security Review: part two - NATO).

Extracts of Mike's contributions to the debate are provided below -

Mike Gapes MP:

The hon. Gentleman referred to Estonia. Clearly, under article 5 of the NATO treaty all the other 27 member states would have an obligation to respond to an armed attack on Estonia, but there is a level of ambiguity, given the hybrid warfare that the Russians are engaged in and have been engaged in—cyber-attacks and others. Given that Putin does not necessarily wish to invoke a major military conflict, how does NATO deal with those hybrid attacks?

Rory Stewart MP, Defence Committee (Chair): 

The hybrid attacks are exactly what I was getting on to: the asymmetric and next-generation warfare attacks. As the Labour former Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee has just pointed out, the conventional attack is a low-probability, high-impact event. Much more probable is this asymmetric, hybrid warfare. In other words, we are more likely to find cyber-attacks of the kind we saw in Estonia in 2007, and separatists popping up claiming that they are being abused or that minority rights are being abused in places such as Narva, in eastern Estonia. As we saw, 45% of the Russian population of Latvia supported the Russian occupation of Crimea in a survey at that time. So what are we supposed to do? The answer is: it is really difficult and we absolutely need to raise our game in three areas. As has been indicated, those are cyber, information warfare and special forces operations.

Further in the debate -

Mike Gapes MP:

It is a pleasure to follow Caroline Dinenage. I agree very much with what she has just said. There is broad cross-party agreement in the House about the importance of the NATO alliance, defence spending and Britain’s role in the world. There are of course a few Members—sadly, they are not in the Chamber for me to provoke—who would disagree. Some of them might be happy to appear, through Freeview, as a modern-day Lord Haw Haw on Russia Today or on other channels putting out Putin’s propaganda into everybody’s front room.

The Chairman of the Defence Committee, Rory Stewart, referred to the BBC World Service. I absolutely agree that it is of fundamental importance, but there is a serious long-term threat to its future on the horizon. In the past few days, we have started to discuss possible changes to BBC funding arrangements. On 1 April 2014, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office transferred World Service funding to the BBC. No longer is there a grant from the FCO to fund the World Service. As a result, as we move towards the next settlement for the BBC, people might argue that they would rather spend money on reality television shows or sport than on BBC language services, which are an important part of our soft power and influence in the world. The House needs to revisit that question.

The issue was flagged up in Foreign Affairs Committee reports last year and again recently, and it should be part of the discussion of the defence and security review. There has to be a fundamental foreign policy and soft-power aspect to that review. Mr Simpson—sadly, he is not in his place at the moment—made that point very well. We need joined-up Government and a joined-up approach to this matter. As with the review carried out after the 1997 election, in which Lord Robertson played an important role, I hope that we will have a serious, in-depth review after the coming general election, not one pushed through quickly by the Treasury for some other agenda. We need to look at Britain’s role in the world, our alliances, our involvement, our role on the Security Council of the UN, our partnership with others in Europe and so on.

In the time available, I want to concentrate on a few points. The first is that Putin has not suddenly come to behave very badly. If we look back at reports published by the Foreign Affairs Committee in 2007, we will recall that the British Ambassador in Moscow, Tony Brenton, was harassed and threatened by a group called Nashi, young supporters of Putin, and there was the murder with polonium of Alexander Litvinenko in London. Actually, there was a series of murders from 2002 onwards. A report today says that probably 12 people—some of whom have been prominent internationally, such as Sergei Magnitsky and Anna Politkovskaya—have died in mysterious circumstances, several of them having been shot in the street close to the Kremlin. The Putin regime has operated in that murky world, where the intelligence services have undertaken unattributable actions against the regime’s opponents internally and abroad. We are now seeing how they are behaving in Ukraine.

There is another aspect to the agenda of Putin’s regime: they are not just trying to get useful idiots in the west to pursue their agenda; they are bankrolling people who will undermine the cohesiveness the people they perceive as their opponents. A guy called Alexander Dugin, a far-right ideologue close to Putin, has organised conferences of Nazi, neo-Nazi and far-right groups in Moscow and elsewhere. Putin, via a Czech bank, has been bankrolling the National Front in France, and there is an agenda. People who are against the European Union or collective defence—Putin and those around him perceive such things to be a threat to his project—are supported. Great efforts were made to undermine the association agreement between Armenia and the European Union, and following that, similar efforts got greater opposition in Ukraine. Reference has already been made to attempts to provide financial assistance to countries that might take a different view within the European Union. Greece has been mentioned, but we can also look at loans that were given to Cyprus at a particular time. It is all part of trying to build influence and undermine perceived threats.

It is not just NATO that is seen to be a threat: entirely peaceful commercial relationships that countries might have with the European Union are also seen to be a threat to Putin’s world view, which is to create a Eurasian union and to try somehow to reconstitute elements of what used to exist in the Soviet Union. Why is that? Putin is on record as saying that the collapse and end of the Soviet Union was the “greatest geopolitical disaster” of the 20th century. Think about that. It was not the Nazi invasion of Russia, the Holocaust, or the tens of millions of people killed by Stalin. If he wished to criticise other countries he could have mentioned the dropping of nuclear weapons—there could have been all kinds of arguments. However, he said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest disaster of the 20th century, and that is the mindset we are dealing with.

After the drunken Yeltsin regime, we had illusions and thought that at last there was stability in Russia and that somehow there was someone we could do business with. Unfortunately not. The world we are facing today means that we can have no illusions, and I suspect it will be many years—potentially decades—before we can go back to the benign thoughts that we had when Mikhail Gorbachev was there and the Soviet Union was peacefully ended. Let us be clear: we must not recognise the seizure of territory, and just as we stood by the Baltic states and never recognised their seizure by the Soviet Union, so we must not accept the seizure of the territory of Ukraine.

You can read the full text of the debate online.

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