Note : this fantastic article was written for the MAIL ON SUNDAY on April 2nd, 2022, by long term friend of Ukraine: Edward Lucas.
Ignorant, arrogant, complacent, timid and most of all greedy. The charge sheet against countries and people that for 30 years ignored abundant warnings about Russia’s dangerous designs on its neighbours is damning.
And history will surely judge harshly those who ignored the monstrous threat that Putin poses to our democracy.
The guilty men – coined to describe those who indulged Nazi Germany in the 1930s – range from hard-Left activists such as George Galloway to patriotic types like Nigel Farage with a nostalgic fondness for no-nonsense strongmen. Lenin would have called both lots ‘useful idiots’.
A swathe of our professional elite is in the dock too: for years they enjoyed lucrative life on the ‘caviar express’, a gravy train run by thugs and gangsters. And many others are guilty for apathy and naivety.
History will surely judge harshly those who ignored the monstrous threat that Putin poses to our democracy
Vladimir Putin’s onslaught on neighbouring Ukraine came as a shock – a bewildering upheaval in the largely peaceful world we took for granted in Europe.
But to claim surprise is to admit inattention. Again and again we have ignored stark warnings about the dangers facing us, our allies, and our values. We naively took our freedom and security for granted. Instead of heeding the messages, we belittled the messengers.
The price of complacency for us is uncertainty, high prices for food and fuel, and the cost of greater defence spending. Ukrainians are paying for it too – with their lives.
Why didn’t we listen? One reason was that we knew so little of the countries that emerged from the Soviet empire’s collapse in 1989-91. Ignorance begets arrogance.
Our priority was to keep the ‘good guys’ in power – first Mikhail Gorbachev, then Boris Yeltsin. We broke our rules, allowing blatant election-rigging and wild profiteering, all to keep out ‘hardliners’.
Our indulgent, meddling approach to Russia was both wrong and dangerous. For it was clear even in the 1990s that evil was afoot.
The collapse of the Communist system masked the survival of an imperialist approach with far deeper roots, going back to the Tsarist empire.
Modern Russia despises neighbouring countries. Their sovereignty is constrained, their independence an aberration. Putin’s war in Ukraine rests on the mistaken belief that it is a Western puppet state run by drug-addled Nazis.
In 1994, Estonia’s President Lennart Meri, himself a childhood survivor of deportation to Siberia, gave a blistering, prescient warning at a conference in Hamburg. He lambasted Russia’s bullying approach to its neighbours – and the West’s naivety and cynicism.
The leader of the Russian delegation stood up and walked out in protest. His name was Vladimir Putin. Nobody knew then that five years later he would be Russia’s leader.
That should have been a wake-up call. A former KGB man running Russia should be as alarming as an ex-Gestapo officer running Germany. Putin’s ascent to power came amid mass murder. Apartment-block bombings in which more than 300 innocent Russians died created a climate of panic.
Putin’s popularity, based on a ruthless response to supposed terrorist atrocities, rocketed. But the bombings were staged by the authorities. Those who tried to investigate them died.
I was a foreign correspondent in Moscow in those years. It was clear that Putin was a monstrous thug surrounded by crooks.
His rule spelled repression at home and aggression abroad. But I came under huge pressure from the ‘hurrah chorus’ – foreign bankers, lawyers, and accountants minting money in Russia. They did not want hostile news stories to spoil their party.
In my 2008 book, The New Cold War, I highlighted the poisoning of the fugitive Russian official Alexander Litvinenko in the heart of London (the use of polonium, a potent radioactive substance, endangered hundreds more).
I described Russia’s 2007 cyber-attack on Estonia, a stalwart British ally. I listed the many uses of energy as a weapon.
I outlined the danger of the Putin regime’s manipulative use of history, and its bullying approach to neighbouring countries. Indeed, I warned of a looming war in Georgia – which took place barely four months after the book appeared. My central message was that Russia’s embrace of globalisation had increased its ability to threaten us. Trade and investment have geopolitical effects. They can be used to exert influence – and buy power.
If only we had diversified away from Russian gas then, we would not be in such a pickle. Instead we hugely increased our dependency.
The book was a best-seller, translated into 20 languages. My friends in Eastern Europe were thrilled: finally, an influential Western voice was echoing their concerns.
But the reaction from so-called experts in London, Washington and other Western capitals was derisive. ‘Scaremongering,’ said a colleague. ‘Incoherent,’ said another.
How could a country as weak as Russia possibly pose a threat to the far bigger and richer countries of Nato and the European Union?
In vain I tried to explain that Putin’s great asset is willpower. He is willing to accept pain, tell lies and take risks. We are not. He relishes confrontation. We shun it.
The longer we dither, the worse the outcome. And so it has proved.
Already the Hitlerian destruction of Ukraine is under way. And worse is to come. Nato’s credibility is hanging by a thread. If Putin wins, our security is shattered. If he loses, he will escalate, quite conceivably using nuclear blackmail.
I take no pride or joy in my vindication. I am glad that the depravity of Putin and his henchmen is logged in history’s hall of infamy. I hope that future generations may learn the lesson of appeasement.
But our education has come at an appallingly high price. In recent weeks I have received touching private apologies from former critics, acknowledging their errors. Nigel Farage, to his credit, says publicly that he was wrong to admire Putin.
But the real moral reckoning is still to come. On the Left, the self-proclaimed champions of the underdog should see Putin as the true face of the imperialism they profess to loathe.
They should stop nit-picking about Ukraine’s tiny far Right.
They should shed the lazy moral equivalence that justifies Putin’s aggression by blaming Nato and EU enlargement.
Surely they should see that Putin’s aggression explains why countries of the former Soviet empire have been so desperate to join Western organisations? Inside, they enjoy a measure of safety. Outside, they are prey to the wolves.
Old-fashioned conservatives should drop their lazy isolationism, dismissing conflicts on the European continent as great-power friction of no interest to us in Britain.
Countries like Germany, whose irresponsible, sanctimonious pacifism masked unparalleled greed over Russian business, must bear a huge share of the blame.
For its part, the Tory party should look with horror at its dependence on donations that stem ultimately from fortunes made in Russia. That money, and the grotesquely glitzy socialising that it lubricates, is toxic in its origins and its effects.
So too should figures like George Osborne and Peter Mandelson for accepting hospitality on Oleg Deripaska’s yacht. That this Russian tycoon’s robust business practices earned him a visa ban from the United States did not trouble these pillars of our establishment.
Our pinstriped classes should be disgraced for their role as enablers, allowing some of the worst people in the world to launder reputations and riches through our financial and legal system.
The libel lawyers who have so vindictively and ruthlessly tried to silence brave investigative journalists and campaigners should hang their heads in disgrace.
Those besuited traitors should be donating to Ukrainian humanitarian and military fundraisers every penny made from serving the Russian elite’s 30-year looting spree.
Ukrainians, outgunned, hungry and alone, are fighting and dying for freedom – theirs and ours.