One thing is clear: Vladimir Putin cannot be allowed to win

The West has shown great determination in the face of Russian aggression. Our resolve must not weaken

Tony Blair

23 February 2023 •

The Russian aggression in Ukraine must be defeated. The remaining hope of Vladimir Putin is that Western resolve weakens. The US, the UK, the EU, Nato must therefore stay strong. This much is obvious.

This was the invasion of a peaceful country, with a democratically-elected president, which posed no threat to its neighbours and which, whatever its internal tensions, abided by the norms of the international community. The idea that Nato provoked this aggression is absurd. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Nato offered Russia a partnership; Presidents Yeltsin and Putin were invited to Nato summits; the G7 was the G8 including Russia; and Putin himself, certainly in the early days, wanted good relations with the West and to concentrate on economic reform.

What “provoked” the invasion of Ukraine was not Nato’s desire for conflict. That much is clear from the degree to which Europe was prepared for such a conflict, for example in reducing its reliance on Russian gas (in other words, not at all).

The cause of the invasion is illustrated by my own conversation with Putin, before leaving office, who by that point had given up on reform and democracy and had embraced nationalism and dictatorship. I tried to reason with him, following a discussion with then-American President George W Bush, that whether Ukraine joined Nato or not should be up to them. “It’s their choice”, I said. “It’s not their choice”, he replied. “They’re with us.”

Putin believes that the Soviet Union had the wrong ideology but the right geo-politics. It’s an imperialist vision completely at odds with the existence of the independent nation states of Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Central Asia. And that is why he must be stopped.

His original war aims have disintegrated. His strategy now is a version of what he did in Syria. For over a decade, he has held firm. In that time, Western staying power in Afghanistan and Iraq frayed, and Putin now has Russian interests there secured. The Russian President has contempt for Western democracy and believes it will exhibit frailty over the long haul.

There is an assessment of the state of Western politics as divided: some parts of the West want the conflict to end by negotiation; others are for the defeat of Russia.

In reality, there should be no difference between these two positions. Everyone wants the conflict to be over, and understands it won’t end in a WWI or WWII-style surrender. But neither option is necessary to demonstrate that the Russian aggression against Ukraine has been comprehensively defeated.

But at present, Putin’s demands in any negotiation would be utterly unacceptable to Ukraine, which is why President Zelensky has ruled a negotiation out.

The only way to get a just negotiated solution to the conflict is to prove to the Russian leadership that they cannot win. That, however long it takes, their aggression will be defeated. That their analysis of Western weakness is misplaced and their only option, therefore, is to withdraw – and never engage in such madness again.

President Biden, our own prime ministers, Europe and Nato have shown the requisite determination up to now and that is greatly to be celebrated. We have surprised Putin and possibly ourselves.

That determination needs constant reinforcing.

There is too big a lag between realising what weapons and munitions the Ukrainians need and our supply of them. In fact, there are dangerous shortages of some essential materiel and those supplies and the capacity to manufacture them need to be ramped up, for our own future defence as well as for Ukraine.

The West needs a broader strategy to push back not just against Russian aggression in Europe, including support for the brave people and leadership of Moldova, but also, for example, in Africa. It’s a campaign of de-stabilisation, involving large scale disinformation, the malign actions of the Wagner Group, the provision of arms and even the support of coups. Watch the Sahel. It will be the source of the next wave of extremism and migration to Europe if we do not coordinate and focus Western policy.

We should keep engaged with China but with clarity and firmness. President Xi has said to several leaders I have spoken to that he was not told of Putin’s plans to invade. Maybe. They’re making clear they will not support the use of nuclear weapons. And they’re presenting themselves as offering a route to negotiation.

They won’t believe that their present ideas on “peace” will be seen as serious by Ukraine or the West.

But their primary audience is the rest of the world which, as I know from my Institute’s work in the Middle East, Africa and South East Asia, believes – despite some appearances – that the invasion was foolish and wrong, but which is also desperate for it to end because of the disruption and economic distress it has caused. As a result, it is more open to the siren song that Russia is as much victim as aggressor.

We need a concerted strategy to refute this. However, China might yet decide to play a role. Xi’s influence with Putin is significant. Not now, but at some point, that may offer an opportunity to bring Russia to an understanding of what is necessary. So we should keep lines open as the EU and US are doing, while making it clear that active support for Russia’s war aims will be a red line for our relationship.      

This conflict is horrible. But what is at stake is fundamental. We have no alternative but to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes. Only when Putin understands that our resolve will not wane can we begin to hope that the conflict will end sooner rather than later.


  1. Comment from DT reader Headley Piper:

    “I am no fan of Blair. On most things he has been wrong, but in this case I think he is right. Putin will not last for ever. Ukraine must get back to selling wheat/ grain to the rest of the world. The disappointment to me is the apparent inability of western technology to get the messages through to the Russian people.
    Like most of us, Russians are nationalistic, loyal to their nation. It is about all that they have got. Historically they have been down trodden surfs by their governments and have little understanding of the concepts of liberty and equality, freedom in our western sense; they do not really care that Stalin murdered by starvation 15 million Ukrainians. Until the conscription crisis European Russians could not care less what was happening in the Ukraine.
    Perhaps the woke BBC could be persuaded to up its Russian world services.”

    Ian Hubball
    “The only useful bit in this submission, is Blair’s recollections of his conversation with Putin and Bush, confirming probably what we already knew. Putin wanted Ukraine because he believed it was a suburb of Moscow. If anything, Blair confirms diplomatic knowledge from decades ago, which I expect there is much of, but not made public. We fight on.”

    tryingtobe objective
    “Only when Putin understands that our resolve will not wane can we begin to hope that the conflict will end sooner rather than later…..”
    Unfortunately at that point Ukraine will be a pile of rubble and there will 20m Ukrainian refugees in Europe. Refugee fallout should be akin to nuclear fallout and a red line. NATO and the West are allowing Ukrainians to be shot at, like fish in a barrel.
    The two big fascist dictatorships, China & Russia, have lost the world trillions of dollars in the last few years, first with the China flu and now with Russia trying to reform the USSR !! The dictators at their helm are SCARED of their own people and lock up and repress any threats.
    With so much power under single murderous dictators, comes great uncertainty as their countries are at the whim of a single man.”

    A well known kremtoll calling itself “John Bentley” :
    “Blair is wrong to say that all was well in the Ukraine before the Russian invasion. There was a coup in 2014 organised by the US to overthrow the pro-Putin president and a civil war between East and West Ukraine for years killing some 50,000 people.
    It was the coup and the new Ukrainian US stooge president that brought Biden to the Ukraine when US vice President and his distribution of $Billions which went into corrupt hands. Without US support Zelensky could not have fought off the Eastern Russian speaking states their claim for independence and their covert assistance by Russia. The occupation of the Crimea was not resisted by its 94% Russian speaking citizens many of whose jobs depended on the huge Russian naval base there, and who voted to return to Russian sovereignty.
    The US are every much to blame for the war as Russia and the US global strategy of regime change was clearly designed to weaken Putin’s regime as too is its support of the war at the expense of many lives and the pressurizing of the EU against relations with Russia which has cost Europe dear.”

    Another troll: David Goldsby:
    “Russia has made the four regions of Ukraine legally part of Russia after the referendums held in those regions. It doesn’t matter what we think, Russia will defend those regions with everything they have as an existential issue like they would for any other part of Russia.
    Secondly, it doesn’t matter if we think Russia was the aggressor, Russia thinks NATO was the aggressor and started the war as a proxy war against Russia. And much of the Global South thinks that too.
    Thirdly, China knows if Russia falls they fall too, by being economically strangled. Furthermore, the West has made their intentions regarding China quite clear to them, by banning the export of advanced microchips to them and continuing to reinforce Taiwan with US troops and arms. Of course they are supporting Russia and will do all they can to make sure Russia wins.
    If Tony Blair’s attitude reflects the West’s Establishment majority view, which it usually does, then we are headed remorselessly towards WW3 and nuclear annihilation.”

    Reply from Colin Wise :
    “No doubt Hitler made Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia and Poland ‘legally’ part of Germany.
    Nobody apart from Syria and a few others recognises Russia’s ‘law’.
    Thirdly, China knows if Russia falls they fall too, by being economically strangled.’
    China was doing fine before Russia started its imperial drive in Ukraine in 2014. Why should China be any worse off if Russia undoes it?”

    • I’m sorry if I’m pointing out one detail, but I think you’d like it. Bentley apparently implied that the citizens of the Crimea depended on employment at a russian naval base BEFORE the conquest there. Which suggests that unless Ukraine was allowing russia to operate a base within Ukrainian territory, such a situation could not have existed. Bentley contradicts himself with either a lie or a genuine incomprehension of the facts.

  2. A important step to getting this war finished, is to define what the final outcome should be. We all know what that monster putin’s objective is, so Ukrainians should define what ultimate victory would mean for the defense, though the current objective is obvious. If Zelensky declares what the conditions are for the war to be over, he’s giving voice to his people for the defense, and this will remind everyone that putin is an inhuman, cold-blooded, cancerous bully. Something I believe some populations of the West are genuinely ignorant of, by their naive ideas of post-soviet, pre-Ukraine War notions. Also, I think it would be great inventive to the EU or NATO, to accept Ukraine as a member at that point, because Ukraine would have proved herself a strong and very competent ally. If more fighting happens after a declared Ukrainian victory, then it would show that once again, russia is interested only in aggressive conquest and World War III would be entirely putin’s fault, even if he seems to want to avoid it. So more pressure against russians to continue fighting, showing them as pathetic, argumentative bastards who must be shown that more fighting means almost total annihilation for their people. Because at that point, they’d literally be fighting the entire world, not just Ukraine.

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