24 February 2022
Diary of a Corbynista
More Minsk Needed
by Don Urquhart
Questioning NATO has been regarded as unpatriotic by some – useful for an unfounded smear or two. I listened to Saturday’s Any Answers and was surprised that every single caller wanted to talk about the Ukraine. The prevailing view was that we should be listening to the Russians’ concerns about having NATO forces on their borders.
Johnson talks up our readiness to support the Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion but without any ideas about how the situation could be resolved without massive loss of life.
The Minister of Defence, Ben Wallace alluded to appeasing the Russians – a whiff of Munich. He was perhaps appealing to a conditioned reflex of some kind.
On Monday he came to the House to make a statement and answer questions about the Ukraine. Our strategy seemed to be to threaten “sanctions” along with our mates. It was only towards the end of the hour that anyone mentioned the Minsk Agreement as a potential basis for negotiation. This provoked an irritated response from a truculent Defence Minister. Then a second questioner also raised Minsk. The two Minsk fans were Jeremy Corbyn and Caroline Lucas two people who are generally on the right side of history.
Corbyn asked whether a peaceful solution could be found perhaps by reviving the Minsk Agreement. This wasn’t what Ben Wallace wanted to hear. He hissed that Corbyn should spend less time consorting with the Stop the War Coalition as if this were a department of the Kremlin.
If you read their statement they simply call on all sides to negotiate to avoid a war.
Stop the War Coalition statement.
Stop the War condemns the movement of Russian forces into eastern Ukraine and urges that they immediately withdraw, alongside the resumption of diplomatic negotiations to resolve the crisis.
This dispute could and should be resolved peacefully, and that remains the only basis for a lasting settlement, rather than the imposition of military solutions. That it has not been resolved is not, however, the responsibility of the Russian or Ukrainian governments alone.
The conflict is the product of thirty years of failed policies, including the expansion of NATO and US hegemony at the expense of other countries as well as major wars of aggression by the USA, Britain and other NATO powers which have undermined international law and the United Nations.
The British government has played a provocative role in the present crisis, talking up war, decrying diplomacy as appeasement and escalating arms supplies and military deployments to Eastern Europe.
If there is to be a return to diplomacy, as there should be, the British government should pledge to oppose any further eastward expansion of NATO and should encourage a return to the Minsk-2 agreement, already signed by both sides, by all parties as a basis for ending the crisis in relations between Ukraine and Russia.
Beyond that, there now needs to be a unified effort to develop pan-European security arrangements which meet the needs of all states, something that should have been done when the Warsaw Pact was wound up at the end of the Cold War. The alternative is endless great power conflict with all the attendant waste of resources and danger of bloodshed and destruction.
We send our solidarity to all those campaigning for an end to the war, often under very difficult conditions, in Russia and Ukraine. Stop the War can best support them by demanding a change in Britain’s own policy, which can be seen to have failed.
So the dreaded Stop The War Coalition pretty much aligned with the Any Answers Radio 4 audience.
Our government has to make it look like Boris Johnson is leading the free world in confronting a tyrant. Johnson was in his element peddling this in the Commons on Tuesday and Starmer fell into line with similar virtue signals to those semaphored by Hilary Benn before we bombed Syria.
Biden is pontificating from the splendid isolation conferred by distance. Johnson is using the Ukraine to divert from his domestic problems.
Sophie Raworth’s interview on Sunday was distinguished by a word salad filibuster from the Prime Minister whenever she broached the topic of the police investigating his alleged lawbreaking.
Our PM is taking the same approach to the Ukrainian people as he does to our own population. He is alleged to have said of his own people:
Let the Bodies pile up in their thousands!
No responsible diplomat should let Boris Johnson near any serious decision-making.
The Mayor of Gotham City would summon Batman by projecting a sumptuous Bat-Signal into the sky. Minutes later the superhero would exit the Batcave in the Batmobile on his way to save the metropolis.
What brought this to mind was Boris Johnson turning with a flourish from the Downing Street dais on Monday while letting us know that he had to go and deal with the Ukraine. It was later reported that France, Germany and the US were making a joint approach to President Putin.
Meanwhile Biden and Johnson continue with their minatory tone. In Johnson’s case it looks very like “My bruvver will come and beat you up!”
The Ukraine’s Prime Minister also takes an aggressive stance but at least he offers credible resistance – you believe his people will fight if Russia invades.
While Johnson was announcing his flaccid attempt at sanctions, Chancellor Scholz was pausing the Nordstream 2 project which aims to supply natural gas directly from Russia to Germany. This has the feel of a more substantial bargaining chip than Johnson’s 5 Russian banks and 3 oligarchs.
Nordstream 2 is possibly at the heart of the crisis. Russia’s economy is heavily dependent on selling fossil fuels so Putin must look askance at Climate Change targets which aim to eliminate them. This could be his last chance to exert leverage on the West to achieve his territorial goals. The USA sees Nordstream 2 as weakening NATO so will be putting a tick in the box for Herr Scholz.
So what next?
The Minsk Agreement established a fragile ceasefire after Russia took the Crimea in 2014. This seems to point the way forward. It does not make sense to simply dismiss the claims of one’s adversaries unless you want pistols at dawn.
I can’t attempt to analyse the efficacy of the Agreement but there is a potent 2015 photograph of the main participants – the heads of government of Belarus, Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine who have apparently reached some kind of accord.
No United States. The US focuses on the role of NATO, and while I would not depict the Ukraine as a little local difficulty, NATO is a red rag for Russia and there are plenty of big boys and girls in Europe who can sort the problem without turning it into the next Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq.
Let’s get Minsk out again. But as in 2014, the US and the UK can watch from the sidelines. I can see why Russia, Belarus, Poland, Moldova, Turkey and of course the Ukraine should be sorting this out. And wouldn’t it be great if the suggestion and facilitation came from the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres.