Rod Liddle Rod Liddle

Britain must commit to Ukraine – or admit we don’t care enough

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I have never been one of those late-middle-aged right-wing men who, at night, hunkers down over the computer to pleasure himself while staring at photographs of Vladimir Putin. He doesn’t do it for me – not even that picture of him riding a horse semi-naked through a river with a very resolute expression on his stern Asiatic face. This may put me in a minority among people of my age and gender, for I understand that Vlad has legions of admirers among my peers. It is an admiration which tends to speak its name only after a few drinks have been taken and stems largely from Putin’s commendable detestation of what the West, especially the USA and UK, has become.

We may talk a good game but will do nothing – or, as in the case of Ukraine – worse than nothing

There is also, I suspect, a hankering for Putin’s strength of leadership, which is both numinous and absolute – and a concomitant absence of western-style prevarication, dithering and decadence. It is not dissimilar, I reckon, to the usually closet but sometimes overt affection which British men of about the same age held for Benito Mussolini and even Herr Hitler in the middle of the 1930s. Hell, at least they get things done, these chaps, etc. Decisiveness, rigour and smart uniforms. Count me out. It is surely possible to concur with Putin that our present obsessions with gay pride marches and transgenderism are grotesquely absurd, without necessarily reaching for the box of Kleenex in the darkened room. Eddie or Loretta Izzard – whatever he is calling himself these days – is undoubtedly an irritant, as is the BBC, Caroline Nokes, Jeremy Hunt and that professor of ‘black studies’ from Birmingham who pops up every day or two on TV to deplore our history and is treated as a sage. But the collective peril we face from them is substantially less than that which we face from Putin.

There is an irony in the fact that the West’s most conspicuous act of spinelessness and degeneracy has been aided and abetted by this man-love for Putin – by which I mean our response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It was always immoral and based upon cowardice and expediency, of course – we will let the Ukrainians fight their war, cheer them on and occasionally bung them weapons simply to prolong it, rather than end it, thus occasioning the bodies to pile ever higher on either side. The horseshoe effect, with both the right and the far left piling up the non-sequiturs to either semi-justify Putin’s invasion or simply to castigate Nato, the EU and (for its present corruption and fascist past) Ukraine, and suggest that Volodymyr Zelensky et al be left to get on with it, has meant that the war cannot possibly be won by Ukraine.

OK, that’s what happens in a democracy: everybody has their say. That’s why we like it – but it is also a recipe for indecision, of course. You can’t really get things done in a democracy. There is also regional opposition to funding Ukraine, largely from two of the countries which are its reluctant and sometimes spiteful neighbours, Slovakia and Hungary. Add all these objections, ideological and geographical, together and you are bound to end up with a position which is at best morally compromised and at worst – as I see it – morally degenerate. All we are doing now is prolonging a war, and we do so because we do not wish to see Putin emerge as a victor, but we are similarly constrained to limit our help because we are frit. And so we grudgingly sponsor death – death on a scale unseen in Europe since 1945.

Right now Ukraine is losing – painfully and gradually losing. Its summer offensive did not work and the Russians are slowly retaking towns and cities which only six months ago were reported, with great prominence and jubilation in the western media, as being reunited with the rest of Ukraine.

And so the war has slipped quietly away from the headlines, especially now we have the deranged jihadis of Hamas to worry about, as well as the piratical Houthis and the connivance of Iran. The difficult questions are dodged, too. We may hope for a Ukraine victory, but that would mean consigning the Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk to a nation state which its populations genially loathe. There is an obvious paradox, that while the invasion itself was plainly criminal and brutal and an act of wickedness, there is very little doubt that many of those in the disputed areas consider themselves Russian. How, if Ukraine wins, would we deal with that? Just turn another blind eye?

The greater danger, though, lies in Putin’s eventual victory. It will resound across the world – from Minsk to Pyongyang via Tehran and Beijing and all of Putin’s pet African nations, not to mention Caracas – that the West is ineffectual, bordering on utterly impotent. It has no backbone, it will not fight. It may talk a good game but in the end it will do nothing or, as in the case of Ukraine, perhaps worse than nothing. It will rattle not a sabre but a fair-trade biodegradable toothpick. It has become addled by wealth and also by liberal overreach.

Will it rouse itself to action if Riga or Tallinn or Helsinki or Taipei are similarly threatened? Try to imagine the scenario, as the shells rain down. The endless discussions. The demands for a ‘proportionate’ response. I suspect we’d end up bunging the Latvians or the Taiwanese the very latest in surplus bandages. The authoritarian thugs in Asia know this. And – not coincidentally – they smile to themselves every time western leaders politely request a ceasefire in Gaza. They know that wherever the battle is, we have no stomach, no resolve and no grasp of the realities.

We should have committed ourselves fully to Ukraine in February 2022. There is still time to do so, just about. But it’s either that or be honest and tell Ukraine we just don’t care enough, frankly.

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