All Europe must have awoken this morning and heard the news with horror. Sometimes history refuses to die. The fate of 44 million Ukrainians at the mercy of Russia and its vast army is appalling to contemplate. Indeed so wild and mendacious are the utterances of Vladimir Putin in the past 24 hours as to suggest a dictator deranged and out of control. It is precisely the danger that was forecast by strategic theorists at the dawn of the nuclear age.
As of this morning, Putin’s declared intention is to “demilitarise” Ukraine and assert Russia’s de facto sovereignty over the Donbas east of the country. The latter is chiefly an exaggeration of what Russia has done covertly since 2014. The former is hard to see other than as formal conquest. This is no longer some border dispute or separatist uprising, but the concerted assault of a great power on a substantial neighbour.
Ukraine’s friends and sympathisers have been fulsome in offering comfort and “support”. Ever since 1989, western Europe has been eager, perhaps over-eager, to welcome former Soviet bloc countries into its embrace. Many thought this a mistake. Offering Nato and EU membership up to Russia’s border was certain to inflame that country’s well-known sense of insecurity, but the risk was taken. At the same time any idea of including Ukraine and Georgia in that embrace was rightly thought a risk too far. Putin has now grotesquely proved that risk.
Russia’s attack on Ukraine might be thought an aggression so outrageous as to outrank any consideration of treaties and alliances. But though the west has offered Kyiv ferocious moral support and will of course respond with humanitarian aid, it has been adamant that it is not obliged by Nato to fight in its cause. That must be sensible. But at such times words must be used with care.
Belligerent support can look uncomfortably close to hypocrisy – as some Ukrainians are pleading. The west must distinguish outright condemnation of Russia from…