Deep in the flat and featureless landscape of eastern Ukraine, it is all too possible that the outline of World War III is taking shape. Whipped up by the Kremlin propaganda machine and led by Russian military intelligence, armed men are erecting road blocks, storming police stations and ripping down the country’s flag. They are demolishing not just their own country — bankrupt, ill-run and beleaguered — but also the post-war order that has kept most of Europe and us, here in Britain, safe and free for decades. Vladimir Putin is striking at the heart of the West. His target is our inability to work with allies in defence against common threats. The profoundly depressing fact is that the events of the past few months, as Russia has annexed the Crimea and suppressed opposition in Ukraine, have shown the West to be divided, humiliated and powerless in the face of these land grabs. We are soon to face a bleak choice.
We can chose to surrender any responsibility we have to protect Ukraine and the Baltic states — almost certainly Putin’s next target — from further Russian incursion. Or we can mount a last-ditch attempt to deter Russia from furthering its imperial ambitions. If we do choose to resist Putin, we will risk a terrifying military escalation, which I do not think it an exaggeration to say could bring us to the brink of nuclear war. Putin knows that. And he believes we will choose surrender. For the real story of recent events in Ukraine is not about whether that country has a free-trade deal with Brussels or gets its gas from Moscow. It is about brute power. It is about whether Putin’s Russia — a rogue state on Europe’s doorstep — can hold its neighbours to ransom, and whether we have the will to resist him. So far the answer to the first question is yes. And to the second a bleak no. The Russian leader believes the collapse of the Soviet Union was a ‘geopolitical catastrophe’. He believes Russia was stripped of its empire by the West’s chicanery. And quite simply, he wants it back. When the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, the former captive nations of Eastern Europe scrambled into Nato and the protection it offered as fast as they could. More