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Ukraine: as clear-cut as it gets

The facts are straight-forward: after a long-build-up and 3 separate 'nibbles' to test the West's resolve in the face of clear aggression, Vladimir Putin has launched a massive (if conventional, ie non-nuclear) military invasion of his southern neighbour sovereign state.

To the extent that he offers any justification for this clear-cut act of naked aggression, it seems to have three elements: the Ukraine is not a proper state, the territory is really Russian (and always has been) and it needs and requires 'de-Nazifying'! Let's briefly take each seriously for a moment...

The Ukraine is a properly constituted sovereign state under international law without any caveats. Indeed Russia itself accepted this and guaranteed Ukraine's territorial integrity under the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances signed on the 5th December 1994. In return Ukraine voluntarily gave up the nuclear arsenal left on its soil from the USSR: how Ukrainians must now regret their naive trusting decency as I am certain Putin would have been a lot more circumspect in his aggression if Ukraine had nuclear weapons?

If you want an historic, international parallel, it is the 1839 Treaty of London: this created the state of Belgium (which did not exist before that date or at the least before they rebelled in 1830) - and guaranteed its integrity. One of the signatories was Prussia to which the German Empire of 1871 was the legal successor state. It was the clear-cut nature of German violation of its own guarantees in entering Belgium in August 1914 which both brought Great Britain into the 'Great War' and made the case against Germany as the aggressor much simpler and easier to argue at the treaty of Versailles. Whatever else was the case in the run-up to that War, Germany had gone back on its word and to a libertarian violated the NAP (Non Aggression Principle) the moment its troops entered Belgium. Putin's behaviour is identically illegal and immoral.

Ukraine's boundaries are 'accidents of history' but then so are almost all international boundaries. If you know the history of Europe, then you know that entire states come and go, the best examples being the fact that both Hungary and Poland are at times massive and at others have literally disappeared from the map of Europe as they are divided between and extinguished by their neighbours. Secondly, many states are very 'new' being created by key European treaty settlements which include Westphalia in 1648 ('created' the Netherlands and Switzerland), Utrecht 1714 (famously gave Gibraltar to Britain), Paris 1763 (gave Silesia to Prussia), Vienna 1815 (which largely shaped Germany into its modern 'Lander' after the abolition of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806) and, of course Versailles in 1919 which abolished the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires and created many of the boundaries and states we know today. Eire is created out of the UK only in 1922. Even if you take the view (which I don't) that Ukraine is only created by Lenin in 1917/1922 then it is still as old as most of Europe's states and its boundaries have been consistent compared with those of 'say' Poland. Russia simply cannot make any credible claim whatsoever that it is entitled to the territory of its sovereign neighbour.

As for Putin's claim to be 'de-Nazifying' (he introduced the word), that is gaslighting as international diplomacy: the only person behaving like a Nazi is Putin himself with actions and pretexts in clear imitation of Hitler's behaviour over the Sudetenland in 1938 and Silesia (see above, actions have consequences 200 years later!) in 1939.

Putin IS the aggressor and there is no possible credible justification for his actions. I am at a loss to understand how anyone with any knowledge of history or any 'moral compass' can think anything else.

I completely understand that it is frightening to stand up to the playground bully, the criminal thug and the murderous dictator, even more so when he has a massive nuclear arsenal. For that reason, regrettably and sadly, I do not think we can support Ukraine with military forces on the ground but I believe it is our duty to do everything we practically can short of that both to help Ukraine and to make clear that murderous rogue dictators simply cannot be allowed to win.

One final comment as it has cropped up in discussion. The USA is not the embodiment of all virtue, no country ever is. All of NATO, the UK, the USA and the EU have made mistakes, of course, everybody always does. But these human failings did not cause and do not and cannot justify Putin's invasion of an independent sovereign state. The World will be a much poorer and worse place if we allow him to get away with it - even if there are significant costs and unavoidable collateral damage to ourselves in the process.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing in the face of it - and if you don't understand that, then there is really very little I can say to you except that you have neither common sense nor moral compass nor even an instinct for longer term self-preservation.

Guest post from Tony Brown - Former Policy Advisor

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