Brexit: better or worse for Ukraine?

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Brexit: better or worse for Ukraine?

Post by sharoma »

I read last week that a Belgian MEP named Verhofstadt has claimed that had the United Kingdom not left the European Union, Russia would not have invaded Ukraine. This seems specious to me. Russia’s military antagonist is NATO, and that alliance is not affected by Brexit. It’s true that the soft power of the European Union is an antagonist of Russia, but the EU has no military power. Had Britain remained in the EU, I believe Russia would still have attacked. In either scenario it had the gall to successfully call NATO’s bluff. The UK hasn’t exercised its independent right to declare war on Russia over Ukraine. International policy is still aligned with the EU; Germany has also not declared war on Russia in defence of Ukraine. The United Kingdom has expressed strong support for Ukraine and is increasing financial assistance, but will not declare war.

Contrary to this, Jacob Rees-Mogg has claimed that Brexit has allowed the UK to respond “differently” with regards to helping Ukraine. To try and gain political credit for his party in this way, by pushing a positive of Brexit, seems abhorrent. Co-operation in military terms is not affected by Brexit. He will be aware of the deep ties between the militaries of NATO members.

The middle ground appears to think that the conflict has ‘drawn the UK and EU closer together’, reminding them of their shared values of peace. These are meaningless words. Without a proper commitment, Ukraine may fall. It won’t be relevant if the UK was part of an economic union or not. Its membership of NATO is the relevant factor. True, from Russia’s point of view, splitting the UK from the EU may have weakened Europe before the war. Since the war, it makes no difference. If anything, it has made the situation worse for Russia. The UK is a nuclear state and can now be another separate voice speaking out against Russia. Had it stayed within the EU, it is unlikely it would supply less aid than it does now. Outside the EU, it has provided more support than any nation except the USA. Brexit is irrelevant to the war in Ukraine. If the UK and EU really believed in peace for Ukraine, they would help. They believe in peace for NATO and EU members.

What Verhofstadt may be referring to is the preference in German politics for peace or the reluctance to appear militarily aggressive. France and Germany would be more reluctant to declare war on behalf of the EU without the UK inside the EU. The UK can now market its own significant financial contributions to Ukraine whilst avoiding being drawn into a European war. The EU, despite being made up of NATO countries, cannot feel it has the historic esteem to declare war without the UK. It is also significantly weaker militarily without the UK. Its plans for eastward expansion have triggered Russian aggression and its most powerful military has left the Union.

By share of GDP, the three Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have provided the most aid to Ukraine. Poland is fourth. This highlights the fear these nations have of further Russian aggression should Ukraine fall. The European Union will be undermined if it can’t or won’t defend these countries.

The situation in Europe today was left to us by statesmen born in the 19th century. The ‘What Ifs?’ are endless. What if Eisenhower had agreed with Churchill and authorized the United Nations to take Berlin, or at least push east far enough to keep the Soviets out of Germany? The British Empire went to war over Poland, so really the UN should have pushed onwards to liberate Poland and install the Free Polish government-in-exile. Instead, a pro-Soviet government was installed. Had these measures been taken in 1945, we would not have this situation today. In effect, the West has tried to appease Russia since 1945. At Yalta, Stalin’s position was extremely strong. Even then, the West had given up the fight. The militarised superpowers at the peak of mobilisation for total war, were not willing to fight for Poland. Yet today the West, because of the European Union, is honour bound to fight actively for Poland, and the Baltics too. Appeasement with Russia has worked for as long as the West allowed Russia to express itself territorially in the many conflicts since 1990. Russia allowed Poland and the Baltic states to be brought passively into the EU (a distinctly German entity).

It is desirable for the West to have rapprochement with Russia and its people instead of a major conflict. We are confronted with a very unsavoury dilemma and an unstable paradox: if you want peace, you must prepare for war. That preparation will further antagonize Russia. Russia has already mobilized. It is a nuclear state. If we are truly committed to peace, we must continue the appeasement which has so recently been interrupted. Peace offers must be sincere and include Russia rejoining the international system. They must include promises to cease the military buildup NATO is undertaking in Eastern Europe. If the contingency plans state that war begins when Russia crosses an EU/NATO border, does that mean we trust Russia to do nothing after taking Ukraine? Or does it mean the NATO is willing to fight, but not over Ukraine? In that case, because it risks a wider conflict, why provide any military aid at all? Do what the superpowers in 1938 did to Czechoslovakia: sacrifice it coldly and keep trading with Russia on relatively peaceful terms. A public image disaster. The West is instead trying to discover a cheaper route to politically acceptable appeasement and fittingly, the method is to provide financial aid.
Robin Sharrock
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