Brian Taylor: Downing Street is lit in Ukraine’s blue and yellow. Our response must be more than window dressing

THIS is a throw-back. This is no “modern” conflict for oil or material resources. This is searing tyranny, engulfing a neighbour with brutal, unprovoked power.

This is a throw-back. A dictator extends the scope of his territorial ambit, driven in part by a grievously distorted view of history, glimpsed through the foggy prism of perverse chauvinism.

The participants acknowledge this in their choice of words. Bizarrely, Vladimir Putin says the invasion is justified in order to pursue the “de-Nazification” of Ukraine; particularly its eastern territories.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky warns of a new Iron Curtain fragmenting Europe.

This is a throw-back. This is “plucky little Belgium”, 1914. This is Poland, 1939.

Except. Except for the big difference. In 1914, the fate of the Belgians helped stir the British people into contesting the Kaiser.

Read more from Brian Taylor: Any chance we could shelve the endless education reforms – and get back to teaching?

In 1939, Neville Chamberlain declared sadly and solemnly that the invasion of Poland meant appeasement had failed, and war with Germany had commenced.

To be very clear, I understand the distinction. Germany in 1914 and 1939 had already provided clear signs of warlike intention far beyond Belgium and Poland. There were broader conflicts in prospect.

Further, I fully appreciate the reason for caution on the part of NATO and the West.

To engage militarily with Russia at this stage would be to magnify this conflict massively. For all its decline in status – a factor, I believe, underlying this unjustified aggression – Russia is a colossal force with nuclear weaponry.

However, perhaps we might be spared the collective self-delusion, the mutual hypnosis.

Perhaps the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison might skip the bombast of declaring that his country “always stands up to bullies”.

Perhaps Boris Johnson might avoid reiterating that he is “proud” of the role played by the UK in supporting Ukraine.

Perhaps the focus might legitimately be upon the substantial but still limited nature of the economic sanctions imposed upon Russia.

These sanctions may, in time, be potent. They may impact upon the Russian economy or influential Russian individuals.

It is my earnest wish that they are effective. But, as I write, they have not stopped the Russian tanks. They have not grounded the Russian air force, which massively outguns its Ukrainian counterpart.

To repeat, I fully appreciate the reasons for caution. I get the concept. However, let us not kid ourselves.

Read more from Brian Taylor: Would an independent Scotland really apply to rejoin the EU?

More generally, a mawkish, dystopian perspective upon history appears to be widespread in this dreadful affair.

President Putin is plainly angry; at Russia’s decline, at his own failure to win global recognition and respect.

He blames the West, he blames the US, he blames those former Russian satellites who appear, curiously, to prefer freedom.

Some commentators say he also blames another Vladimir, one V.I. Lenin. He believes, they argue, that the construction and eventual collapse of the Soviet Union created “false” states, like Ukraine, and in effect dismantled what Putin regards as historic Russia.

To be clear, this world view is in no way shared by the government of the Ukraine, nor by the majority of its people who have turned their anxious eyes towards the West.

Nor, frankly, is it widely shared across the world.

But there are other examples of self-delusion closer to home. Consider the case of Ben Wallace, Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Defence.

I remember Mr Wallace in an earlier political guise. In 1999, he was elected as a Conservative member of the Scottish Parliament, for the north-east region.

Serving just one term, I recall him as able and affable, if slightly distracted on occasion. Transplanted to the Commons, he has bloomed.

A former soldier in the Scots Guards, it would appear he has not entirely shaken off those days in the officers’ mess.

Recorded in conversation with military personnel, he was overheard declaring that Putin had “gone full tonto”.

But that was not enough. He pursued his theme warmly, as his military audience sat, transfixed and uncomfortable.

His old regiment, he said, had “kicked the backside” of Tsar Nicholas I in the Crimean conflict in 1853 – “and we can always do it again”.

For pity’s sake. What next? Reach for a volume of Tennyson and recite The Charge of the Light Brigade?

It has presumably not escaped the attention of the Defence Secretary that we have, presently, no troops in this conflict. Nor do we intend that to change in the near future. Ludicrous jingoism is of limited assistance.

The world has altered since that earlier Crimean conflict. For one thing, we have a global economy: partly driven by corporate greed, partly by internet technology, and partly by an underlying desire to bind nations and peoples together.

That latter objective was, explicitly, a factor in founding what became the EU.

The Schuman Declaration of 1950 created the European Coal and Steel Community. The stated aim was that it would be “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible” for Germany and France to go to war with each other again.

A global economy, then, enables sanctions to be applied. However, it also creates limits. The West proceeds with caution because damage inflicted upon Russia can swiftly rebound into collateral damage which affects Europe and the US.

Again, to underline, I understand. These are substantial and significant economic sanctions. However, perhaps we might cool the concomitant rhetoric as to what they are likely to achieve in the short term.

For now, we regard Russia – or, more precisely, the Russian leader – as an outcast. For example, Alex Salmond has suspended his show on RT (formerly Russia Today) “until peace is re-established”.

The UEFA Champions League final is to be moved from its intended venue in St Petersburg. No doubt to the regret of that stadium’s main sponsor, the Russian state energy company Gazprom.

At Holyrood, there was an impressive display of unity and solidarity in support of the troubled people of Ukraine. This in Edinburgh, Kyiv’s twin city.

Nicola Sturgeon declared that “unprovoked imperialist aggression” must not prevail. To which all assented. Trust me, I applaud and welcome those statements.

In Downing Street, meanwhile, the building’s façade is lit up in blue and yellow, Ukraine’s colours.

Let us hope it proves, ultimately, to be more than window dressing.

Previous ArticleNext Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *