Skip to main content

There may be no public declaration of war, but it is clear that liberal democracies are in conflict with Putin-ruled Russia. The answer to how we deal with Russian aggression starts with accepting this grim fact.

Constant conflict with liberal democracies is one of the main pillars of the Putin regime’s domestic rule, and an integral part of its foreign-policy worldview. Putin does not share the Western vision of a Europe at peace, and is not going to stop attacking and undermining Western countries. Putin and his gang of KGB thugs see any attempt at conciliation as weakness and an encouragement for whatever destructive and murderous acts they are currently committing.

The dangers of appeasement were made horrifyingly clear by Belarusian President Lukashenko’s outrageous air piracy, forcing down an EU flight to arrest an opposition figure. He was later displayed on TV showing obvious signs of his brutal treatment to make a false ‘confession’, reminiscent of Stalin’s times. It’s unlikely that Putin didn’t approve this move, and indeed when asked at the St Petersburg Economic Forum if Russia might do the same to capture opposition figures again, his answer was far from a definite ‘no’.

Similarly, when President Biden stated he would waive sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, Putin pounced immediately and announced that Ukraine remaining a transit country for Russian gas depended on it showing “goodwill”. In other words, a nation that has had Crimea stolen from it and has lost thousands of people fighting a bitter trench war against forces controlled, led, manned, armed, and supplied by Russia has to show “goodwill” for the Kremlin to not wreak further damage to its economy.

“Putin’s claim of entitlement to a ‘sphere of influence’ is highly offensive to nations that lived for decades with the Soviet jackboot on their necks”

Nord Stream 2 is entirely a geopolitical weapon for the Putin regime, designed to further undermine Ukraine’s dream of building a Western-style state and economy, as well as to increase leverage over other European states. Ukrainians rightly see the US move as a betrayal. Western countries should be extremely concerned about the further power such a move would place in Putin’s hands. It should be stopped.

Attempting to murder an ex-intelligence officer on the streets of the United Kingdom with a nerve agent; constantly trying to encourage political division on social media and with actual agents infiltrating parties and organisations; running a vast, well-funded propaganda machine based in Western countries pretending to be ‘alternative’ media; co-opting Western politicians and other figures to spread Kremlin-friendly messages and influence; bombing hospitals to prop up the evil Assad regime in Syria; and, hacking government systems. The list of hostile and damaging acts is growing as efforts never cease.

However, we can push back. Doing so robustly gives the Kremlin pause for thought. Ukrainians, for example, rallied as a nation and fought back against the Russian-instigated ‘civil war’. Although it has cost them dearly, it has averted the possible end of Ukraine as a country. UK support has helped, but we must do more to make it plain to Putin that it’s not in his interests to prevent Ukraine from choosing to follow a Western path.

“Those who profit from being close to Putin, who finance his aggression against us, should not be free to enjoy the fruits of the system they undermine”

Putin’s claim of entitlement to a ‘sphere of influence’ is highly offensive to nations that lived for decades with the Soviet jackboot on their necks. They are independent nations, who do not want to live under brutal authoritarian and corrupt regimes. The West must be confident about sending our forces to reassure them, and make it plain to the Kremlin that we will not abandon these nations to its mercy.

Moreover, we must reject Russia’s claims that NATO is encircling and threatening it for the baseless and cynical propaganda they are. The idea that the West would attack or invade Russia is laughable, and we should say so loudly.

As Theresa May, when she was Prime Minister, showed over the Skripal assassination attempt, when we do act with purpose and in concert, we can show the Kremlin we mean business. Her Government’s work to unite allies in response to the heinous act in Salisbury startled the Kremlin with its display of Western unity and resolve.

Sanctions do work, over time. In addition, dubious Russian money, often acquired at the expense of ordinary Russians, should not be welcomed in the West. Those who profit from being close to Putin and who finance his aggression against us should not be free to enjoy the fruits of the system they undermine, by sending their children to study and party here. Even Russian propagandists who spew anti-Western rhetoric from Russians’ TV screens prefer to spend their time in London. This must end. It is uncomfortable to face the fact that we are in a conflict without a foreseeable end, but it is a fact nonetheless. Recognising it is the first step in not losing the fight.

Chris Hernon is a leading Russia and disinformation analyst and a former journalist for the BBC Monitoring service. This article first appeared in our Centre Write magazine Target secured?. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: Russian Defence Industry]