And there it was; the same tired old historical cliche – Munich – wheeled out all over again by someone who really should know better, our very own defense secretary, Ben Wallace.
What could Mr Wallace have been thinking in saying that there is a “whiff of Munich” from some in the West in seeking a diplomatic solution to the threat Russia poses to Ukraine?
What was the point of his remark – to somehow distance Brexit Britain from France and Germany in its approach to the Ukrainian crisis? In this context, the EU’s major economies are our allies. We must, indeed, as Benjamin Franklin said, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately. It’s bad enough with President Putin driving a wedge between us; the situation scarcely needs any help from Mr Wallace.
Nor is there any ambiguity in the European position. It may well be true that German institutions are still riddled with Russian sympathisers and spies – a leftover from former East Germany – but as the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, reminded us yesterday, no country has done more in standing by Ukraine and its democratic ambitions than Germany – both in terms of financial and political support.
As for the supposed stranglehold Putin has over Germany through Nord Stream 2, no, this is not the right way of looking at it. Nord Stream 2 was always more of a way for Russia to turn the screw on Ukraine, whose alternative gas pipeline it would make essentially obsolete.
That leverage is removed if Germany refuses to use Nord Stream 2. Certainly, Germany needs to be firmer and more vocal on this point. It is nevertheless a mistake to think Putin has Germany entirely over a barrel; he is as reliant on Europe as a market for his gas as Europe is reliant on him for its energy needs.
In any case, the reference to Munich is a wrong-headed one. Beyond the superficial, there is no comparison between today’s world and that of 1930s Europe, or between Hitler’s maniacal pursuit of world domination and Putin’s designs on Ukraine. It is insulting to both our European allies and to Russia to suggest there is – insulting to efforts by President Macron and Chancellor Scholz to de-escalate the situation and find a solution that doesn’t entirely sell Ukraine down the river. And insulting to Russians, compared by implication to German Nazis in almost total disregard for the unimaginable sacrifices they made eighty years ago in removing the scourge of Hitler from the face of Europe.
And yet there it is – the “a” word, almost universally and lazily applied to virtually all diplomatic attempts to avoid conflict with the West’s supposed enemies, from Putin to Saddam Hussain, and from Colonel Gaddafi to the Iranian mullahs and Xi Jinping’s China. To “appease” is to show weakness, and therefore further to embolden their infernal ambitions.
I’m acutely aware that in criticizing Mr Wallace, I risk framing myself as an apologist for Putin’s Russia, so let there be no room for misunderstanding. Putin is a plundering gangster and a murderous thug; we should have as little truck with him, and the City with his money from him, as possible. But you are not going to dissuade Russia from invading Ukraine by comparing him to Hitler, to whom by the way he comes nowhere even close in terms of relative military and economic power.
Today’s jaw-jaw may not succeed. For all I know, Putin’s tanks are already rolling across the border. But the West is in no position to stop Putin from invading if that’s what he’s got in mind, so if alternatives can be found, it’s worth a try.