Like a dog returning to its vomit, I cannot help but return occasionally to the comment section of the Barclay Brother Beano. The reason being I have challenged myself to uncover at least one vaguely sensible or remotely valuable contribution amidst the sea of drivel that passes for articles and comments.
It is there we find today a piece by media’s favourite nominal conservative and Cameroon cheerleader, Fraser Nelson, who, presumably having read Bravo Two Zero, now seems to fancy himself as a defence expert. His article is one of those that boasts a welcome, if surprising, nod to reality, but then falls into ruin due to morale sapping ignorance that completely devalues his contribution.
Where Nelson gets it right is in calling William Hague for his ludicrous reassurance that he would stop any “strategic shrinkage” – as Nelson explains, to make sure that Britain’s standing on the world stage would not be diminished because there were cuts going on at home.
Hague’s failure there is only eclipsed by the other failures Nelson reminds readers about. Firstly, that UK forces in Iraq occupied Basra after the invasion only to be forced out by Iranian-backed militias, after which an inquiry was commissioned to ask why we fought, rather than why we lost. Not many media types recognise this reality, instead preferring to retail the laughable MoD line that our forces completed their mission successfully and withdrew.
Secondly, the current debacle that sees UK forces – after the disgraceful loss of over 400 lives, and wasted expenditure of billions of pounds – about to abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban, effectively ensuring that all that blood and treasure has been sacrificed for nothing. Again, that’s not the MoD line but it accurately reflects reality. Due praise to Nelson for that.
However, it is when Nelson turns his attention to the Ukraine crisis – in order to underline his argument that our defence capability has been eroded too far – that he falls in with the official line and misrepresents what brought this crisis about.
Nelson explains that because of the defeats outlined above, and our tepid and badly judged misadventure into Libyan affairs, to the outside world Britain looks like it is shrinking fairly quickly – along with other indebted, war-weary Western powers. Our commitment looks shaky, our judgment even worse. That’s fair enough. But what follows is where he goes native…
And this, of course, is what has fuelled the Ukraine crisis. Vladimir Putin saw how things were changing, and decided to give the Caucasus a prod; then to see what would happen if he annexed Crimea. The answer, as he suspected, was not very much. Now, his unbadged militants are at work in the east of Ukraine with dozens dead. Still no reaction. This sent out a clear message to Moscow and beyond: the West has grown tired of policing the world. And now, as a century ago, things are up for grabs.
That is utter rubbish.
What fuelled the Ukraine crisis was the European Union’s expansionist ambitions. A complete disregard for the promises made by NATO to the Russians that the west would not encroach one more inch eastwards, saw the Association Agreement tabled to Kiev, with the plan being the eventual assimilation into the EU. Despite this there is not a single mention of the European Union/EU anywhere in his piece.
For reasons historical, strategic and those relating to a nation’s pride, Ukraine was a line in the sand. Home to the Russian Navy’s Black Sea fleet in Crimea, the EU’s efforts were provocative and smacked of arrogance.
The United States also has skin in the game. It encouraged the EU’s move as it would greatly appreciate the Russians being contained in that part of the world so Washington can retask its resources to its efforts to front up to China from the Pacific.
Putin’s actions were a response to the EU’s efforts to begin the process of taking over Ukraine, not the cause of what is happening in Ukraine today. In no way was what we are seeing today driven by a Kremlin assessment of our degraded military capability.
It would probably be fair to say that a calculation of NATO’s effectiveness and willingness to adopt a military posture has dictated the nature of the Russian response. The assessment of how far NATO would go, to support that part of Ukraine’s population that rejected a brokered deal for elections, where the EU Association Agreement could form part of the proposition put before the electorate, has been purely reactive.
The British public is being fed yet another spoonful of lies from the government, as it was during Iraq and Afghanistan. While Fraser Nelson was happy to tell it the way it was over those two campaigns, he is clearly loathe to admit the truth about the EU origins of the Ukraine crisis. One wonders if this is because the EU is a construct he approves of and has repeatedly argued the UK should remain a part of?