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Norfolk MP James Wild says Russian troops on Ukraine border raises prospect of armed European conflict

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Unless Russia changes course, Europe faces the real prospect of armed conflict.

That was the clear message from the Prime Minister’s statement that I was in the House of Commons for this week. Over the winter Russia has been massing troops, tanks, and other equipment on the border with Ukraine.

On Monday, I joined a briefing by the Chief of Defence Intelligence in the MOD where he shared imagery of the build-up of forces. The hostile intent and threat of invasion is obvious. Of course, Russia has form – it is seven years since she last illegally invaded Ukraine and more than 14,000 people have died in fighting there since.

North West Norfolk MP James Wild.
North West Norfolk MP James Wild.

A few months after that invasion, I joined the Ministry of Defence as special adviser to the Secretary of State for Defence. As part of our response to the illegal annexing of 10,000 square miles of territory, the Ministry of Defence launched Operation Orbital to provide military support and assistance to Ukraine. This has now seen 21,000 Ukrainian troops trained in key battle infantry skills to help modernise Ukraine’s armed forces. Last week the government increased its support by supplying anti-armour missiles and deployed a small training team.

President Putin claims that putting the Russian troops on the border is a response to threats from NATO. That is false. NATO is a defensive alliance with a commitment under Article 5 that an attack on one member is an attack on all. Far from being encircled, only 6% of Russia’s borders are abutted by NATO members.

Rather, Putin has set out in a very lengthy article, that ignores the wishes of people in Ukraine, his justification for the subjugation of Ukraine and at worse the forced unification of that country. It is his actions that pose a grave threat to peace.

Prime Minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin.
Prime Minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin.

In contrast, Ukraine is not asking for anything other than the right of a sovereign country to live in peace.

An attack would be a catastrophe with bloodshed and destruction. The UK has been at the forefront of work with the United States, Germany, France, and other countries to avoid such a disaster. That’s by having a combination of dialogue and deterrence. Where Russia has legitimate concerns, they can be addressed through diplomacy.

But Russia’s attempts to divide Europe once again between free nations and those countries whose foreign and defence policies are explicitly constrained by Russia cannot stand. Western countries have rightly made clear that there would be a formidable price for any incursion including severe economic sanctions.

This is a serious situation but even now Russia can change course. It could deescalate the tension by removing forces.

The alternative, of Putin starting a terrible war, would be tragedy but it remains a possibility. In the face of this threat of force, the UK and our allies must continue to engage with Russia and be resolute and united in setting out unambiguously the response that would follow any incursion.

James Wild

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