Opinion: All for one and one for all

flag-russiaRussia has been busy in the Baltic recently – they have been harassing their neighbours and it seems to me they are acting as if the Baltic is their ‘mare nostrum’ as it were. The Polish Defence minister noted that Sweden seems to be the main object of Russian attention.

How do we help Sweden, and Finland for that matter? Finland and Sweden are in a slightly odd position – they are members of the EU but not members of NATO. In the Cold War they were ‘neutral’ but whatever that meant then it means even less now. What does Britain and other EU/NATO countries do if Finland and Sweden are threatened or even attacked by Russia? Finland and Sweden not being in NATO, Britain is not bound by Article 5 of the NATO Treaty (an attack on one is an attack on all) but it seems inconceivable that we would stand idly by if these two countries were in danger.

I am not saying that they are in danger right now, despite the incursions into Swedish airspace and threats to Finland, but there can be no doubt of Russia’s ruthlessness, recent events in the Ukraine is testimony to that. We really should think about this while there is no great pressure on us, rather than think up a defence and foreign policy in a desperate hurry if and when things do get serious in the Baltic.

It might be best if NATO countries like Britain make it clear to Russia right now that although Finland and Sweden are not NATO allies, an attack on them will be treated as if it were an attack on a NATO ally and that Article 5 will be invoked.

* Steve Coltman is parliamentary spokesperson for Loughborough and an Executive member of the Association of Liberal Democrat Engineers and Scientists although he writing here in a personal capacity.

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  • Tsar Nicolas 15th Dec '14 - 11:17am

    I am sorry, but it has been the EU/NATO that has been doing the harassing, or at least has started the latest round and is now whingeing about retaliatory harassment.

    Matters came to ahead on February 22nd this year when the democratically elected government was overthrown and replaced by an unelected bunch beholden to the IMF, EU and NATO. Readers may recall the leaked telephone conversation between Geoffrey Pyatt (US Ambassador to Kiev) and Victoria Nuland (US Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs) in which the new post-coup cabinet personnel were in effect appointed.

    Follow that on by the bloody war against the ethnic Russians in east Ukraine, including the Odessa trade union building massacre on 2nd March, and then the post-May 25 election bombing of civilian areas such in eastern Ukraine by Kiev forces supported by us folks here in the West, and you have to ask who is really guilty here.

    The Daily Mail claim stuff like ‘Putin ate my baby’ which is then swallowed by mainstream politicos who should know better, but I know where the blame lies.

    This is the most dangerous conflict on planet Earth because it could go nuclear.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Dec '14 - 11:17am

    I strongly disagree with this article and think we should actually scrap Nato. Unquestionable support for any countries is a bad thing.

    And if Russia Today phoned me to ask them to write for them I would tell them to “do one”.

  • Setting aside the whole fraught question of who started it, the situation now seems to be that Russia’s reaction is to harass the neutral countries sandwiched between itself and NATO. At the very least, it shows a disregard for the consequences of escalating the existing conflict that is not encouraging.

  • No we should keep our nose out at least for now

  • Let’s be honest the Cold War never ended,

  • Tsar Nicolas 15th Dec '14 - 12:30pm

    Glenn 15th Dec ’14 – 12:13pm

    “Let’s be honest the Cold War never ended.”

    I rejoiced when the Wall came down and it seemed that the Cold War ended. However, the war against the Russian people was carried on, intentionally or unintentionally, under the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, by the market reformers.

    If you would like to read a thorough, although dense, account of the Yeltsin reform years, you can do no better than “The Tragedy of Russia’s Reforms: Market Bolshevism against Democracy,2 by Peter Reddaway and Dmitri Glinski.


  • NATO will need to increase defence spending especially the USA, UK, Germany, France and Poland to well above 2% of GDP. There will have to be sufficient heavy armour and aircraft to with a willingness to use them deter any aggression from Russia. Putin has shown his contempt for Obama and considers him weak and useless. The West will need to appoint leaders whom Putin fears. One can only negotiate with Russia from a position of superior strength.

  • Julian Tisi 15th Dec '14 - 3:20pm

    @ Tsar Nicholas

    You’re making apologies for a man who is possibly the greatest threat to peace in Europe for a generation. Ukraine is an independent country and Russia neither appreciates nor respects this. It was Putin’s Russia who invaded Crimea, then staging a farce of a referendum to legitimise this, in the same way that Stalin did when he invaded Poland. It is Putin’s Russia that has clearly invaded eastern Ukraine in order to support separatists that were on the brink of defeat before his tanks rolled in. It was Russian anti-aircraft weaponry that shot down the Malaysian airliner murdering over 200 innocent civilians. It is Russia that is currently trying its luck in testing western resolve and western defences with numerous incursions into airspace and waters.

    The one line in your ridiculous statement I agree with is the last “This is the most dangerous conflict on planet Earth because it could go nuclear.” – but where does this threat come from? Certainly not the West, not even Ukraine http://en.interfax.com.ua/news/economic/239730.html – but Putin has specifically threatened the West.

    What should our response be? We should clearly not escalateand risk provoking this madman, but appeasement is not the answer either – we in the West have to stand up against this and as Steve Coltman suggests we should make it clear that we would stand by non-NATO members if they were attacked.

  • David Faggiani 15th Dec '14 - 4:07pm

    Maybe, oh, I dunno, the EU could have a robust, unified defence policy?

    By the way, I love the fact that ‘Tsar Nicolas’ is commenting on this, given the topic.

  • Ray Cobbett 15th Dec '14 - 4:39pm

    it’s always been an aim of US foreign policy to park its tanks on Russia’s borders and Ukraine is a perfect example. Had NATO/EU kept its own counsel and not been pushed around by the US military thousand of lives might not have been lost in a pointless civil war.

  • Tsar Nicolas 15th Dec '14 - 4:43pm

    Julian Tisi

    I’m sorry, but it is ethnic Russian speakers who have been slaughtered by indiscriminate shelling in areas like Donetsk. I thought the Lib Dems were a political party that favoured international law. Well, killing civilians is a war crime. If the Russians have invaded Ukraine, where’s the evidence?

    And you seem to be either ignoring or oblivious to the regime change/personnel phone conversation between Nuland and Pyatt that I referred to. Is this not as bad as invasion – you know, like the UK and US did with Mossadeq in 1953?

  • Tsar Nicolas, you raise important points for consideration. But you also seem to have overlooked the point that part of Russia’s response to what you describe as aggression by NATO is to harass non-aligned democracies on NATO’s fringe.

    In focusing on the opportunistic exploitation of a crisis conducted by the likes of Nuland and Pyatt, you’ve taken your eye off of the equally opportunistic and also dangerous exploitation of the same crisis by Putin and friends.

    I would also criticise your dismissal of western opposition to Putin’s policies as ‘Putin ate my baby’ stuff. Putin hasn’t eaten any babies to my knowledge, but his policies have effectively placed Muslims, LGBT people and various other minorities of race and belief outside of the protection of the law, while setting his own cronies above its influence.

  • paul barker 15th Dec '14 - 5:45pm

    The current Russian Policy seems be to pretend the 20th Century never happened & revive the old Power Politics of the 19th, complete with “Spheres of Influence” & Colonies. The whole Balkan experience in the 1990s demonstrates that its better to make Western Policy clear from the start & make sure its believed.

  • Martin Land 15th Dec '14 - 8:15pm

    The Crimea was always Russian and only ever had a small Ukrainian minority – roughly 20% even after 60 years as part of the Ukraine. . The Russians,stole it from the Crimean Tartars if anyone and it was actually an SSR from the 20’s to the 50’s. Khrushchev transferred it to the Ukraine, towards which, even though he was a Great Russian, he had a sentimental attachment, in the mid-1950’s.

    Equally deliberate manipulation of borders by Stalin ensured that the Ukraine and Kazakhstan had large Russian minorities – after all, it didn’t matter because they were never going to be independent, were they?

    It’s probably too late now, but the right approach would have been for the West to insist upon referenda in the Crimea offering 1. To continue as an autonomous region of the Ukraine. 2. Independence. 3. Incorporation into the Russian Republic and similarly the three eastern provinces – with a population of around 9,500,000, mostly Russians – could have been offered either autonomy or succession and incorporation into the Russian Republic.

    As part of a general settlement, Moldova could have been allowed to join Romania with Transnistria being offered fully autonomous status, either within the Ukraine or Romania.

    A sensible settlement. But we are probably too late for that now. Though perhaps one day Ukraine and the West will realise the potential long-term problems inherent in having a large Russian minority in their country and in the EU and reach an intelligent settlement.

    You see, just because Putin and Russia have acted aggressively and inappropriately doesn’t necessarily mean they are wrong….

  • OK – the lead article made a very good point. Let’s look at this situation now and plan for eventualities rather than wait and react in haste. Be aware that the Putin propaganda machine is immensely experienced (as is US) , that Saudi Arabia is dominating the economic ‘cold’ conflict, and that the EU is a major force in all this – hence Putin support for European ‘far right’ anti EU parties. As LDs we need to be aware, for example, that the Baltic States have suffered terribly from Soviet and German treatment in the past. That they possess largely disenfranchised Russian minorities, placed by Stalin when he took and murdered Baltic State people in forced labour camps. That these states are exporters of agricultural produce to Russia. Esthonia, Latvia and Lithuania have suffered economic sanctions as retaliation for EU sanctions – and need economic support just now…This is just one example of the issue’s complexity. LDs need our own ‘think tank’ on such issues which go to the heart of what it means to be part of the EU – and a Liberal Democrat.

  • John Whitney 16th Dec '14 - 8:13am

    Yes, I am sorry to say but the problem lies in the West with Nato and their Corporate paymasters. Russia is simply defending it’s ethnic populations in the West or in the East. Thank goodness the Russians have a ligitimate leader in Putin.

  • Julian Tisi 16th Dec '14 - 2:38pm

    Tsar Nicholas “If the Russians have invaded Ukraine, where’s the evidence?”

    You need to be wilfully blind to believe that the Russians have not invaded Ukraine. Here’s a starter if you’re genuinely interested: http://www.businessinsider.com/nato-satellite-photo-evidence-russia-lying-about-ukraine-2014-8?IR=T

    But there’s plenty of other evidence, such as the implausability of a rebel movement which was on the point of defeat suddenly becoming stronger, acquiring heavy weaponry that wasn’t there before and opening up a new southern front in an effort to create a land bridge to Crimea.

    Once again, on one point I agree with you – there have no doubt been war crimes committed against ethnic Russian citizens in eastern Ukraine and there is no excuse for this. A fair analysis would conclude that there have been war crimes on both sides. http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/ukraine-mounting-evidence-war-crimes-and-russian-involvement-2014-09-05

    Martin Land and John Whitney, does self-determination not mean anything to you? How can you excuse such a flagrant and naken violation of sovereignty by Russia against Ukraine?

  • The EU/NATO have encourage Georgia and Ukraine to confront Russia without the will and resources at their disposal .If the EU/NATO had supported a Finnish option: no membership of either organisation but free trade and limited support for R and D in the agricultural sector , there would be little conflict. Moldavia and Ukraine could become major food producers for the Middle East which would lower costs ; major causes of conflict.

    The histories of the region are complicated and largely depend upon one’s perspective. NATO/EU have antagonised Putin without having the resources and will to force him to back down. Putin’s career in the KGB required an ability to play on other’s weaknesses and to their strengths and this is what he is doing..

  • Steve Coltman 17th Dec '14 - 9:54am

    I am a bit disappointed with the responses I must say. They are mostly off-topic. Should Lib Dems support a modern progressive democracy like Sweden, being threatened by an autocracy like Russia? I would have thought it a no-brainer. I agree generally with Charlie’s analysis but also with Clive’s point about the need for the Lib Dems to have a think tank. We put policy working groups together at 4 yearly-intervals but that is not good enough, we need to be on the ball all the time. For a supposedly internationalist party (so we keep telling ourselves) we don’t spend much time discussing defence and foreign policy. Perhaps Clive and I should start a Think Tank? I am not surprised by the suggestion we should stick our heads in the sand and ignore it, not get involved. But I don’t agree of course – for whom the bell tolls and all that.

  • Eddie Sammon 17th Dec '14 - 10:27am

    Hi Steve, my response was probably one of the ones you were disappointed by, so to clarify: rather than a “strong disagreement” I mainly mean a “normal disagreement in a big stakes game”.

    The problem is, I just don’t feel personally threatened by Russia and I don’t think they pose a big threat to others. The biggest danger I see is a World War 1 scenario where small mistakes in a big stakes game leads to millions of deaths.

    Having said that, I am influenced slightly when I hear people from eastern Europe urge a strong response to Putin. They are the ones who have most to lose in this situation and I have heard attitudes that are very unsympathetic towards Russia’s claim of a “Russian speaking sphere of influence” and they basically think if anyone feels Russian they should move to Russia.

  • SIMON BANKS 17th Dec '14 - 6:29pm

    Tsar Nicholas – there have been two unquestionable cases of Russian forces’ incursion into Ukraine excluding the Crimea – which they unquestionably invaded and which was part of the Ukraine. In one case early on the Russian forces withdrew after the arrival of Ukrainian forces and in the other, prisoners were taken. As for the Crimea, its identity is neither Ukrainian nor Russian and its future should not have been settled by military occupation even if a majority of the people preferred Russia to the Ukraine (perhaps as a second choice over independence, which was never offered). Putin’s approach is reminiscent of Hitler’s over the Sudetenland and Danzig/Gdansk.

    I don’t think you’d find many people in Kiev to support the idea that the previous government was fairly elected and its overthrow was a popular revolution in the West of the country. There are big questions about Ukraine’s viability but Putin’s tactics are brutal and cynical. If NATO can reassure the Baltic states about their independence and safety from Russian threat, it should do so.

  • Steve Coltman 18th Dec '14 - 12:04pm

    Eddie: I don’t feel personally threatened by Russia either but the Estonians do (and we are treaty-bound to defend them) and the Finns do (and I am arguing that Finland’s situation is not fundamentally different). Their problems are our problems too.

  • Richard Underhill 31st Jan '16 - 12:03am

    Some are that NATO kept the peace and denying that the EU did so. The reality is more complex. Wars between France and Germany in 1870, 1914, 1939 seemed likely to recur indefinitely. Neutrals, such as Belgium, got hurt in the process. The European Coal and Steel Community was set up to make these wars impossible and has succeeded. Other factors helped. War-torn Europe was offered financial aid from the USA. Countries not under communism accepted. The four-powers agreed that Austria should be united. The Austrian parliament declared neutrality, has never been a member of NATO and later joined the EU. Sweden maintained a policy of armed neutrality, has never been a member of NATO and joined the EU. The Republic of Ireland has been neutral since 1921, has never been a member of NATO and joined in 1973. Finland was invaded by the USSR and fought alone. She has never been a member of NATO and, remembering their history, joined the EU. In 1958 General de Gaulle was elected President of France and withdrew France’s armed forces from NATO. NATO headquarters in Europe were moved from France to Belgium. France developed an independent nuclear weapon, despite offers of help from the USA and the UK, who were worried about pollution and other risks from France’s nuclear testing. France did rejoin NATO after Russia left the USSR. Henry Kissinger thought that Mutually Assured Destruction was a bad idea, and advanced a policy of small nuclear weapons to be used in potential battlefields in central Europe in the event of a non-nuclear attack from the USSR. The usual route would be through Poland. All six founding member-states of the EU were and are democracies. Every applicant country needs to be a democracy. Democracies tend not to fight each other. The EU deserves credit for the peaceful achievements of its members. The EU is not responsible for the invasion of Egypt by France and the UK, which led to condemnation from a US President and the resignation of a British Prime Minister, Antony Eden. The EU deserves some of the credit for Spain and Portugal becoming democratic. Greece’s position as an associate member was suspended when it ceased to be democratic and was not restored until after democracy had been restored.

  • Richard Underhill 31st Jan '16 - 11:03am

    General De Gaulle also vetoed applications from Norway, who have applied four times in all and are a NATO member.
    Tectonic plates grind against each other in Iceland with dramatic geographical effects. When the Liberal International met in Reykavik the Icelanders were simultaneously considering applying for the EU and the North American Free Trade Area. As a member of NATO Iceland had a defence budget of zero per cent of Gross Domestic Product while hosting a military base for the USA.

  • Richard Underhill 11th Sep '18 - 5:34pm

    Sweden’s application to join the EU achieved the highest YES vote in the European Parliament. Scandinavians then went quiet on further progress in EU development.
    When the Heads of Government of the EU27 meet to discuss Brexit what will the position of the Swedish Prime Minister?
    Sweden has just had a general election. Clearly the Quality newspapers in the UK and media, including the BBC, do not have a Swedish equivalent of Professor Curtice to translate the numbers of votes shown in exit polls or actual elections into MPs elected to the Swedish parliament.
    Maybe the Electoral Reform people will update Enid Lakeman’s documentation of the electoral systems.
    Even those who are reluctant to discuss electoral systems usually know that the number of MPs elected is often not closely proportionate to the number of votes cast.
    The British group of the Liberal International met Swedish Liberals on several occasions. They explained seriously that because the Swedish Social Democrats had been in majority government the Liberals were in opposition, as were the Moderates and the Centre Party. They did not have great policy differences from us, although one Swedish Young Liberal told me that we cannot be Liberals unless we wish to abolish the monarchy. I did not tell him that he was drunk, but tried to explain that House of Lords reform should come first, which he did not accept.
    The media are exaggerating the increase of the vote of the “Swedish Democrats”
    who should be beyond the Pale.
    Taking figures from page 30 of The Times today, 11/9/2018,
    Social Democrats 101 (down 12)
    Greens 15 (down 10)
    Left Party (28 (up 7)
    Liberals19 (no change)
    Centre Party 30 (up 8)
    Moderates 70 (down 14)
    Christian Democrats 23 (up 7).
    50%+ of 349 seats = 175.
    Personalities will matter of course.
    Adding 19 Liberals would not be enough.
    Could the 28 ex-communist Left Party MPs be included again?

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