Russia’s Ukrainian war must lead to Putin’s downfall

In my Lib Dem Voice article of 4th March 2022, I argued that Putin should be stopped in Ukraine for good.

Now that Putin has narrowed his war aims to take over the rest of Donbas, Luhansk, including the industrial and food producing heartland of Ukraine, having had created a land corridor to Crimea and brought Ukraine’s economy to its knees, he may well accede to calls for a ceasefire to consolidate his gains, erect strong defences in his recently-captured territories and rebuild his army into a new more effective force to recommence war whenever it suits him.

A ceasefire would be the easy way out for the West. Some western countries have already suggested it. However, we must resist this happening if the Ukrainian Government is against it.

After tens of thousands of Ukrainian deaths, disappearances of whole Ukrainian populations deported from captured war zones into Russia, the wholesale demolition of Ukrainian cities and towns (all at a cost of 25,000 dead Russian soldiers so far and many more wounded), the chaos that Putin has caused cannot be allowed to be paused to be continued later, whether against Ukraine or other neighbouring countries.

We have two and a half years before the possible return of Trump or another far-right Republican to the White House. Given Trump’s previous disparaging remarks about NATO, we cannot exclude the possibility that the US would pull out or render US membership of NATO ineffective. Coupled with Trump’s own admiration for Putin, the very survival of liberal democracy is at stake in such circumstances if Putin continues to remain in power with, of course, China taking advantage of the situation to further its own aims against the West.

We have to keep sustaining our effort in Ukraine. We must continue providing all necessary weapons to Ukraine (while rapidly replenishing NATO’s stocks), give it our full-scale political backing on the international stage and keep supporting its economy until it can regain its land to become self-sufficient again. Already-announced western sanctions must be comprehensive and leak-proofed.

As I have said before (LDV 24th April 2022), we must eventually gain access and use the half of Russia’s estimated US$600 billion war chest of foreign currency reserves held in western banks to rebuild Ukraine. The generous West should not bear this burden at a time our own populations are very hard pressed.

The only way we can hope to achieve durable stability in Europe is for Ukraine to force its invaders back to Russia’s pre-2014 borders.

Moreover, if the Russian Army in its present rickety state were to suffer a major reversal of fortunes in Ukraine eventually and collapse there, the most likely scenario is not that Putin would turn to using a nuclear weapon to save himself, but rather that those around him would remove him from power rather than risk a further escalation.

* George Cunningham is Chair of the Lib Dems Abroad Steering Committee and an Elected Member of the Federal International Relations Committee, Twitter: @GFCunningham

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Brad Barrows 27th May '22 - 5:21pm

    A few point on this article, if you forgive some comments that disagree with much of what this article says.

    Firstly, it is difficult to argue both that Western countries believe in a rules based order and then also argue that assets that belong to the Russian people should be stolen. The purpose for which stolen assets are applied can never justify their theft.

    Secondly, following the 2014 overthrow of a democratically elected, pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Russia intervened militarily in Crimea – without UN Security Council permission – and allowed the people of Crimea to vote to leave Ukraine and join Russia. This was completely illegal and violated the rules-based order that means that borders can not be changed by military force but only by freely given consent. However, in 1999 NATO intervened military in Serbia – without UN Security Council permission – and forced Serbia to withdraw from its own territory to allow Kosovo de facto independence. This was also completely illegal and violated the rules based order that means that borders can not be changed by military force but only be freely given consent. Therefore, NATO/the West does not speak from a position of moral authority on these matters.

    Thirdly, while I understand the West’s red line that Putin should not be rewarded for his actions, we must be careful not to insist that Ukraine should continue to suffer and pay with blood for our red lines.

  • Steve Trevethan 27th May '22 - 8:50pm

    Mr. Barrows makes important points with his different viewpoint.

    Here are two more differing viewpoints, both of which are American.

  • A long serving diplomat in Russia’s mission to the United Nations in Geneva quit his post this week, expressing shame over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and describing it as a crime against both countries.
    Boris Bondarev, a 20-year veteran of Russia’s Foreign Ministry, announced his resignation in an email sent to diplomats in Geneva . He said:

    “For 20 years of my diplomatic career I have seen different turns of our foreign policy but never have I been so ashamed of my country as on Feb. 24 of this year.”

    “The aggressive war unleashed by Putin against Ukraine and in fact against the entire Western world is not only a crime against the Ukrainian people but also, perhaps, the most serious crime against the people of Russia,”

    Mr Bondarev told the Press: ‘It is intolerable what my government is doing now.’ He said those who conceived the war ‘want only one thing – to remain in power forever, live in pompous tasteless palaces, sail on yachts comparable in tonnage and cost to the entire Russian navy, enjoying unlimited power and complete impunity’.

  • George,

    Russia is occupying the towns is has destroyed and is unlikely to leave any area where its troops are in place, if post-war history is anything to go by. The Ukrainian military will find it very difficult to force them back to the pre-2014 borders and may need to agree some form of armistice to stop fighting while territorial claims are negotiated. That may be unpalatable for the Ukrainian government, but it needs to find a way to protect its population from further harm from its aggressive and powerful neighbour.
    The initial rebuilding of essential services and infrastructure will need to be organised by Russia as the occupying power much as was the case in a ruined Eastern Europe after WW2.
    It appears likely that the 21st century will be dominated by a conflict between democracies and authoritarian states, much as the 20th Century was. Perhaps unblocking Odessa might be the place to start with facing down Russia. Turkey bombarded the port in WW1. Turkish ships with Nato air cover could escort grain ships from the port through the Bosphorus.

  • I agree with the whole thrust of this article. Putin ( or like minded successors) CANNOT be appeased, they only see this as weakness. Although I can have sympathy for the ‘ordinary ‘ member of the Russian public and many of the junior front line soldiers I cannot wish anything than the total comprehensive defeat of Putin’s Russia. With this in mind the collective Liberal democratic World must continue its 100% support for The Ukraine 🇺🇦 for as long as it’s needed.

  • Brad Barrows 28th May '22 - 7:22pm

    I’m surprised you do not see the situation with Kosovo as relevant to the discussion. NATO chose to use force against Serbia – without UN authority – when Serbia had not attacked any NATO country. Having forced Serbia to withdraw from part of its territory, NATO countries then recognised Kosovo as independent – violating Serbia’s territorial integrity. So much for ‘NATO is just a defensive organisation. So much for ‘respecting territorial integrity’. Russia has learned from NATO’s playbook…and the West is outraged.

  • Brad Barrows 29th May '22 - 6:56pm

    NATO’s intervention was against a country named the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia though, by then, several republics had already broken away and the country was just two remaining republics -Serbia and Montenegro. Kosovo was not a republic of Yugoslavia as it was part of Serbia. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia changed its name to ‘Serbia and Montenegro’ in 2003 and, later, after Macedonia voted for independence, Serbia was all that was left. However Kosovo had been part of Serbia until NATO intervened to force the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro in practice) to withdraw from the territory so it could break free from Belgrade rule. Russia has used the NATO intervention to justify Russia’s intervention in Crimea in 2014 to enable that territory to break free from Ukraine. While NATO argues that borders should not be changed by force, this is precisely what they did with Kosovo and Russia later copied in Crimea.

    The situation in Donbass is more difficult for Russia to justify – it points to the fact that Ukraine was refusing to implement the Minsk agreement, which it true, and suggests that Ukraine was planning instead to seek to re-conquer the rebel areas by force, which has not been proved. That said, all this goes back to the events of 2014 when a democratically elected, pro-Russian President, was overthrown following violent scenes and the people of Crimea and the Donbass, which had heavily supported that President, were outraged with many refusing to accept the authority of the new government.

  • To propagandize the West, Lenin Recruited a special corps of “useful idiots.” (The term is actually not Lenin’s, but that of economist Ludwig von Mises.) These foot soldiers would push his revolution in every country — co-opting and subverting democratic processes, fomenting strikes, installing secret armies and, above all, propagandizing according to Moscow’s dictates. The KGB refined these processes to an information war against Western democracies.
    With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia entered a period of nascent democracy under Yelsin, but that came to an end with the appointment of Putin as acting President and the subsequent elimination of a free press in the early 2000’s.
    The Putin regime has engaged in an information war over the past two decades to spread misinformation. There was never any promise with respect to Nato expansion as Gorbachev is on record as confirming. The 1990 discussions with US Secretary of State James Baker were around East Germany, after the fall of the Berlin wall and at a time when the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact were still intact.
    The 2014 Maidan revolution was a grassroots uprising that saw 100 student protestors shot dead at the urging of Putin to take a hard line on the demonstrators.
    The Kosovo intervention was controversial (Paddy Ashdown acknowledged the KLA was a terrorist organisation) and might have been resolved by a diplomatic initiative under the terms of the Rambouillet conference. If Russia was serious about seeking a resolution in Ukraine it would not repeat the mistakes of Kosovo and instead have engaged with the offer of negotiations with Zelensky that envisaged a neutral Ukraine and autonomous regional government for the Donbas. There are no good guys here – not Putin and the separatists nor the Zelensky government and its right-wing militias. There is only a sovereign country seeking a democratic future that has been invaded by an aggressive neighbour and is fighting back for its survival as a free people.

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