The West must stop Putin in Ukraine for good

Many say Putin’s vision is to rebuild an empire for Russia, a policy he has been pursuing incrementally since his invasion of Georgia in 2008.

After all the suffering unleashed in Ukraine, it is imperative that Putin must be stopped in his tracks at the juncture, despite the danger this may entail.

If Putin is not dissuaded by the heavy economic cost he is suffering now, we must up the game, especially if Kyiv is subjected to a full-scale attack coupled with an attempt to decapitate the Zelensky leadership. What to do?

Firstly, increase substantially the risk for Putin. Biden was very wrong to declare from the start that NATO would not get involved in Ukraine and more recently that there would be no no-fly-zone. Putin feels he has a carte blanche from Biden to do what he wants. The rhetoric from the West must now change to: “all options are on the table” because of the Russian atrocities being committed.

Secondly, intensify cyber warfare covertly to disrupt all command and control as well as logistics to the Russian military forces.

Thirdly, disrupt Russian air superiority. Although a risky move – but entirely in keeping with the murderous gravity of the situation – Ukraine could invite individual countries, without asking NATO as a whole, to patrol Ukrainian skies on “training missions” to disrupt Russia gaining air superiority over the whole country. Also EU Foreign Policy Chief Borrell may have made a mistake promising fighter planes for Ukraine but now they must be provided if not too late. And where are the drones?  All possibilities need to be considered now, especially to reduce the killing of innocent civilians and the refugee flow.

Fourthly we must completely tighten the noose of economic sanctions by removing any exceptions. Payments for Russian oil and gas should be delayed with immediate effect until Russia withdraws its forces from Ukraine, even if it leads to supplies being cut off and Europe relying on our limited energy reserves. SWIFT sanctions should move from “targeted to “universal” until Russia withdraws.

Remember that Trump may well win the White House in 2024. His admiration for Putin – expressed again only last week – and disdain for Europe and NATO might well see an attempt to dismantle NATO and pull US troops out of Europe in his second term, as he started doing before Biden won the Presidency. Now the US is still with us here in Europe.

Let Putin get away with this, and we’ll pay the price further down the line. Today we have 43 million Ukrainians fully at war, tying down 200,000 Russian troops. If we do not stop this now alongside brave Ukraine, will not the cost to our own people be far greater trying to stop on our own a 200,000 Russian troop invasion of the Baltic States and possibly more European countries?

* George Cunningham is Chair of Lib Dems Abroad Steering Committee and Chair of the FIRC Subcommittee on China. He is former Strategic Adviser at the European External Action Service.

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45 Comments

  • I agree. If not we may be condemned to repeat history ie Poland 1939. Moldova and Georgia next then the Baltic states and Finland. Russia may over run Ukraine but they will need to hold it down.

  • Brad Barrows 4th Mar '22 - 8:05pm

    Sorry, but inviting another country’s Air Force to fly over Ukraine will only challenge Russia’s air superiority if that Air Force is willing to shoot Russian planes out of the sky. If one Russian plane is shot down by such an Air Force, Russia will retaliate against that country – if the country is a NATO member, we will then face a NATO v Russia war.

  • The EU offer to supply fighter aircraft has been withdrawn, however Ukraine does have effective Turkish-built armed drones, with more on the way.

    Regarding a no-fly zone, the Russians have very good surface to air missiles, so anyone attempting to enforce a no-fly zone would have to be willing to bomb their anti-aircraft systems on the ground as well as engage their aircraft in the air, which starts to look like proper warfare.

  • Yeovil Yokel 4th Mar '22 - 10:10pm

    George – you don’t always tell your enemy what you will and won’t do. The remarks of Sec Gen Stoltenberg and other NATO leaders may be designed to wrong foot the Russians and keep them guessing. NATO may already be conducting covert military operations in support of Ukraine, but we will be the last to know about them.

  • Fourthly we must completely tighten the noose of economic sanctions by removing any exceptions.

    ‘EU bars 7 Russian banks from SWIFT, but spares those in energy’ [2nd. March 2022]:
    https://www.reuters.com/business/finance/eu-excludes-seven-russian-banks-swift-official-journal-2022-03-02/

    The United States and Britain had been pushing for the SWIFT ban, but some in the euro zone had taken some persuading given the region’s reliance on Russian energy exports. […]

    Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the decision to exclude Sberbank and Gazprombank from sanctions due to “transactions related to energy supplies to the EU” was unacceptable.

    ‘The West’s Green Delusions Empowered Putin’ [1st. March 2022]:
    https://bariweiss.substack.com/p/the-wests-green-delusions-empowered

    A few voices called for what would really hit Russia where it hurts: cutting off energy imports. But what actually happened was that European energy utilities jumped to buy more contracts for the Russian oil and gas that flows through Ukraine.

    ‘Why Europe Needs Russian Gas’ [4th. March 2022]:
    https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2022/03/04/why-europe-needs-russian-gas/

    Even Denmark, the poster boy for the wind lobby, has got most of its electricity in the last few days from gas, coal and wood, with wind power almost non existent.

  • A No-fly Zone is a difficult proposition for the same reason it was in Syria i.e. the Russian air defense systems would have to be attacked and destroyed and NATO would have to be prepared to shoot down any Russian aircraft violating it.
    Supplying Ukraine with fighter jets may not be a feasible proposition, but equipping their forces with Drones, as Turkey has done, would seem to be a possibility.If prisoners can get drugs delivered by Drones operated by associates on the outside, how hard can it be?
    Another alternative discussed for Syria was a no-fly zone in a humanitarian area along the border with Turkey where refugees could seek shelter from aerial bombing.

  • Ronald Murray 5th Mar '22 - 8:53am

    Fully agree with this article. It is all very well saying a No-Fly Zone will start WW3. The Ukrainians need positive military help. Putin is banking on the fear of WW3 to get away with this if he is not stopped in Ukraine and pushed back it will be Poland next until the entire Warsaw Pact is restored. We were assured Nuclear Weapons assured peace instead it has made us powerless to deal with a situation like this. He is working to the same plan USSR had to invade Europe we were taught when I was a soldier in the Int Corps. The West are behaving like children in a school playground watching bullies beat someone up and filming it. I wonder why the drones are not being used to defend.

  • Peter Martin 5th Mar '22 - 9:47am

    @ Ronald Murray

    It is all very well saying a No-Fly Zone will start WW3. The Ukrainians need positive military help.

    How is starting WW3 going to help anyone – including the Ukrainians?

  • Peter Martin 5th Mar ’22 – 9:47am…..

    I absolutely agree.. I’m old enough to remember the Cuban crisis of 1962 and we came closer than anyone (then) knew to WW3..One Soviet/US ship/sub sunk or even badly damaged would have started the whole thing off*..
    Far too many armchair warriors on here and other sites..

    *Vasili Aleksandrovich Arkhipov was a Soviet Navy officer credited with preventing a Soviet nuclear strike during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Such an attack likely would have caused a major global thermonuclear response.

  • Barry Lofty 5th Mar '22 - 10:49am

    For what it is worth can I add my agreement with Peter Martin’s and expats comments.!

  • Nonconformistradical 5th Mar '22 - 11:03am

    Writing as another old enough to remember the Cuban missle crisis – I also agree with Peter Martin, expats and Barry Lofty.

  • Call it a “no fly zone” or whatever you like, but if the West puts aircraft over Ukraine and starts shooting at Russians the we will be at war with Russia, and that won’t stop at the skies over Ukraine.

  • George Cunningham 5th Mar ’22 – 11:30am…

    On the one hand many commentators and analysists consider Putin to be delusional and unstable and yet, faced with that, you still propose to “disrupt Russian air superiority.” (adding “Although a risky move”).. I’d suggest that ‘upping the ante’ against a rational leader would be very risky.. What if you get it wrong?

    BTW..How would the west have reacted if Putin had decided to militarily challenge our no fly zones over Iraq/Libya or if he imposed one over Syria?

  • John Gordon Kelly 5th Mar '22 - 12:03pm

    Sadly I too agree with George. In addition to the obligation that any country surely has to try and prevent war crimes, the mass migration westwards could run into many millions of people – Ukraine after all has a population of over 40 million. How is the rest of Europe going to cope with feeding, housing, financing and otherwise supporting so many?
    Economic and isolation measures are clearly not stopping Putin, although we could tighten them. It’s disappointing to see some supposed allies like India, South Africa and the UAE abstaining at the UN and the pressure should be ramped up on them. Apparently UAE and Israel are still allowing some flights between Russia and their airports. Why? Presumably Turkey is still allowing them to fly over its territory. Why? Turkey is blocking Russian warships from going through the Bosporus, but seemingly still allowing oil tankers. Why?

  • Barry Lofty 5th Mar '22 - 12:13pm

    Escalating this war without trying every other means available, other than direct military conflict with this madman, will likely end in nuclear destruction for our world, let us all hope it brings the West much closer and something happens that brings some sanity to this situation for the sake of our children and grandchildren.
    I am not a pacifist just a realist!

  • George Cunningham 5th Mar ’22 – 11:30am:
    …I do not see much of significance that NATO is doing…

    Ukraine is not a NATO member and it was made clear that no NATO country would get involved militarily once hostilities started. Much the best time to supply military support was before Russia invaded. The UK had been training Ukrainian forces since 2015 (operation ORBITAL) as had Canada (operation UNIFIER). The UK and US have supplied substantial quantities of military equipment. More recently, the UK sent 2,000 NLAW anti-tank weapons (detouring around German airspace to deliver them), which the Ukrainian army described as a “game changer”. The US has sent several hundred Javelin anti-tank missiles. There have been (much) smaller contributions from the Baltic states, Denmark, Poland, Slovakia and Sweden. Turkey has supplied a small number of drones. Last week, the UK convened a conference of 27 countries, to coordinate the supply of weapons and medical supplies and lead the logistics.

    ‘Russia-Ukraine crisis: Who supplies weapons to Kyiv?’ [February 2022]:
    https://www.dw.com/en/russia-ukraine-crisis-who-supplies-weapons-to-kyiv/a-60772390

    ‘Five NATO countries hold talks on support for Ukraine – Pentagon’ [April 2021]:
    https://www.ukrinform.net/rubric-polytics/3223522-five-nato-countries-hold-talks-on-support-for-ukraine-pentagon.html

    ‘Operation ORBITAL explained: Training Ukrainian Armed Forces’:
    https://medium.com/voices-of-the-armed-forces/operation-orbital-explained-training-ukrainian-armed-forces-59405d32d604

    ‘Operation UNIFIER’:
    https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/services/operations/military-operations/current-operations/operation-unifier.html

  • Peter Hirst 5th Mar '22 - 12:57pm

    While this is true, Putin is also looking for evidence to confirm the lies he is told that western society is decadent and not worth saving. He needs to justify his actions to himself. While sanctions and military support are important we should also counter this narrative by being generous in our humanitarian aid and at least give him the opportunity to see the truth.

  • Leon Trotsky in exile had to contemplate how the Russian revolution had been subverted by Stalin. Before he was assassinated by Stalin in In the 1930s he wrote ““The end may justify the means as long as there is something that justifies the end.” “Everything is relative in this world, where change alone endures.” “Life is not an easy matter…. “A means can be justified only by its end. “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”

    There is nothing good that justifies the blatant falsehoods that Putin’s regime has been spreading for decades or the end that his regime seeks. Putin has brought war to Europe and the Russian people whether they are interested or not. He is even claiming that sanctions against Russia are akin to a declaration of war now https://finance.yahoo.com/news/putin-says-western-sanctions-akin-132655128.html
    Churchill wrote to Lloyd George just before the 1938 Munich conference saying “We seem to be very near the bleak choice between War and Shame. My feeling is that we shall choose Shame, and then have War thrown in a little later on even more adverse terms than at present.” This seems to be the choice that democracies are once again faced with; only this time with a demagogue armed with nuclear weapons.

  • John Littler 5th Mar '22 - 3:55pm

    Giving Ukranians effective weapons they are able to use and training their people outside of Ukraine should be the extent of military involvement until and unless Putin moves into NATO territory.

    Despite the enormous size, the Russian army has shown it’s weaknesses. It has a very low morale. It’s conscripts were lied to that this was an exercise, many are short of food, fuel and supplies and the tanks are often old and patched up, breaking down from lack of parts and servicing. Russian arrogance produced poor organisation.

    Apart from the prestige and legacy aspects Putin is looking for to gain from taking Ukraine, the surprisingly small, limited and shrinking Russian economy would benefit from something else in Ukraine. Vast wheat production and minerals are for the taking, including those in all semi conductors, in nearly all electronics. This is a Resource War.

    However, if Putin can be slowed, his forces killed, surrendered and bogged down until the Summer, the Russian economy will be toast. With high unemployment, salaries, pensions and savings worthless, a collapsed Rouble and people unable to travel, cash shares or do business. His Oligarchs and banks will have many of their assets frozen. Tax receipts will be frozen and reserves shrinking.

  • John Littler 5th Mar '22 - 3:55pm

    If people in Cities are hungry for at least 5 days as they were under the collapse of the Soviet Union, many become unafraid of being imprisoned and will take to the streets en masse. This or an inner circle coup could be the means to stop Putin and the war.

    Alternatively, Putin might decide to cut his losses, negotiate for peace and make up more propaganda about having chased out Nazi’s, secured peace for the Russian speaking areas and ensured that NATO will be unable to expand there. We can but hope.

  • John Littler 5th Mar '22 - 3:57pm

    The first part of my 2 post above was deleted. No idea why or what is the point sometimes?

  • John Littler 5th Mar ’22 – 3:57pm….The first part of my 2 post above was deleted. No idea why or what is the point sometimes?

    Agreed ..We are told “it is important we continue to debate this issue as this is a defining moment in history.” but posts that ask awkward questions are removed..

  • Popular opposition is crushed in Russia and any state that relies on Putin’s support whether it is Syria, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan
    Lukashenko is every bit as murderous and ruthless as Putin and uses torture, assassinations, incarceration and electoral fraud to stay in power. Belarus is reportedly building Nazi style concentration camps https://www.rferl.org/a/31076165.html to house political dissidents sentenced to hard labour for the affrontery of supporting opposition candidates. These kind of dictators laugh at diplomacy. They understand only one thing – that is force.

  • Chris Moore 5th Mar '22 - 6:30pm

    Russia is not an oligarchy. The oligarchs have much less influence on Putin than many Western pundits assume.

    Putin’s power is extended through loyalty within the security apparatus: FSB, high echelons of army and police. Many of his loyalists in the apparatus have benefitted materially, but they are merely well-off, not the oligarchs.

    So sanctions on oligarchs in themselves won’t lead to the toppling of Putin. Whilst he has the support of the security apparatus, he is safe. If he loses that, he isn’t.

    If Putin has wider imperialist ambitions, it doesn’t make strategic sense to treat Ukraine as win or bust, particularly when bust might involve a nuclear confrontation.

    The aim for Allied powers should be to make conquering Ukraine as costly and time-consuming as possible.

    Given how poor Russian command and control seem to be, it’s highly unlikely Russia could launch another attack simultaneously or in short order; i.e. there’d be a pause of several years, (unless it’s a question of over-running indefensible Moldova, for example.)

    This will allow defences in other – particularly NATO countries – to be prepared.

    Jeff is right. Five Eye intelligence about a very likely attack has given Britain and others time to train and arm Ukraine. This is much more pragmatic than head-on confrontation in unfavourable circumstances. A no-fly zone would lead to such confrontation, with a possibility of a nuclear stand-off/conflict. That makes no strategic sense at all. It’s not winnable.

  • People that have an intimate knowledge of the workings of the Russian state put a lot of emphasis on the intertwined power bases of Putin and the Oligarchs. These include Putin critics like Alexi Navalny, Garry Kasparov and Bill Browder.
    To understand the Euro Maidan Ukranian revolution, it is well worth watching the Netflix documentary “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzNxLzFfR5w. It gives a good picture of the kind of resistance that Russian forces are likely to encounter in Kyiv and why Yanukovych had to resign from the presidency.

  • Chris Moore 6th Mar '22 - 8:32am

    Hello Joe,

    We’ll have to disagree on that one. In itself the word “oligarch” is a misnomer. Exceptionally wealthy Russians have substantial holdings in the economy. This gives them privileged access to the inner ruling circle, (as it does with such people in some other countries too.) But it doesn’t mean they rule.

    Nor does it mean they are in any position to remove Putin. They have some influence at some junctures on some matters, but precious little in a war scenario.

    The security apparatus is what has critical weight currently.

  • The oligarchs, in themselves and in the short term, will not remove Putin..However, if and when they find themselves with frozen assets and treated as pariahs their tolerance of Putin will be strained..
    They have political and financial clout in many countries (ref. our own Tory party) and, if that influence were directed against an increasingly unpopular Putin, the longer term affect may well be telling..

    However, it seems, that unlike our ex-EU colleagues, their influence and money has made them safe in the UK..

  • Barry Lofty 6th Mar '22 - 9:57am

    It is a really odd scenario to find Boris Johnson, the leader of a party that has excepted large amounts of Russian money into their coffers for many years, in the headlines every day urging other western leaders to listen to his advice on curbing Putin’s aggression, it is indeed a strange world we live in!?

  • Chris Moore 6th Mar '22 - 11:33am

    One of the reasons very wealthy Russians move assets off-shore is that, whether they are “close” to Putin or not, they don’t trust the government and fear- with good reason – having the state rob them.

    Some very wealthy Russians in London are distant or have distanced themselves from the regime politically and geographically.

    I fear in the heat of war, we are tarring all with the same brush.

  • expats 6th Mar ’22 – 9:19am:
    …it seems, that unlike our ex-EU colleagues, their influence and money has made them safe in the UK.

    ‘Britain freezes more Russian bank assets than any other country in the world’ [March 2022]:
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2022/03/05/britain-freezes-russian-bank-assets-country-world/

    The Foreign Office revealed the UK had frozen a total of £258.8 billion of bank assets, compared to £240 billion by the US and £33.8 billion by the EU.

  • jeff, Your own attachment from the Telegraph, hardly a critical source, adds, ” Liz Truss under pressure to target more oligarchs…”

    Making my point..

  • A no-fly zone is a non starter, not only because it risks escalation by risking a Russian attack on a NATO country but also because it wouldn’t be tactically very useful.

    Russia has not committed many aircraft and most of the shelling is coming from ground level. A no fly zone would not be a solution.

    Zelensky may have many qualities but strategy is probably not one of them. What the West has done in terms of sanctions and defensive equipment is a robust response, it is not doing nothing.

  • Ben Wallace thinks more anti-aircraft missiles delivered by Western countries to Ukraine would have almost the same effect as a Nato no-fly zone with no risk of a dangerous clash between Nato and Russian air forces Wallace
    In 1992 during the Balkans conflict, the UN passed a resolution which banned unauthorized military flights in Bosnian airspace. The UN Security Council also approved a no-fly zone as part of the 2011 military intervention in Libya. The Bosnian and Libya zones were enforced by Nato forces.
    After the first Gulf War in 1991 the US and coalition partners established two no-fly zones in Iraq to prevent attacks against some ethnic and religious groups. This was done without United Nations backing.
    US air force general Philip Breedlove told Foreign Policy magazine that while he supports calls for a no-fly zone in Ukraine, it’s a very serious decision to take.
    “It’s tantamount to war. If we’re going to declare a no-fly zone, we have to take down the enemy’s capability to fire into and affect our no-fly zone.”
    Tobias Ellwood, who chairs the Defence Committee, has backed the idea of a partial or total no-fly zone, calling for Nato to intervene due to civilian deaths and alleged war crimes Ellwood

  • Chris Moore,

    I think we need to take note of the advice that leading critics give about sanctions on oligarchs. I do take the point you make about targeting decision makers within the regime. Former Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev makes a similar case https://edition.cnn.com/videos/tv/2022/03/03/amanpour-andrei-kozyrev-russia-ukraine-putin-lavrov.cnn

  • Chris Moore 6th Mar '22 - 10:06pm

    Joe, I’m in favour of wide-ranging sanctions on Russia. Anything that seriously weakens the economy.

    But neither “the Russian people”, “the opposition” or “the oligarchs” are significant players, for different reasons. Salvation will not come from any of those three vectors.

    Clamping down on Londongrad will be beneficial for the integrity of public life. Worth doing for that reason alone.

  • As a new member of the party, and an RAF veteran, I am heartened to come across this post and the lively debate that has ensued. The various cases have been laid out and I think all options need to remain on the table.

    Regarding the utility of a NFZ – I think think there is a need to keep our minds open. There are credible individuals who are laying out the art of the possible with regards to the use of air power @gregbagwell being one such individual who is an ex Air Marshal in the RAF. I can see both sides of the argument and it would be wrong to take this option off the table prematurely. Our resolve will be tested further. I am concerned that there is too much hope that the Ukrainians will win out – mass has a quality of its own however, and the Russians have plenty.

    Deterrence is an art as well as a science. I don’t have the answers but I am pleased that these debates are taking place. I will continue to follow the discussion with interest.

  • George Thomas 7th Mar '22 - 1:32pm

    As scary as he appears currently, this is probably Putin’s last go at getting back the Russia he wants and his international weight is diminishing. There are a lot scarier challenges to Western view’s of liberal democracies with a lot more money and might than Putin currently has and will have in near future.

    Since leaving the EU, Liz Truss has been determined to make up for loss of that major market by reaching out to money coming from more questionable sources. London is still open for business and looking for deeper pockets than what Russian oligarchs have.

  • The parallels with Hitler’s occupation of Czechoslovakia are too close for comfort as Nancy Pelosi writes https://www.businessinsider.com/pelosi-compares-ukraine-invasion-to-hitler-czechoslovakia-sudetenland-wwii-evil-2022-2?r=US&IR=T
    Neville Chambelain would have been the greatest statesman of the 20th Century if appeasement had been successful in preventing a second world war, but we know what the result was – the most destructive war in history.
    Russia under Putin has torn up the rules based order and security arrangements that have delivered a relative peace among great powers since 1945. There is no going back now to the more modest defence budgets of the past decades. The West will have to rearm, not least a unified Germany in Europe and a pacifist Japan in Asia.
    It is as Vladimir Lenin once said – “There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.” This appears to be one of those weeks.

  • A useful HoC Library compendium on the art of the possible for NFZ. A useful resource for anyone interested in this subject.

    https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-9488/

  • Chris Moore 8th Mar '22 - 10:28am

    Thanks Clare for the link.

    Great to have veterans in the party. They bring a different perspective.

  • Mike Falchikov 9th Mar '22 - 12:47pm

    This truly is a terrible time. Like many others, when the Soviet Union collapsed, I had reason to hope that democracy might flourish in the new Russia and for a few years things looked promising with genuine rival political parties competing (though the largely unreformed Communist Party still seemed to attract a good many votes in elections), but since the Putin era began there seems to be little in the way of a genuine political opposition (except for Naval’ny as an individual). The last credible opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, was got rid of by a hired gunman in a Moscow street 5 years ago (an event which Putin pretended to condemn). Is there anyone, or any group with any influence who might be prepared to speak out? In the meantime many ordinary brave Russians are prepared to be arrested for demonstrating against the war. It is all very sad.

  • Russia under Putin has put forward the idea of Sovereign democracy. It was realised in the form of a dominant-party system which was put into place in 2007 when as a result of the Russian legislative election of 2007 the political party United Russia, headed by president Vladimir Putin, without forming a government, formally became the leading and guiding force in Russian society. The aims of this doctrine are quite clear: the concentration and holding of political power and property at any cost. The consequences of this are already evident, including the glorification of populism, the steady destruction of private and public institutions and the departure from the principles of the law, democracy, and the free market.
    Sovereign democracy is the official ideology of the Russian youth movement NASHI, created in support of Vladimir Putin. This militarised youth movement exists to counter student protests or other such street demonstrations, Coupled with police arrests, state controlled media and harsh custodial sentences, any embryonic political opposition in Russia is effectively crushed before it can take root.
    Putin’s Russia is a dictatorship. Power can only be transferred by a palace coup or revolution, not by the ballot box. Ukraine would be in the same dismal situation as Belarus is under Lukashenko today, if the Maidan student protests had not succeeded in driving Yanukovich from power in 2014.

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