Some polling by Lord Ashcroft earlier this year reveals that most UK voters have an understandably dim view of Russia. Many of us have no wish to see part of the USSR recreated by bluff or force in the east. More interesting and less obvious was that most British voters had an even worse perception of the EU than of Russia, especially Conservative voters. In his poll where 10 is very positive and zero is very negative, Russia scored 4.07, the EU 4.00 and the European Parliament 3.5. Amongst Conservative and UKIP voters the EU score was even lower.
I found myself in rare agreement yesterday with Sir Menzies Campbell when he said there should be a negotiated solution to the problems of the Ukraine: ratcheting up the threats and rhetoric will not help. I have no sympathy for Russian actions that might destabilise the Ukraine further. Nor can I can forget that it was EU action seeking to expand their empire to the West which first started the reactions of Russia. The EU was seeking to entice the whole of the Ukraine towards EU membership and the common security and defence policy via a close Association Agreement. EU pressure helped lead to the removal of the elected President from power in the Ukraine, which has allowed Russia to question the legality and authority of the interim Ukrainian government that replaced him.
The truth is UK people do not want to belong to a common foreign and security policy which seeks to extend an armed empire of Europe eastwards to the Russian border in a way which Russia finds menacing, but which Russia can also exploit for her own imperial aims. The EU has developed more of the common foreign policy before getting so far with the common army, so it is particularly foolish to push for a bigger EU reach when there is no effective military force to deal with possible adverse military reactions from others.
Some of my Parliamentary colleagues say the UK has to go along with the Ukrainian/US view of the current proto conflict. They imply that because we are members of the Security Council we have to play a role, and suggest there is a simple binary choice to be made between being on the side of the West or backing Mr Putin. I do not see it like that, as this is based on a misunderstanding of the role of the UN and the responsibilities of a Security Council member.
I do want a UK independent of an EU foreign policy to remain as a member of the UN Security Council. To keep our seat we need to maintain sufficient modern arms, have a capacity to intervene, and a willingness to use our force in pursuit of UN causes where needed and where we wish to help in proportion to our strength . That is what we have done in recent years and can still do. There is no question of us being able or being asked to intervene in the Ukraine through the UN, as the Security Council will not be able to establish a common view on the problem as the opposing sides are members with vetoes. Similarly, our decision through Parliament not to intervene in Syria did not let down the UN, as Russia was unlikely to agree to western armies entering Damascus or NATO planes bombing the country.
I do not think there is much the UK can do to help make matters better in the Ukraine. We have little direct national interest in the Ukraine, and little diplomatic or military power of our own that could make the situation better. The best we could do is to urge the EU to be less provocative, and to cease supporting the interim Ukrainian regime. It would be better for the EU to await the election of a new government, and then if that government is wise and making sense to use the EU’s diplomatic skills to help them calm down the tense situation within their country.
The UK should be clearer in opposing a full scale common foreign and security policy for the EU. My colleagues who want us to keep and use our seat on the UN Security Council should realise that the logic of CFSP is one permanent Security Council seat for the EU in the end, to replace France and the UK. Anyone interested in our country and its influence in the world should be working to prevent such an outcome. In the meantime we do not have to choose between an EU dominated Ukraine or a Russian dominated one, nor do we have the power to decide what the outcome might be.