This article was written by Dr Liam Fox for the Sunday Telegraph on Saturday 21st February 2015
Last week I gave a lecture at Lodz University in Poland.
I talked about global security, Russia, Isis, the Arab spring and the economic insecurity resulting from the latest Euro crisis.
In the following hour of questions and answers, only three were about a subject other than Russia and Ukraine. Viewed from Poland, the threat from Putin looks very different.
For the West, the Cold War was a great triumph of ideas and economic systems over the intellectual bankruptcy of communism. For many Russians, this was not how it seemed.
There was no fall of Berlin. In fact, in many ways, it was much more how the end of World War I felt to many Germans, with years of economic hardship being presented as punishment by unsympathetic, if not vindictive, Western powers.
As sanctions were being applied to Russia following the annexation of Crimea, Putin even went so far as to tell the Germans that great powers should not be humbled, and that they, the Germans, should understand this.
It was the clearest evidence yet of Putin’s mindset and its frightening echoes of the past.
Let’s be clear about what is happening. Russia has a clear strategic plan which is to create and hold zones of potential destabilisation where it matters most for European security.
As well as having Kaliningrad in the Baltic, there has been a steady campaign to intimidate its smaller neighbours and to finance political candidates sympathetic to Moscow.
In the South Caucasus, not only does Russia have an occupying force on sovereign Georgian territory, but it has now created a virtual client state in Armenia.
In the Balkans, the encouragement of Republica Srpska to see the illegal secession referendum in Crimea as a precedent, risks further destabilisation in this most volatile region.
Then, of course, we have the annexation of Crimea itself by force, Russia’s boldest move so far. None of this is an accident, but part of a well thought out and, so far successfully executed, strategy.
What are the options available for NATO and the West? The first would be to be in denial about Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine and accept Putin’s assertions that it’s nothing to do with him or his military forces.
This would certainly be of comfort to those who worry about “a more strident” response by Moscow to any meaningful international action.
The second would be to accept the reality of the Russian involvement, but to look the other way, in the hope that it would be the limits to his political and territorial ambitions. This is appeasement.
The third would be to augment the current response by a further round of sanctions, increasing the already substantial pressure on the Russian economy.
It is clear, however, that a number of European nations fear further domestic pain and it’s unclear whether Putin cares at all about the suffering of the Russian people .
The fourth option would be to give the Ukrainians, the capabilities they most require in order to defend themselves against the military superiority of the pro-Russian separatists and their Kremlin allies.
Primarily, this would involve properly encrypted communications, UAVs for surveillance and targeting and anti-tank capabilities to deal with the massive deficit which the Ukrainians currently have on this front.
There is increasing scepticism in Washington that any diplomatic solution reached with the Putin government will be as worthless as that achieved in Minsk last September. They are right.
A student in Lodz asked me what will happen if the Russian backed separatists keep moving west.
At what point, he asked, would the West be willing to stand up against the gradual dismembering of a sovereign state, on the border of Europe? I wanted to tell him that we would not allow such a thing to happen, that we would not allow aggression to go unimpeded until it came to the very border of NATO itself.
I wanted to, but I couldn’t.
The truth is that too few NATO nations are willing to pay for their collective defence – only four of NATO’s current 28 members contribute the 2% of GDP on defence that membership implies. Everyone wants the insurance policy, but too few want to pay the premiums.
Western nations are too afraid to reallocate funds from their welfare addicted domestic populations to their national security budgets and Russia knows it. This cannot continue.
What we are able and willing to fund in times of safety and security are not the same as the things we must prioritise at a time of international danger.
The luxury of an expanded welfare system and the philanthropy of a generous overseas aid programme must take their place behind national security and the first duty of government, which is to keep our country and our people safe