BORIS JOHNSON: The West must get Ukraine into Nato as fast as we can

BORIS JOHNSON: The West must be strong, end the mealy-mouthed procrastination and get Ukraine into Nato as fast as we can

So what were they frightened of? When Nato leaders came to Vilnius this week, it was surely obvious what they had to do.

They had to be strong. That is the whole point of Nato. They had to show that they were in no way intimidated by Vladimir Putin and the sabre-rattling spookery of the Kremlin.

They had to show that Nato countries recognise the immensity of the Ukrainian sacrifice and the obligations this imposes on us in the West — and they had to come up with a commensurate response.

For more than 500 days the Ukrainians have been resisting the Russian onslaught, a war they did nothing — repeat nothing — to provoke.

Their cities have been bombed indiscriminately, their women raped, their children abducted and in Crimea there are camps where male prisoners of war are systematically castrated.

President Zelensky greets world leaders at the Nato summit in Vilnius, Lithuania this week

No country is in greater need of Nato membership, Boris Johnson writes

More than 100,000 Ukrainian troops are believed to have lost their lives, along with countless civilians, and ten million Ukrainians have been displaced.

It was up to Nato leaders, this week, to show their collective respect and gratitude for Ukraine’s heroic resistance in a struggle in which not a single Nato soldier has been hurt or killed, because we in Nato countries know — and constantly say — that the Ukrainians are fighting for all of us.

Their battle is for freedom and democracy everywhere: for eastern Europe, for the Baltic states, for all peoples around the world that could be bullied or invaded by an overmighty neighbour. That is why this week we owed the Ukrainians clarity about their future.

It was up to the Nato leaders to demonstrate beyond doubt their belief in the fundamental principle of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation — the most successful military alliance in history.

We should have made it clear, once and for all, that it is for a sovereign people to decide which organisations they want to join, and that no non-member can veto them or hold them back.

No country has done more or tried harder than Ukraine to demonstrate its fitness for Nato membership. No armed forces are more fearsome or more effective in their use of Nato weaponry.

No country is in greater need of Nato membership. All the Alliance needed to do was to set out a timetable — not for instant membership; that makes no sense as long as the war is live — but for membership as soon as victory is won.

All we needed was words to the effect that accession could begin as soon as the war was over, on the understanding that this could be as early as next year.

It would have been the right message for those brave Ukrainians now fighting for their lives — like struggling swimmers who suddenly see the safety of the shore.

It would have been the right message for Putin, making it absolutely clear that his disastrous misadventure is only going to end one way. That was what Nato needed to say this week in the Lithuanian capital — and what did we get instead?

As long as Vladimir Putin thinks he can recreate the Soviet Union, he will try

I am sorry to say that the Vilnius conclusions are no firmer or more convincing than Nato’s Bucharest conclusions of 2008, which say — in paragraph 23, to be exact — ‘we agreed that these countries (Ukraine and Georgia) will become members of Nato’.

That was 15 years ago, when Gordon Brown was still prime minister, and when Putin had yet to embark on his violent and revanchist plan to rebuild the Soviet empire.

All the Ukrainians got this week was an ‘invitation’ to join Nato, ‘when allies are agreed and when conditions are met’. No wonder President Zelensky found it hard, at first, to conceal his frustration.

When allies agree? When conditions are met? According to the Bucharest conclusions, the allies agreed all this 15 years ago!

When will we learn the lesson of the past 20 years of handling Putin? It is our very ambiguity, our vacillation, our sucking-and-blowing-at-once, which has prompted him to invade. As long as he thinks there is a chance that he can wrest Ukraine back into the orbit of Moscow — as long as he thinks he can recreate the Soviet Union — he will try.

As long as he thinks he can get away with violence against Ukraine, and others, he will use violence. As long as Ukraine is deprived of those formal Article 5 Nato security guarantees that ensure the collective defence of all members, Putin will continue to inflict murder and mayhem — and to destabilise the world and the world economy.

That is why we in Nato must set out a timetable, as rapidly as possible. I know that is the ambition of the UK Government, and I know how hard Britain has been campaigning behind the scenes. The reluctance does not lie in London; far from it.

The problem is that there are still some of our friends and partners who think this war can only end in a negotiated solution. They believe that we should be craftily ambiguous now — because they think that the issue of Ukraine’s Nato membership could yet be part of the deal.

You could make a bargain with Putin, they think: you get your troops out and we’ll keep Ukraine out of Nato.

That is madness. Throughout this war there has been a Western tendency to make the same mistake, over and over again: to overestimate Putin, and to underestimate Ukraine.

A woman cries outside houses damaged by a Russian airstrike in Gorenka, outside Kyiv. Countless civilians have lost their lives in the conflict

The Ukrainians are going to win. They deserve to win. They are fighting like lions, and the evidence is growing that they will succeed.

Look at Putin’s position. It was only two weeks ago that Yevgeny Prigozhin — founder of the Wagner Group and hitherto seen as his leal* and faithful mastiff — suddenly turned on his master and sent his troops to march on Moscow.

Some now say that the ‘mutiny’ was all a cunning ploy by Putin, just to show that Russia could be even more chaotic with other people in charge. What nonsense.

This was no masquerade. This was near anarchy — the Wagner Group actually shooting down Russian helicopters, actually killing Russian soldiers.

And in the aftermath, Sergei Surovikin, the tough-nut general who used to be in charge of the Russian invasion forces, has suddenly vanished under suspicion of being in sympathy with the attempted coup.

Another sacked general, Ivan Popov, is accusing Putin of decapitating the army. You can see what is happening. The Russian military know they are facing defeat and humiliation in Ukraine, and they are preparing their dolchstosslegende — their stab-in-the-back-myth — to explain how they were betrayed and let down by incompetent politicians.

Yes, it will take time for the Ukrainians to break through the Vietcong-style dug-outs that the Russians have mined and booby-trapped in the captured areas. We must be patient. We must show strategic continence.

We must give the Ukrainians the air cover — the F-16 fighter jets — to get it done.

But they will do it, and once they do, there is only one way to make sure such an invasion never happens again, to settle once and for all the question of Ukraine’s political identity and orientation — for the stability of Ukraine, and Russia, and the world.

It has worked for the Balts. It has worked for Eastern Europe. It is now the only way forward for Ukraine. It is time to be strong, end the mealy-mouthed procrastination — and get Ukraine into Nato as fast as we can.

Dictionary corner

*Leal: Loyal and true, as in being loyal to your King 

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