No ordinary Nato summit amid Russian invasion - Bill Carmichael

Summits come and summits go – G7, Davos, G20, Cop 26, Commonwealth leaders, the Bilderberg Group and endless UN groups and sub-groups.

They invariably consist of rich politicians and celebrities jetting in on private planes to deliver earnest, finger-wagging lectures.

They bore us to tears for a few days, but eventually everybody clambers back aboard their gas guzzling jets to fly home, and we can get on with our lives until the next one comes along.

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The Nato summit currently taking place is different because what happens this week in Madrid will radically reshape our entire world, and success is absolutely essential if we are to build the foundations of a secure and peaceful future. If you want to know why Madrid matters I recommend you take a look at a short and disturbing video that went viral this week. It shows the moment of impact when a Russian X-22 rocket hits a crowded shopping centre in the Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk.

Boris Johnson’s handling of the Ukraine crisis may not be enough to save him from being toppled as Prime Minister. Picture: JONATHAN ERNST/AFP/Getty Images.Boris Johnson’s handling of the Ukraine crisis may not be enough to save him from being toppled as Prime Minister. Picture: JONATHAN ERNST/AFP/Getty Images.
Boris Johnson’s handling of the Ukraine crisis may not be enough to save him from being toppled as Prime Minister. Picture: JONATHAN ERNST/AFP/Getty Images.

At least 18 people were killed with many more injured. The centre was full of civilians and served no military purpose, and the Russians were well aware of that. Volodymyr Zelensky said the Russian attack was “purposeful” and “a deliberate blow to intimidate the population”.

It is hard to disagree with the Ukrainian President when he described such barbarous acts “absolute terrorism”.

It isn’t the first time the Russians have deliberately hit civilian buildings during the current conflict. Their targets have included apartment blocks, schools, hospitals and even a mother and baby unit. There have also been widespread allegations of war crimes committed by Russian troops including rape, torture and summary executions.

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Europe has not seen such unbridled savagery on this scale since the atrocities committed by the Nazis.

The comparison with World War Two is instructive. Some today argue that if we just let the Russian leader Vladimir Putin keep some of his gains in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, we could then negotiate a ceasefire that would stop the war, allow Ukrainian grain to be exported, and thereby avoid possible widespread famine in the coming winter.

But that is very similar to the argument made by appeasers at the Munich Conference in 1938. If we just let Adolf Hitler keep his gains in the Sudetenland, which the Nazis had forcibly annexed, there would be “peace for our time” as the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, expressed it.

It didn’t work then, and it will not work now. Far from being satisfied with the concessions offered to him, Hitler was emboldened and 12 months later invaded Poland to trigger World War II.

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Similarly, if Putin takes any kind of victory from Ukraine he will be emboldened to threaten the Baltic states and even Poland – all Nato members – and if that happens it could trigger World War Three and nuclear conflict.

Putin, like Hitler, will only stop when somebody forcibly stops him, and the only organisation capable of doing that is Nato, backed by American military and financial might.

That’s why Madrid matters, and so far the signs have been encouraging. US President Joe Biden has pledged to ramp up the American military presence in Europe, including ground troops in Romania, warships to Spain, a new army headquarters in Poland and two new squadrons of F35 stealth jets to the UK.

The UK meanwhile has pledged to give a further £1bn in military aid to Ukraine, making us the second largest donor to that country’s war effort. And Nato leaders agreed to accept the application to join the alliance of the previously neutral countries of Finland and Sweden.

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So far Putin’s aggression has backfired spectacularly. He wanted less Nato, but he has ended up faced with a strengthened and invigorated alliance more determined than for decades to defend Western liberties.

And the UK – and our Prime Minister Boris Johnson – has played a leading role in this. We all know of Johnson’s troubles at home, which may end up toppling him, but on the international stage he has been a key figure in supporting Ukraine and galvanising Nato.

Like his political hero, Sir Winston Churchill, Johnson has made many mistakes and got many things wrong. But also like Churchill he has been right on the biggest issue of our time – the threat to peace in Europe posed by an aggressive megalomaniac, Hitler in Churchill’s time and Putin in our own.

Of course being in the right in international affairs – and a hero to the Ukrainians – may not be enough to save Johnson. Again the comparisons with World War Two are interesting.

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In 1945, just months after leading Britain to a famous victory over Nazi Germany, Churchill suffered a heavy general election defeat to Clement Attlee’s Labour Party, which won in a landslide, with a majority of 145 seats.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?