Ukraine: World must act now or risk paying an even higher price for Putin’s wars – Tom Tugendhat

Tom Tugendhat is a Tory MP and chair of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. He served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

An elderly lady holds a pet carrier while waiting for a Kyiv bound train on a platform in Kramatorsk, the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine,  as Russia's invasion intensified.
An elderly lady holds a pet carrier while waiting for a Kyiv bound train on a platform in Kramatorsk, the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, as Russia's invasion intensified.

PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin has invaded Ukraine. For the first time in 80 years bombs are falling on the capital and people are sheltering from war. This is a very dark day in our history.

Sadly, the people of Ukraine are only the first to suffer. Many have bravely taken up arms to defend their nation against this vile war of aggression.

How should the West respond to President Vladimir Putin following the Ukraine invasion?

Others have been forced to flee as Russian tanks churn their fields and destroy their crops. For too long, Russians have had to suffer under a dictator who has plundered their nation only to benefit himself and his cronies. Now Ukrainians will feel his grip.

For all those of us who believe in freedom, and know that sovereignty means being able to choose our friends and allies, this is a moment of rare clarity. The liberty of a democracy has been torn away and the rule of law has been swapped for the rule of force.

A pro-Ukraine demonstration outside 10 Downing Street this week.

Putin’s invasion is a stark reminder that the British values can never be taken for granted. Ukraine may not be our neighbour but we are connected. When freedom fails anywhere, we all suffer. Putin’s war will be felt, even here at home.

This winter, the Kremlin held us hostage with energy – withholding exports of gas that makes up so much of European demand drove up the cost of heating homes across our country and filled his war chest with the profits.

Here, in Britain, we’ve seen this violence before. In 2018, Dawn Sturgess was murdered by Russian agents when their attempt to assassinate a defector in Salisbury went spectacularly wrong. Using a nerve agent in a country town was a reckless and vile act of state terror. But it was not his last.

Protestors outside the Russian Embassy in west London, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Since then, Putin has attacked sites across Europe and threatened many around the continent. And now he has invaded a sovereign state. This unprovoked attack on a people who did not threaten him in any way puts our economy and security at further risk.

British businesses exporting to Russia will already feel the cold. Many must now look for new markets as embargoes and sanctions on banks that facilitate transactions come into force. But it goes further than that.

Families across the United Kingdom who are already struggling with higher heating costs are seeing petrol costs rise too. What’s coming next is food. Ukraine grows 10 per cent of the world’s wheat so any drop will see prices for basics like bread and pasta soar even higher.

And even those saving face a hit – it’s likely that inflation rates, already high, will rise further and erode the efforts many have made to put money away.

While our armed forces may not be in Ukraine today, make no mistake in thinking Putin’s war isn’t also a war waged against us. He’s attacking us all. His bleak and distorted idea of empire has put him on course to attack more countries and undermine the democracies that surround him. He sees our liberty as a direct threat to his power. And from the example we give to those in Russia who hope for freedom, he’s right.

That’s why we must fight back. Britain and our allies have reserves of strength he has not understood. Our partnerships are deeper, our friends closer than he imagines and the weakness he faces at home are much, much deeper than many realise.

We must turn this around. By hitting the Kremlin where it hurts,
we can turn this around. Their finances are the weak point and their taste for theft and hiding their stolen loot is our advantage. We can clamp down on how he abuses our economy, uses our services and corrupts our markets.

For too long, rich oligarchs and thieves have laundered their dirty money through the City of London while maintaining their influence at home. Money stolen from the Russian people has financed our football clubs, fuelled a spiral in our house prices and flowed freely through our cities.

Funds that should have been used to educate millions of Russians in their schools has instead been spent on getting the princelings of this new empire to the best private tutors in Britain.

We have the power to say enough. To stop this abuse of power and to turn the pressure back on him.

Putin’s aggression will come at great human cost. The brave women and men of Ukraine battle on the frontlines to defend their nation. We can reinforce their position by weakening their opponent. For us the cost will be financial. That’s why we must act.

On this issue Westminster stands united. MPs from all parties and across the UK agreed the need for the toughest sanctions on Putin and the need to turn the screw on this evil regime. And the unique position of London in the world economy, allows Britain to lead.

But as with everything else, this can’t just be a campaign waged by Government or Parliament. Businesses in Britain, small or large, need to look at their supply chains and ensure their resilience to disruption.

We cannot become over reliant 
on kleptocratic regimes like the 
Kremlin, allowing autocrats abroad 
to determine the costs of goods at home.

And we cannot find ourselves enablers of crime by helping Putin to profit from his violence. Working with partners around the world, we are pulling together the sanctions regime to change the way we work with dictatorships. Working with partners in Nato, we are reinforcing our common defence.

As we stand with Ukrainians who are suffering hardship at Putin’s hands in an entirely illegal war, we should remind ourselves that our freedom wasn’t bought cheaply, but hard. And the world our grandparents fought for is under threat.

It will be hard, and it will cost, but we will prevail. And the cost of doing nothing would be worse.

* Tom Tugendhat is a Tory MP and chair of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. He served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

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