Last Friday, the House of Lords debated President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, just two days after the vicious, deadly war crime was launched. I argued that the starting point of discussion had to be Ukraine, its people and their suffering.
On Thursday, I had joined many Ukrainians and their friends gathered outside Downing Street – many huddled anxiously over phones connected directly to the warzone (such is the reality of a 2022 war that sometimes looks like it is out of 1939). They were calling for action, sanctions stronger than have been announced and for protection for themselves and their relatives.
Refuge for Ukrainians, and for dissident Russians
I was pleased to see that the home secretary has announced that Ukrainians now in the UK will be able to have their visas temporarily extended or be able to switch to different visa routes. But I had questions (that I didn’t get answered) about other Ukrainians.
Will the government waive the family visa income requirements for a UK spouse or partner of a Ukrainian to enable the family to live together here in safety? And will it welcome Ukrainians who seek refuge here, whatever their mode of arrival (given it plans through the nationality and borders bill to make those who arrive ‘irregularly’, such as across the Channel in small boats, second-class refugees)?
I’ll be pursuing those questions this week, and extending them to dissident Russians, for there have been significant protests within Russia against the attack on Ukraine. We need to highlight and amplify these brave campaigns – and should they be able to find a route out, offer them refuge. In that spirit I picked out just one, Sofya Rusova, co-chair of Russia’s Trade Union of Journalists, arrested with a sign I’ve seen translated as “War with Ukraine is Russia’s disgrace”.
Windy talk of Global Britain and gunboat diplomacy
But it was also important to consider the UK’s further international actions (domestic issues of the Russia report and oligarchs’ entanglement in our economy are another subject altogether).
It’s surely time to get away from what Liberal Democrat Lord Newby rightly in Friday’s debate described as “windy talk of global Britain” – with echoes of the empire’s gunboat diplomacy being trotted out in the modern world. We should be stepping up as a supportive, collegiate member of the international community, working with others to build security for all. We need to make it clear, as the crossbench peer Lord Kerr of Kinlochard said – “this is Putin versus the world”.
On Thursday, I asked the government about the possibility of UN General Assembly action under the uniting for peace procedures created by Resolution 377A. It told me then that Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, who finished Friday’s debate for the government, would be reporting back, and he did. He said, to summarise, “watch this space”, and it is something I’ll certainly be doing.
21st-century global security
Another issue that arises from Russia’s aggression is how we protect ourselves and the world, and where resources should be directed. Ships and guns were the predictable suggestions from several peers in Friday’s debate, least surprisingly of all from Lord West, former first sea lord and chief of the naval staff.
But does that really answer the needs of 21st-century security? Should we be more creative, reflect the tactics of modern, so-called ‘hybrid’ warfare, including cyberwarfare, and address some of our society’s vulnerability to it. I’m sure many in politics have seen since the Russian invasion, as I have, an uptick in the flow of bot insults in their Twitter feed, the coarse end of what is a far more subtle, and well-funded, destablisation effort.
What would defend us? More rigorous education in critical thinking; education in understanding media manipulation of the kind in which Finland is a leader; empowerment of individuals to feel equipped to build their own thinking and decision-making. That’s crucial spending for our future security and that of the world.
Investment in our future
International aid spending – support for the strengthening of the institutions and services of nations depleted by centuries of colonialism and more latterly multinational company extractivism – is also clearly crucial. In the UK, that means reinvestment – at the absolute minimum, a reversal of the election promise-busting cut in aid from 0.7 to 0.5 percent of national income. (By contrast, the Green Party wants to see 1 percent.) That’s absolutely crucial for our security, as well as a moral imperative.
Investment in renewable energy and energy security is also a crucial defensive measure, to help reduce our and the world’s dependence on Russian fossil fuel, as the Liberal Democrat Baroness Sheehan set out clearly and at length.
But some things the world should stop doing. Lord West spoke about the danger of a man in the state that President Putin clearly is being in control of a world-killing arsenal of nuclear weapons. This serves as a reminder to all of us that the world can never be secure until we have a global ban on nuclear weapons, as the majority of the world’s nations have called for – a point that Lord Browne of Ladyton addressed at length.
In an age of shocks, we need resilience and care
We are now living in an age of shocks – from health threats, the climate emergency, and geopolitical forces. If something ties all the responses that we need, it is care for people and planet, and resilience, focusing on the ability of systems to endure under pressure. Those are two qualities the Ukrainian people are showing with grace and courage, something we can all learn from.