David Davis writes for The Times on Ukraine: “Sanctions, yes – but troops are the best way to deter Russia”


As originally published in The Times’ ‘Thunderer’ column:

Sanctions, yes – but troops are the best way to deter Russia. We must proclaim that an attack on one is an attack on all

The West needs to recognise reality in the Ukraine crisis. Of course it should devise the most painful sanctions that it can without doing its collective economy irreparable harm. But we should recognise now that if Russia decides to invade eastern Ukraine, or even Moldova, there is almost nothing we can do about it.

We should focus squarely on what we can do. Naturally we should do all we can to encourage economic and political development of Ukraine by opening up markets rather than just giving money to what is still a notoriously corrupt state.

Europe should honour existing Nato obligations (currently only America and the UK spend the required 2 per cent of GDP on defence), reverse the headlong reduction of defence spending and pay closer attention to Nato’s existing eastern borders.

The key to avoiding conflict is to shut down diplomatic “cul-de-sacs” and instead create “exits”. If Russia mobilises against a Nato member we could find ourselves, as in 1914, caught in a series of irreversible escalations. It is vital to shut off this potential cul-de-sac.

Nato should organise its permanent troop deployments and forward basing to give physical manifestation to Article 5, loudly proclaiming that an attack on one is an attack on all. The more American, British, French and German troops that are based close to the eastern borders the clearer this “tripwire” will be, reducing the likelihood of Russian aggression.

This is nowhere more important than in Latvia and Estonia, which are difficult to defend and, at 27 per cent and 25 per cent, have the largest Russian minorities. Nato basing policy should reflect this immediately and extend to Poland and all the other frontier states.

The core of President Obama’s early foreign policy was resetting the US relationship with Russia. The Bush Administration’s pursuit of Nato membership for Ukraine and Georgia and the missile defence plan for Europe were both scrapped. This policy has proved to be faulty, and it is time to reset the relationship again by reintroducing the missile defence shield to nullify Moscow’s nuclear arsenal.

Sadly, it seems that the political carelessness of the past decade has left us preparing for a new Cold War. Yet again we need plans to prevent it turning into something worse.

David Davis is MP for Haltemprice and Howden and a former foreign minister