Russia-Ukraine war: West ‘took eye off the ball’ amid ‘obsession’ with Afghanistan

Ukraine: Fire breaks out at Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant

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It has been nine days since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. Kherson was the first major city to be captured by Russian forces, while many others like Kharkiv and Kyiv have been heavily shelled with missiles and rockets. Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, has faced notable fallout after buildings of cultural and historical significance like an opera house were razed to the ground.

Russian troops are now thought to have seized Europe’s largest nuclear plant at Zaporizhzhia after a fire sparked by heavy shelling, Ukrainian authorities said.

No changes in radiation have been recorded but any loss of ability to cool nuclear fuel would lead to “significant radioactive emissions” that could “outgrow all previous nuclear power plant accidents”, they said.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has consistently appealed to Russian nationals to protest against their government for committing what he describes as war crimes against Ukraine.

While no Western European power has sent their military into Ukraine, many NATO countries have provided weapons and military aid.

What’s more, countries such as the UK, US and Canada, as well as blocs like the EU, have imposed suffocating sanctions on Russia and individuals close to the Kremlin, with a view to financially and economically cut Moscow off from the world.

Many have praised the West’s swift action, but others have lamented its unpreparedness, given that Russia had amassed troops along its Ukrainian border for months, and had invaded other regions in Europe like Crimea and Georgia in recent years.

Professor Julian Lindley-French, an internationally recognised strategic analyst and advisor in defence, who has worked with NATO, argues that the West has focused so much on geopolitical disasters like Afghanistan it has forgotten about the threats on home soil.

He said he had been warning of Russian aggression or something of the like for over ten years, but that his warnings had fallen on deaf ears.

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Prof-Lindley French told “I warned Philip Hammond back in 2010 that taking an approach to British security defence policy on the basis of how much strength we can afford was nonsense.

“And now we’re reaping that dark reward for strategic illiteracy in our Government in Western European governments for 30 years, but the last ten in particular.”

Asked whether he believed the situation could have been avoided, he said: “Totally.

“Russia has an economy the size of Italy, it’s got a whole host of domestic issues it needs to deal with but it can’t.

“And the reason for that is because the elite who run Russia are really obsessed with only a few things: their own survival and their own wealth.

“To offer reforms that the Russian people deserve would require changing the political process, but doing that is a dangerous thing to an autocracy, and Russia is an autocracy.

“This has been inevitable for the past 20 years but in Britain and other countries we’ve been obsessed with Afghanistan, with counter-terrorism, and we’ve taken our eye off the ball.

“Now we’re seeing the consequences of that.

“Irrespective of who’s been in Downing Street, British foreign policy has become a kind of PR exercise.

“We have not matched threats with force and resource, and that must change.”


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Western powers including the US and UK invaded Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks in New York with the aim of toppling the Taliban government.

While this succeeded for a time, the endeavour ultimately proved futile and failed, with the Taliban reclaiming in late 2021.

The cost of the US’ efforts in Afghanistan alone were astronomical: from 2001 to 2021 it spent an estimated $2.3trillion (£1.7trillion).

Although Western European countries have not yet entered the war in Ukraine, many powers have provided weapons and military equipment to Kyiv to fight back the Russians.

Last week, the EU agreed to provide €500million (£413million) in arms and other aid to the Ukrainian military.

It was widely seen as a “watershed moment” in the bloc’s history, as its treaties ordinarily bar the bloc from using its normal budget to fund operations with military or defence implications.

But Brussels is now using a one-off budget called the “European Peace Facility” with a ceiling of €5billion (£4billion) that can be used to provide military aid, according to Politico.

Germany, too, made history when it parted with its longstanding practice of blocking lethal weapons from being sent to conflict zones and shipped military equipment to Kyiv.

In the UK, on Thursday, men of all ages arrived at the Ukrainian Embassy in London to sign up to join the fight against Russia.

Mr Zelensky has offered to supply guns and weapons to “friends from abroad” who are willing to join the fight.

His call to arms initially received the support of Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, although others in Government have since walked back her claim.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, meanwhile, has described Vladimir Putin’s intensifying military invasion of Ukraine as “barbaric and indiscriminate” as civilians are targeted.

Speaking during a visit to Poland this week, he said the Russian president had “fatally underestimated” the willingness of the Ukrainian people to fight ‒ and the resolve of the West.

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