Edward Leigh on Russia

Russia’s Grand Strategy   —  Parliament Notes

Bernard Jenkin initiated this debate on ‘Russia’s Grand Strategy, 6th January 2022.  MPs on all sides were unanimous that Putin’s Russia is the enemy and a danger to the West and the UK in particular, Labour MPs being particularly vociferous.  The Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy lambasted the government for not spending enough on the army.  However, there was one dissenting voice, that of Sir Edward Leigh.   His was the voice of reason.


Sir Bernard Jenkin versus Sir Edward Leigh 6 Jan 2022


The constantly high level of Russian military activity in and around Ukraine and the attention being drawn to it have enabled the Kremlin to mount a huge disinformation campaign, designed to persuade the Russian people and the west that NATO is Russia’s major concern, that somehow NATO is a needless provocation—I am looking at my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), because I cannot believe how wrong he is on this—and that Russian activity is just a response to a supposed threat from NATO. That is complete rubbish.


I make no apology for President Putin and I do not defend him in any way, but I think the mistake of this debate is to assume, if there was any other conceivable leader of Russia, that their strategy would be very different. Many Russians felt deeply humiliated at the loss of territory that formerly belonged to the Soviet Union, and we constantly hear about the invasion of Crimea and the Donbass region. We hear very little in this Chamber about the fact that Crimea was of course part of Russia for 200 years. It was signed away by the pen of Khrushchev, without the Crimean people being consulted at all, in the 1950s. There is no doubt at all that Crimea is overwhelmingly Russian and wants to be overwhelmingly Russian, and we have to respect its self-determination, and the same applies to many areas of eastern Ukraine. 

… when people go on about the fact that Crimea was originally Tatar—no doubt America was originally populated by Red Indians, but we do not say that America does not belong to Americans—the fact is that we have to deal with the situation on the ground. All I am saying is that there is an overwhelming feeling among Russian people of a deep sense of humiliation during the Yeltsin years, and as in all countries, they yearn for strong government and leadership. 

The truth is that Ukraine is not going to join NATO. It would be a provocative act, and in constantly talking about it in this Chamber and in the west as if it is likely to happen, we are simply providing an excuse for President Putin to play the game of being the underdog and of Russia being threatened, so why do we do it? When we know NATO is never actually going to absorb Ukraine, why do we go on talking about it? 

…[Ukraine joining NATO]  is not going to happen, for this reason: President Biden is not the sort of President who is ever going to do it. He is a weak President and he is not going to suddenly elect Ukraine into NATO. We all know that, and that is the reality. We should let Ukraine into NATO only if we are prepared to fight for it, if we are prepared to spill American and British blood for the frozen steppes of eastern Ukraine, and nobody wants to do that. By the way, if we did do it, we would lose our nerve very quickly. Look at Iraq. Look at Afghanistan. After a few years, if there were just 300 dead British soldiers there would be tremendous pressure in this House of Commons to withdraw. Russia would simply stay—it does not mind if it has to wait 20 or 30 years. So it is never going to happen. Ukraine is never going to join NATO, and if it did join NATO it would be potentially disastrous. In talking about Ukraine joining NATO, we are simply playing Putin’s game.

Now, the other talk we have had is about Russia being a mortal threat to our country, but this is not the Soviet Union. Russian armies are not placed in the middle of east Germany. Where is this mortal threat? We hear about all this hacking. No doubt Russia hacks. No doubt it has rather ineffective campaigns on Twitter. Are we so lacking in our faith in our own parliamentary democracy that we think we are going to be overthrown or are under threat from President Putin? This is not a strategic interest of the United Kingdom. Of course all Russian Governments will seek to extend their influence. Any Russian Government will be mortally opposed to NATO expanding eastwards. This rotten Russian Government might try to subvert aspects of our life, but why do we not have self-confidence? Why do we not look to our own proper strategic interests? We have no historic or strategic interest as a country in Crimea or eastern Ukraine. We do not understand it. We do not understand the history. We do not understand the complexities of the region. We do not understand the Ukrainian state itself, which is divided.

Edward Leigh concluded:

Learn from history: look at Afghanistan. Look at Iraq. We in the west are not prepared to fight for these people. Why are we destabilising the region by pretending we are when we know perfectly well—everybody in this Chamber knows perfectly well—that we are not prepared to risk a drop of British blood? We have to live with this Russian Government. We have to stop talking about expanding eastwards. We have to stop playing Putin’s game.

I know this is realpolitik. I know it is not redolent of great liberal imperialist speeches about how we must make the world safe for democracy, and that the Iraqi people, the Afghan people or the Ukrainian people have a right to live under a democratic regime. What nonsense I am talking—these are the facts of life. This is realism. Are we really prepared to muck up eastern Ukraine in the same way we have mucked up Iraq and Afghanistan?

More documents on the Ukraine situation can be found here

For an in-depth analysis of the Ukraine situation, read Pat Walsh here

And also Mike Whitney in the Unz Review : The Crisis in Ukraine. It’s not about Ukraine, it’s about Germany.

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