Farage is playing into our enemies’ hands

Reform UK leader Nigel Farage
Reform UK leader Nigel Farage

Nigel Farage’s claim that Nato and EU eastward expansion provoked the war in Ukraine have been greedily seized on by Russian state broadcasters and social media channels as endorsing Vladimir Putin’s claims of Western culpability for more than two years of bloodletting and destruction.

Farage’s words unintentionally feed the Kremlin’s propaganda machine, boosting domestic support for continuing the conflict at a time when even Putin seems to be contemplating some form of negotiations. They also help undermine Western resolve, which is already wavering in its support to Ukraine. Those are the dangers of a prominent British politician seeming to endorse Putin’s own excuses for his violent aggression, even though Farage believes the Russian invasion “immoral, outrageous and indefensible”, sentiments that were not of course picked up by the Russian media.

While he disapproves of Putin’s actions, it appears Farage actually believes that his pretext for war is genuine. That is something he has in common with Jeremy Corbyn, who appeared to justify the 2014 invasion of Crimea, claiming Putin was protecting against Nato’s “attempt to encircle Russia… one of the big threats of our time”. That was the man Keir Starmer said would have made a better prime minister than Boris Johnson, one of Ukraine’s most staunch defenders.

If Farage and Corbyn are right, then what is the answer? Should we expel Poland, Romania and the other eastern European member states from the alliance to end the war and prevent further aggression? The Baltic states would also have to go, as Putin says he considers their independence and Nato membership as threats to Russian security and sovereignty. Likewise Finland and Sweden, who have recently joined Nato, in response to which Putin threatened action if any Nato military infrastructure or forces were deployed on their territory.

Perhaps all our foreign policy decisions should be calibrated to avoid upsetting Putin. Should we, for example, withdraw our support from Israel, currently under attack from Putin’s ally Iran, which has been one of Russia’s main weapons suppliers in Ukraine? If so, it might be logical to similarly defer to China’s sensibilities for fear of provoking President Xi.

But Corbyn and Farage are not right. Peace does not have to be dependent on appeasement. Nato is a purely defensive alliance, which does not present any conceivable military threat to Russia. Putin knows this and the reality of his attitude to the alliance can be seen in his redeployment to Ukraine of the majority of Russian forces from Finland’s border even after it became a Nato member. In truth his aggression against Ukraine is part of his dream to create a greater Russia over which he, the Catherine the Great of the 21st Century, would rule. In an article he published in 2021, shortly before the 2022 invasion, he barely mentioned Nato but spoke of Ukraine as an “anti-Russian project” that occupies historically Russian lands.

Alongside Putin’s imperial ambitions is trepidation about economic development in eastern European countries as a result of their alignment with the West. He is worried that greater prosperity, especially in his next door neighbour Ukraine, will be looked at with envy by his own population, whose consequent dissatisfaction might lead to unrest that could eventually destabilise the regime. So to that extent, Farage comes somewhere near the truth; but surely the Reform leader would not argue that any sovereign country should be denied membership of an economic union or even a military alliance because an authoritarian rival vetoed it.

Farage has written that “facing up to the truth about the causes and consequences must be a start” in attempting to achieve a resolution to this war. He is correct, but misunderstanding the truth about Putin’s thinking, as he does, can only lead to even greater dangers. The right solution is not to reward Putin by ceding illegally-seized territory and a Nato retreat to the west.

Instead it is to recognise Putin’s true territorial ambitions, which go well beyond Ukraine, and to deter his future aggression by greater force and resolve. In other words, more Nato not less. Putin’s 2021 article about Ukraine has been likened to Hitler’s 1938 speech in which he said “The Sudetenland is the last territorial demand I have to make in Europe”. We know what followed that.