Tom Hunt: Thursday's invasion will have 'profound implications for all'

In his Ipswich Star opinion piece Ipswich MP Tom Hunt discusses Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

In his opinion piece Ipswich MP Tom Hunt discusses Russia's invasion of Ukraine. - Credit: PA/House of Commons

On Thursday morning we all woke to the alarming news that Putin had given the order for a fullscale Russian invasion of Ukraine, signalling the darkest day for Europe since WWII.

With missiles launched at Kyiv, tanks driving over the border and as airstrike sirens, identical to those used during the Blitz, rang out over the capital, it is clear the diplomatic solution we all hoped for is over. It is clear that the events that started on Thursday will have a great significance and profound implications for all.

Sections of the Russian leadership have long had a view of lost prestige towards the now independent states that once formed part of the Soviet Union.

To the government in Russia these states are known as the ‘near abroad,’ a term used towards those former Soviet republics that Russia still seeks to have influence over. Russia constantly looks to assert more influence in these states and aims to see them become compliant to them.

Russia also continues to back its own compliant-puppet regimes, such as Lukashenko’s Belarus which is completely subservient towards Russia and is the most notable country that has fallen into Putin’s line.

Having these ‘near abroad’ states submissive to Russian influence is connected to Putin’s ambition of restoring former prestige and power.

Actually, my academic background has given me a good insight into this topic. My post-graduate studies at Oxford were specialised in Russian and Eastern European studies. In parliament, I have chosen not to explicitly focus on international affairs, instead prioritising the issues I think my constituents want me to. However, these studies have fuelled a passion and interest in the relationship between Russia and the ‘near abroad’ states that continues today.

Most Read

I have visited Estonia many times over the years and was at a meeting in the Estonian embassy around 3 months ago. There I met once again, with the Estonian Ambassador, and welcomed an Estonian Parliamentary delegation.

I recalled to them my time in Estonia, in the small town of Narva on the Russian border. I remember the bridge connecting the town which is split between the two countries and the level of armed military presence on the border. It was clear then that Putin’s disdain for the success of these Baltic states, especially after joining NATO unlike Ukraine, could lead to an outbreak of conflict, something
which has sadly proven true.

One other ‘near abroad’ state that has fallen victim of Putin’s meddling is that of Bosnia. Even though it wasn’t technically a former Soviet republic it is heavily under the Russian sphere of influence.

Approximately a third of Bosnia is known as Republika Srpska and is home largely to Bosnian Serbs. Whilst it is technically part of Bosnia, it is semi-autonomous and has a number of politicians and groups encouraged by Putin.

This has fuelled conflict and a separatist movement to create a breakaway state aligned with Putin’s grand vision. Having also recently visited Bosnia, it was a further stark reminder of the damage Russian interference is having on Eastern European states, and a strong indication of why it is so important that the West stands together.

Earlier this week we saw the Prime Minister announce sanctions against Russia, blocking 5 Russian banks in the UK and waging sanctions on some high-net-worth individuals. It was made clear that
this was just the first strike of economic sanctions against Putin.

Putin’s determination, despite the UK’s initial sanctions, is further evidence that Putin is not approaching the international situation in a logical way. His ambitions to influence the ‘near abroad’ are becoming undeniable.

Putin is increasingly difficult to predict. I personally thought it would not escalate in the way that it has. Invading Ukraine is likely to be the greatest error in Putin’s leadership to date.

The cost to Russia will be incredibly high, and I believe the response from the US, the UK, and the rest of Europe will hurt the Russian economy significantly. Our united approach should span across the economic and cultural, and I think we are seeing this beginning to take shape. 

Boris Johnson has promised ‘decisive’ action against Russia, and I support his initial leadership to galvanise the West against Russian aggression. The Prime Minister has spoken of his clear support for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, and given a strong indication that the UK will continue to sanction Russia, and will not stand by while such devastating and unjustifiable force is exacted on our European neighbours.

The actions that the UK takes will echo in Europe, and give confidence to the near abroad states that the full might of the West will be against Russia. 

I am glad to see that Germany are committing to the united European front, sending a strong message to Putin by finally halting Nordstream 2, an important gas pipeline.

The Russian gas supply has given Putin some leverage on Europe, so halting Nordstream 2 is an important step towards reducing Russia’s influence. While the UK is less reliant than Germany, which received 49% of its share of gas from Russia in 2020, Russian supply still accounts for about a third of all the natural gas used in Europe.

This raises questions about where we get our own energy supply from, and which unsavoury regimes might play a part in that. 

In the face of uncertainty, we are seeing a spike in oil and energy prices, with petrol and diesel prices soaring. The global economy is interconnected, so sanctions and full-scale war in Ukraine will have not only an impact on the international state of play, but also on our domestic economy. The strain on oil supply in Europe means rising gas prices which might compound the cost-of-living crisis here. 
It is clear that the situation in Ukraine is evolving at an alarming pace.

The Prime Minister has made it clear that Russia will feel decisive action from the UK, and it seems Europe will follow suit. As Boris Johnson said in his address to the nation on Thursday, “this is not a far-away nation” of which we know little. We cannot and will not look away.

I am sure that all my constituents will be keeping the people of Ukraine in their thoughts, as I will. All Ukrainians wish for, something we can take for granted, is to live in a free, sovereign, democratic state without the threat of invasion.

This is not necessarily just those who are under the threat of invasion from Russia, but also applies to those at risk from other autocratic regimes. We will continue to stand up for states like Taiwan and Hong Kong, whenever democratic values are threatened. 

At the end of the day, it is a time to come together in British politics. Now is a time to stand unified in our stance on Russia and this unjustifiable military invasion. This unity must span British and European politics. This is not just for Ukraine, this is for all the countries in the Russian ‘near abroad’ that Putin has his eye on and is looking to destabilise.