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If any good is to come from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, it is that the Western powers exploit the Kremlin’s unprovoked act of aggression to further strengthen the cause of democratic freedom in Europe.

In many respects, Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine has acted as a salutary wake up call for Europe’s liberal elites, who appeared more inclined to appease Moscow than stand up for Kyiv’s democratic rights.


In the weeks immediately preceding last week’s invasion, a number of prominent European leaders, such as French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, seemed perfectly willing to pacify Mr Putin by sacrificing Ukrainian sovereignty to Moscow.

Thankfully, their efforts ended in abject failure as the Russian leader, despite his repeated declarations that he had no intention of invading Ukraine, has caused the greatest crisis in European security witnessed since the creation of the Iron Curtain.

Consequently, not even Europe’s most conflict averse countries, such as Germany, can maintain the fiction that Mr Putin does not impose a threat to global security. On the contrary, as Mr Scholz’s address to the Bundestag at the weekend demonstrates, Germany has undergone a complete volte face in its approach to Russia, with Berlin committed to making a dramatic increase to its defense budget, while bringing decades of reliance on Russia for its energy needs to an end.

Nor should the dramatic changes taking place in the attitude of European leaders to Moscow end there.

One of Mr Putin’s greatest miscalculations in deciding to launch his invasion of Ukraine was that he would be able to exploit divisions within the Western alliance to achieve his aims. Events, however, since he launched the attack on February 24, show he was sorely mistaken.

Any tensions that may have existed between European leaders over how to respond to Russian aggression, such as whether to exclude Moscow from the SWIFT payment system, were banished the moment Mr Putin went back on his word and launched the invasion.

Instead, the West’s response has been far larger, and demonstrating a far greater unity of purpose, than Moscow could ever have imagined, with the result that the rouble has lost almost 30 percent of its value, forcing Russia’s central bank to raise its main borrowing rate from 9.5 percent to 20 percent.

Nor does the misery end there. Action taken by the US Treasury, which has announced an immediate ban on transactions with Russia’s central bank and new sanctions on the Russian Direct Investment Fund, means that the Kremlin’s ability to access $630 billion in foreign reserves will be limited.

This represents a major blow to Mr Putin, who believed, as part of his planning for the Ukraine invasion, he had sanction-proofed the Russian economy by building up the country’s foreign currency reserves. Instead, Moscow finds itself facing an economic calamity, and has been forced to impose draconian foreign currency restrictions, a move that is likely to prove highly unpopular with Russian voters, especially the cabal of wealthy oligarchs that Mr Putin depends upon to sustain his regime in power.

There have already been rumblings of discontent from several prominent oligarchs since the invasion began. Mikhail Fridman, one of Russia’s richest men, has called for an end to the war, while the daughter of Roman Abramovich, another oligarch said to have close ties to the Kremlin, posted a message that appeared to criticise Mr Putin’s invasion.

With clear signs that the West’s strong and united response to Mr Putin’s aggression is paying dividends, there is a strong and compelling argument for the West to maintain the pressure on Russia by any means possible.

One option to increase Moscow’s isolation further, for example, would be to expand membership of Western institutions such as the European Union and the Nato alliance to countries like Ukraine, a move that would guarantee their removal from Moscow’s sphere of influence.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has already stated unequivocally that Ukraine should ultimately become an EU member state, declaring, “They are one of us and we want them in.”

Moreover, offers of EU membership should also be offered to countries, such as Serbia, Montenegro and Albania, which are vulnerable to Moscow’s never-ending efforts to increase its sphere of influence. The West also needs to keep a wary eye on the likes of Moldova, Romania, Poland and the Baltic states, most of which are already members of Nato, but could also find themselves the target of Mr Putin’s imperial ambitions.

Nor should the West’s targeting of Russia’s main financial institutions be confined to the country’s banking sector.

To date, Russia’s energy sector has managed to escape the worst effects of the sanctions, not least because Russia provides 40 percent of Europe’s energy needs. But with countries like Germany, which previously backed the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline project (which this week filed for bankruptcy), realising their dependence on Russian energy must end, plans are actively under consideration to find alternative supplies for Europe’s energy needs, with Brussels now pushing for Europe to develop extra storage capacity for liquefied natural gas, thereby ending its reliance on Russia.

An excellent source of gas would be the EastMed pipeline project, which could provide energy to Europe from allies Cyprus and Israel, via Greece, and should be built without delay. US President Joe Biden recently killed it, as he has so far killed much of America’s fossil fuel exploration, production and distribution — policies economically and geopolitically crippling both to Americans and their allies in Europe.

The irony is that America, formerly energy independent, is currently importing 500,000 barrels of oil a day from Russia. At more than $100 a barrel, Biden, or rather Americans, are therefore providing Putin 50 million dollars a day to kill Ukrainians. When the United States recently asked OPEC to increase production to help lower prices in the US, they were told, “If you want more oil, pump it yourself.”

Mr Putin, by invading Ukraine, has signalled no intention of abiding by the norms of international conduct. For its part, the West must respond by taking every measure to ensure Russia pays the heaviest price possible for its appalling conduct.

(Con Coughlin is the Telegraph‘s Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute)

{Reposted from the Gatestone Institute site}


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