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Give war a chance

The United Nations hasn’t convened an emergency session of its General Assembly since 1997. On Wednesday they did, and the world came together to deplore Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, calling for the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian soil.

The vote was a landslide: 141 to 5. The only states voting alongside Russia were Syria, returning the favour; North Korea, because howling mad dictators gonna stick together; Belarus: good Belarus. Sit, Belarus. Beg, Belarus. And Eritrea. F**k you, Eritrea.

Thirty-five countries –mostly the bad-boy gang you see hanging around with Russia in the bike sheds behind Turtle Bay smoking fags and catcalling at Canada and New Zealand– abstained. China stood aloof, as it has done throughout the crisis, waiting to see if things work out ok for Putin in which case look out Taiwan. But when you can’t even get the Cuban, Venezuelan and Iranian tyrants to support your mad war, you know things aren’t going too well in the court of world public opinion.

Not that Vladimir Putin cares. That the whole sane world deplores what Putin is doing in Ukraine is obvious, and we needed no UN resolution to impart that information. What is equally obvious is that, at present, deploring is all they are planning to do about it.

Deploring the destruction of a peaceful country within Europe’s boundaries isn’t enough, and neither is a purely economic and diplomatic response.

The sanctions are, of course, ‘working’. The consequences of excluding Russia from the SWIFT inter-bank payments system were devastating and Russia’s financial system was crippled in the space of a day. The market value of the largest domestic bank, Sberbank, fell from $101bn last August to $1bn on Wednesday. Foreign investment is flooding out of the country. Interest rates have hit 20% and the rouble is as valuable as bottle tops. 

And things are set to get worse. As the currency collapses, inflation will run riot. Russia’s GDP fell by 2.5% in the wake of the miserable, pathetic little punishments that followed annexation of Crimea; the economic depression this time round will be startling.

But to say the sanctions are working just because they are hurting is badly mistaken. While both vicious and necessary, the crucial question is whether those sanctions (like the UN resolution) can possibly achieve what they are supposed to achieve: the withdrawal of all Russian troops from Ukraine.

Sanctions weren’t imposed just to devastate the Russian economy, or to give the world two ruined nations for the price of one. They are supposed to be a wake-up call to the majority of Russia’s brainwashed population –71% of them in a recent poll– who still support their lying psychopath of a President and believe his propaganda. 

Even if this does ultimately work, which is far from certain, the effect will come too late. If Russians don’t repudiate their government when goons drag away an elderly woman –a survivor of the Siege of Leningrad– for demonstrating against the invasion; if they don’t rise up with horror when they see tiny children locked in a Black Maria for holding up signs saying ‘No War’, they probably won’t be overthrowing Putin in time for tea and medals for the defenders of Kiev.

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The war, meanwhile, isn’t stopping and Putin shows no sign of giving a tinker’s curse about the frequency or vehemence with which he is deplored. His columns continue their advance on the capital. You have seen footage of the hideous carnage caused by area bombardment of civilian targets in the second-largest city, Kharkov. On Tuesday, Russian forces fully encircled Mariupol in the south-east. They are deliberately destroying civilian infrastructure and shelling residential areas to terrify the city into capitulation. These are war crimes. 

Warships are steaming towards Odessa, ready to do the same business there. Odessa is only about a hundred miles from the Romanian border. Romania is a member of NATO and the EU. There is a big US military base just down the coast in Constanta. Odessa can and should be defended.

After Wednesday’s resolution, the EU’s Ambassador to the UN talked up its significance: ‘The world has spoken…This is about defending an international order based on rules and the sovereign equality of all states, large and small. This is about whether we choose tanks and missiles, or dialogue and diplomacy.’

We might choose dialogue and diplomacy, but Putin doesn’t. His only use for dialogue and diplomacy is as a means to draw Zelensky away from the TV cameras, and possibly to give a Chechen hit squad some idea of where to find him. Two can play at that game: what might be not wholly in accordance with international law but nonetheless an excellent idea is having someone bump Putin off. Sticking a bounty of a billion US dollars on Putin’s head, payable to the assassin or his/her surviving next of kin, would be much cheaper than one day of all-out war. 

As sanctions bite, there must be dozens of heavily sweating oligarchs sitting at their kitchen table, frantically scrawling figures to see where the money for next month’s gas bill and the children’s shoes is coming from. Once Roman Abramovich has finished his yard sale and liquidated the superyacht, Kensington mansion, Pagani Zonda and obnoxious West London football club, he should be able to scrape together the cash to pay for this. It would be a service to humanity, and a decent way to redeem himself in London society.

It is only tanks and missiles –or a knife in his back– that will stop Putin. He is operating way outside the international order based on rules. If we let him get away with this, it tells him there is no international order and the rules mean nothing.

NATO should call Putin’s nuclear bluff and start using its military power –in particular its overwhelming air superiority– in defence of Ukraine. When something this awful happens, and we won’t use our armed forces to help, what’s the point of having them at all?