AMID a hectic round of media calls, Wales’s Counsel-General, Mick Antoniw MS, found time to speak to The Herald.
Mr Antoniw has strong familial ties to Ukraine and last weekend visited the country.He did not doubt what was happening and shared strong views about what European powers and others should do next. He also called for “dirty Russian money” to be washed out of UK politics.
“What is happening at the moment,” Mr Antoniw told Herald Chief Writer Jon Coles, “is the full-scale invasion of an independent country.”
He continued: “This is not limited to the areas of Ukraine that Putin asserted sovereignty over; this is an assault on the whole of Ukraine.
“There is fighting in many areas, and Russian invaders are using air strikes, tanks, artillery, and missile attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure. Russian missiles have attacked an airport twenty miles from Ukraine’s western border with Poland.
“This is war on a scale not seen in Europe since 1945.”
Last weekend, Mick Antoniw visited Ukraine with Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price MS.
We asked what he heard from ordinary Ukrainian citizens in that visit.
“People were alarmed but determined,” he told us. “Russia has occupied the areas around Donbas and Lubshak for several years following its seizure of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. The accounts coming out of those areas are chilling: imprisonment without trial, torture, political dissent squashed.
“I spoke with members of the Donbas and Crimean Tatars. They are subject to daily and routine ruthless oppression of their culture and rights.”
Mr Antoniw continued: “That is what Putin plans for the whole of Ukraine.”
The military prospects are bleak; he told us: “NATO says it will not help Ukraine with troops or direct assistance to repel the Russian forces. There is no way that Ukrainian forces have either the airpower or materiel to halt and repel the invasion.
“NATO could have done more in the years since Russia’s first aggression against Ukraine in 2014. But it did almost nothing.
“In the meantime, Russia has bolstered the puppet states of Belarus, Transnistria (on the border of Moldova), annexed part of Georgia, Kazakhstan, and destroyed Chechnya. And the world has done nothing.
“Inaction has given Putin confidence that he can get away with militarism and Russian imperialism.”
He said in a similarly bleak vein: “There is no doubt that Russian forces will target Ukrainian political leaders for assassination. They will try to impose rule by terror and obliterate Ukraine’s ability to exist as an independent and free nation.
“While everyone expected military action by Russia, within Ukraine there is disbelief at its scale. Ukrainians expected escalation, but nothing like what has happened in the last twenty-four hours.”
And yet, he thought, hope remained: “It is one thing to invade a country and another thing to hold on to it.
“Ukrainians are ready to fight and fight hard against occupying forces. I spoke to my 74-year-old cousin and asked him what he would do. He said, ‘I am here to the end’.
“Russia faces a war by partisans resisting them as they try to maintain their occupation. The people are armed, veterans stand ready, forces will move underground and harry the Russians at every turn.
“The costs of occupation to the Russians will be high.”
Mick Antoniw was critical of NATO’s unwillingness to support Ukraine and pointed out the wider dangers a successful invasion would pose to European security.
“Annexing the whole of Ukraine is a threat to the whole of Europe. Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova border the nation. Further north, what message does standing aside and letting this happen give to the Baltic states: Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia?”
We asked what measures – short of military action – must immediately be taken to punish Russian aggression.For Wales, he said: “We are a nation of sanctuary. I hope those countries bordering Ukraine will take in those fleeing conflict. Wales must accept those who need shelter, support, and safe homes while Russian forces occupy Ukrainian soil.”
As for the UK, he said it was time to get hard and not rely on evasions and compromises. “There must be a total shutdown of economic ties, cultural ties, and trade with the Russian Federation. The whole of Europe must unite in that approach.”Sanctions must be of an unprecedented scale.
The UK Government’s response, so far, has been pathetic.”Mr Antoniw continued: “London is the corruption capital of the world.
“The City of London makes a living from laundering Russian money stolen from the Russia people. We must take action to end the UK’s toxic relationship with dirty Russian money. We must clean up our own political system, which has allowed Russian influence to penetrate to the heart of Government in exchange for stolen money.”
When we asked Mick Antoniw whether he would support military action against Russia, his answer was unequivocal: “Yes.”