'The Immediate Instinct of the Prime Minister and I Is Clear: Speak out against Aggression'

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), August 31, 2008 | Go to article overview

'The Immediate Instinct of the Prime Minister and I Is Clear: Speak out against Aggression'


Byline: DAVID MILIBAND

AS SUMMER draws to a close, the big issues for most British families are the cost of food and fuel, the housing market and the start of the new school year.

But newspapers and TV have been dominated by pictures that seem like a relic of the Sixties: Russian tanks in a neighbouring country and the Russian President talking of a 'new Cold War'.

Sadly, this is not just the media 'silly season'. The crisis in Georgia raises important issues for us - including about where we source our energy supplies with the decline of North Sea oil and gas.

Peace and prosperity go hand in hand, so a conflict hundreds of miles away on the edge of Europe will have an impact here. And the lessons from the crisis will help define international relations for the future.

The instinct of the British people is always to stand up for the underdog.

It is a good instinct.

I don't doubt that there were mistakes or miscalculations on both sides - Russia and Georgia have both claimed the other committed war crimes, and these claims need to be investigated thoroughly and independently.

But there is no justification for the scale of the Russian invasion, for the destruction of bridges and other infrastructure or for the thousands driven out of their homes in fear - some of whom I met in Georgia ten days ago. One woman had fled as Russian tanks came to her orchard. She told me she didn't mind the soldiers eating her peaches but why, she asked, did they have to destroy the trees? And there is no excuse for the violation of international law.

Russia has become the aggressor - it has gone from claiming to defend Russian passport holders in regions of Georgia to seeking the break-up of the state, showing disregard for the principles of modern international relations.

THE immediate instinct of the Prime Minister and I was clear: to speak out against aggression, to call for respect for human rights and international law and to rally world opinion behind these principles.

Two arguments have been made against our words and actions: that speaking out only 'provokes' Russia and makes the situation worse, and/or that it does no good.

Both are wrong and both need to be addressed.

Does anyone really think the Kremlin would be more likely to stop and think about what it has been doing if no one said anything to criticise them? Of course not.

And what sort of message would silence or diplomatic weasel words have sent to people in other countries that now fear for their own sovereignty? The truth is that Moscow was waiting to be provoked by the Georgians and then it exploited the situation. And in recognising Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it has itself become the provocateur.

It is no argument to say that because the Russians feel the collapse of the Soviet Union was a humiliation for them, we should look the other way now.

Since 1991, the West has embraced countries of the former Warsaw Pact, such as Poland, and countries that have emerged from the former Soviet Union, such as Estonia. Both are members of the EU and Nato and have soldiers fighting alongside British troops in Afghanistan. …

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