If European leaders try to negotiate peace with Putin he will strike again, says Tom Harwood

'The clear lesson of Russia's rogue actions in the last decade is that they will not stop... sue for peace and they will strike again'

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In 2007, at the Munich Security conference, Vladimir Putin gave what became to be known in Russia as the Munich Speech. It challenged the Western alliance, slammed the idea that sovereign states could freely choose to join NATO, and set out a view of what he thought Russia should be.

But frankly, the West did not listen. The West did not want to believe that Putin was anything other than a slightly stroppy participant in a rules based international order. The West did not want to believe that Putin meant what he said. That he was rejecting our rules based order.

And then just a year later, he proved what he meant. He started the first European war of the 21st century when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008.

Despite condemnation of the action, there was not significant Western resolve to respond with either meaningful sanctions or military aid.

Russian President Vladimir Putin talks to German Chancellor Angela Merkel during an International Ceremony with Heads of State at Sword Beach in Normandy to mark the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings.
Russian President Vladimir Putin talks to German Chancellor Angela Merkel during an International Ceremony with Heads of State at Sword Beach in Normandy to mark the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings.

In 2012, Mitt Romney was mocked by President Obama for suggesting that Russia was a geopolitical foe. The cold war has been over for decades, he said.

Well, to this day Russia now maintains direct control over swathes of Georgia.

In this context it is easy to see why, six years later Putin felt emboldened enough to invade and annex Crimea, and sponsor separatist fighting in the east of Ukraine from 2014.

Again, to the condemnation of West, who provided little more than harsh words, and a sigh of relief when Putin stopped at Crimea.

Prime Minister Theresa May holds a news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin before the start of the G20 Summit today in Hangzhou, China.
Prime Minister Theresa May holds a news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin before the start of the G20 Summit today in Hangzhou, China.

Frankly the West appeased Putin. Harsh words, not harsh sanctions. The diplomatic equivalent of pleading don’t do that again. In a word, weakness.

European countries like France and Germany continued to hold Putin close, continued to pursue economic partnerships, building new pipelines that only served to increase our collective dependency on this plainly rogue despotic state. To chug Russian hydrocarbons westwards, and Western money to the Kremlin.

Is it any wonder Putin believed he could go further? In 2022 he launched a full scale invasion of Ukraine, the second largest country in Europe.

Now there are rumours of European countries hoping for a negotiated settlement. Thoughts that the energy crisis this winter means Putin must be appeased once more. A peace agreement of sorts where Putin promises to stop killing Ukrainians in return for control over some Ukrainian soil… well if you think that sort of agreement will end this then I have a bridge to sell you.

The lesson… the clear lesson of the last decade of Russia’s rogue actions in the international arena is that they will not stop. You give them an inch and they will take a mile. Sue for peace and they will strike again, just as you lose interest. Appease and they will simply bank their gains and push further still.

We have seen this before in our history.

So to those who say simply let Putin have part of Ukraine. Let Russia expand. Reward the Kremlin for its murderous near genocidal path to some territorial expansion. And hope Russia will simply stop there.

Well it’s time those who advance that argument brushed up on their Winston Churchill quotes. “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile—hoping it will eat him last.”