On the day of Thanksgiving, an American annual celebration of success in the harvest and good wishes to all people for the forthcoming year, it is important to remember that in Ukraine this winter there are many brave people suffering. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers are serving on the front line in the most miserable of conditions, amidst extreme danger. Internally displaced persons are generally receiving food, but they may be suffering terrible anguish and they may be extremely bored. They are worrying about the friends, their loved ones, their families and their futures. Even those who have not become internally displaced may be barely scraping by a daily existence, without financial security or any idea of where their lives will take them.
Every town, city and settlement in Ukraine is affected by this ferment. Nobody is immune. The tide of misery is overwhelming; yet the Thanksgiving festival is a moment when we all ought to pause amidst the maelstrom and count our blessings for what we do have rather than fear for what we might not. So although I am not going to work today, because I am still injured and every day I go to work seems to exacerbate my condition, nevertheless I am going to try to stay positive and I am going to see some American friends tonight and celebrate the festival of Thanksgiving with them. It is not a religious occasion, unlike Christmas; in the United States it is a more important day in the holiday calendar than Christmas Day, because it can be celebrated by those of all faiths and of none, and it is the one day in the United States where almost everyone stops what they are doing to get together with family and friends.
Alas Ukrainians do not have this luxury. They do not have moments when they can stop thinking about this war or cease the struggle. The Russian Armed Forces are employing every dirty tactic, including shelling civilian settlements and deploying drones against civilian infrastructure, in order to corrode civilian morale. I do not think this tactic is going to work. In the history of warfare, it never has worked. The only things that work in warfare are economic blockades; and military victory on the battlefield. So far the former has not succeeded because India and China will not participate; while the latter has been proving painfully difficult to achieve.
Nevertheless the suffering goes on, and the refugee crisis that has swamped Europe as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine will not subside, until the war is brought to a conclusion. Indeed there is evidence now of a second wave of refugees: not this time from Ukraine (for the most part, refugees from Ukraine to elsewhere in Europe departed some time ago) but instead from Russia. The dissidents, those trying to avoid the draft, people who fear Vladimir Putin’s tyrannical and murderous regime, they are all trying to escape to Europe and apply for asylum. For the most part they have been doing this via Finland, where the border between Russia and the European Union has always been relatively tolerant and where the Finns have traditionally been welcoming of Russians crossing over the border to do their shopping and the like. However the refugee exodus from Russia is now so significant that Finland has announced she is closing all but one of her border crossings because her authorities cannot process the huge numbers of refugee applications.
It does not help of course that Russia has been trying to cause chaos on the Russia-Finnish border by encouraging as many people as possible to flee over that border and claim asylum in Finland and then move onwards in Europe. The Finnish and European authorities are faced with the grim and unenviable task of sifting these refugees to distinguish those that are genuinely fleeing from a well-found fear of persecution in Russia (the test in the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention) from those who might be government infiltrators or people associated with Russia’s miscellaneous security and intelligence services: or simply criminals that Russia has let out of the prisons and told to head towards the Finnish border in order to create havoc. Finland therefore is overwhelmed and Europe needs to provide her with all the assistance necessary to undertake the exercise of sifting refugee applicants just as the winter season begins in earnest. Because these asylum seekers need to kept warm and safe and secure while their applications are being processed and their backgrounds are being checked. And background checks on people coming from Russia, many of whom will have worked for organs of the Russian state, are particularly difficult because the Russian system is so opaque and infiltration of the security and intelligence services is so widespread.
In these actions of the Russian government, in trying to undermine the European system of international law by overwhelming Finland with unmeritorious or downright dangerous asylum applications, the true intentions of the Russian state are revealed. It is not that the Russian government doesn’t understand the western system of international law, liberty, freedom and democracy; it does, and it doesn’t like these values and tries to take advantage of them to undermine them. It is imperative that Finland is supported in upholding these values in sifting in a fair and lawful way meritorious asylum applications from all those Russian citizens who have a genuine claim for refugee status and want to escape the Russian government and start life again in the West. Russia will take advantage of the fairness and equity inherent in European democratic and legal procedures, and she will seek to obliterate the European system by exploiting what she perceives to be structural weaknesses in favour of a system of the pursuit of raw power that Russian politics has always preferred.
All these considerations lead to the conclusion that the war in Ukraine must be brought to an immediate halt in the earliest part of 2024, just as the war in Europe was brought to a halt in May 1945. Western troops must meet Russian troops at the line of control, because this is the only thing that will deter the Russian Armed Forces from ceasing to progress further. NATO troops must enter Ukraine, and must move up to the line of control. Then the Russians will respect the display of power and the war will end. We are fighting for principled government and western values that move beyond the mud pits of war power in which lives are worthless. That is what we were fighting for in the Cold War, it is what we are fighting for now in this hot war, and it is what we will be fighting for some decades to come in the Second Cold War.