As the song says, “When will they ever learn……?”
In nineteen fifty six, when I was a thirteen year-old schoolboy, Russian tanks rolled into Hungary as a `peacekeeping` force to crush the anti-Soviet revolution led by Imre Nagy and to `liberate` the country from the breath of freedom that it had enjoyed for a long weekend. Imre Nagy was whisked off to Moscow for “discussions” and was never seen again alive. I remember sitting in our kitchen in Poole listening on an old valve radio to the voice of Budapest Free Radio screaming “For God`s sake help us…. For God`s sake help ……“. Neither the Americans, who had wound up the revolutionaries to believe that they would support the new regime, nor anyone in the “free” western world lifted a finger to assist. Nagy was murdered in the Lubianka prison, I spent a bit of time fund-raising and collecting clothes and blankets for Hungarian refugees and life in Dorset returned to normal.
In nineteen sixty-eight, a dozen years later, there was the `Prague Summer` when the Czechoslovakian people rose up against Soviet oppression and under the leadership of Alexander Dubcek declared that they had had enough of Soviet rule and wanted a taste of democracy. On August 20th (I remember the date because it is my birthday) the Russian tanks, manned by Mongolian troops imported to put down the revolution, screamed into Prague and again crushed the dissent. Dubcek was sent off to serve as a postmaster in a remote village and the game was over. On the Sunday of that weekend fifty thousand people filled London`s Bayswater from the gates of the Russian Embassy back to Marble Arch in protest. The pro-Russian student firebrand Tariq Ali spoke from atop a loudspeaker van in praise of the Russian `luberation` of the Czech and Slovak people. They then made the mistake of handing the microphone to me and within seconds fifty thousand people were chanting “Dubcek, Dubcek”. But again, the West stood by and watched, no support was offered, and the revolution died.
The pattern of oppression has been consistent. Russia annexed two states of the independent Republic of Georgia in 2008 and again the `free` world watched and did nothing. In 2014 the Neo-Soviet Union walked into the Ukrainian Province of Crimea, brutally purged the Tatar community and declared Crimea, with its underground nuclear submarine bases in Sevastopol, to be a part of Russia. The West`s reaction? Diddly squat. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe removed the voting rights of the Russian delegation and the Russians walked off taking with them several millions of Euros in unpaid contributions to the costs of running the Assembly. Scroll forward four years and the PACE (the parliamentary assembly), strapped for cash, voted to let the Russians back in and pay again, with no further sanctions. I am proud to say that the British delegation that I had the privilege to lead at time voted, with the Baltic States and a handful of other delegates, to deny the Russians re-admission. We did so because it was blindingly obvious that the `assurances` offered by a Kremlin Delegation that included Mr. Kalashnikov (yes, there is one), Mr Tolstoy and the man wo orchestrated murders in Chechnya, Mr Slutsky, were not worth the paper that they were written on. I hesitate to say to those stalwart French and German men and women who took the Russian rouble-baited hook, line and sinker but you were warned.
For months neo-Soviet troops have been massing, first on the borders of the Donbas in Eastern Ukraine and more recently , with the acquiescence of Putin`s fellow dictator in Belarus, on the borders of that country and a spit and a cough from Ukraine`s capital city of Kiev. The free world chose to engage in `diplomacy` instead of, as we might have done, throwing the whole book of sanctions straight and immediately at the walls of the Oligarch`s castles/ Bank Accounts/ Properties in the Home Counties and Central London and children at British Public Schools. Warning sirens should have sounded long before the word `peacekeeping` fell from Putin`s lips. The scenario is, as the history above describes, straight from the KGB Colonel`s playbook. We were warned. But once again we did not heed the warning.
“President” Putin must be brought, along with his McMafia henchmen, before the International Criminal Court in the Hague, for their war crimes and the Russian people must be liberated and have the money stolen from them returned to the public purse.
Over the phone from Kiev, at an early hour on the morning of Thursday 24th February, I heard my young and very brave friend who is a member of the Ukrainian Duma echoing the words from 1956. “For God`s sake help us”. If we, the Free West, fail to respond in a manner that even the blood-stained Putin can understand then it will be Ukraine, then Georgia, Moldova, then either Finland or one of the Baltic States, that will follow and trigger the start of World War Three and Armageddon.
As the banner in the closing shot of Neville Shute`s nuclear war movie “On the Beach” flapped over a deserted Australian town square proclaims, “There is Still Time Brother”.
But only just.