Simon Jenkins (Britain should stay well out of Russia’s border dispute with Ukraine, 20 January) claims that Russia’s “border disputes” with Ukraine have “nothing whatsoever to do with Britain” – but it has everything to do with the more than 20,000 diaspora Ukrainians and Britons of Ukrainian descent who live in the UK, of whom I am one.
Mr Jenkins appears to be of the opinion that Ukrainian sovereignty is less important than the desire of those who govern Russia not to be humiliated on the international stage. This is incorrect. Ukraine is not and has never been an integral part of Russia: it is an independent nation with a separate language, history and religious and political traditions. It was, for centuries, under the colonial rule of Tsarist Russia (or the Habsburg empire, depending on the region) and then of the Soviet Union, suffered unspeakably at the hands of the Soviet government in the 1930s and was subjected to extreme cultural suppression in the 19th century.
It is inexpressibly disappointing and hurtful to see that in 2022 there are Guardian columnists who have apparently bought into 19th-century Russian imperial propaganda.
As an MEP in the 1990s, serving as vice-chair of the joint parliamentary committee with Poland, and attending meetings with representatives of other applicant states to the EU. I discussed with them why they also wished to join Nato, and tried to dissuade them. But they were clear that membership of Nato would protect them from again falling under Russian rule.
Ukraine did not at that time apply for EU membership, but sent observers to joint meetings. I felt then that it was not wise to move too far to the east, but rather to build up good relationships with former Soviet states. I chaired a session at a local government conference for applicant states in Warsaw, and observers from Ukraine were keenly interested in developments being worked towards in Poland and other neighbouring states. On another occasion in Strasbourg I addressed a group of Ukrainian farmers about reform of the common agricultural policy; they seemed cheered at what I said about the need for reform. I give these as examples that already in the mid-1990s there were people in Ukraine looking west rather than east to Russia, with a view to developing a more open democratic society. This was not being pushed on them by the EU, which was not behaving triumphantly, but created a funding stream to help former Soviet states, including Russia, to develop democratic institutions.
Simon Jenkins writes (24 January) of Nato’s post-cold-war expansion eastwards as though it was an invasion and occupation rather than a free choice by independent sovereign nations. That is also the reason why Ukraine seeks to join Nato; it is an independent, sovereign country with a distinct identity that wishes to find its own way in the world. Jenkins’ alternative – a grandiloquent world of “spheres of influence” – would have Ukraine permanently subservient to Russia.
This year is the 100th anniversary of Irish independence. For those, like Jenkins, who find it difficult to understand why a country like Ukraine might wish to chart its own course, let him look over the Irish Sea at a close historical parallel. Or look north to Scotland, whose independence disappeared between 1603 and 1707, but whose sense of self, and now desire for self-determination, has not disappeared.Our support for Ukraine should be loud, unequivocal and unlimited: freedom is indivisible.
Retired colonel, Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire