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The War in Ukraine

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What do Russia’s actions mean for Ukraine and the UK?

Host and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat MP interviews Fiona Hill, the distinguished author and academic specialising in European and Russian affairs. Fiona, who hails from County Durham, is a former Senior Director for Europe and Russia at the United States National Security Council. She served as an intelligence analyst under Presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama and later, as deputy assistant to President Donald Trump.

The discussion then moves to colleagues on the Foreign Affairs Committee, the SNP’s Stewart Malcolm McDonald MP and Conservative Alicia Kearns MP, as they consider the impact of the war in Ukraine, ranging from how to hold together the West’s response to the war to the future relationship between the UK and Russia.

Committee Corridor draws on the expertise of select committees and witnesses to deliver a briefing on some of the most pressing issues facing the UK today. Coming next, Committee Corridor discusses the security situation in Afghanistan.

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Tom Tugendhat: Welcome to the committee corridor, where we rise above the noise of the chamber and get down to the serious work of looking in detail at some of the questions that committees are charged with.

I'm Tom Tugendhat, and I chair the foreign affairs committee, and you're listening to the first episode of a new podcast offering an insight into the role of various select committees here in Westminster.

Now, select committees are the organizations, if you like, within Parliament, that look in detail - they take away some of the subjects that don't have time to be debated on the floor of the chamber, but actually do require much greater in-depth study.

They are often urgent and pressing topics, but sometimes they're longer-term subjects that need careful consideration. What we do on the committee corridor is we call in outside experts, we call in witnesses, we call in ministers, and ask people to answer either for their actions or to give their opinion.

Our role is to be tough, it's to call in public figures and to be demanding of what sort of decisions people in authority have made. Some of those are in the government itself. Now select committees are made up of members of all parties, and they're balanced according to the last election of Parliament so you’ll see voices from across the political spectrum.

But, unlike in the chamber, most work in select committees tends to be co-operative. Now I hope you'll see this as we go through the various different episodes over the next few months. I hope you'll hear that while we challenge authority and challenge ideas, we try to work as a team and try to put the United Kingdom and the interests of everybody here, to the fore.
Now every two weeks, while Parliament is sitting, we'll be hearing from figures at the heart of our inquiries and demonstrating how select committees can influence the arguments and outcomes of the biggest topics in 2022.

This series, we'll start with foreign policy challenges. Because foreign policy isn't about foreigners, it’s about us, this is coming right to our doorstep and actually is affecting the way we live.

Now, we're going to start with Ukraine. There are many different questions that are raised here, and of course, some of them are to do with the situation a few thousand miles to the east of us, but quite a lot of them come straight back home to us, whether that's in food prices or energy prices - we know what's changing.

It's also, however, about our international relationships. What does this mean for our alliances? What does this mean, fundamentally, for us? And with regard to Russia, how will these actions affect the longer-term relationship between the UK and that great country?

In a moment, we're going to hear from fellow members of the foreign affairs committee, but first I wanted to speak to Fiona Hill, former senior director for Europe and Russia at the United States National Security Council.

[Musical interlude]

I'm delighted to have with us today, our first guest and it's Fiona Hill. Now, many of you will know Fiona from her extraordinary testimony to the house on the different elements of the Trump White House. But today we're talking to the former senior director for Europe and Russia at the United States security council, about Russia. We're speaking specifically about Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Now, Fiona, in your book, you talk about Vladimir Putin a lot, of course. And you argue that he's a man of very complex identities. I think this is something that many of us have come to realize over recent years. Have we misunderstood him? Have we misunderstood the system he's created? Have we confused a mafia state for a country?

Fiona Hill: Well, I think from Putin's perspective, he is very much entwined with the country. And although there are certainly some elements of the mafia state in the way that all of the economic activity in Russia at the highest levels, the crown jewels of the Russian economy being very much tied into the state. And, there has been close ties between the Kremlin and the oligarchs who tend to run those operations, and it has got the whole elements of a mafia and a kleptocracy in terms of the way that Putin manages this. And we have to remember, of course, that he's an operative from the KGB. And you can take the man out of the KGB, but you can't take the KGB out of the man.

And the KGB is also about blackmail and asset management, very similar in that regard to the mafia, but Putin sees himself primarily - and this is in his own view - as a Statist, somebody who is a guardian of the state, that's also part of the image, the mythology of the KGB itself, seeing itself as the sword and the shield, the defenders of the state.

People around Putin said there's no Russia without Putin and throughout his presidential career, Putin has always evoked this idea of the primacy of the Russian state and the Russian state interest. And look, he's basically saying that the invasion of Ukraine is intrinsic to those interests and that's why we have to kind of unpack that.

And this is where history comes in, political culture, and a very long tale to these events beginning, not just with the collapse of the Soviet union - which Putin said was the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century, as many people recall - but also going back to the collapse of the Russian empire. And that I think is perhaps the bit that most people have misunderstood when they look at Putin.

I mean, he's a propagandist and he manipulates facts as well as manipulating people. He obviously is engaged in that, Orwellian sense of useful history and manipulating history, but he also does deeply see himself as part of a state and a long state history and in many respects sees himself as the inheritor of the tsars, not the leaders of a communist party or the secretary generals of the Soviet Union.

Tom Tugendhat: Well that's, I mean, that's a very interesting way of looking at it. What would you say then are his fundamental ambitions? Because it doesn't sound like they stopped with Ukraine. It sounds like actually you're talking about the rebuilding of the Tsarist Empire, which would include elements of countries further to the West than that including the Baltic states, parts of Poland and indeed other countries too.

Fiona Hill: Well look, we're certainly seeing that he has territorial ambitions in that regard. You know, it may have looked previously and I would also argued, that he wasn't in the business of reconstituting, physically, the entire Russian empire or the entire Soviet Union, but he certainly wanted to have dominance in that region that the Soviet Empire and the Russian Empire before it had dominion over, which is pretty extensive as you mentioned – it’s Poland, it's the whole of Eastern Europe, but he does seem to have some pretty specific territorial claims.

We're seeing that now, we’re seeing Russian generals talk about acquisition of territory. Putin himself - that's the real pattern break with previous activity, that shows how much Ukraine matters to him was the annexation of Crimea.

You know, up until that point, one might have said up until 2014, that Putin looked much more pragmatic. There had been a period where he was trying to establish Russia as one of the great economic powers. There was a lot of discussion about Russia, you know, going off in a kind of a more – let’s just say – normal track, something that's kind of more readily recognizable for people from the Western perspective. He seemed very pragmatic about all kinds of things and then suddenly he annexes Crimea.

And I mean, if you'd been paying careful attention you’d have seen the whole lead up to this, but of course that's a big shock for many people and if we pay very close attention to the speech, that he made back in March of 2014, around that annexation, all of this history comes out – he takes everybody back to the seventeen hundreds, the annexation of Crimea by Catherine the Great and starts to create this image of a Russia that’s trying to defend itself against constant encroachment by European powers and other great powers trying to strip away its territory and that he's now in the process of bringing some of that territory back again. And he's just made that clear over and over again, that he sees Ukraine as intrinsically of the Russia that he has in his mind - as the Russia that he is the head of state for

Tom Tugendhat: I mean, this raises huge questions, not just for Russia's relationship with other countries in the neighbourhood and of course us here in the United Kingdom, but it also raises huge questions about Russia's internal politics. What can you tell us about the potential consequences for Russia itself?

We're seeing very severe sanctions. We're seeing a very severe economic collapse. Do you think that the current system holds out?

Fiona Hill: I think this makes the current system extraordinarily brittle. Because what we're seeing here - we've always talked about the vertical of power inside of Russia and the president being at the pinnacle the apex of that - that in itself is a kind of progression from secretary generals of the communist party, Soviet union, presidents of the Soviet Union, and previously the tsars, like an autocrat only upheld by the constitution and legitimised by the claim of the people in the popular sense.

I mean, it's a pretty ancient structure to be frank going back millennia and Putin is perpetuating it in a major way.

Tom Tugendhat: He's even perpetuating the link to God in some ways.

Fiona Hill: Indeed. Yeah. I mean the weaponization of the Russian Orthodox church, this looks like it's pulled straight out of the pages of the 1840s and fifties when Nicholas I, a former tsar of Russia created what was called ‘official nationality’. Kind of slogans that defined Russia around the autocracy, Russian orthodoxy and the people, the Narodov and in the German sense Das Volk, and that's what Putin is doing.

And it seems, you know, preposterous for the 21st century although I mean, we are seeing plenty of these strong-man led countries in other places, but this is, you know, really a throwback. And as a lot of people have, you know, observed here there's no real room here for the Russian people. And again, if the system is dependent on one person, that's where the brittleness and the fragility comes from. He's the wildcard in the system. That's why people are speculating about his health.

He clearly made the decision to invade Ukraine, that's on him. And that brings that question - you just phrased. I mean, what happens to Russia in that context as Russia is the sum of all of its parts, including the 140 million people there and they seem to have no say in anything.

You know, is this popularity of Putin, the support for the special military operations, he's called it, but this terrible devastating war, really there? Are people just too scared to react? And if you think then about how Russia can go on in this context and how we can interact with that, it's a very dark, bleak picture.

Tom Tugendhat: Well, and it also raises questions depending on how the war ends. I mean, a victory for Putin and a defeat for Putin would look very differently, presumably from Moscow's perspective, but also from the perspective of the 140 million people you've just spoken of.

Fiona Hill: Yeah, look, a victory for Putin and his concept of it could look like a defeat of him for us.

In fact, I mean, I would say right now he looks like he's lost, you know, many of the war aims that he had when he went in, but he might still say that this is a victory because he's taught all of us a lesson by devastating Ukraine. And he told George W. Bush back in 2008, “You know George, Ukraine isn’t a real country. Parts of it's in Eastern Europe, parts of it belong to us, or part of it was given to us.”

If you talk to regional leaders who've interacted with Putin and the Kremlin, they say, look, you know, the Russians, see us as shadows – shadows that are cast by the might of Russia. That, you know, we're just not real for them.

And, you know, for Putin, the fact that the Ukrainians are refusing to be Russians, in many respects - I mean, back in the Imperial period, Ukrainians were known as ‘Little Russians’. The Tsars were the tsars of all Russias and all Russians. And the Ukrainians were Little Russians and the Belorussians were the White Russians. And in Putin's formulation, they're all Russians that have just, in this case, tried to get away. And he's forcing them back. And if they won't follow his command and control and agree to be subjects again of the Kremlin and Moscow and him, the autocrat, then they have to be severely punished as traitors.

And we are getting targeted as well because it's an affront to Putin in all of this context that the West, NATO, the United States, the UK are encroaching on Russian territory.

Tom Tugendhat: And can I just ask one last question, because it's such a privilege to have you here. We've seen the help that we've given the Ukrainian people grow over recent weeks. Something that many of us have been calling for, for many years. We've seen sanctions that this committee called for in 2018 finally, coming into place against the corrupt and dirty money that we've seen from Putin's oligarchs around the world.

What help can we play in Russia itself? Or is that something that we really just have to leave to the extraordinarily courageous Russian activists who are making their political voice here heard? People like Vladimir Kara-Murza. People like Alexei Navalny.

Fiona Hill: Yeah. Look, I mean, it's deeply troubling that Vladimir Kara-Murza, somebody who all of us know very well, on top of Alexei Navalny is now detained. And you know the treatment of Alexei Navalny is completely shocking – it also shows then how dangerous it is to be in the opposition in Russia – I mean, we knew that already - but the message from Putin and from everyone else is that, you know, we can do terrible things to you and nobody's going to stop us, so we do have to keep our focus on this.

But I think we have to tread very carefully at the moment because Putin's just looking for any kind of sign that basically feeds into his narrative. The narrative that he laid out there when he annexed Crimea back in 2014, that the West wants to bring Russia to its knees.

And he will punish the opposition in response to all of that. So we have to be very careful about how we handle it. Obviously, our whole efforts to be focused on blunting the impacts of the war and make it very difficult for him to prosecute it in the ways that he is, on all fronts. And we also have to - you know we’re trying to kind of ringfence Russia with diplomacy, really push - it's not just as NATO members, EU members, you know, in Europe, the UK, the US and you know, other countries, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and others who've banded together as well. 

But that we really try to get other international players to realize that this is actually devastating on a global scale. Now that they also need to push back or certainly not give Russia any assistance in continuing with this war, all of the dimensions that I think everyone's well aware of now in terms of the risk of famine from the blows to food security on top of inflation, you know, from all the things that are happening to Ukraine, the fact that Putin is threatening to use a nuclear weapon in this kind of context, which puts non-proliferation on its head.

I mean, all of these things here are going to have a long-term impact and we have to, more than anything else I think, maintain that solidarity and try to bring others along with us to push back on all of this and to frame it very carefully. I think, you know, we're in for a long haul here and we have to take every day as it comes, honestly, because the events are also very unpredictable.

The fact that Putin is the only person who matters in the system when you have 140 million people makes it very fragile, very brittle. And also extraordinarily unpredictable because we can't know exactly what's motivating him from day to day. So we just have to be very vigilant, resilient, and also very much focused on keeping and maintaining unity among all of the players who are pushing back.

Tom Tugendhat: Well, look Fiona, thank you very much, indeed for your insights. We can all see why you become such an enormously powerful voice on Russian affairs and why we're very, very grateful to have you as our first guest today.

Fiona Hill: Aw, thanks, Tom. It's a pleasure and an honour. Thank you for having me.

[division bell interlude]

Tom Tugendhat: Well welcome to this section of the podcast. I'm very pleased to have two members of the committee with me now. I've got Alicia Kearns. Very good to see you, Alicia.

Alicia Kearns: Nice to see you too.

Tom Tugendhat: And I've got Stewart McDonald. Thanks for joining us.

Stewart McDonald: Thank you for having me chairman

Tom Tugendhat: [laughs] this is not going to work if it goes like that.
Stewart McDonald: What’s wrong with calling you chairman, you are the chairman! [laughs]

Alicia Kearns: [laughs]

Tom Tugendhat: Look, we've just heard from Fiona Hill, who many of our listeners will remember from the extraordinary testimony she gave to the Hill about the Trump presidency. And what she was talking about was, Putin and Putin’s Russia. She set out a very clear vision of the trouble that we face, the difficulties that we face from Russia, because of the nature of the regime.
You’ve both been watching Russia for a long time. Alicia, why don't you tell us a little bit about how you're seeing the Russian government at the moment.

Alicia: Well, I think the really interesting question actually is what in the world does a UK-Russia relationship look like going forward? There is no Russian government. There is Putin, there is Putin's interests and there is the way in which he has nationalized the oligarchs. And that is the structure that we are seeing working. And it's almost, you might as well disregard the rest of the structure really, because it all comes down to that one man, his personal interest, his personal desire, his personal focus on his legacy.
And what does that mean in terms of us moving beyond this discussion around ‘Putin must lose’ to something more meaningful, some sort of effect or outcome that we actually want to achieve because when your entire strategy has to be responding to one man and his interests, that's quite a difficult one to assess - particularly because we know there's intelligence gap around exactly what Putin’s thinking, exactly how he's feeling, his motivations, his interests.

Whilst we might have wider intelligence about those around him, not so much him. So I think when we talk about the Russian government, we might as well just talk about Putin. And I think that's one of the big issues with the debates at the moment is that lack of discussion about what does a UK-Putin relationship look like once we move past the immediate.

Tom Tugendhat: That's a hugely important question and, as Fiona was talking about, you can't know quite what mood Putin is going to wake up in and therefore that has a huge amount of uncertainty in the assessment of the Russian region. But we're also seeing the effects on Ukraine.

I mean, Stewart, you visited Ukraine frequently. What are you seeing in the relationship, the changing relationship between Russia and Ukraine?
Stewart: Tom you'll have seen the news that the mayor of Kyiv is going to remove the friendship statue from the centre of the capital. The friendship statute that's meant to signify the friendship between Russia and Ukraine and the dismantling of that is entirely understandable, but it's pretty big and pretty, pretty symbolic.

But in terms of the last question you asked, you know, Alicia is entirely correct this is all about one man. One man’s hubris. And we're seeing him weaponize all of the instruments of states to achieve his objective in Ukraine, which we're all agreed despite our different parties he must fail in doing. He's doing that in Ukraine itself, using his military, his disinformation networks abroad to try and justify his crimes in Ukraine.

And at home, he has this violent clamp down on civic opposition to his actions. And a brainwashing really of his population through the state information networks, that pose as news channels. So when you have one man who can weaponise all of those things at home and abroad – he’s pretty dangerous. And what does a future Ukraine-Russia relationship look like when eventually Putinism is gone - as it will be at some point - but when you think back to when this whole saga first began in 2014 and then was just ramped up in February of this year.

The violence that we've seen is just on an extraordinary scale that even someone like me, who's been back and forward to Ukraine several times the scenes in Bucha, the scenes in Hostomel, the scenes in Mariupol… it's beyond anything that I think we thought it would be.

Tom Tugendhat: We've seen it as well that there's a whole series of issues that have come out over the various different events over the past weeks, the past many weeks of the conflict. I was wondering, Alicia, you were on the front line quite literally in the Donbas only a few months ago and I'd be very interested to hear how you're seeing the response.

Alicia: It's a difficult one because when we went to the front those generals that met us on the front line, those soldiers we've met, they've been there for eight years. This isn't a new battle for them. And actually, most of the discussions we had on the contact line and in Kramatorsk, in the areas around where there is Russia-illegally occupied territory, it was actually about rebuilding a lot of the conversation. It wasn't about entrenching because the recognition was that actually there wasn't going to be fighting across the contact line.

But what was clear was the ferociousness with which the Ukrainian people view the defence of their country and they are absolutely right to do so. I mean, ferocious in the best sense of the word. And I think it goes back to a lot of that Cossack mentality, where, you know, repeatedly throughout the history of Ukraine, it has been the Cossack people who have stood up and fought, that has been the image of standing up for their own right to live for their own independence for who they are.

But the intelligence assessment back in January was that the Ukrainians would fight was that everyone would be surprised by how strong they were going to stand up, how determined they would be. And the intelligence assessment was also correct that Putin would aim to decapitate Kyiv. They just weren't sure if he was going to go over the top through Belarus or through the bottom, or potentially both, and that it wasn't going to be over the contact line. And that crucially there was going to be an intelligence gap, a capability gap, between what Putin thought his military was capable of, and at what speed, and what was actually possible.

And all of these things played out. So we shouldn't really be surprised that Ukrainians are fighting. I think, what won’t have featured in Putin's thinking that he will now have to deal with, as we talk about what Putin losing looks like, is that for the Ukrainians, now that Putin has pushed it to outright warfare, extended warfare, again, they are going to push to reclaim the Donbas.

I think we have an awakened Ukraine that will say ‘We are not going to just go back to what was there back in January. You can't have the Donbas, we are going to fight and reclaim it’. And that will be very interesting because we know that Putin can't afford to lose face. We know that he's very focused in particular on historical markers, and we know that he is desperate to have some sort of win, which is obviously why we're now seeing the movement towards Moldova that's expected, but the Ukrainians for this, they have rallied and they are ready to fight to reclaim what has previously been taken from them. And that is Putin's fault. And Putin’s alone.

Tom Tugendhat: Well, look, it's going to be very interesting to see how how this emerges, and you've been a very early warner on the threats to Moldova and the various other areas in the region, indeed, you will absolutely front and centre along with Stewart and making sure that we went to Ukraine as a committee at a time when many other people thought that this was going to simply drag out into the long distant future.

So, you know, your views on this have been extremely prescient. It'd be very interesting to hear though, from you Stewart. Where do you think that the UK government has got its support for Ukraine right, and where wrong? There was a very interesting piece in the Sunday Times recently about how many committees, ours included, warned about dirty Russian money in the UK a long, long time ago and very little action was taken – in our Moscow's Gold Report.

Where else could the government have been quicker? And where has the government actually done the right thing and been on the money?

Stewart: Well, look, let's deal with where it's done things, right. The government has absolutely been right to supply Ukraine with the weapons it needs. It's also been right to keep an eye on the needs of Ukraine as far as weaponry is concerned because as the war changes day to day it's needs in terms of weaponry will change and it's always been willing to go further and faster than others. And that government deserves credit for that because the president has always clear weapons are his priority because he's defending this country.

I think it's fair to say that the UK was in early with Canada, with Poland, in terms of the operation orbital that went on many years ago, which has been crucial to training the Ukrainian armed forces to resist as much as it has, which has surprised… we all knew needed, they would fight, but I think the successes that we've seen and fighting off the Russian aggression have been way beyond anything that we thought we would see.

So the government has been right to invest in the long-term. It's been right to respond rapidly to the changing needs in terms of weaponry. And in terms of economic support.

Two things where I think it could do better - and I want to phrase it like that because I don't want to batter the government over the head, but it could do better in its response to refugees. It was far too slow off the mark and it's still far too bureaucratic in the here and now that really needs to get fixed and fixed quickly. But look let's, if we're being honest, everyone has been asleep at the wheel in Russia for many years. This goes back to even before the coalition government in 2010, the whole willingness to use London in particular as a place for dirty Russian money and turning a blind eye is now coming back to bite us on the backside and are very, very depressing way.
But I think that in fairness to the government, some of that is now being unpicked in terms of its sanctions policy. But I think that what we will need is a cross-party buy-in as to what a future Russia strategy looks like in terms of Russian money in this country, Russian investments. There are a lot of lessons in there for Western capitals, especially London, to learn.

Tom Tugendhat: So Alicia, you heard what Stewart was saying there. Do you accept his description of areas where we could have done better where the government could have improved? Do you also accept his description of where the government actually quite rightly has been recognized for its successes?

Alicia: I think there's no doubt that we have to give enormous credit to the government for what they have done and what they've done right. And they'd been a leading light on supporting Ukraine. But our job as parliamentarians and in particular, the Foreign Affairs Committee, is to push for where they could be doing better and faster and stronger.
Refugees, Stewart was absolutely right about that. You know, the Homes For Ukraine programme, I’ve been very outspoken about the problems with it, and how we could have moved faster, better, and the problems that still hold it up in terms of bureaucratic.

But actually, things like secondary sanctions, there are a number of countries now who are stepping in to support Russia. We should be looking at countries like Pakistan and we should be really questioning what we're doing there, whether we're stepping in or not. I'm worried that we've taken our eye off the China-Russia ball, and there is a real risk that we push China and Russia closer towards each other through all this, when actually they're not natural bedfellows.

But actually, the other things that we should be looking at urgently as a government is 1) Again, that question that I raised early about what does Putin losing look like, and when are we going to move past that quite facile phrase? And secondly, one of the big problems is that I've spoken to a number of ambassadors from across Europe the last few weeks. And I've said to them, look all of last autumn, the British and US governments were going around telling you that Putin was going to invade. We told you Putin was going to invade. We shared the intelligence we now know to be correct. Why didn't you believe us?

And the answer quite honestly was, Germany was telling us ‘Your intelligence is wrong’ France was telling us that Macron had a personal relationship with Putin and therefore he'd never not know about the realities of what was going on. And finally, the Iraq war.

And the fact that European countries are making their decisions based on Ukraine around the Iraq War is something we should be gravely concerned about. There is clearly still reputational damage to the UK intelligence system, which I think is unfair because I believe we have the foremost and most exceptional intelligence community in the world. But that is a problem. And that's the same problems you saw around Syria. We are learning from Iraq, but not from Syria when it is Syria that helped empower and embolden Putin to do what he's doing today. So there are some big long-term things that the government should be looking at now that I'm worried they're not.

Tom Tugendhat: Well, look, I think that's an interesting point to bring up because actually what we're seeing is we're seeing this turning from what some people have seen it as, which is a short-term conflict into what the reality is. We're clearly looking at a long-term campaign. How do you see the coalition holding together?

I mean, one of the things that we've all been looking at is the extraordinary work of the Polish government on the border. And when we went to visit, you’ll remember, we saw various different groups from around Europe and actually a few from around the world who were helping refugees as they came through. Now, it was fascinating to hear the Polish interior ministry talking about the various efforts they've got and the elements with the different migrant routes and the different support they needed.

But how do you see the support of Germany? How do you see the actions of Chancellor Scholz in recent weeks and months as we go forward? I mean, Stewart, perhaps you'd like to tell me what you think about the various different ways in which this coalition could hold together.

Stewart: I think that's a good point on intelligence actually is another good thing that the West has done the UK and the US to be fair was declassifying early a lot of that intelligence. I think that's proven to be the right thing to do, but on the Russia-China axis just quickly, if I can, Tom.

One of the consequences, as you know, one of my hobby horses is disinformation and recently on a visit to NATO I was asking some people there. You know, all these disinformation networks, RT, Sputnik that have been closed across Europe. How does Russia rebuild its international disinformation networks given they've all been closed down. The broadcast rates have all been removed and all the rest of it.

And what we're actually starting to see is Chinese disinformation networks projecting out Russian messaging more and more, so China is assisting Russia where its capabilities in terms of disinformation have been hampered because of sanctions because of the removal of broadcast rates for its TV networks. And that is definitely something that I think the committee needs to keep an eye on going forward.

Alicia: And that’s same pattern is you're seeing the Balkans, you know, China and Russia coming together and disinformation. But again, this is something where the UK led, you know, back in 2015, 2014, the UK government was training Ukraine on how to counter Russian disinformation.

Stewart: I think it's going to be bolstered when Sweden and Finland join NATO, which we expect them to make that application and receive pretty much unanimous agreement from NATO member states on that. I think that will help. I think that trying to maintain that unity is important, not just for this phase of the conflict, but also when it comes to rebuilding Ukraine and Ukraine has made clear it wants a future in the Euro-Atlantic Community so it's important that we can maintain that unity going forward.

But I think it's also been helped by the fact that Madame Le Pen did not win the French presidential election. We've seen in Slovenia as well, a rejection of populist far right politics, which I think can only be, can only be good, but Germany does - and I hate saying this because I love Germany and I, I, you know, I thought when we had [German word] the turning point after the invasion in February with the massive increase in the German defence budget, we all thought we were seeing a real change.

I think in fairness we have, but every time Germany has taken two steps forward, it seems to have taken a step back. And I think there are two key people and keeping this together. One is the German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock, who has just been phenomenal in terms of moving the dial in the traffic light coalition. I think the other person is the prime minister of Estonia, who has been very much, forward-leaning and out there and rallying together like-minded liberal democracies in the Euro-Atlantic community to ensure that we take the threat seriously.

Putin will not have a desire to stop in Ukraine, the threat to liberal democracy and our way of life will not end in whatever, as Alicia rightly says, Putin losing looks like, we will always have tests to that and I think she has shown herself as someone who not only understands it, but has the energy and the drive to ensure that like-minded countries keep that coalition strong.
Alicia: If I may Tom, I just want to come in on that point of alliances because I do think there are some fundamental questions about what alliances we think we have stood up on this, because NATO actually hasn't been as effective as many would have hoped, Ukraine would have hoped, some would think. It's the JEF, you know, the UK Joint Expeditionary Force made up of, you know, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia Lithuania, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, and of course led by the UK that has been the guiding force on this.

It has been bilateral and small multilateral efforts that have been the most effective here. And there are some big questions about how we bring other people on board long-term. So those who are sitting on the sides, so your Indias your Pakistans, your other countries, even countries that we have close relationships with, like Jordan.

So we really have to look at long-term. Has this actually been a success for NATO? Has this been NATO doing well, or actually, is it more effectively a constellation of smaller alliances have actually secured the support that Ukraine needs? Because if we look at Germany, that's a great example. The fact that it hasn't been a united effort and that it won't continue to be a united effort because domestic pressures now that Ukraine has seen to be being successful are actually overriding a fundamental focus on ending the war.

Tom Tugendhat: Clearly the question now is what do we do going forward? We are planning to go to Sweden and Finland. What are the other areas of inquiry that you think we should be looking at?
Alicia: Absolutely. Right. That visit will be so important terms of listening to those colleagues.

And, you know, we did a war game scenario a few weeks ago where we realised the importance of making sure that you are constantly in conversation with those most at risk, those who are at the heart of an issue. And that's why that visit is so important. But also looking at what this means for the integrated review and where do we go from here. And I think that's what we, as a committee, we're very much focused on.

Tom Tugendhat: Thank you very much, indeed, for that Alicia Kearns, MP for Rutland and Melton and a member of the Conservative Party. And Stewart McDonald the MP for Glasgow South and a member of the SNP.
Thank you for joining us on this podcast. I'm Tom Tugendhat, I chair the Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament, and you've been listening to Committee Corridor. Next time I'll be talking with Michael Semple, who served with the European Union in Afghanistan, worked with Oxfam in that great country and has been an academic.

I'm looking forward to talking to him about the situation in Afghanistan. Thanks for listening. And if you've enjoyed it, please, don't forget to subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts.


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