UUP MLA calls for Russian threats to be met robustly and insists appeasement not answer
Nuclear submarine commander-turned-MLA Steve Aiken says the West needs to stand up to Russian threats and aggression as appeasement will only lead to wider conflict.
The former Ulster Unionist Party leader was speaking as the UK began withdrawing some staff and their families from the British embassy in Ukraine amid fears of an invasion.
Boris Johnson said “gloomy” intelligence suggested Russia was planning a lightning raid on Kyiv.
The Prime Minister warned President Vladimir Putin an invasion would be a “disastrous step” which could see Russia bogged down in a bloody and protracted conflict.
Mr Johnson added he did not believe war was inevitable, and there was a chance “sense can still prevail”.
But confirming the exit of some diplomatic staff, he said: “We do think it prudent to make some changes now.
“The intelligence is very clear that there are 60 Russian battle groups on the borders of Ukraine, the plan for a lightning war that could take out Kyiv is one that everybody can see.
“We need to make it very clear to the Kremlin, to Russia, that that would be a disastrous step.”
He warned Ukraine would resist any incursion, and “from a Russian perspective, (it) is going to be a painful, violent and bloody business”.
“I think it’s very important that people in Russia understand that this could be a new Chechnya,” he added.
Downing Street said British troops would not be used to defend Ukraine.
But the South Antrim MLA urged a “strong stance”.
“Following any policy of appeasement, as lessons from history show, only leads to further, and wider, conflict. The only person drawing comfort from this is the occupier of the Kremlin,” he said.
“Here in Northern Ireland we need to realise that not only has our nation already been directly attacked — twice — with chemical and radiological weapons emanating from Russia, our health service and critical infrastructure has been constantly under cyber-attack, our energy security has already been challenged, and that we are not immune from this conflict.
“We should be standing strongly beside our Defence and Foreign Secretaries as they call for stronger action; we should also — as we hear so often about the ‘benefits’ of the EU from some quarters — be calling on all of the EU to act cohesively against Russian aggression, and maybe, for once, the Republic of Ireland, as a temporary member of the UN Security Council, could actually take a strong stance and encourage their German friends to realise, 84 years on, that appeasing dictators never leads to good outcomes.”
Yesterday Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said plans by Russia to hold naval exercises 150 miles off the coast of Cork were “not welcome”.
They will take place in international waters, but within Irish controlled airspace and the country’s exclusive economic zone. Russia informed Ireland’s aviation authorities of the planned activities in advance.
Speaking ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers, Mr Coveney said: “I have made it clear to the Russian ambassador in Ireland that it’s not welcome.
“This is not a time to increase military activity and tension in the context of what is happening with and in Ukraine at the moment.”
He added: “Russia, under international law, can take military exercises in international waters, but the fact they are choosing to do it on the west borders of the EU, off the Irish coast, is something that is in our view not welcome and not wanted right now, particularly in the coming weeks.”