Sir John Sawers, the former head of MI6, has warned against stepping up pressure on Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, over Ukraine and said any change in power in the Kremlin “may well be for the worse”.
The west would have to learn to live with Putin, however unpalatable that may seem, Sawers told an audience of war studies students at King’s College, London. Provoking him could deepen the security crisis facing Europe, he suggested.
“The Ukraine crisis is no longer just about Ukraine,” he said. “It’s now a much bigger, more dangerous crisis, between Russia and western countries, about values and order in Europe.”
Britain’s recently retired chief spymaster said Russia had a formidable nuclear arsenal and Putin wanted these ultimate weapons in his armoury to project raw strength. Russia may have rejected European values but, Sawers said, “we deal with the Russia we have, not the Russia we’d like to have”.
The west “could take on Moscow stepping up our response. Provide weapons to Ukraine so it can defend itself. More stringent sanctions. But how would Mr Putin respond?” Sawers asked.
He added: “As long as Mr Putin sees the issue in terms of Russia’s own security he will be prepared to go further than us. So he would respond with further escalation on the ground. Perhaps cyber attacks against us. We have thousands of deaths in Ukraine. We could start to get tens of thousands. Then what?”Does he really think that being nice to Putin will stop the latter from exerting his malign influence over Eastern Europe? That a Western caving-in over Ukraine would put an end to Putin's territorial ambitions? That the massive economic power of the EU compared with Russia should count for nothing?