By BORIS JOHNSON
No one feels the tremors of Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s frontier more acutely than our allies on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s eastern flank.
Having fallen prey to expansionist powers over the centuries—and recovered their independence barely three decades ago—the countries of Central Europe know from bitter experience what happens when big nations are free to bully or attack their neighbors.
As we seek to prevent another Russian invasion of Ukraine, we should listen to these loyal NATO allies. That’s why I met Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte in London on Tuesday and will visit NATO headquarters in Brussels and Poland on Thursday.
The first point of unity among the U.K., the U.S. and our allies is that we are not going back to the days when a handful of great powers decided smaller nations’ fates over their heads. If I may adapt some famous words: All nations are created equal, they are endowed by international law with certain inalienable rights, and first among these is the right not to have their territory seized, or their foreign policy dictated at gunpoint, by a powerful neighbor.
Those are the stakes in today’s confrontation in the borderlands between Russia and Ukraine. This is not solely about avoiding the blood-soaked tragedy of another Russian invasion of Ukraine—heart-rending though that prospect is—but about preserving the essential principles that allow nations to live in peace and freedom. That is why the U.K., the U.S. and our European friends are striving together to achieve de-escalation through deterrence and dialogue.
The U.K.’s commitment to European security is unconditional and immovable. We have the biggest military budget in Europe and the second-largest in NATO. We are the only NATO member that commits the whole of its nuclear deterrent and an aircraft carrier to the alliance.
We have contributed more troops than any other ally to NATO’s “enhanced forward presence” in the Baltic states and Poland. The British army leads NATO’s battle group in Estonia, and we are preparing to double the size of this contingent. We have deployed more than 600 soldiers to Poland, with more on standby to aid the response to any crisis. The U.K. has been at the forefront of strengthening Ukraine’s ability to defend itself. We have trained 22,000 Ukrainian soldiers and supplied 2,000 antitank missiles.
When I saw Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv last week, I told him that another Russian incursion into Ukraine would lead the U.K., U.S. and European Union to impose heavier economic sanctions on Moscow than ever before. British sanctions will be ready to go the moment the first toecap of the first Russian soldier’s boot crosses farther into Ukrainian territory.
Yet deterrence is never sufficient in itself. I have not wavered in my faith that patient and principled diplomacy could yet defuse this crisis. Therefore I have intensified our diplomatic contacts with the Kremlin. I spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin again last week, and my foreign and defense secretaries are traveling to Moscow this week.
It made sense for French President Emmanuel Macron to see Mr. Putin on Monday. I support German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s impending visit to Moscow and his statement that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline would be reconsidered if Russia attacks Ukraine again.
There is good reason to engage with Russia on vital subjects, including arms control, military exercises, the siting of missiles and everything else in the broad field of “strategic stability.” We share an obvious common interest in restoring the ground rules for Russia’s coexistence with NATO and its European neighbors. Where Russia has legitimate security concerns, I believe they can be allayed through the same process of open and honest dialogue.
I say that with confidence for the simple reason that NATO has no intention of strategically encircling or threatening Russia. On the contrary, we share a profound respect for the Russian nation and a vivid memory of fighting side by side against fascism.
We are not going to conclude a grand bargain heedless of our allies in central Europe. We are not going to treat the nations at the heart of our Continent as pawns on a chessboard, to be haggled over or sacrificed. Every independent state, including Ukraine, has a sovereign right to decide its own foreign policy and seek its own alliances.
That principle is enshrined in countless agreements, many of which Russia played an active role in, including the United Nations Charter, the preamble to which asserts the “equal rights” of “nations large and small.” President Biden was right to say that nothing will be decided about Ukraine without Ukraine.
If we combine strong deterrence with patient diplomacy, I believe we can find our way through this crisis. At stake are the rules that protect every nation—big as well as small.
Mr. Johnson is prime minister of the U.K.