The West should have acted years ago by arming Ukraine with weapons and imposing sanctions on Russia – a move that would have deterred Vladimir Putin from launching his invasion earlier this year, says Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an oligarch in exile turned dissident. .
Mr Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man before his persecution and imprisonment by the Kremlin, said Western governments bear “significant responsibility” for the conflict in Ukraine, failing to take action against the President Putin after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The former oil and gas tycoon, who at one point had a personal fortune estimated at £12.38billion, likened the West’s inaction to being slapped by a gangster and handing over money. silver.
“When a gangster comes to you, not just a London hooligan, but a real gangster, and he slaps you, all you can do is give him your wallet in the hope that he won’t take your money away. pants,” Mr. Khodorkovsky said The Independent.
“Of course, there is an important responsibility. The annexation of Crimea in 2014. People decided they could carry on as if nothing had happened.
“Putin took it as a weakness. And we have what we have.
In February 2014, Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula, laying the groundwork for the current war, in a violation of international law widely condemned by the Western world.
Russia was expelled from the G8 and hit with a series of economic sanctions following the annexation. Russian officials have been hit with travel and transaction bans, overseas assets have been frozen and bilateral talks over military issues, space and visa requirements have been halted.
New sanctions were imposed as the war in Donbass escalated throughout 2014, but the West never attempted to restrict Russia’s economy to the extent it does today, and weapons and military equipment were not readily supplied to the Ukrainian government.
By failing to do so, the Kremlin emboldened itself to launch an invasion of the country nearly a decade later, Khodorkovsky said.
“If they had imposed the sanctions as they have now, and if the Ukrainians had received the military weapons as they received today, then with a 100% probability Putin would not have gone to war now. “, did he declare. . “But what happened, happened.”
However, Mr Khodorkovsky, who was stripped of his wealth by the Kremlin and thrown in prison in 2003 for defying Putin’s regime, also questioned how much the current sanctions package was slowing down Russia’s war machine.
The International Monetary Fund expects a 10% contraction in Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) as a result of the measures, but analysts do not believe they were militarily effective.
Some have also argued that the rally in the Russian currency since last month and the central bank’s recent cuts in previously sky-high interest rates show that Moscow is coping with the sanctions regime.
“I think sanctions these days are not a possibility to stop the war,” said Khodorkovsky, now a top Kremlin critic after his release from prison in 2013. They will limit Putin’s militaristic possibilities, but not now – later organize.
“The only way to help Ukraine is through the arms and education of the Ukrainian army. That’s all.”
Despite the need to continue supporting Ukraine, countries are beginning to turn away from war, Khodorkovsky added. “It’s a problem, a problem, and Putin understands that. He uses time as his support.
Nevertheless, NATO announced this week that it would increase the number of forces on high alert to more than 300,000 from 40,000 – the alliance’s biggest defense overhaul since the Cold War.
The military alliance has also confirmed that it will expand troop deployments to European member countries closest to Russia and strengthen air defenses.
Mr Khodorkovsky said that in the eyes of Kremlin officials, NATO was seen as weak and unwilling to act if Russia invaded its Baltic neighbors – countries that President Putin still considers part of the “motherland”. “.
If such a scenario were to unfold, it would mean the “symbolic” end of NATO as an institution, Mr. Khodorkovsky added. “Many countries that are now part of NATO will decide that this is not a guarantee of our security,” he said.
The Independent Gt