A READER has got in touch with us to discuss the role of NATO in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

KEIR Starmer was wrong to threaten to withdraw the whip from MPs unless they removed their signatures from a Stop the War statement on Ukraine, saying “there will be no place in this party for false equivalence between the actions of Russia and the actions of NATO.”

Stop the War has unequivocally condemned the Russian invasion, and called for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops.

Putin’s murderous attack on Ukraine is inexcusable, but NATO is not entirely blameless.

With the supposed end of the cold war in 1990, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the reunification of Germany, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev agreed that the newly unified Germany could join NATO in return for assurances that NATO would expand no further eastwards. NATO reneged on that, and 15 East European countries neighbouring Russia have since joined.

For Russia, Ukraine joining would be a step too far, and would violate the 2015 Minsk agreement, which offered limited autonomy to Russian separatist regions in Eastern Ukraine, including a veto on NATO membership.

Ukraine’s interpretation of Minsk differs significantly, but the agreement still offers a basis to end the conflict.

Neither side can win this war. As Richard Sakwa, professor of Russian and European politics at the University of Kent, has warned: “We are closer to World War Three than we have ever been... Our generation of leaders is so inadequate they have not been able to understand: they [Russia] will not back down. The only way out is diplomacy, or this war will only get worse.”

But diplomacy requires a dispassionate appraisal of the build-up to this war, and an understanding of Russia’s concerns. This is not “false equivalence.” Whatever Putin’s grievance is, it can never justify this brutal war. Let’s hope that Starmer’s diktat does not silence Labour members who advocate a negotiated resolution of this conflict.

Pete Winstanley, Durham.

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