Faragegate – the row over his comments

by Philip Ingram MBE

The row over Nigel Farage’s apparent suggestion that the West “provoked” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by expanding the European Union and NATO eastwards rumbled on. There is only one winner – Vladimir Putin.

Farage, the Reform UK leader told Nick Robinson of the BBC that “of course” the war was President Vladimir Putin’s fault. However, he added that the expansion of the EU and NATO gave him a “reason” to tell the Russian people “they’re coming for us again”.

This echoed a tweet Farage put out in Feb 2022 just after Russia reinvasion of Ukraine as they attempted to capture Kyiv, where he clearly stated, “a consequence of EU and NATO expansion.” Nick Robinson in the BBC Panorama interview challenged Farage over his judgement and past statements, including when he named Russian President Vladimir Putin as the world leader he most admired in 2014. Nigel Farage responded by saying, “I said I disliked him as a person, but admired him as a political operator because he’s managed to take control of running Russia.”

Nigel Farage’s position is not helped by his support for Donald Trump and Donald Trump’s less than supportive comments for Ukraine. To Putin, he sees an opportunity to attack support for Ukraine at its very core, through the UK General Election campaign and then into the US Presidential election campaign and he will be taking every opportunity to do so. His aim will be simply to create more division and uncertainty, to take the political focus away from Ukraine a little more.

So, what is the reality? Why did Putin decide to attack Ukraine in the end?

It is true that in 1990 President Bush had noted in a memo that he had said, “no extension for NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east.”  This memo is often taken out of the geopolitical context. It was in relation to the immediate reunification of Germany and allaying concerns regarding the huge NATO forces that remained in Germany.

Those forces have subsequently been massively reduced. In addition, Russia has contributed to NATO led operations in the Balkans as part of the international force. First in Bosnia and then in 1999 in Kosovo.  This relationship was built on the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Co-operation and Security between the Russian Federation and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, signed in 1997.

Clear examples of cooperation as more members joined NATO were in 2006/2007 when the NATO-Russia Council at Military Representative level (MilReps of the 26 allies and RUS) met monthly to progress NATO/Russia military-to-military cooperation.  The Russian vessel, PITLIVIY joined Operation Active Endeavour in Sept 06, marked the first truly combined NATO-Russia force deployment. The operations were to deter terrorist activity in the Mediterranean. Several other exercises and cooperation’s with NATO took place including, Theatre Missile Defence exercises hosted by Russia, academic exchanges, search and rescue at sea training, communications exercises, military aviation exercises, fuels interoperability exercises. The Cold War had thawed and as the EU accepted more members and NATO did the same cooperation between Russia and NATO grew.

Then something changed, and that change was the era of Putin. Yes, Putin was concerned about NATO growing and the EU becoming an economic powerhouse to rival Russia but what concerned him more was Russia’s and his loss of status and influence. He vehemently disagreed with the break-up of the USSR, the Soviet Union and wanted it back; he recognised that Russia was losing its superpower status economically, politically and militarily.  However, he knows he could disrupt and influence political processes across the West and maintain a degree of control over what was most important to him, money, through disinformation, direct action, cyber activities and good old traditional ‘kompromat’ (gaining leverage over individuals and companies through use of compromising materials.)

Putin wasn’t bothered by other countries joining NATO or the EU provided he could maintain Russia’s (his own) influence. He would send warnings when he thought necessary, the 2007 Cyber-attack on Estonia, the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko with Polonium 210 in London, the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in 2018. These and many other incidents around the world, were designed to send messages to dissenters.

At the same time when he tested the West with operations like the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia the EU negotiated peace settlement favoured Russia. The Wests reaction to the July 2014 shooting down of the MH17 passenger airliner was extremely slow, and the Wests complete lack of action in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and creation of two artificial statelets in Ukraine, The Luhansk and Donetsk Peoples Republics, combined with his engrained belief that Ukraine didn’t deserve to be a separate nation is what kept his sights on Ukraine.

Budapest Memo, signed in 1994, where Russia, the US and the UK confirmed their recognition of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine making security commitments in return for soviet nuclear weapons being returned to the Kremlin, should have kept the peace. However, Putin already had Belarus as a Puppet state, Kazakhstan was under a degree of control as Russian Space launches from its territory kept the Rubles flowing and corruption across Ukraine allowed Russian oligarchs (and therefore Putin) to control access to the vast resources in what he saw as a substate of Russia.

However, the straw that ‘broke the camel’s back’ for Putin wasn’t NATO or the EUs expansion or possibility that Ukraine could join, as he knew the levels of corruption that he controlled would keep them from meeting even the basic criteria. After all to Putin, Ukraine was still and always would be “Little Russia.” This all changed when Zelensky won an election on an anti-corruption ticket against all odds. Putin’s business interests and ability to bring Ukraine under control politically as he had done with Belarus, were under threat. His ego, and fear at loss of business and influence started him on the path to wanting to topple Zelensky, by force if necessary.  All of this was on the back of the pro-freedom aspirations of the Maidan (Independence Square) protesters who rose against Kremlin-friendly president Viktor Yanukovych in late 2013 and early 2014. It stirred a terror in Putins heart in the wake of pro democracy protests in Russia 2010 – 2013 but sent the conditions for Zelensky and a desire to remove corruption from the heart of Ukrainian politics, that meant emasculating the oligarch criminal networks.

So how does all this come back to Farages interview on the BBC? Well simply he has given Putin the snippets necessary to produce the propaganda he can use to feed to his domestic audience and wider international BRICS partners. We can see how China is supporting Russia as is Iran and North Korea as are the the BRICS members. The author has edited the BBC interview to give you an example of that propaganda that will be made from Farages statement, this clip is likely to play across Russia, China, South Africa, Brazil, North Korea, Iran, India and elsewhere saying even prime ministerial hopefuls in the British election blame NATO and the EU:

(video with thanks to BBC Panorama)

Trying to be clever and apply one dimensional and therefore flawed reasoning, as many commentators have also done, in what is a multi dimensional conflict, not being clear, and with the historical comments, Farage has given Putin a boost and he should have known that would happen! The cynic in me says in the run up to an election, no publicity is bad publicity – could that be his motivation?  Farage emphasised in his interview with the BBC that he thought Putins actions were wrong and that he did not support them.