Jacob Rees-Mogg, who read history at Oxford, fixed his eyes on his interviewer and stated his view. The failure of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was not down to muddled military thinking, or years of patchy investment in Russia’s military, or Putin’s own warped imaginings of how his troops would be received. It wasn’t even down to the unanticipated wartime leadership of Volodymyr Zelensky, or indeed the spirit and bravery of the Ukrainian people. It was about Brexit.
It was the decision of the British electorate to leave the EU which had foiled Putin’s imperial ambitions, he said, blinking away.
“The leadership shown by Boris Johnson, which he could only do because he was not bound by sincere cooperation, ensured that a coalition was set up which made it impossible for Putin to succeed,” he told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
“We were able to show global leadership over Ukraine. Putin would probably have invaded Ukraine successfully if the UK had been bound in by the requirement of sincere cooperation and had had to follow a Franco-German line in dealing with Russia, which is what we did in 2014.”
It probably goes without saying that Rees-Mogg’s comments are untrue in several different ways. But here’s a start: the idea that “Putin would probably have invaded Ukraine successfully” without UK intervention seems fanciful given that the USA has led opposition from the invasion from the start and has committed the equivalent of £62billion in total aid compared to £54billion from EU countries and £8.5billion from Britain.
In fact, Brexit had no impact whatsoever on the UK’s ability to deliver arms to Ukraine. In fact, seven EU countries – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Bulgaria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – have made proportionately bigger contributions of military support to Ukraine. And just the day before Rees-Mogg made his comments, President Zelensky thanked Germany “for the largest military aid package since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion”.
Furthermore, Rees-Mogg’s claim the UK had to “follow a Franco-German line” following the invasion of Crimea is also a lie. In fact, the UK government at the time – in contrast to the US – ruled out providing lethal aid to Ukraine, with foreign secretary Philip Hammond telling MPs: “It is a national decision of each country in the NATO alliance to decide whether to supply lethal aid to Ukraine. The UK is not planning to do so but we reserve the right to keep this position under review.”
It was, in short, a complete and utter fabrication, as well as an insult to the people of Ukraine whose guts kept Putin from rolling their country over into a Greater Russia within days. Not a decision by a country 2,000 miles away to wrench itself from a political union which Zelensky, ironically, aches for his country to join.