The U.K.’s former shadow home secretary has questioned the extent to which Russia should be treated as the aggressor in the Ukraine crisis, despite the country parking 130,000 troops along the border with Ukraine.
Diane Abbott, a close confidant of Labour’s former socialist leader Jeremy Corbyn, made the controversial remarks during a meeting of the far-left Stop the War coalition on Thursday, of which Corbyn has previously chaired. The group got its start over opposition to the war in Iraq in 2001, a war which left was initially aligned against, but which most citizens in the U.S. and U.K. now regret partaking in.
Yet, Abbott has laid the blame at the feet of the U.S. and the U.K. entirely if a war breaks out, a radical step given Russia’s undeniable build up of troops near Ukraine’s border.
“We see that the United States has decided that it needs to send U.S. and other NATO troops to Russia’s borders,” she told the group, claiming that “this alone should tell us that the claims that Russia is the aggressor should be treated skeptically.
“The destabilization in the entire region comes from the continued eastward expansion of NATO,” Abbott claimed, insisting that “peaceful solutions to a complicated conflict of identities and national rights” should be found.
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She continued to accuse both the U.K. and the United States of being “gung ho” for war, highlighting that “the United States has only just ended one disastrous prolonged war in Afghanistan and many here seem to be gung ho about starting another one.
“The public is opposed to war with Russia, which would be extremely dangerous for all sides, not least the people of Ukraine,” Abbott added.
The Biden administration has come under harsh criticism for its foreign policy debacle in Afghanistan, both from the right and the left. President Joe Biden completed a chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last year after occupying the country for 20 years. Seen as one of the worst foreign policy disasters in U.S. history, the radical Islamist Taliban movement swiftly came to power despite hundreds of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars spent in the country and thousands of U.S. soldiers losing their lives.
The loss in Afghanistan and weariness over the war in Iraq may be why polling shows that U.S. citizens are so reluctant to lend their support to Ukraine, with fewer than one in six polled saying they want any U.S. soldiers in the country. A YouGov poll showed that there is little appetite for war with Russia, with a plurality of respondents, 48 percent, saying they oppose going to war with Russia should it invade Ukraine, and only 27 percent saying they favored the U.S. going to war.
Such a position among the public may only embolden Russia to go through with an invasion of Ukraine, although Ukrainian’s government has signaled they do not believe an invasion is imminent and the situation is “under control.”
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Although Abbott is unmistakably on the left, there are some conservatives also criticizing Western nation’s approach to the crisis in Ukraine, notably Tucker Carlson of Fox News.
“NATO doesn’t even want Ukraine to join. In other words, the whole thing is nuts. It serves no American interest whatsoever. It is yet another manufactured crisis. This one devised by restless, power-hungry neocons in Washington looking for another war,” he said.
Abbott’s controversial remarks were pounced on by the British press, with the conservative newspaper, Daily Express, accusing Abbott of siding with Russia.
Abbott’s comments also do not appear to align with the rhetoric of U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who on Thursday reiterated that it would be an “absolute disaster” for war to occur on Ukrainian soil, and called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to “disengage and de-escalate,” insisting that “the way forward is diplomacy.”
The deployment of troops from Western powers has been at a minimum, with a small group of Royal Marines sent to Ukraine to train its forces on anti-tank armaments that Britain had supplied, and 350 Royal Marines being deployed to Poland on Tuesday.
The U.S., meanwhile, has bolstered its military presence in NATO countries including 3,000 reinforcements being sent to Romania and Poland, however, such numbers pale in significance to the 130,000-strong Russian forces currently stationed in Belarus and on the Russian border with Ukraine.
Abbott, like her former leader and close friend Jeremy Corbyn, has long been a critic of NATO and the U.K.’s nuclear deterrent, having previously welcomed the decision by parties across the U.K. who voted not to review Trident if they were in power.