The West must ‘defeat Russia in Ukraine’ and discourage Putin from more ‘unprovoked aggression’, Tony Blair says – as he refutes claim that Iraq war set a ‘precedent’ for the conflict
- The former PM shared a 30-minute streamed interview with the New York Times
- Blair, 68, said the West should strive to ‘defeat Russian aggression in Ukraine’
- He slapped down claims the US-UK invasion of Iraq set a precedent for Putin
- The former Labour leader also discussed energy dependence on Russia, as well as Western relations with China, the Middle East and Africa
Former Prime Minister Tony said the West must strive to ‘defeat Russian aggression in Ukraine’, in a streamed interview with the New York Times earlier today.
Blair, 68, spoke at length about the situation in Ukraine and the West’s relationship with Russia, postulating that Russian President Vladimir Putin is ‘detached from reality’ and insisting Russia had misunderstood NATO’s expansion in Europe.
‘I think our ambition has got to be to defeat Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and to secure a Russian retreat for what they’ve done,’ the former Labour leader said.
‘It’s obviously in the interest of the West to make sure [Putin] is disinclined to do this ever again. Because it’s been an extraordinary act of unprovoked aggression, right here on the doorstep of the European Union.’
Blair claimed he told Putin the West had no hostile intent towards Russia, insisting while he was in Downing Street that he encouraged the Russian leader to ‘use the vast resources of the country to build a strong country’.
But Putin by 2005 had become ‘absolutely obsessed’ with the idea the West was against him, according to the former PM.
Blair later refuted a question posed by interviewer Peter Baker, who asked whether the 2003 UK-US invasion of Iraq – an operation to which Blair was inextricably linked – set a precedent for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
‘Didn’t we set the precedent for this? Aren’t you responsible for at least giving [your critics] a justification?’ Baker asked.
Blair responded resolutely: ‘Even if you’re completely against what we did in Iraq or indeed in Afghanistan… Saddam Hussein started two regional wars, killed thousands of people… his people definitely want rid of him.
‘It’s not the same as going into a country that’s never caused any problem to its neighbours, has got a democratically elected president, and trying to topple them.
‘The two situations are not in any shape or form similar.’
Blair, 68, spoke at length to a New York Times interviewer about the situation in Ukraine and the West’s relationship with Russia, postulating that Russian President Vladimir Putin is ‘detached from reality’ and insisting Russia had misunderstood NATO’s expansion in Europe
Blair (L) claimed he told Putin (R) the West had no hostile intent towards Russia, insisting while he was in Downing Street that he encouraged the Russian leader to ‘use the vast resources of the country to build a strong country’. But Putin by 2005 had become ‘absolutely obsessed’ with the idea the West was against him, according to the former PM (picture dated May 5, 2005)
Baker and Blair went on to discuss a variety of topics related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during the 30 minute interview, with much of the conversation focusing on Europe’s dependence on Russian gas and oil.
Blair praised European leaders for taking steps to limit their energy dependence – but warned the rapid switch away from Russian supplies would lead to economic hardship.
He also claimed he’d spoken with Barack Obama about pulling away from Russian energy after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
‘The energy transition in Europe is going to be very real. We should have done it after Crimea. I remember at the time arguing having conversations with people in the Obama administration about it… But then, you know, as happens in politics, things moved on.
‘For a lot of these European countries, some of them are more than 50 per cent dependent on Russian energy. So they’re, they’re moving from that and seeking new markets at an incredible speed and with a certain amount of internal economic pain… Now you’re already facing a cost of living crisis virtually all over Europe. You’ve got rising prices, rising inflation.’
‘You can say [EU countries] have to go further and do more, and I think they will go further and they will do more. But what they’ve done up to now, it’s been a pretty impressive display of solidarity.’
Pipes stand at the receiving station of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline on February 02, 2022 near Lubmin, Germany. The Nord Stream 2 was set to take Russian gas directly to Germany but the plans were suspended amid the invasion of Ukraine
(L-R) Spanish Environment Minister Teresa Ribera, French Ecological Transition Minister Barbara Pompili, and Portuguese energy state secretary Joao Galamb at the start of Special European Energy Ministers Council on Russian gas and petrol crisis, in Brussels, Belgium, 02 May 2022
EU countries rely on Russia for roughly 38 per cent of their natural gas, while Germany – the EU’s largest economy – is reliant on Russia for well over 40 per cent of its gas imports.
But several nations have in recent weeks announced their intentions to quickly move away from Russia’s supply, attempting to strike deals elsewhere, as part of the EU’s consolidated effort to support Ukraine amid the invasion.
The move has been widely praised by Ukraine and other western countries, but is certain to exacerbate rising energy costs and contribute to the cost-of-living crisis.
Following the discussion about the EU’s Russian energy dependence, the conversation turned to Western relations with China, the Middle East and Africa.
The former prime minister, who was head of the Labour party for 17 years between 1994-2007, accused the current government of not having a clear approach to dealing with Xi Jinping and allowing foreign relations elsewhere to slip.
‘With China, my view is you need strength plus engagement… because China’s not the Soviet Union… Our desires should not be to prevent China becoming a major power. It will become a major power.
‘I could go round the world and tell you where the West hasn’t got a strategy… I don’t think [we have a strategy] around the Middle East anymore. I don’t think we’ve got a coherent strategy in relation to Africa, where China’s presence is enormous. Where Russia’s presence, by the way, has been growing significantly in the last decade.’
Blair went on to say that British and American bureaucracy has prevented developing countries in Africa from attracting investment from the West and has led them to work with China and Russia as a result.
Blair said: ‘With China, my view is you need strength plus engagement… because China’s not the Soviet Union… Our desires should not be to prevent China becoming a major power. It will become a major power’ (Chinese President Xi Jinping is pictured in Beijing last month)
Blair bemoaned the West’s approach to foreign policy in Africa, where Chinese and Russian investment and influence has been building for years. The former Labour leader said Western bureaucracy stifled investments into Africa and left the door open for Putin and Xi (pictured together during the Winter Olympics this year)
To conclude the interview, Blair touched upon Western relations with the Middle East in particular, and laid out his desires for the development of a fresh approach to working with countries there.
‘The battle in the Middle East today is not between Israelis and Arabs, Persians and Arabs, Sunni and Shia,’ he said.
‘It’s a battle around whether the societies there will become religiously tolerant and open minded, free from an abusive relationship with religion and whether they can go towards what I call rule based economies where people work hard to do well, they can build their business, they can help develop the economy.’
‘Across the Middle East, there are forces of modernization and moderation. And there are forces of what I would call regressive and reactionary politics… If you wonder what the Western policy should be, it should be to get behind those forces of modernization and moderation and to isolate the others,’ Blair declared.
On the question of Israel and Palestine, he said he had little confidence in the state of Palestinian politics, claiming ‘there isn’t a way you can get an Israeli-Palestinian peace process of any meaningful sort happening… hopefully in time a Palestinian leadership emerges that understands the only way of getting peace with Israel is to make it clear that you’re in favour of the State of Israel.’
Blair, a supporter of the Abraham accords, said the development of a strong relationship between Israel and Arab nations is the key to achieving peace in the West Bank.
The Abraham accords were a series of US-sponsored agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed in 2020, which aimed to bring stability in the region by uniting the Arab states of the Gulf and Israel.
It has been held up as a way of facilitating a peaceful two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, but the accords have been heavily criticised for essentially omitting Palestine from having any role to play in the resolution of the conflict in which it is involved.
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