We are alarmingly close to the most serious confrontation between Russia and the United States since the end of the Cold War. A proxy war between Moscow and Washington on Europe’s Eastern border now seems more likely than not.
The Americans were always sceptical of the Franco-German attempt to broker a ceasefire in Ukraine. Events in the last few days have reinforced that scepticism and I understand from senior British government figures that if pro-Russian forces take the town of Mariupol, Washington will begin to arm the Ukrainian military directly. This will lead to a major escalation in the conflict.
Obama is more reluctant to arm the Kiev government than Congress. But British sources familiar with the US position, tell me that if Mariupol falls, Obama will agree to US weapons being sent direct to the Ukrainian military.
But it is not only the situation in Ukraine that is causing concern in Whitehall. Senior military figures are deeply worried that Putin might attempt to replicate what he has done in Ukraine in one of the Baltic states. If he did this, then Britain—because of Nato article 5—would be obliged to come to their aid.
PS: If you want to understand what Putin is trying to achieve, do read Anne Applebaum’s essay in the latest issue of the magazine, available here