“Think twice before egging on brave Ukraine”, ran the headline on Matthew Parris’s column in the Times on Saturday 12 March 2022, two weeks into the Russian invasion.
“There’s a sharp difference,” Parris wrote then, “between the intensity of our longing for the Ukrainians to succeed in fighting off their attackers, and the caution most of us feel about how far we should go in helping them. Is it right, is it responsible, can it be wholly sincere, for our country to encourage another country in a fight we do not ourselves choose to join?”
At the time Parris praised the “careful limits the West is putting on the material help we give” to Ukraine. “We do want them to fight, we do want them to win, and we keep saying so. But should we? Should we from our armchairs spur them on with cries of ‘up and at ’em’ unless we’re pretty confident that the risk of annihilation they face is the right moral choice for them to take: one we’d take?”
The column built towards its conclusion – advancing “arguments for ceasefire and ultimately compromise”, although probably not with Vladimir Putin still president – but could never quite decide what it was arguing for. Parris’s line hinged, however, on this odd test: “Before we advise Ukrainians what to do, before we egg other people on, I suggest there’s a different question, and one that’s specifically for outsiders. What if it were us? Would we sacrifice our property, our home, our life or our family’s lives?”
The column’s caution and hesitancy were typical across the media at that time – and ran counter to the British public’s strong backing of Ukraine. Global polling across 28 nations by Ipsos shows Britain continues to be among the countries most in favour of action to support the embattled nation.
But Parris now appears to remember his reaction to the war rather differently. After eleven months in which arms deliveries to Ukraine have gone further than many ever thought possible – with advanced missile defence systems, infantry fighting vehicles and battle tanks finally being sent by the West to Ukraine – Parris has recounted his initial impressions on the outbreak of war in the Spectator this week.
“I thought at first that the Russians should just be pulverised, Putin humiliated into personal collapse and all the territory Moscow had stolen returned to Kyiv. After that, I thought, Europe would be at peace again: stabilised, sorted and ready to help rebuild Ukraine.”
Did he? Where? When? The Chatterer would love to know. In the weeks when the West’s resolve to assist Ukraine was in the balance, Parris vacillated, creating an arbitrary and irrelevant test that this country, in any case, passed in 1940.
[See also: Lawrence Freedman: Ukraine is not a proxy war]