Putin’s invasion has begun, and its scale is worse than even the gloomy fears of British intelligence sources and the public warnings of America’s president Biden.
Last night the former Nato Secretary General Anders Rasmussen told me on my show he feared Putin had “gone crazy”, that his recent conduct didn’t seem rational, and that no one around him could check his aggression.
Which seems borne out, but also makes it harder for the West to assess whether any of its plausible responses will have an effect - especially given Putin’s implicit threat that he will use nukes against any nation that directly interferes with his plans.
According to an official readout, the prime minister told Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy overnight that: “The West would not stand by as President Putin waged his campaign against the Ukrainian people. The Prime Minister said he hoped Ukraine could resist and that Ukraine and its people were in the thoughts of everyone in the United Kingdom people during this dark time.”
The PM’s stress on “the West” means Johnson hopes and expects that there will be an immediate toughening of sanctions by the US, UK and EU in a coordinated approach.
What is crystal clear is that Putin regards the sanctions announced so far as derisory and a provocation.
To be effective, what follows will have to be painful for him and us. If Putin’s Russia is to be a pariah, the West - and the EU in particular - has to stop injecting hundreds of millions of dollars into the Russian economy daily with purchases of its gas and other hydrocarbons.
We need to brace ourselves for immediate increases of perhaps a third in oil and gas prices. This has the makings of an energy crunch like that of the early 1970s.
The other big question for the meeting Johnson has just convened for 7.30am of his emergency COBR committee is how many more British troops he will deploy to Ukraine’s environs and what more military hardware he will give to Ukraine’s army.
Johnson is “appalled” by Putin’s actions. We are witnessing the start of a war that will define - and for the worse - the new post-Covid age.