A Brexiteer MP who sparked outrage after he congratulated the government for ‘not throwing away the immigration rulebook’ in response to the refugee crisis once said Britain should “accommodate” Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine because the country is “part of the Russian soul”.
The 2014 invasion, which led to Russia annexing Crimea, was widely condemned by the British government at the time, with David Cameron threatening to “permanently damage” the Russian economy with sanctions in response for it “completely disregarding the sovereignty of a neighbour”.
“In the last two weeks we have seen a dramatic stepping up of Russian military support to the separatists in eastern Ukraine, including Russian troops fighting on the ground. We know from European history the grave danger of a nation state being threatened and undermined in that way,” he told the Commons.
But not everyone seemed to agree.
Sir Edward Leigh, the Tory MP for Gainsborough, insisted that Britain should “deal” with Putin and said it was “inconceivable” that Russia would move against Baltic states.
“My personal view is that we should balance any moves to the West, either to the EU or Nato, with convincing the Russians that we have no desire to take Ukraine out of Russia’s traditional orbit.
“The fact is that for all of its history, bar a couple of years in the 1920s, and since 1990, Ukraine has been part of Russia. It’s not just power politics, to the average Russian, the source of their country – the Kievan Rus’ – comes from Kiev in the middle of Ukraine.
“They consider that Ukraine is as much a part of the Russian soul as we consider Canterbury or Kent is part of our soul. So this isn’t some power grab by the Russians to take over the rest of Europe. I don’t approve of Putin sending in tanks, but whatever we say, this is the facts on the ground.”
“Putin is not going to give up, and therefore let’s try and accommodate and deal with him, and reassure him that we’re not trying to grab Ukraine.”
According to reports, in the same year Leigh was among two Conservatives who was accused of being “gushing” in their support of Putin following a banquet hosted by the Russian president’s London envoy.
Leigh, the then chairman of the Commons All-Party Russia Group, showered praise on the country’s “language, culture, people and beauty”, and repeatedly pressed diplomats to arrange a trip to Moscow for MPs.
But the love-in ended when Labour MP John Woodcock launched a blistering attack on Putin’s support for Syrian president Bashar Assad’s treatment of civilians in the besieged rebel town of Madaya.
Mr Woodcock asked the ambassador: “Why haven’t you stopped Assad using starvation as a weapon of war against his own people?”
The other Tory MP present was Daniel Kawczynski, who has also recently been accused of ‘immoral and offensive bile’ over Ukrainian refugees.