Russian invasion of Ukraine: Ex-Navy commander says lessons from history must be learnt to prevent World War Three

A former Royal Navy commander from Northern Ireland has warned that events in Ukraine could bring about World War Three.

By Graeme Cousins
Tuesday, 22nd February 2022, 5:27 pm
Updated Tuesday, 22nd February 2022, 6:34 pm

Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken was in the Royal Navy for more than 30 years, serving in many senior roles, including as commander of a nuclear-powered submarine.

He said that there were “too many parallels for comfort” between the situation in the Ukraine and the circumstances which led to the First and Second World Wars.

Dr Aiken, who was awarded an OBE for his service as Joint Plans Officer for operations in the Middle-East from 2002 to 2004, said: “Even in hybrid conflicts there is a chance of unintended consequences.

Ulster Unionist Party MLA Steve Aiken and former submarine commander with the Royal Navy. Picture by Arthur Allison.

“In both 1938 and in 1914, nobody thought it was going to lead to a global conflict.

“What [Putin] is doing is, he’s playing to his Russian audience but he’s also playing to the ethnic Russians who are not just in Ukraine but are in areas such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. He’s doing it on a much wider scale.”

Dr Aiken said: “The news of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine should be a wake-up call to all of us. The lessons from history show that appeasement of international bullies achieves nothing. In fact, it is counterproductive.”

He added: “Most people maybe haven’t picked up on the fact that the Russians have got an amphibious task group in the sea of Asov.

People wave Russian national flags to celebrate, in the centre of Donetsk, the territory controlled by pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine. AP Photo/Alexei Alexandrov)

“They’re planning an amphibious assault just south of the city of Mariupol which is vital ground in region (Donetsk). They’ve got everything in place to take over the south east of Ukraine.”

He welcomed news about the range of economic sanctions, adding “we must ensure that we continue to support the Ukrainian resistance and reinforce our NATO security and flanks”.

Dr Aiken’s party colleague Andy Allen, is another to have been involved in a conflict far from home. While serving with the Royal Irish Regiment in Afghanistan Mr Allen lost both his legs and was visually impaired by a Taliban improvised explosive device.

Another battalion based in Northern Ireland, 2 Rifles B Company from Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn, are on standby for deployment to Ukraine.

Asked what emotions they may be going through Mr Allen said: “I can imagine there’s mixed emotions, naturally no one wants to be going into any type of conflict, that’s a natural instinct, but as a soldier you always have it in the back of your mind.

“In the era which I joined Iraq and Afghanistan were at the forefront so I always knew that I would potentially be deployed to one of those areas.

“The whole situation in the Ukraine, there’s so much uncertainty. As an ordinary soldier we focus on making sure we’re at the pinnacle of our delivery, that should we be called upon, we’re able to go and deliver what is required of us, whatever that may be.

“We don’t get involved in the politics of any decision, we’re continuously brushing up on our operational skills and our wider skills as we would naturally do.

“If we’re called upon we’ll go and deliver what is required of us to the best of our ability, if we’re not called upon then great.”

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood said that the sanctions announced by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson were “pathetic”.

The Foyle MP said: “The only way to stand up to Putin’s aggressive expansionist agenda in Ukraine is to meet it with robust sanctions that target the individuals and corporations that will hurt Moscow most. The German Chancellor’s announcement of a suspension of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project is an important example of the scale of the response needed.

“By comparison, the British Government’s announcement of sanctions against five banks and three individuals is pathetic. It is no secret that London has been used as a laundromat for dodgy Russian money for decades. The British Government needs to call time on that practice and take more serious action, at the level that the German government has indicated.

“There should be no tool left unused in the efforts to secure a peaceful resolution to the deteriorating situation in East Ukraine. That will mean difficult decisions for Boris Johnson, particularly where individuals or their proxies have made significant donations to the Conservative party. Narrow political interests cannot be allowed to override the need for serious action to resolve this situation quickly.”

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