I’m just back from a fascinating walking and climbing expedition with my friend and Box constituent David Hempleman-Adams in the Altai Mountains in Siberia. We were private guests of a friend in this, one of the remotest places on the globe, where Siberia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and China meet. Refreshing and invigorating, if not exactly most people’s idea of a holiday.
Yet even here, the talk amongst the guides and locals was all about Ukraine and Crimea (4,000 miles away across Russia), and about Gaza, Syria and Iraq. The astonishing general opinion, repeated freely in the Russian language newspapers, was that Malaysian airliner MH17 had been shot down in a complex conspiracy by President Obama, which would more than justify further military action in Ukraine ‘to protect Russian people there from Western ambitions’.
We picked up snippets of information about 2,000 and more dead in Gaza, with Hamas rockets still raining down on Israel; we heard of the massacre of Kurdish Christians in Iraq; of civil war in Libya, of American deaths in Afghanistan. And from the pure air in the middle of Siberia, in the midst of untouched scenery, eagles soaring above the glaciers, it all seemed like complete and utter madness. What political ideology, what power struggle, what religious fanaticism could justify this modern massacre of innocents?
On our way home we had a tour of the dreary Soviet-style town of Barnaul. Yet in the centre of it we chanced upon their staggeringly beautiful memorial to the tens of thousands of young boys who had died defending Russia against Hitler. Coming only a few weeks after a visit to British and German war graves around Ypres, I could not contain my tears at the senseless waste of lives in both places.
Yet a few thousand miles away, a new generation were mutually conspiring to do the whole thing all over again. No-one really has much idea what is happening across the Middle East region as a whole. This time last year, for example, had we bombed President Assad of Syria over his use of chemical weapons, we would inadvertently have been helping many of the people who are today massacring innocent women and children in Iraq – ISIS or the self-proclaimed ‘Islamic State’.
International law, the United Nations (whose peace-keeping troops I visited in Cyprus on my way to Russia), NATO – their joint aim and prime effort is to keep the peace and prevent war. We must support them in every way.