I spent the Whitsun bank holiday weekend, as I have for the last three years, at a NATO meeting.
This one was in Warsaw, Poland. I am one of 11 UK MPs who represent the UK on the oversight body of NATO, the Parliamentary Assembly. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was set up by the British and Americans after the Second World War. It has guaranteed British and European security for the last 69 years.
I visited the Warsaw Uprising Museum which tells how, in August 1944, Polish resistance fighters alongside Scouts and Guides rose up against their Nazi occupiers. For two months they bravely battled against tanks with home-made guns and improvised explosives. But they were no match for the German’s aerial blitzkrieg. The result? 180,000 civilians died, alongside 15,000 Polish fighters, some of whom were children as young as 13.
The Nazis took their revenge by systematically destroying the city and moving its inhabitants to labour and concentration camps. Poland had three million Jewish citizens in 1939, before the Holocaust, today there are just 25,000.
Today Europe and NATO confront new threats and challenges: a rise in anti-Semitism, populist governments across Europe, and Russian interference in our democratic processes. The UK has sent 700 troops to Estonia and Poland to protect Europe’s eastern flank from any Russian aggression since the annexation of Crimea and 9,000 deaths in a proxy war in Eastern Ukraine. The Joint Investigation Team into the downing of Malaysian flight MH17 reported two weeks ago that the flight had been downed by an anti-aircraft missile fired from the Russian Federation. 298 innocent people, 80 of them children, were murdered. Russia must ensure that those responsible face justice.
We have Russia active on our south eastern border, supporting the indiscriminate bombardment of civilians and chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
After the poisoning of Litvinenko in 2006 with radiation, the nerve agent attack on the Skripals in Salisbury was another act of state sponsored terrorism by Russia.
This was the first use of chemical weapons in Western Europe since the end of the World War II. The use of a nerve agent on UK soil should force us to think long and hard about our security.
The Cold War had rules. But this new hybrid war has broken rules and norms with the downing of a passenger jet and the use of chemical weapons in the UK.
Cyber attacks are becoming more destructive and complex. President Putin wants to go back to the days where large countries decide what their small neighbours did.
He wants to redraw national boundaries along ethnic lines and ignore the rights of sovereign states to decide their own path. As I walked through the museum I saw the high price that Europeans had paid for that right, and came away more determined than ever to protect them.
My advice is if you’re travelling to Russia to watch the World Cup? Stay safe, follow Foreign Office advice and ‘be on the ball’ (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/be-on-the-ball-world-cup-2018-in-russia).