If you have read my regular column in the Chester & District Standard in the past, you will have seen my contempt for President Putin. His invasion of Ukraine was a shock, but not a surprise.

He is a bully and a dictator, and he is anti-democratic. He meddles in other countries’ elections and referendums, our own included, and he is brutal against anyone who stands in his way. He crushes internal dissent. For Europe, this is history repeating itself.

Remember, this tyrant has used chemical and radiological weapons to murder people in the UK. It was his supporters who shot down the Malaysian passenger jet. We have to meet his aggression with the toughest possible sanctions.

Last week in the Commons, questioning the Prime Minister, I described modern Russia as a mafia state: you can’t make big money there unless you have the permission of Mr Putin – and presumably cut him a slice of your ill-gotten gains. And ill gotten they mostly are, at the expense of millions of ordinary Russians whose state assets have been stolen from them, and for whom state embezzlement and corruption is a fact of life.

Sadly we’ve allowed this to continue for too long. Billions of pounds of dirty Russian money swirled around the City of London, and also the London property market. Some British people became very wealthy on the back of it. Meanwhile, billionaire Russian oligarchs were able to buy UK passports and donated several million to the Conservative Party.

Blind eyes were turned when some of us were calling for much tougher action.

But we are where we are, and now there must be absolute unity, at home and across the globe, against Putin’s aggression. He cannot be allowed to succeed. So the British government has my support.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t still probe and scrutinise their policies. One area of disagreement was the policy on refugees. Chester’s wonderful City of Sanctuary group has long promoted our city’s humanitarian role in providing support for those fleeing conflict: most recently they have done this for Syrian and Afghan refugees.

It is clear from my email inbox that many residents want to do all they can to support Ukrainians. Yet even as the war was raging, our government was asking what people’s salary levels were for their job in Ukraine, as though they would only let rich people in.

These are terrible, dangerous times. We must stick together, stand firm, and support each other to get safely through to the other side.

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