The Daily Mirror 4 March 2014
The Ukraine crisis is one of those rare occasions when the West should follow the immortal advice of Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army: “Don’t panic!”.
We so love to frighten ourselves rigid by the Russian bear that we are missing the key point.
Russia is not a strong state it is a weak one. Its population is plummeting – the life expectancy of the average Russian is just a little over 60. They cannot to populate their own space let alone undertake sustained military adventures outside it. Their system of Government depends upon corruption, not the rule of law. They failed to invest their oil wealth in modernising their industry, and now have a rust bucket economy. If a Chinese businessman makes a million he invests it in China. If a Russian oligarch makes a million he gets it out of Russia as fast as he can – usually into property in London. When Mr Putin invaded Georgia it looked as though he had won. But in the end that was a catastrophe for Russia. They lost massive international support and, as Western intelligence knows, exposed their army as inefficient and out of date both in technology and tactics.
At the heart of the Ukraine crisis lies a clash of cultures. We in the West understand that today the destiny of nations depends on the will of their people. But Mr Putin thinks he is still in the nineteenth century when big-powers subjugated small ones if they were considered within their “sphere of influence”. That was what got us into the mess of 1914 – and again 1939. When Mr Putin threatens to invade Ukraine if Ukrainians of Russian origin are in danger, he is precisely repeating Hitler’s Sudetenland argument for invading Czechoslovakia.
So, we used military force then, should we use it now?
No. This time there is a better way
Yesterday the Russian stock market collapsed. The economic, diplomatic and political pain which Russia would suffer if the West now acts decisively, strongly and with unity, could be unbearable.
I remember negotiating with the Russians in Bosnia – the plainer they get the message, the better they understand it.
So here’s what should happen.
Firstly, the West must speak with a single voice. Mr Hague was in Kiev yesterday. But the key voice Russia has to hear is that of Chancellor Merkel – for Germany has always been closest to Russia.
Secondly if diplomacy is our game, then it must be muscular diplomacy aimed at isolating Russia until she changes course – starting with boycotting the coming G8 meeting in Socchi.
Thirdly we should have a sliding scale of economic sanctions – starting with Western investment and moving on to targeted individual sanctions on travel and assets. Freezing the foreign assets of Putin supporting oligarchs would be a good place to start.
Russia failed to win the argument with the Ukrainian people. Now it’s trying to win the argument with force. That is not a measure of strength, but of weakness. There has to be a cost for this illegality. But it is better exacted through economic and diplomatic means than military ones.