The Ukraine Crisis – 3 March 2014


The Ukraine Crisis

The Ukraine crisis is one of those rare occasions in international affairs 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 here.


Russia is not a strong state it is a weak one. Its population is plummeting – the life expectancy of the average Russian male is just a little over 60. They cannot effectively populate their own space let alone involve themselves in serious military adventures outside it. Having failed to invest their oil revenues in modernising their industry, they have a rust bucket economy. If a Chinese businessman makes a billion 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 it turned out in the end to be a catastrophe for Russia. They lost massive support world wide and, as Western intelligence sources know, exposed their armed forces as inefficient and out of date both in technology and tactics.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 have long understood that the destiny of nations today depends on the will of their people. Mr Putin has persuaded the Russian people that they are still in the nineteenth century when big-powers had the right to subjugate small ones if they are considered to be within their “sphere of influence”. That was what got us into the mess of 1914 – and again 1939. Indeed when Mr Putin says that he is entitled to invade Ukraine if Ukrainian citizens of Russian ethnicity 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 that is not the best way


It is true that if the West will not use military force, Putin gets his way. In the short term, maybe. But not in the long.


Yesterday the Russian stock market collapsed. The economic, diplomatic and political damage which Russia could suffer if the now if the West acts decisively, strongly and with unity could be devastating.


So here is what should happen.


Firstly, the West needs to speak with a single voice. Mr Hague is in Kiev – fine but he should not be speaking for Britain but on behalf of the whole Western community. When it comes to speaking to Europe the key voice however is that of Chancellor Merkel – for Germany has always been closest to Russia.


Secondly our diplomatic policy should be to isolate Russia, starting with boycotting the coming G8 meeting in Socchi.


Thirdly we should have a sliding scale of economic sanctions – starting with closing of investment into Russia as far as we are able and moving on, if necessary to travel bans on the key players, including in the Crimea.


Russia utterly failed to win the argument with the Ukrainian people and so had to resort to the argument of force. That is a measure of her strength, but of her weakness. There has to be a cost for such an outrageous breach of international law. But that cost can better be exacted through economic, political and diplomatic means than military ones