Matthew Parris

Leave Ukraine to the Russians

We don't know what we're doing. So let's stop doing it

8 March 2014

9:00 AM

8 March 2014

9:00 AM

‘You can’t always get what you want,’ chorused Mick Jagger, ‘but if you try some time/You just might find/You get what you need.’ The danger with Ukraine is that the western powers will get what they want, not what we need.

I write this as one who has travelled in Ukraine, loved the country and seen that its people (though poor) are talented and energetic. Any reference I make to basket cases refers to the Ukrainian state, not the country’s human resources. What we say we want is for Russia to withdraw from Crimea and turn away from the rest of the country too, which we hope to take under the West’s wing. There follow three good reasons why such an outcome, should we get it, might not be what we need.

First (as Sir Christopher Meyer argued in the Times this week), Russian sentiment over the Crimea runs deep: deeper than some idle pretext for a power grab, and rooted in the Russian imagination. As is often remarked, Russia’s loss of this territory happened as late as 1954 and at the time was neither intended nor interpreted as a ceding of sovereignty, because Ukraine was then so firmly under the Soviet heel as to be essentially a Russian possession. It was really only after the dissolution of the USSR, when Ukraine began to drift (marginally) away from Moscow’s control, that the full significance of the redrawing of boundaries (for essentially administrative reasons) was brought home to Russians within and outside Ukraine.

This year that drift looked like gathering pace. Last month on the streets of Kiev it brought open rupture. The fresh elections that had been agreed (with EU involvement) only hours before what was tantamount to a mob-instigated coup, would have brought time to negotiate the future status of the home port of Russia’s vital Black Sea fleet and the Russian-speaking people in Crimea. All at once, Moscow faced a fait accompli.

I submit that the response — effectively to occupy the Crimea — has been proportionate and understandable. For external powers like America and the EU to try to thwart this and pressure Moscow into a retreat would look to me (were I Russian) like an intolerable interference. Anyway, it would fail. Unless Moscow ends up with effective control over Crimea, or at least rock-solid and reliable influence, we in the West will by our stance have engendered deep and lasting resentment in Moscow without any comparable gain for ourselves.


Secondly, I would go further than concede the Crimea to Moscow. I would also hesitate before giving any appearance of a readiness to take the rest of Ukraine under the wing of the West. Politically and economically the country is a basket case, and for Moscow an expensive one.

When I travelled about a decade ago in Ukraine I gained the impression of a big and weighty — not to say monumental — state superstructure resting upon the spindly props of an agricultural sector primitive to the point (in parts) of subsistence farming; and industry, mining and infrastructure composed of inefficient rust-belt mid-20th-century post-Soviet monoliths that any liberal free-market government would have to endure a couple of decades’ massive pain and protest to close down. Retail and commerce looked stuck way back in the last century. There was little sense of competitiveness. Millions would need to be sacked and huge disruption wreaked upon citizens’ lives before any kind of corner was turned. Consider what unexpected difficulty West Germany had in digesting East Germany — and remember that East Germany was one of the former Soviet Union’s most advanced economies; Ukraine was (and remains) one of its least. Britain’s brutal 1980s Thatcherite revolution would seem a tea-party by comparison.

Western commentary has spoken sunnily about the need to ‘secure’ the Ukrainian economy by means of loans — as if Western help were some kind of investment, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy a stake in a potential modern European country. But it would not be an investment; no loan, however large or on however generous terms, would fix the problem. Ukraine has come to rely on massive subsidy. Russia has historically provided this. Why should we be panting to take the burden upon our own shoulders?

The task may be onerous, the cost tremendous and the timescale long, but idealists and neoconservatives might still argue that if we could finally bring about the creation of a liberal, free-market democracy in one of the world’s biggest countries, then the challenge would be worth shouldering.

But I doubt — and this is my third argument — that transformed national cultures can be created by external subsidy, training or intervention. If this is really the Ukrainian spring, we should ask ourselves how the Arab spring, the Iraqi spring or the Syrian spring are working out. Experience is not encouraging.

I support — we all should — those forces in Ukraine who want to throw off autocracy and corruption and embrace modern democracy. But I don’t know — do you? — how strong or potentially united they are, what parts of the Ukrainian population they represent, or what calibre of leadership they can look to. I didn’t easily, when I visited, see it happening fast. If it can, if it does, I suspect this had better be home-grown, and fought for, rather than imported.

We do an idealistic, fragmented and perhaps immature movement for democratic values no good by adopting national postures that seem to offer the reformists material support as well as external cheerleading when the going gets tough. We made that mistake after the first Gulf war when many reformist Iraqis, encouraged to break cover, died as a consequence. The West should take care not to put its mouth where its money isn’t, as we once did in Hungary.

Do we understand what we’re doing here? You know the answer to that. I rest my case.

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Show comments
  • Radford_NG

    Ukraine should have been left to it’s freely elected Parliament.The Autonomous Republic [think in terms of the devolved Scotland,here] of Crimea should be left to it’s freely elected Parliament.

    How can Kerry or Haig deny this?The place for the EU should have been limited to observer status at the next elections.

    • David Lindsay

      Quite so.

      We accept the right to self-determination of Northern Ireland, which no
      one suggests is a country. The only question is of which country it ought to be part.

      Kosovo is in very much in the same position. No one sees independence as the long-term settlement. Look at all those Albanian flags. The point
      is hardly hidden.

      So, why not Crimea? After all, what is now Northern Ireland became part
      of the United Kingdom, and what is now Kosovo became part of Serbia, an awful lot longer ago than 1954.

      • Joe Connolly

        Kosova should have been part of Albania from the establishment of that country in 1912. Serbia grabbed it and oppressed its inhabitants cruelly for many years. In this case, independence is a legitimate step to fusion with the country it ought to be part of. Quite a common pattern in the Balkans.

        • David Lindsay

          Kosovo has been part of Serbia forever.

          • David Murphy

            Serbia has not existed forever.

        • brotherbaldrick

          Good grief! You couldn’t be further from the truth if you tried, a large number of Albanians were shipped into Serbia during the Second World War by the Nazi’s, Serbia did not grab anything, Kosovo is and always has been a province of Serbia!

          • Joe Connolly

            Silly old me! There I was thinking that Kosova had been part of an Ottoman province from 1389 to the First Balkan War in 1912. The Western powers let the Albanians be completely ripped off. Later the Serbs colonised it with about 65,000 Serb settlers but the population was still more than three quarters Albanian—and they were treated abominably.

            As in Bosnia, someone has a lot to be ashamed of and bombast is a grotesque response.

          • David Lindsay

            Silly old you, indeed.

            Silly old you…

          • Joe Connolly

            Глупости мој пријатељ Србије

            Thank you so much for the wonderful lesson you are giving us about the mindset of extreme Slavic nationalists.
            The facts are that Kosova was an Ottoman territory for much longer than it has ever been Serbian and the overwhelming majority of its population is ethnic Albanian.

  • Pitkapoika

    Wonder what Westminster’s reaction would be if a large gang of Scots invaded Faslane naval base?

    • David Murphy

      They would be criminal trespassers before independence and who knows why after,

  • Baron

    Matthew, you’re a star, and absolutely right, you should at once replace the bald one from Yorkshire, we’ll all breathe easier.

    You may have also mentioned Ukraine’s long term security, it can never be guaranteed by anyone but the Russian brother because except for a few deluded ubermensch characters, ‘люди Украины и России — родня’ – the people of Russia and Ukraine are of the same stock, in the words of the country’s well known singer/songwriter Yuri Shevchuk.

    • serguei_p

      Bollocks.
      Ukrainian people don’t need “security” that forced onto them by a foreign army.

      • Baron

        But they do, serguei-p, they do what with being squeezed between the Russians to the east, the EU empire to the West. Short of turning into a Slavonic Switzerland, in the long term, they will need a power to protect them.

        You seem to believe the Russian people are by some quirk of nature destined to oppress other smaller peoples. They are no more predisposed to tyranny than the Germans were predisposed to Nazism. Communism was forced upon the Russians, they didn’t ask or vote for it. It was communism that did the oppressing not the Russians hoi polloi. They suffered as much as the hoi polloi in the countries the USSR controlled.

        All the communism infected countries are now going through a transitional phase, still run by and large by those who were part of the old noxious construct, until that generation dies out, the great unwashed must fight the legacy of communism, but cannot expect the elites to behaved like saints. Tough, but that’s life for you.

        • Curnonsky

          Actually Russians have been repressing Russians for eons – Communism was made to order for a political culture founded on brutality, paranoia and secrecy. In eastern Europe (with the possible exception of East Germany) it had to be imposed by an occupying army; in Russia it took root in fertile soil. That is why so many of the Tsar’s secret police were recruited into the Cheka, for instance. That is why even today, outside of the tiny urban middle class ordinary Russians look upon democracy with fear and trepidation.

          • Baron

            Bollocks, communism was a creed initiated by Marx, a non-Russian. It was adopted by a bunch that hated humanity, hoisted on the Russians, they didn’t vote for it, they had no choice.

            Only someone who has no understanding of human nature would argue that any unwashed looks at democracy with fear and trepidation. You sure you are not surrounded by men in white coats, Curmonsky.

            The Russians have contributed to European literature, music, culture in general as much if not more than any other European country, regretfully not when the Red Menace was in control, and they will contribute again.

          • Curnonsky

            A Russophile romantic! Suggest you read Marquis de Custine’s accounts of his travels to 19th-century Russia; so much of what he describes is true today as it was under the Red yoke. Suggest also that all the cultural achievements of Russia in the past will hold back Putin about as much as Schiller and Goethe held back Hitler (Putin’s tastes run more to Abba, actually).

          • Baron

            So when was the last time you lived, visited current Russia, and what years you lived, visited the country when the Red Menace was in charge?

            Or, you’ve read one book on travels in the Tzarist Russia, anything from the times of the Red Menace, Putin?

          • Curnonsky

            Why yes, since you ask, I’ve lived there, worked there, visited there, speak the language since I’m half Russian myself. And your qualifications are…?

          • Baron

            Same as yours except that Baron’s fartherland is closer to the West, but I, too, lived there, spent time at Ljubjanka, been grilled by a Putin’s predecessor, examined the cellars in the place …

            What amazes Baron you feel that bad about the Russian Ivan, in Baron’s book the only difference between him and an ordinary American is the latter washes mor eoften.

            Btw, Baron forgot to recommend his reading stuff on Russia. You may like to get Van der Post ‘s journey into Russia. Not that he’s in love with the unwashed of the land, but he gives, in Baron’s humble view, the description of the Russian character, the limitation of his condition better than anyone else the poorly educated Slav has come across.

          • Carlton Bikie

            The Russians are indeed a wonderful race and no-one’s arguing about that. That doesn’t mean we should necessarily stand by while they enter a sovereign country and seize a part of it.
            I agree that there is some justification for Russia’s actions: Crimea is arguably more “Russian” than “Ukrainian” in the cultural sense. But in the legal sense, there is no argument about what it is. It’s part of Ukraine.
            So the question is whether Russia’s purported justification for moving in is sufficient for it to breach some very basic principles of international behaviour and law. My view is that it is not. The argument about a mistaken handover in the 1950s is not enough. The argument that Ukraine’s elected leader was toppled by a coup is also not enough. If Russia has a genuine legal claim to Crimea (I think it probably does at last have an argument) then let that be hammered out by lawyers and politicians from both countries and the UN. Not by simply driving tanks into the place.
            I know that letting civilians argue these things out is boring, expensive, and time-consuming. But give me boring talk over the threat of war any day.

          • Baron

            A measured posting, Carlton, and good points except when you say: ‘The argument that Ukraine’s elected leader was toppled by a coup is also not enough’.

            So what would be enough? A pogrom of the Jewish diaspora? The shooting of the parliamentarians of the Party of the Regions? Ukrainians units attacking Russia as the Georgians did?

            Look, Baron is not arguing for Putin, but he finds it more than sad that we back a bunch of people on our doorsteps who by force remove a leader of the country, a corrupt leader, but one who got elected in a free vote (google the election, the process wasn’t rigged to the point of doubts).

          • caap02

            “So what would be enough? A pogrom of the Jewish diaspora? The shooting of the parliamentarians of the Party of the Regions? Ukrainians units attacking Russia as the Georgians did?”….all flights of your imagination (although if Ukrainian units “attacked” the russian troops who are surrounding their bases on Ukrainian territory they would be well within their rights).

            As for the chances of “pogroms”, I suggest that you have a look at this open letter from Ukrainian-jewish leaders:

            http://eajc.org/page32/news43672.html

            or:

            http://world.maidanua.org/2014/vitaliy-nakhmanovich-open-address-to-the-jews-of-the-world

            or:

            http://www.jta.org/2014/03/03/news-opinion/world/ukraine-chief-rabbi-accuses-russians-of-staging-anti-semitic-provocations

          • Baron

            caap02, we won’t convince each other, lets just drop i becaue It won’t take long even for people like you to realize that creating this festering boil on the border with Russia is no nobody’s advantage. The EU had no right to meddle there, it and the rest of the world will come to regret it.

          • Carlton Bikie

            But whatever meddling the EU did dwarfs into comparison with Russia’s Tyrannosaurus Rex style ultra-meddling. They’ve invaded the Ukraine! What has the EU done to compare with that? Written rude letters? So Russia, from a position that people like me sympathised with, has moved squarely into the no-sympathy-at-all zone. I confess I found some of the Ukrainian rhetoric tiresome and fondly hoped that they would gradually discuss, after say a year or two, the return of a slice or two of land to Russia. Not any more: by trying to achieve this by force Putin has lost Russia any claim on that land.

          • Baron

            If Russia were to meddle in Scotland, England couldn’t stand it, began to interfere as well, who, in your view, would have been justified more to try and influence things up there, north of Gretna? The Russkies or us?

          • Carlton Bikie

            Thanks Baron I see what you mean. But no: shootings, pogroms in Ukraine would not give Putin a right to move in without the backing of the international community or at least one or two other UNSC permanent members.
            Yes: Ukrainian units attacking Russia in Russia would justify armed resistance by Russia. But that has not happened.

    • David Murphy

      The only threat to Ukraine’s border is Russia, as we can now easily see.

      • Baron

        Well, another take on it may be that the Crimean people do not want to be governed by a bunch of people who seized power by the gun, which they did.

      • threadbarebridge

        there’s usually more than meets the eye!

  • R_Martin

    Indeed, neither the EU or the US governments should have any particular interest in Ukraine. And they don’t. If they had, they would have put a lot more effort in trying to persuade Yanukovich to ‘choose’ their side in the run-up to the planned signing of the Association Agreement in November.
    The so-called tug-of-war between West and East did come as a surprise to many when Russia declared foreigners should stop interfering with the internal affairs of Ukraine.
    I do agree that Russia feels a lot more strongly about Ukraine’s internal affairs, to the extent of having major difficulties in recognizing Ukraine as a separate entity.

    Ukraine left to the Russians? Couldn’t agree more!

    Furthermore, I believe it should be also left to the Ukrainians, Tatars, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Christians, Jews and Muslims – and all other nationalities and religions in the mosaic that comprises the whole of Ukraine. Maybe a federal system, based on a Switzerland model might even be the way forward.

    But abandoning Ukraine, disregarding innumerable treaties that mutually try to foster trust between nations? Well, that might be a bit excessive.
    The problem with the the naked aggression displayed by Putin’s increasingly totalitarian state, is that it’s basically trampling all over years of anti-nuclear proliferation agreements all over the world.
    The way Russia seems intent in swallowing neighbouring territories to defend non-persecuted “persecuted minorities” eerily reminds historians of the 1930’s when the “forward looking” and increasingly totalitarian – but democratically elected – Hitler’s Germany did start to reassert itself after the first world war.
    It’s worth noting the admiration many people did display towards Hitler at the time, consistently celebrated by many international newspapers as a man of peace right up to the invasion of Poland.
    We all know how well that ended, and there weren’t that many nuclear bombs around then as there are today…

    Radford NG, Ukraine’s freely elected Parliament is exactly the authority that
    dismissed the previous President for abandoning its responsibilities
    during the crisis, and elected a new interim President & Government. Apart from the few MPs that disappeared at the time the Ex-President fled, the composition of the parliament of Ukraine has remained exactly the same as a month ago. I do believe by-elections are planned to replace the missing parliamentarians, but free elections while under a foreign power occupation (brotherly or not) are notoriously difficult to organise.

    I fully
    agree on international monitoring of free and fair elections with
    observers from EU and Russia, together with the UN.
    Hopefully the occupying forces will relent from their present destabilisation activities and allow the country the chance to hold proper elections soon.

    Baron, I fail do grasp how naked aggression can possibly equate to guaranteeing long term security.
    If I understand your logic, you’re basically saying that the brother that beats you up every day is the person that should protect you from harm? Vulnerable members of disfunctional families are usually taken into care, for the well being of everybody involved.
    In my opinion, the sooner Russia stops trying to abuse its smaller, older brother, the better for the safety of the region, and the world.

    • Baron

      Before Baron answer, will you be very kind, tell him, have you ever visited Russia, Ukraine, or better still, have you lived there, and for how long?

      • David Murphy

        YOu don’t need to live in a place to have enough intelligence and knowledge to comment. Perhaps you could answer the questions.

        • Baron

          True, one doesn’t have to live in a place to comment, but it helps.baron would listen more attentively to someone who loves in the UK than someone who know BA about the country, comments from ignorance.

  • Rockin Ron

    Anti Russian feeling is in danger of swamping an uncomfortable fact for America, UK, Germany et al.

    Namely, that we are backing a coup that replaced a legitimately
    elected Government and President who agreed to fresh, democratic
    elections in Ukraine in a few months time. We have ended up backing a
    mob and are acting against the democratic process. This is like Egypt
    again when the democratically elected President and Government were
    turfed out.

    We can’t therefore be arguing for a democratic process when we
    support such actions, however justified they are in the sense of seeking
    to replace unpopular and corrupt regimes.

    • Tony Quintus

      Coup? Yanukovich ran away when the people would buckle under the weight of his violent and authoritarian tactics, the people in parlaiment are the ones who were there before he tucked tail and ran. And it wan’t a few months it was nearly a year to the elections he was offering.

      • Rockin Ron

        You can’t be arguing that the current regime in Ukraine is legitimate?

        • Tony Quintus

          The parliament hasn’t changed, only the President, and in May that will be sorted too. Unlike in Crimea, nothing done in Kiev has been in violation of the Ukrainian constitution.

          • Jan Mikhaylov

            Sorry to disappoint, but parliament voting to replace the president was a direct violation of the Ukrainian constitution. Incidentally, the new government of Ukraine also disbanded the constitutional court, just in case, I guess.

          • Tony Quintus

            Uh, no, Parliament can vote to Impeach the President as detailed under article 111 of the Ukrainian constitution (2004), Yanukovich ran away before the process was completed.
            You should try getting your facts from somewhere other than RussiaToday.

          • Jan Mikhaylov

            My dear friend, first of all Ukrainian Parliament did not Impeach the President, Impeachment is a very different procedure. They simply voted to consider him as self-removed from power, which happened to be taking place at the same time as his TV appeal was being broadcast informing of his intention to remain the president. Second, I get my facts from sources available to Oxford students, which is probably of wider range than yours.

          • David Murphy

            None of which legitimises Russia’s invasion.

          • Carlton Bikie

            Jan, why does this matter? Even if a tiny minority in Ukraine took power using poison gas, and even if poor Yanukovich had been Jesus Christ himself, Russia would not have been jusitified in seizing sovereign land of the Ukraine by unilateral means. They would have still needed to submit to the UN and to international law.
            Carlton Bikie

          • Jan Mikhaylov

            If there was an invasion, nothing would, indeed, justify it. However, power in Crimea is not with the military government, but with legitimately elected Crimean parliament. Crimean people have the right to choose their own fate via referendum, just like people of Scotland or Quebec. The removal of government and constitutional court in Kiev makes any social contract between them and the Ukrainian government broken, therefore they are free of any obligation to it. Let the people decide.

          • caap02

            The Crimean parliament was subject to a pre-dawn raid by heavily armed men who remained in the parliament for the entire session which appointed the new Crimean leader (which the parliament in Kiev was not). Those Crimean parliament members who attended the session that followed this raid (and not all of those recorded as having been there were actually there) had their cell phones confiscated and the vote was not open to members of the public. The person appointed as the new Crimean leader is the head of a pro-Russian party that got 4% of the vote in the last Crimean parliamentary elections, and whose party held 3 of the 100 seats in the Crimean parliament.

          • Jan Mikhaylov

            Incorrect information. In reality ‘armed men’ simply helped to clean the parliament from Ukrainian armed men, who tried to prevent holding the vote in the first place. In the same time one can argue that the Parliament in Kiev was also holding the vote under severe pressure. There are facts of ruling party members being tortured and beaten in Kiev, Donetsk and Kharkov. Pro-Russian governor in Kharkov was forced to sign resignation, which he immediately recanted as soon as the threat passed.
            In any case it does not affect the fact that the same parliament held an open session later on to hold a referendum, with 78 to 1 voting “yes”, and only 8 members not taking part in the vote. At best one can say that the situation there is just as ‘legitimate’ as in Kiev. As for “4%” – you do realize that quite a few things have happened since last elections? Like, a removal from power of pro-Russian president and an attempt to pass the law banning Russian language? Not surprising that pro-Russian party will get more votes this time.
            In any case – compare with Iraq, and you will understand the difference.

          • Jan Mikhaylov

            PS – what you are insinuating is that Crimean parliament basically voted “at gunpoint”, and the votes were assured this way. But think of it, it does not make any sense. If it was true, armed men would have to guard and harass parliament members all the time, why else would they be silent after the fact? As soon as the were outside, away from gunmen, they could have done anything they wanted. Nobody prevented them from immediately leaving the Crimea, telling “the truth” about what happened. At least some of them, surely, would have escaped? Or, perhaps, given an interview to the BBC? Or, at least, post something on the web? Yet, we have no information of this kind. On the contrary, the very same parliament, in an open session without any “armed men” (it was even shown on BBC news) voted 78 to 1 to hold the referendum. Clearly these people did not feel harassed.

          • Jan Mikhaylov

            BTW, if you want a clear case of ‘invasion’ to compare with, take a look at what happened in Iraq. The independent sovereign country was taken over by brute military force, and its head of state hanged. Remind me again, what did UN and international law say on the subject? Of course, it does not make it ‘right’ to invade another country, but all talk about “international law ans sovereignty of the state” coming from US and Britain at this point look like nothing but pure hypocrisy. Again, what is happening in Crimea is nothing like what happened in Iraq – no fighting took place and legitimate government is still in place, and the fate of the people will be decided through referendum. I think the difference is clear.

          • caap02

            That is simply false. The Ukrainian parliament appointed the acting interim president (Turchinov) well before Yanukovich’s press conference in Rostov. Yanukovich was AWOL and incommunicado and his whereabout unknown for over 6 days.

          • Jan Mikhaylov

            Sorry, but you simply do not understand what I am talking about. There was a TV appeal on Ukrainian TV broadcast way before Yanukovich left Ukraine. It has nothing to do with Rostov press-conference, it is a different thing. Of course, we should also remember why Yanukovich left in the first place – its not like he was taking a vacation. If he did not leave I can guarantee you that there would be no problem with legitimacy – he would be dead, solving the problem. Again, what happened to the Constitutional court? If what Parliament did was constitutional, why was Constitutional court disbanded?

          • threadbarebridge

            you sure the parliament hasn’t changed?

      • Baron

        If you were to argue, Tony, that Yanukovich should have been voted out, as he would have been, or that another institution of the State like judiciary, the the army, were to apprehend him, then try him, and if found guilty, which is likely, punish him, that would be OK with Baron. But getting rid of him through violence, with the assistance of an armed mob? Come on, what example does this set to others?

        You call yourself a democrat, do you?

        • Tony Quintus

          I don’t call myself anything of the sort, I’m a “small c” conservative libertarian agnostic. The simple fact is that it wasn’t the violence of the mob that got rid of Yanukovich, it was his increasingly irrational reaction to it which lost him all parliamentary support and triggered an impeachment vote.

          • Curnonsky

            The oligarchs who formerly supported Yanukovich turned against him – that is why he fled his palace in the dead of night, not because of the demonstrators.

          • caap02

            That and the fact that after the shooting of the protestors, Zacharchenko made a public statement that he (i.e. the government) had not given the order to shoot, which meant that the Berkut realized that they would be hung out to dry (i.e. to take the blame) for violence against the protesters.

  • James Allen

    “We don’t know what we’re doing. So let’s stop doing it”.

    Or we could entrust power with people who DO know what they’re doing. Just sayin’…

  • igor.s

    brilliant ! thank you

  • BigCheddar

    What a great article. At last some sense and genuine information rising above the hyperbole and posturing. MP is a sad loss to politics.

  • Andrew Constantine

    A super article, Mr Parris, but on reflection I hope you will agree that you have arrived at the wrong conclusion.

    I am sure you will agree that it has been a consistent strand of English and then the UK’s foreign policy to try to prevent a single European power becoming dominant on the Continent. That’s why England pitched in to help the Dutch fight Spain in the late 16th century; why we fought Louis 14th under Marlborough; revolutionary France from the 1790s to 1815; Germany in World War I and II; and the Cold War against the USSR.

    The point of this policy for us is straightforward: if a single European power is allowed to achieve dominance, then it can (and probably will) so arrange the politics, the allocation of resources of all Europe in a way that suits them and really hurts us.

    If we allow Putin’s Russia to regain direct, or even informal, control of Ukraine, then the basic structure and resources of the USSR are revived. With a weakened USA, which is seeking to pivot to turn its attention to managing China’s rise in the Far East, the UK could find itself on its own having to deal with the re-emergence of a oil rich USSR.

    The last thing we want in our weakened condition is a revived USSR dominating Europe. Hence we have to help make sure that the Ukraine is kept out of Russia’s clutches.

    • Baron

      Andrew, wake up, the one European power Britain should fear is the EU with Germany in command.

      Russia as the USSR dominated Europe only because Winston nodded to it in Yalta. To be fair to the great man he had no choice, who knows, had he said no, the Red Army could have made it to shores of the Atlantic, sweeping as they went this piddly island, too.

  • Joe Connolly

    Hats off to whoever is doing Russia’s PR in the UK for a truly superb set of misleading posts below Matthew Parris’s feeble article.

    • Baron

      That’s a massively powerful rebut, Joe, have it patented.

  • HP

    Am actually quite shocked by this. Quite apart from the basic principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity that are supposed to be at core of what it means to live in a modern nation state that calls itself a democracy this piece ignores the fundamental question: What are we doing if we allow Russia to behave in this way? I am afraid Putin is firmly the in the Kissinger ‘realpolitik’ school. Coupled with that, He seriously believes that he has a ‘right’ to intervene that matters that concern people who speak Russian. Regardless of where they live He is committed to a kind of Russian nationalism that has caused untold damage throughout history. We must, and we should, do what we can not just defend Ukraine (although I happen to think that is reason enough to be pro-active on this issue) but demonstrate to Putin that he cannot be permitted to behave in this way. That there are consequences. The issue is simple. Russia simply has to get rid of its nationalist paranoia, or be induced to get rid of it. I am not saying ‘send in the troops’ I do think many, least of all the UK, have the capability to do that. But Russia is for all intents and purposes a klepocratic mafia state. Hit them where it hurts. Their wallets. And do it now.

    • Tsigantes

      Better that politicians be in the Kissinger ‘realpolitick’ school than the outrageous, arrogant and irresponsible creation of a putsch by the EU and US governments in a country that is the Russian historic heartland (as Kosovo is Serbia’s), that is NOT in the EU and NOT in NATO.

      I notice very little discussion of the Ukrainians…the very people who have to live now with a fascist neo-nazi coup d’etat government, and IMF waterboarding and looting of their economy. I wonder how the English would feel if it happened to the UK?

      • Baron

        Seconded, Tsigantes.

      • David Murphy

        Have the ukrainians complained ? They are hoping they removed a kleptocrat and fort back democracy, although what they actually have is the kleptocracy simply changed sides to continue milking the nation.

  • HP

    Am actually quite shocked by this. Quite apart from the basic principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity that are supposed to be at core of what it means to live in a modern nation state that calls itself a democracy this piece ignores the fundamental question: What are we doing if we allow Russia to behave in this way? I am afraid Putin is firmly the in the Kissinger ‘realpolitik’ school. Coupled with that, He seriously believes that he has a ‘right’ to intervene that matters that concern people who speak Russian. Regardless of where they live He is committed to a kind of Russian nationalism that has caused untold damage throughout history. We must, and we should, do what we can not just defend Ukraine (although I happen to think that is reason enough to be pro-active on this issue) but demonstrate to Putin that he cannot be permitted to behave in this way. That there are consequences. The issue is simple. Russia simply has to get rid of its nationalist paranoia, or be induced to get rid of it. I am not saying ‘send in the troops’ I do think many, least of all the UK, have the capability to do that. But Russia is for all intents and purposes a klepocratic mafia state. Hit them where it hurts. Their wallets. And do it now.

  • Gwangi

    Seeing as Crimea was only transferred to the regional administration of The Ukraine 50 years ago, I cannot really see why it should not be returned to Russia. Nikita never expected the USSR to break up when he signed the Crimea over – he just did so for convenience.
    Much as I detest the Russians, I think that is the best solution. Why? Because it’s fairer. Though because of the behaviour of the odious Putin, it would then look like his bullying won. If he had any real brains he would have played the long game, and secretly campaigned for a referendum in Crimea via diplomatic channels. But he is a KGB man and will always be a natural bully.
    Still, Crimea becoming Russian again would be the best solution. Then the Russians can F off and keep their hands off Ukraine, which can go ahead with EU and Nato membership.
    Otherwise, we are entering World War One territory, with alliances at loggerheads with alliances, and no-one winning.

    • Mike Purves

      Rather pitiful to see highly motivated young Ukrainians pinning their hopes on closer EU ties to win more freedom and democracy! Also risible to hear EU apparatchiks pointing the finger at Putin for empire-building, pot and kettle spring to mind.

    • Baron

      The reason for detesting the ordinary Russians is exactly what? That they stopped the Austrian corporal conquering the world? That they endured decades of communism that was hoisted on them?

      • Gwangi

        Like the way you slipped in that word ‘ordinary’ before ‘Russians’.
        Of course I do not hate the ‘ordinary Russians’. I have known a few, taught a few, got drunk with a few.
        But the nation itself and its mindset? Terrible.
        Actually, they were best mates with that Austrian colonel for 2 years while we were trying to stop him, before changing their minds… I think the Russians had quite a lot to do with that place being Communist too – BUT most people mistake Russian characteristics (suspicion of foreigners, bearish behaviour, hatred of modernity, deep conservatism, pride, arrogance, rabid nationalism) for Communism. It was always the Russian character shining through in the days of Stalin and others.

        • Baron

          24 carat bollocks, even if someone who lived amongst them for only few years says so.

          Lady T got it right when she visited the country, google it, Baron would rather trust her judgment than someone’s who believes it was the Russians who were friendly with the Austrian ‘colonel’ (sic), it was a Georgian thug who enslaved them (together with a mixture of others of varying nationalities) with the creed of communism.

          Curl up in a corner, keep evolving.

          • Gwangi

            So the Russians are utterly innocent of all things forever and Stalin was nothing to do with them eh?

            Me thinks you went native with a pretty Russian girl eh?

            Stop defending the indefensible.

          • Baron

            Baron reckons more innocent of the tyranny on others than the `Germans when the ‘colonel’ was in charge, the latter got there through the ballot box.

            Btw, you are aware Stalin wasn’t Russian, are you?

    • David Murphy

      Being returned if the peel want it is one things but Russia invading against all international law is something else.

      • Gwangi

        Yes, that is true. Better if the Ukraine government had jointly explored, with EU and UN help, having a Crimea referendum.
        So where exactly were all the expert historians and politicians from the EU and the UN? Too busy indulging in fine dining to do their jobs properly? This situation was entirely predictable.
        We have to start from where we are at. And unless we want a massive war with Russia, that means starting negotiations with Putin about another referendum in a year or two’s time.

    • caap02

      Any referendum held under military occupation, when non-russian journalists are being harassed and denied entry to Crimea will be a farce and not a true reflection of the will of the people of Crimea.

      • Gwangi

        Yes, true. But what else to do – have a world war?
        The people in Crimea would clear want to be independent or be part of Russia – which they were until 50 years ago anyway.

  • D Whiggery

    I think this is about the only time I’ve ever agreed with Matthew Parris.

    The only intelligent and coherent article I’ve read about the situation in the last few days. It makes a refreshing change to the “Putin is the new Hitler and he wants to take over the world” angle.

  • Euan MacDonald

    In invading Ukraine, Russia has broken three international treaties, in one of which it gave assurances of Ukraine’s territorial integrity in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons. Russia has undermined the entire international security system that has been in place since after the Second World War, and sent a powerful message to states seeking to acquire nuclear weapons: If you don’t have nukes, you can be invaded at will, and if you do have nukes you can break international law with impunity. The invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea region was not proportional or reasonable, but a dangerous challenge to all former Soviet states, Europe, and the world.

    • Daniel Maris

      It was also underhand. Russia did not use its forces openly. Such covert use of state force also violates any number of treaties.

    • Baron

      Euan, if the changeover of power in Kiev wasn’t accomplished by the gun, Baron would join you arguing the Russians are as guilty as charged. Unfortunately, it was the new government that broke the most basic of the democratic rules – changing the ruling elite through the ballot box. That cuts it for Baron.

      • David Murphy

        And a Russian invasion is thus ok?

      • caap02

        Who had guns? Who in the Yanukovich regime was shot?

        • Baron

          Over 80 people got shot, including 26 policemen. It doesn’t surprise you the uman rites crowd keeps shtum about it? Why isn’t there an uproar, calls for investigation, punishment of the culprits…

          True, Baron knows not who exactly had guns, he can guess well who has no brains though.

  • Daniel Maris

    Appeasement always wears a suave smile. Putin will be encouraged if we make no response.

    I think we can all see Crimea is essentially Russian – more so than it is Tartar or Ukrainian and that Russia has key interests there through its naval base. A rational solution would be to let Russia annex Crimea but we can’t just roll over.

    The EU is being very shortsighted in not applying severe sanctions and taking a big hit.

    • Joe Connolly

      It’s more Russian than Tatar because the indigenous people were deported and half of them have never been allowed back. Or compensated for the series of crimes against them.

      Most of the young Crimeans, ethnic Russian or not, seem to want to remain in Ukraine rather than Russia.

      • Daniel Maris

        Well we are where we are, aren’t we? Unless you want to go ethnic cleansing yourself…

    • caap02

      Until 1944, when Stalin, in an act of collective punishment, deported the Crimean tatars (half of whom perished in the process), russians were a minority in Crimea. In the 2001 census, 58% of Crimean’s pop. was ethnic russian. The rest were mainly Ukrainians and tatars. But given russian death rates and tatar birth rates, it is likely that today Crimea’s russian majority is closer to 50% than to 60%.

  • pp22pp

    They should put you in charge of Russian relations. I bet you would find that they would be perfectly civil in spite of your private life.

    • JabbaTheCat

      That’s because Putin is a secret Parris fan…
      http://tinyurl.com/okvtef7

    • Baron

      Would it shock you, pp22pp, if Baron told you he knows someone who’s gay over there, everyone quite civil to him?

      • pp22pp

        No, it would would not shock me at all. I find this frenzy of Russia-hating quite ridiculous.

  • JabbaTheCat

    “Leave Ukraine to the Russians”

    Hmm, I’m sure the Ukrainians will be grateful to Mathew Parris giving their country to the Russians…

    http://tinyurl.com/nwlax6x

    • serguei_p

      Nothing new – the Britain did give Czechoslovakia to the Third Reich.
      It also looked like a good idea at that time.

      • Baron

        Not a particularly well fitting analogy: Czechoslovakia was never a part of Germany, Crimea was Russian until 1954.

        • David Murphy

          And Russia gave it away.

          • Tsigantes

            Russia did not “give away” Crimea, they shifted it from one soviet to another inside the Soviet Union. Therefore an historic anomoly was created when USSR broke up, which was recognised by Ukraine and Russia, and solved through the present arrangements.

        • Daniel Maris

          Wrong. Czechoslovakia was under Austrian control and by 1938, Austria was part of the German Reich. For Hitler, an Austrian German , it was indeed very much a case of re-establishing control over CZ.

  • serguei_p

    I am sure in 1938 when Hitler went to protect Germans in Sudetenland, there were very similar articles in British newspapers.
    And Neville Chamberlain returning with a treaty that were supposed to bring “peace for all times” was very popular at the time.

  • Curnonsky

    By this cynical, cowardly logic Russia would be well within its rights to re-conquer the rest of the ex-Warsaw Pact states, after all, they were no less under the Soviet boot heel than Ukraine, right? And weren’t they all brother Slavs, or at least fellow proletarians, or something? Solidarity was always uppermost on the Politburo’s minds when it came to its, er, “allies”, but tanks were always ready just in case it faltered.

    Has it not occurred that this will represent the first re-drawing of post-WWII European borders at gunpoint? Does anyone really think that it ends here?

    • Carlton Bikie

      It’s not cowardly. It may be cynical but it is not cowardly. I wish the Russians were a bit more timid. They have proved they’re manly and now they can go home.

    • Eugene

      “First re-drawing of post-WWII European borders at gunpoint”? Surely you’re thinking of Kosovo.

      • Curnonsky

        Not really, since Kosovo was already a separate region within Yugoslavia which gained independence when that country disintegrated; in Crimea’s case Putin is forcibly seizing the territory of another sovereign state and annexing it to his own.

        • Femina Sapiens

          Constitutional Republics of SFRJ (abbreviation for Socialist Federation of Republics of Yugoslavia) had the constitutional right to secession, and none of 2 autonomous regions in Republic of Serbia, (Vojvodina and Kosovo) didn’t…and that was not something accidental in the best of the times. Seriously. So-called Albanian separatist were led by KLA which was on the list of terrorist groups in many countries, including US. However, in 1997, US suddenly had a change of heart and “understood” that KLA gunmen are in fact “freedom fighters”. Long decade(s) before, Albanians from Kosovo were threatening, intimidating and terrorizing Serbian population and that started massive exodus of Serbs in that region…Milosevic enforced the military and police there and they started fighting against KLA. You’ll find this on the net: “The KLA has also been connected to drugs and arms trafficking,[53] with it being responsible for 70% of the heroin smuggled into Western Europe in the 1990s.[54] KLA member Agim Gashi was prosecuted in Italy for drug trafficking. Interpol’s report in the US Congress of 2000:[55]“Albanian drug lords established elsewhere in Europe began contributing funds to the “national cause” in the 80s. From 1993 on, these funds were to a large extent invested in arms and military equipment for the KLA (UÇK) which made its first appearance in 1993… Of the almost 900 million DM which reached Kosovo between 1996 and 1999, half was thought to be illegal drug money.”

          KLA used Albanian population as a shield. The truth was
          flexed and manipulated by corporate media which served political agenda.
          Serbia was bombarded (illegal by International laws) and pressured until entire Serbian population wasn’t forced out of almost whole region, except its North. Army and state’s police followed, Albanian drug lords got their own little state and US got the green light from grateful KLA leaders to build Bondsteel- the biggest military base in this part of Europe. Everybody happy?! A victory for human rights and defenders of international law?! Hardly.
          On the other hand, they had the referendum in Crimea. I didn’t know that referendum is the other name for annexation and forcible seizure….

  • Frank

    On the basis of this article, I would stick to writing about lamas.

  • Gregory Mason

    Most certainly one of the better articles concerning the crisis. Kudos!

  • David Murphy

    No doubt when western powers appeased HItler over the Sudetenland you would have regarded that as proportionate too.

    • Baron

      Oh, David, could one be as ignorant as that? Obviously, one can.

      Herr Hitler made it abundantly clear as long back as 1922, whole sexteen years before the event you are referring to what he wanted to do. You can point to Putin’s equivalent of the Mein Kamph, its chapter on ‘Eastern Orientation or Eastern Policy’ in particular, can you?

  • Dellenbaugh

    Matthew, I’ve been hoping someone with a public profile would articulate a diplomatic argument: I hope more people in the commentariat take up your view.

  • Terry Field

    I worry about Matthew.
    I wonder if his world view would be different if he had dependent family – of the heterosexual sort – in danger of Putin’s kind attentions.
    Easy to slough of whole regions when one has no emotional baggage to force one to consider the blood and sinew of loyalty.

  • jwhitehouse

    This is a feeble piece, as was Matthew Parris’ contribution to the Spectator podcast discussion with Anne Applebaum. The fact that a country feels and asserts an interest in the territory of another state on grounds of history or ethnicity is not a legitimate basis for ignoring treaty obligations and taking unilateral military action within the other state. An infinitely better discussion of this subject was broadcast in Friday’s round table on Radio 3. Timothy Snyder’s piece for CNN: http://edition.cnn.com/2014/03/05/opinion/russia-ukraine-austria/index.html?sr is also worth reading as an account of recent events and their historical context by someone who knows more about the subject than most. The appeal of Russian nationalists in Crimea and elsewhere does not justify Putin’s actions any more than Henlein’s call for help in the Sudetenland justified Hitler’s intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1938. The more Putin relies on rabid nationalism to bolster his popularity in Russia, the more he will need to feed the monster he is creating to stay in power. and the more he can be expected to ignore Russian treaty obligations (SALT perhaps) to pander to his nationalist base.
    Russia and Ukraine will eventually have to find a modus vivendi, maybe in a triangular relationship with the EU, and certainly Ukraine cannot simply turn its back on Russia and rely just on the EU but Russia’s action (and it is Russia’s action) does not bode well for the immediate future in this region.

  • Carlton Bikie

    Matthew, you are indeed a star as the fellow named Baron who wrote below points out. I would like, however, to see you respond to David Blair’s comments in the Telegraph, who seems to disagree. And I don’t think you can bide your time on this one, because the things that leading commentators say matter: our politicians take note of them and they tune our national voice. We, the British, may be feeble in terms of what we can actually do in the Ukraine, but our influence is not completely negligible. So please: write more on the subject.

    Carlton Bikie (my real name*)

    *Lie

    • caap02

      the UK can impose meaningful sanctions on Russian oligarchs- do not give them visas; close the City to them.

  • John Renfrew

    What business of ours is Ukraine’s internal politics? Very little. What mandate does the EU have from us to impose sanctions on Russia? Very little.

  • Ivan

    You’re an idiot, I’m sorry but I can’t put it any other way. You pretty much confirm what many people in Ukraine are worried about, which is that the West doesn’t give a shit about our country. Not that I blame you for being selfish but do you think Russia is gonna stop in Ukraine? First Russia wanted Crimea, now they say that Ukraine left USSR illegally.
    And last but not least, there was no coup! Do your research, it seems as though you’re getting your information from pro-Russian sources on this one. If you really visited Ukraine, you would know that it wasn’t a coup at all.

    • Gwangi

      But wasn’t Crimea Russian until 50 years ago when Kruschev signed it to administration of THE Ukrain (the region) and not Ukraine? He never expected the USSR to break up after all.
      It would have been far better to start negotiations on Crimea years ago, then the locals there could have had a peaceful referendum.
      I do not excuse what the vile Putin did – he is a typical Russian, so a ruthless bully. But his behaviour should have been predictable. Do you seriously think he would let Russia’s southern navy port fall into the hands of the EU (The West – his enemy). He never needs an excuse to rattle his sabre and remember the glory days of the USSR – he is and always will be a KGB man, after all, and could snap a neck like a piece of celery no doubt, given the opportunity.

      • Terry Field

        Bull
        Russia signed a treaty guaranteeing the independence of Ukraine and the inviolability of its borders.
        Plainly that matters not a lot to you or the strange Parris

  • paulus

    The Russians won’t tolerate Western interference into lands that have been politically, geographically and culturally linked since the kievan Rus ruled all the Lands of Russia.
    An elected Government has been overthrown through street demonstrations. No wonder the Russians feel entitiled to regain Land that was theirs at the behest of people who feel they are Russian.

    Its best not to poke a Bear with a stick when its in an angry mood.

  • threadbarebridge

    this is a sane article of wisdom. strangely, support often is more detriment than opposing.

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