Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Watching the Hawks Squirm..

As might have been expected, the Russian annexation (or re-annexation given the Crimea was part of the USSR until 1991) of Crimea has been accomplished with little loss of life and apparently widespread popular support. Whether the 97% YES vote in last week's referendum was a true representation of Crimean public opinion is debatable but there is clearly very strong and likely majority support among the Crimean population for what has happened.

The Hawks continue to agonise, complain and warn. I'm watching Fox News which, beyond its usual criticism of President Obama, is in "warning" mood comparing Russia to Iran, China and North Korea as the "villains" of the world. That said, the unpalatable truth is that the American public is, by a very large margin, opposed to any kind of military response to events in the Ukraine and for all the patrician bluster of Charles Krauthammer and his ilk, even Bill O'Reilly has opposed a military response.

The desperation of the Hawks is staggering - last night's Evening Standard carried a letter from one Anders Aslund, a Swedish economist who has written widely on the Ukraine. He writes supportive articles on a site called Kyiv Post but his letter to the Standard is truly staggering. He offers a three-point plan to "defeat" Putin.

1) Stop Russia launching an attack on Eastern Ukraine - well, yes. First, we don't know if Putin has any designs on the Eastern Ukraine. His annexation of the Crimea might have emboldened him but a lot of his action in Crimea was predicated on preserving Russian naval interests around the Black Sea. It would be unthinkable were Crimea to fall into openly hostile hands and Putin saw the emerging Government in Kiev as potentially hostile and was compelled to act.

The Eastern Ukraine holds no such strategic value and any takeover would face much stronger and more organised resistance than happened in the Crimea and a careful man like Putin isn't going to take any risks. In any case, a restless and resentful eastern Ukraine helps destabilise and weaken the Government in Kiev.

2) Make sure Putin leaves Crimea - How ? Short of committing the 82nd Airborne to the streets of Simferopol or having NATO join with the Ukraine military in invading the Crimea, I'm not quite sure how we achieve this goal.

Sanctions will help but they would have to force the Russian economy to the point of near collapse or to a point when the oligarchs decide Putin has to go before anything happens and the impact on the West of an imploding Russian economy would be considerable.

3) Russia to pay full reparations after it surrenders - ok, that didn't work well after World War 1 and it wouldn't work well here either. The last thing the world would need is a revengeful, resentful, nuclear-armed power harbouring a huge sense of grievance.

Aslund may be a huge friend of Ukraine but his anti-Russian bias colours his actions. The Ukraine (minus Crimea) needs to find a modus vivendi with Russia and vice-versa. In any case, the West should be providing Ukraine with economic and legal support - investment in companies but also investment in governance with a view to ending a culture of venality and corruption which tarnished and destroyed the original Orange Revolution and flourished under Yanukovych and which ultimately destroyed him too.

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