Ukrainian crisis: it hasn’t gone away

The conflict in Gaza seems to have largely pushed that in Ukraine off international consciousness. The Guardian, however, reports that the Ukrainian government have been making steady gains against the pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country.

The west has become somewhat quieter about the downing of the Malaysian airliner MH 17 over the last couple of weeks and the Americans seem to have accepted that it was a mistake. The internet is still awash with conspiracy theories about who shot down the plane, why and how but most seem to accept that it was an accident.

What is interesting is that coinciding with the reduced western interest in Ukraine, Russia is not, at least currently, increasing its military involvement. Whether this is due to western sanctions, some sort of deal official or unofficial or simply that Russia either now or never wants / wanted eastern Ukraine is unclear. It may be that Putin would have been happy to partition Ukraine if it had been a low risk / low cost endeavour but since it is now looking more troublesome and, having gained his main prize of Crimea, is willing to let Ukraine retake its other eastern provinces.

The whole episode over Ukraine is even more complex than our history in Northern Ireland. Kiev was once the Russian capital and the Russians ruled Ukraine for many years. Stalin treated the area very badly with an almost entirely man made famine in one of the most productive agricultural areas on earth, which cost millions of lives in an attempt to force collectivised agriculture. Subsequently the Ukrainians welcomed the Germans in 1941 as liberators only to find them another murderous group of rulers. Some Ukrainians supported the Nazis, some the soviets and others were part of alternative groups: some democratic some fascist.

During the rest of the USSR’s history Ukraine was a state but it is unclear to what extent its boundaries were any more than administrative convenience for the Soviet Union. The collapse of the USSR led to Ukraine rapidly becoming a separate country. Ukraine gave up its ex soviet nuclear weapons in exchange for a territorial guarantee from the west and Russia: one which Russia has clearly broken over Crimea.

Equally, however, Crimea had historically been part of Russia. Furthermore at the end of the cold war it had been agreed that NATO would not expand its borders into the old Warsaw Pact nations: something the west has clearly broken.

Ukraine itself had a democratically elected, albeit woefully corrupt and incompetent, president and government prior to its recent overthrow. That overthrow was supported and helped by the west and some of the shock troops of that coup were undoubtedly fascists. The previous government had supported closer ties with Europe but had then switched to supporting closer ties with Moscow following economic pressure.

Ukraine has become the fulcrum of conflict between Russia and the west but this is a conflict which might have been managed better had the west accepted that some of Russia’s interests in the region were entirely legitimate, even laudable.

After the fall of the Berlin wall and then the USSR, the west has at times proclaimed friendship towards Russia but has, all too often, pursued courses of action similar to the containment policies they adopted towards the Soviet Union during the Cold War. To an extent of course that may be a legitimate foreign policy aim: Russia is a powerful country with its own agendas but the west seem to have reached a state whereby many foreign policies issues see Russia and the west as opponents. In Kosovo, we backed the Kosovo Albanians against the Russian supported Serbs. More recently we backed the government groups in Syria against the Russian supported Assad government: at least until it became clear that most of the rebel groups are now extremists who regard Al Qaeda as liberals. Now in Ukraine the west and Russia line up on opposite sides.

Clearly there may be good reasons for some of these decisions but equally they have had unfortunate consequences. Containment of Iran’s nuclear ambitions is much more difficult without Russian help. Russia was also a useful ally against Islamic extremism and it must be remembered that the Soviet Union entered Afghanistan at least in part due to concerns about nascent extremism there. The west, especially America, then merrily supported many of the very people and groups which would go on to form the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Containing and even humiliating Russia may have seemed like a low risk strategy during Yeltsin’s incompetent and drunken kleptocracy but now against Putin’s more successful and much more assertive Russia it seems in danger of creating a self fulfilling prophecy on the side of both the west and the Russians with each defining their foreign policy objectives in significant measure as opposing the other.

These opposing positions are nothing like as dangerous as during the Cold War and war between Russia and the west remains effectively unthinkable: in part because everyone knows the west would not go to war if Putin ordered his tanks to follow the T34s in 1943/4 rumbling across Ukraine. Indeed the House of Commons Defence Select Committee noted last week that public support for war to defend the Baltic States against a hypothetical Russian attack was well below 50%.

Although unlikely to provoke war these problems have already led to the suggestion that defence spending will have to be increased. Increasing defence spending is likely to be a reasonable objective: creating both low and high skill jobs, pump priming the economy, especially high tech manufacturing, and providing deterrence. However, those objectives do not require one to have a specific enemy against whom to direct that defence expenditure. Britain’s defence spending during the Cold War was deployed against Egypt (militarily successfully and politically disastrously), Argentina and Iraq (militarily and politically successfully: only initially in the latter case) but never against Russia. Defence spending does not by definition require a clear putative enemy to make it worthwhile.

In the latest crisis Russia’s unsubtle and at times bullying behaviour seems to be being matched by unsubtle and hectoring actions from the west. It is in danger of turning cooperative behaviour into antagonistic rivalry to the detriment of all especially those in Ukraine. All this seems to be semi accidental and on the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War we should remember the disasters which accidental chains of events can occasion.

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  • Michael Henry

    ” Stalin treated the area very badly with an almost entirely man made Famine in one of the most productive agricultural areas on earth ”

    Stalin learned this policy from the Brits who used it in Ireland to kill millions of the local Irish or to make them emigrate-

  • Gopher

    The best weapon systems are those that are never used, Russia and a few other states are equating Western European “will” with defence spending. Not that we want to replace BAOR with British Army of the Vistula those days are thankfully over, thats continental Europe’s job now. But a demonstrable increase in spending on the RAF and RN should send the right message to both Europe and Russia.

    As I pointed out in a previous thread the Navy gives you better utility in a globalized world, I see the Navy is rescuing UK and European citizens who decided although there still were commercial exits available its better safe than sorry.

  • Gopher

    Did Stalin ever credit the “Brits” with that are is this just another attempt on Slugger to insert The Famine or Cromwell in every single thread here? I know he purged his officer corps because he was paranoid, the political strata likewise, where did he learn that?

  • Michael Henry

    I believe that certain past documents about Russia and the Brits are going to be made public before there time frame-

    Don’t blame Slugger kid-the truth will out –

  • gunterprien

    Spend away all you want.The more the merrier.

  • gendjinn

    More likely he learned it from Churchill who murdered 3 million Indians in the Bengal famine of 1943.

  • chrisjones2

    They forgot POl Pot and the varioous brands of Kim Il in Korea – all secret agents for MI5 you kjnow

  • chrisjones2

    Funny there was just as bad a famine in Scotland – indeed several famines – but they don’t gurn as much and suggest it was deliberate. I wonder why?

    By the way the famine also hit many Planters too. I assume that was just a smokescreen to cover up the planned attack on the ‘locals Irish’ whoever they were. Damn clever those Brits

  • chrisjones2

    Nudge nudge ……wink wink squire.

  • gunterprien

    MI5 and the SAS were sent to help Pol Pot. So Chris You were more right than you thought, eh?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    PENDANTRY ATTACK: Holodmor was a decade before the Bengali famine of 43.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Indeed Chris, during all my years in Scotland never once did I hear anyone refer to the Highland Clearances as ‘genocide’ when by the definition of the word that episode would have a greater claim to such a grisly title.

  • chrisjones2

    LOL ………I am touched that you listen to Pilger

  • chrisjones2

    Not just the clearances….they had aI think 3 major famines in the 1700s and 1800s – thats why there are so many Scots in America North and South

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Not to mention the ‘Seven Ill Years’ in the 1690’s that resulted in so many heading to Ulster.

    I am a bit envious of the Scottish attitude to their ‘nation’; depending on how you see it; they’re comprised of Gaels, Celts/Britons, Angles, Norse and (I think) ‘Picts’ (though I always saw them as part of the Briton family, but the jury’s out on that one) yet they’re all Scots.
    In Ireland, with some people (NOT all) there’s a series of interviews, hurdles and allegiances that must be satisfied before the prize is given (though both nations suffer from a lack of enthusiasm for the national identity in their most north-easterly quarters, calling an Orcadian a Scot can be a risky business sometimes…)

    No one goes through the Scottish family tree and discounts clans such as De Brus (Bruce), Fraser, Stewart , Chisholm or Baillol as ‘English’ despite being Anglo-Norman invaders/invitees that settled, picked up the Gaelic way of life and murdered anyone who got in their way, much like their cousins who settled in Ireland.

    Yet somehow we’re expected to believe that the French-then-Gaelic speaking ones who settled in Ireland were ‘English’?

    There’s less hoops to jump through to be Scottish than there is to be Irish seemingly.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Are you seriously blaming Chruchill for this?? He sent food to Greece instead as they were also suffering from famine as a result of Nazi occupation and any food sent to Bengal reportedly would not have reached in time to prevent most of the deaths.

  • gunterprien

    Plenty of other sources out there for you too.

    And read the article The first reports were in the Telegraph.

    “…Until 1989, the British role in Cambodia remained secret. The first reports appeared in the Sunday Telegraph, written by Simon O’Dwyer-Russell..”

  • Michael Henry

    Churchill was in charge of Britain in 1943 and Britain ruled India-( the stupid Brits even interned the peace lover Ghandi during the famine )-so Churchill sent food to Greece which he had no control over and let India starve- a country the Britain owned at that time-

  • gunterprien

    Let’s ask Time Magazine.

    Shall we?

    Or you could check with the British historian Max Hastings.,9171,2031992,00.html

  • Michael Henry

    Churchill was just another world war 2 monster -if the Brits had a heart they would tear down his statue and remove any titles his bad name achieved during his life time-

  • gendjinn

    Yes. He exported the rice that caused the famine. So yes. And what does Greece have to do with it? If you look at a map you might notice that Greece & India are two entirely different countries on two entirely different continents.

    Why is it Unionists love to lionize genocidal leaders?

  • chrisjones2

    “they’re comprised of Gaels, Celts/Britons, Angles, Norse and (I think) ‘Picts’ (though I always saw them as part of the Briton family, but the jury’s out on that one) yet they’re all Scots.”

    We are the same with a slightly different mix and a bit more African and Spansh thrown in …we are juts in denial about it and insist of myths of native Irish and Planter Scots. Its all made up so we can have someone to hate

  • chrisjones2

    Just picture the scene….in his bunker in London he sits late at night as the bombs rain down….plotting plotting plotting how he can bugger up rice supplies in Bengal ……

    I am unsure if your are just deluded or a professional troll

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Thanks Chris, to suggest the UK wasn’t starving itself is perverse when one considers the severe rationing being endured by the population – where were these extra food resources coming from? To be able to feed and sustain 3 million is quite a task for a country already overstretched and plunged deep into war.

  • gunterprien

    LOl. Churcill..Lloyd George Tony Bliar. They are all sows from the same litter.

  • that crisis seems to last a while
    plan de marketing

  • Keep it real

    Let’s remember that Ireland was still exporting thirty to fifty shiploads of food a day to Britain. (Wiki)