Tony Brenton, former British ambassador to Russia, writes: A way out of the Ukraine crisis may now be faintly discernible. The round-table negotiations promoted by the Germans has the support of all the key governments. It is intended to produce a ceasefire, discussion of future Ukrainian constitutional arrangements, and the election of a new Ukrainian president on 25 May. There are still all sorts of ways it could go wrong: the east Ukrainian dissidents are not yet involved and will need to be; and polarisation continues, with both sides gradually losing control of their thuggish surrogates. But things now look marginally more hopeful than they have since the ill-fated Geneva agreement of a month ago.
The west has had to learn some hard lessons to get to where we are now.
It is generally accepted that the EU (in a mode splendidly described by one commentator as of “impotent megalomania”) precipitated matters by blundering into the most sensitive part of Russia’s backyard without seriously asking itself how it might react. This was not an isolated error but the culmination of 20 years of the west simply not taking Russia seriously, most notably with the Kosovo war and the expansion of Nato. When Russia did react in the (legally indefensible, but historically understandable) form of annexing Crimea and destabilising east Ukraine, the western view then swung 180 degrees to focusing on the need to “contain” a revanchist Russia intent on rebuilding the Soviet Union.
In the absence of any willingness among western publics to fight for the independence of Simferopol, the only weapon available was sanctions. These allowed western leaders to claim they were “doing something”, but in fact cruelly exposed their unwillingness to take real economic pain on Ukraine’s behalf. They have also become something of a badge of patriotic pride for those Russians targeted by them – of the six uses of sanctions by the west against the USSR/Russia since the second world war none have worked.
Happily, we now seem to be waking up to the reality that we are dealing not with a revanchist Russia, but with a coldly calculating one – a Russia that is neither patsy nor praying mantis. They don’t want to fight a war or take on the economic burden of rebuilding eastern Ukraine, but they do have a minimal list of requirements – Ukrainian neutrality, more autonomy for Russian speakers – which have to be met before they will back off. [Continue reading…]
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered troops deployed near Ukraine to return to their home bases and praised the launch of a dialogue between the Ukrainian government and its opponents even as fighting continued in the eastern parts of the country.