In an earlier post I admit to not knowing much about foreign policy. My friend Michael Meadowcroft, sometime Liberal MP for Leeds West, does and has written the following letter to the Yorkshire Post.
In my time in parliament, Sir Malcolm Rifkind tended to be a voice of sanity as a Conservative foreign minister. I am disappointed to see that he has now become a cold warrior (Putin must feel pain over Ukraine, March 20).
I am no supporter of President Putin and his militaristic Russian regime, nor indeed of nationalism generally, but your readers need to look at the background to the current serious difficulties in Crimea and in Ukraine generally. The need to view international disputes as the other “side” sees them is crucial and rarely realised. My 50-odd missions to emerging democracies around the world since the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1989 have been an extremely steep learning curve in how the West is seen from overseas.
In particular, the West has had no understanding of Russians’ pride in their culture and history. The fall of the Soviet Union was gleefully seized on by the American neocons, aided and abetted by the Thatcherites here, in order to export to Russia and other fledgling democracies the economic failures of their own experiments. Russia needed a new “Marshall Plan” to underpin the rouble but this was never on the West’s agenda. Consequently the rouble collapsed and we allowed Russia to fall into the hands of the oligarchs.
It was no surprise that the Russian people looked for a strong, nationalist leader to restore their pride - and Putin exactly fitted the bill. Ukraine’s record, particularly since its independence in 1990, has been increasingly unstable and the violent recent coup in Kiev led to an interim regime with a number of extreme right wing members and a very nationalist president. Just about the first action of this regime was to repeal the law that made Russian an official language, spoken as a first language by a very sizeable minority of people in Ukraine. How do you think this provocative action was regarded by Putin?
The west’s talk of “territorial integrity” is ludicrous when just 24 years ago when the whole of Ukraine - Crimea included - was all part of one country: the Soviet Union. Rifkind’s and Hague’s view of Russia’s actions in Crimea is extremely hypocritical when one recalls that just fifteen years ago we actually bombed Serbia to make it let Kosovo become independent, even though it had been part of Serbia for centuries. The outcome in Kosovo has also been unsatisfactory and the West’s actions have simply exchanged discrimination against its Albanian population for discrimination against its Serbian people.
We need a much broader perception of sovereignty and of borders, with a view to resolving problems by assisting acceptable constitutional solutions. Sanctions have little value, particularly when one realises that around one third of our gas comes from Russia.
I understand that the Crimea (maybe even the whole of the Ukraine) is as "close" to Russia as Wales is the England. How would we feel if, had a previous prime minister decided to "give Wales away," say to Ireland or France, without so much as a with-your-leave or a by-your-leave, and our present lot had decided to re-integrate it into the UK, in accordance with the apparently overwhelming wishes of the Welsh people?
We should presumably not take kindly to pompous posturings from Obama, Putin or anyone else.
I agree that the parallel is far from exact, but, as Michael says, if our diplomacy is to be successful we need to be sensitive to the views the actual participants are likely to have of the situation.