In the absence of policy, try handwringing
Word Affairs editor Lavinia Thompson on developments in Ukraine
Yesterday, as the Ukrainian crisis vied with the opening of the Oscar Pistorius trial in South Africa for the attention of the world’s media, the West’s confusion over how best to exert pressure upon – and ultimately restrain – Russia became more evident than ever. However, apart from a conviction equivalent to Edward VIII’s comment upon visiting poverty-stricken villages in south Wales (“something must be done”), it seems to me that, so far, they’ve been unable to come up with anything worthwhile or effective.
Plainly, one of the most frustrating aspects of the crisis for the West is the fact that Russia is playing the game by different rules. In one sense, it always has.
Another is that, the West having done plenty to encourage Ukraine to become part of Europe – and therefore of the West’s sphere of influence – in the current circumstances, in realpolitik terms, the West is revealed as piss-weak. Ordinarily, i.e. specifically if Russia was not as powerful and nuclear-capable as it is, by now the West would probably have deployed military force to defend its new ‘friend’.
Ultimately, of course, a key factor in Mr Putin’s favour is the fact that Russia is not a functioning Western-style democracy. In that sense it probably doesn’t qualify as a democracy at all.
This happy circumstance allows Mr Putin to take swift and draconian decisions ‘to protect Russia’s interests’ at any time without fear of being held accountable at home. Indeed, given Russia’s history of paying scant regard to popular opinions, its people probably no longer bother forming, let alone expressing, them. What’s the point? The attitude that the government knows best in engrained in Russia’s culture.
Here’s an article by Liam Halligan, analysing the paucity of the West’s sanction options, on today’s website of the DAILY TELEGRAPH