Thursday, February 27, 2014

Britain and Ukraine

In the past few weeks as we watch the bewildering pace of change in the Ukraine, I have been left hoping that it works out better for them than some recent revolutions have - although this one appears to be far better founded in a wish to respect the ballot box than some recent unheavals such as those in say, Egypt.

The destiny of Ukraine is for the people of Ukraine to decide and there is not a great deal which the UK can or should do about it, though that has not stopped a range of people putting forward all sorts of different and contradictory criticisms of the UK government.

I stopped reading one egregiously silly critique which suggested that Tory Euroscepticism was hampering Britain from adopting an effective policy on Ukraine when I reached the point where the writer suggested that almost any policy which annoyed Vladimir Putin was a good thing.

Now I have all manner of serious concerns about President Putin, but the idea of deliberately annoying him for the sake of it, as opposed to standing up to him when Britain's interests require it, is unbelievably childish and dangerous. It would be the geopolitical equivalent of throwing stones at a hornet's nest to see what happens.

Ukraine is potentially an immensely wealthy country with massive natural resources. If it could become a stable democratic state with good relations with both the EU and Russia, then Ukraine would be extremely valuable to both East and West as a trading partner, and as a bridge between the EU and Russia rather than something seen as a prize to be fought over between them.

But Britain does not have a huge amount of leverage in that part of Europe, and didn't even when the British Empire was the most powerful nation on Earth. Indeed, the fact that Britain and France invaded what is now the Eastern part of the Ukraine back then in what was possibly the most ghastly and mismanaged campaign our country ever fought prior to the 20th century, is still remembered and is one of the factors which is making British and EU relations with the Ukraine and Russia more difficult now.

We can encourage the Ukraine to move down the path to greater democracy, we can encourage both Ukraine and Russia not to see trade and friendship between the EU and Ukraine on the one hand, and Ukraine and Russia on the other, as mutually exclusive goals. We cannot do much more than this and should not pretend to ourselves or the world that we have more influence on this situation than we really have.

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