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The West must make Putin pay Without swift action, the conflict will escalate

Ukrainians are dying every day. Credit: Pierre Crom/Getty Images

Ukrainians are dying every day. Credit: Pierre Crom/Getty Images


March 11, 2022   5 mins

Only two weeks into Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine and we are already at the relentless killing of civilians stage. So far, 34 hospitals, 202 schools, and more than 1,500 residential buildings have been destroyed. Around two million people have fled to Eastern Europe — mostly women, children and the elderly. At least 500 civilians are dead, with hundreds more injured, and thousands hiding in underground bunkers because Russian forces fire indiscriminately, even — or perhaps especially — in the so-called “humanitarian corridors”. Each day crimes against humanity unspool across our feeds.

It is thought that 600,000 people have fled Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city (population 1.4 million). Mariupol no longer has enough electricity, water, food or medicine for its population of less than half a million. Children are dying of dehydration. Russia has bombed the largest nuclear reactor in Europe and now controls a further two power plants. Two days ago, Chernobyl was shut off from the grid and, with that, the IAEA monitoring systems. The spectre of nuclear disaster hovers.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces and Civilian Territorial Defense have fought with immense courage and skill to defend their homeland. Putin thought Ukrainians would welcome his invaders with cheers. He thought he’d be sitting in Kyiv after 72 hours. He was wrong. So now comes the “scorched earth” strategy. Just as they did in Chechnya and Syria, Russian forces are destroying everything in their path, with no regard for human life. Unless something changes, Kyiv will become the next Aleppo.

Can the West save Ukraine? Make no mistake: we are helping. Putin is paying a military cost he didn’t expect largely thanks to the bravery of Ukrainians, but it’s bravery made possible by the incessant flow of military equipment and training from Europe and the US and, perhaps above all, the UK. But the Russian convoys rumble inexorably on. Ukrainians continue to die. More is needed. The question is: what?

“I think we have been too slow and too selective,” says Natalie Jaresko, who served as Ukraine’s Minister of Finance from 2014-2016, soon after Russia first invaded, and who was responsible for renegotiating Ukraine’s debt following the Maidan Revolution. “People in Ukraine are dying… More sanctions need to be rolled out with immediate effect.” And they must be broadly applied to both state-owned entities and political leaders — in Belarus as well as Russia.

“They must also comprehensively target Russia’s economic elite and their families,” she continues. “A good place to start would be the top 100 richest Russians as ranked by Forbes. We must put as much pressure as possible on Russia’s elite to force Putin to end this unprovoked slaughter of Ukrainians.”

The West’s financial sanctions are biting. The Central Bank of Russia (CBR) has already lost access to around two thirds of its reserves, so it’s having a hard time defending the rapidly devaluing ruble. Russians can no longer access hard currency as a result. The removal of certain Russian institutions from the SWIFT payments systems, and the exit of American Express, Mastercard and Visa from the country, are also pummelling the Russian banking system. But Putin continues, nonetheless.

More needs to be done, says Jaresko. We could delist all Russian public entities from our stock markets,  We could divest public pension funds from Russia. We could require all publicly-listed companies to report on any Russia-related activity. “We need to sanction all state-owned banks, not select banks, immediately; and we need to exclude all Russian banks from the SWIFT system”, she tells me.

Jaresko speaks of hammering Putin financially, but there’s more than one way to pile on the pressure. Yuriy Vitrenko, Ukraine’s former Minister of Energy and the CEO of Naftogaz, Ukraine’s state gas supplier, sees energy as the way to squeeze Russia. When I call him, I’m told he’s in “a bunker somewhere in Kyiv with a Kalashnikov nearby”. Perhaps not meant to be taken absolutely literally, the comment points to a wider truth: Ukraine’s entire governing infrastructure is now more or less underground.

“We are in charge on securing the supply of gas to Ukraine,” he tells me. “Probably 90% of Ukraine households use it for heating, and we still have minus temperatures at night. If there’s no gas, then it’s a national tragedy. The Russians are deliberately targeting coal supplies and of course they are attacking nuclear power plants — there’s lot of pressure on the energy system.”

But Vitrenko understands that Putin, too, is vulnerable when it comes to energy. Russia is a malignant petrostate that doles out gas to a gasping Europe. This is both its major strength, and a weakness. If you can hit Russia here, you hit it hard.

Vitrenko wants concrete steps to be taken. The first is to set up a mechanism by which money from the sale of oil and gas is put into a dedicated escrow account accessible to the Kremlin only when it withdraws from Ukraine. It’s a system used in dealings with Iran, and Vitrenko believes that Moscow is now more of a rogue state than Tehran.

But this is not enough. In the medium term, he says, the West needs to do everything it can to halt its reliance on Russian gas and oil. “The US will have to up its output as well as Norway, while Europe needs to start switching to biogas,” he says. Critically, he also wants to see a temporary switch to coal until “we get rid of our dependency or get additional volumes of gas that are not from countries invading other countries”.

I point out that there might be criticism of the environmental impact of reverting to coal. “Trust me, the environmental damage of war is far greater than that of coal,” he says. “But we need to understand that the dependence problem we have is not just about being dependent on fossils fuels but also on Rogue regimes.”

Vitrenko recognises that the initial reaction from the West has been strong, and that it surprised the Kremlin, but he also emphasises that it must last. “It is important that western leaders show that they will not backtrack”, he tells me. “We need to change the calculus of Putin and those around him. It’s clear that they expected a softer reaction from the West, but unless it’s maintained they will be able to find ways around it.”

Svitlana Zalishchuk, a former MP who now works with Vitrenko, is equally blunt. “Putin is not going to stop,” she says. “He is trapped by his own bad decision-making, if he loses the war in Ukraine, he’s dead politically — he won’t be the president of Russia anymore. He’ll continue so we must, too.

“It’s true people are always afraid of escalation, about starting World War III, but it has already started… We allowed his disinformation, his election interference, his killing of own opposition, the imprisonment of Navalny. We didn’t respond to any of that that which is why invasion came. But now we’re still afraid of escalation.”

Her words shame the West. In 2001 and 2003, we promised to liberate Iraqis and Afghans from tyranny and instead eventually abandoned them to it. In 1994, under the Budapest Memorandum, we promised Ukraine that if it gave up the nuclear weapons on its territory after the fall of the USSR, we would guarantee that it didn’t face aggression from the UK, the US or, critically, Russia. But when Russian troops marched into Crimea and then eastern Ukraine, we looked away. We did nothing.

Betrayal, in the movies, is crystal clear. But in reality, few of us are Benedict Arnold or Kim Philby or Ephialtes. We tend to betray not in black and white but in a thousand shades of grey. The averted gaze, the shuffle across the street, the decision to ignore what is plain to all.

This is what we have done to Ukraine and to so many allies over the last 20 years. Right now, the Kremlin is suffering, but it will calculate that in a month or two — when the news cycle has moved on — things may be different. Will bank accounts quietly reopen, along with the Moscow branches of Zara and McDonald’s? We need people to buy our overpriced houses, and pay our libel lawyers and fork out for our school fees.

But we cannot allow it to happen again. If not for Ukraine’s sake, then for ours. As Jaresko concludes, “Ukraine’s survival is the world’s only guarantee that this conflict does not expand into Europe and the wider world. The actions we take now will be worth any short-term cost. Global peace and freedom are at stake.”


David Patrikarakos is UnHerd‘s foreign correspondent. His latest book is War in 140 characters: how social media is reshaping conflict in the 21st century. (Hachette)

dpatrikarakos

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Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago

“We need to exclude all Russian banks from the SWIFT system”

This may be great advice for Ukraine, but it’s terrible advice for the USA. The last 2 months have seen the seizure of the dollar denominated assets of 2 central banks: Afghanistan and Russia. This is truly unprecedented. Nations left their money in dollars because (unlike everywhere else in the world) the USA didn’t seize assets. We have shattered that illusion. Let’s not compound it by politicizing SWIFT.

Saudi Arabia (responsible for 5 years of hell in Yemen) is connected to SWIFT. Turkey is too despite stealing several provinces from Azerbajan 18 months ago. Disconnect Russia from SWIFT completely and China will be laughing all the way to the bank (pun intended.) 

“In the medium term, he says, the West needs to do everything it can to halt its reliance on Russian gas and oil.”

Duh. This was good policy 2 weeks ago, and 2 years ago, and still is. But no one did it. And it can’t be done in time to help Ukraine.

“The US will have to up its output as well as Norway”

The US is run by people who hate petro-chemicals. To American elites, rising gas prices are an opportunity not a problem to be solved.

“It is important that western leaders show that they will not backtrack”

Because this strategy has worked so well in Iran and North Korea, where we’ve been trying it for decades. In fact, is there any place where the “maximum economic pressure — we refuse to do any business with you” strategy has actually worked? We traded with the USSR for heaven’s sake.

“It’s true people are always afraid of escalation, about starting World War III, but it has already started”

It may feel like WWIII to someone living in Ukraine, but a war between two neighboring countries in a part of Europe most people couldn’t even find until 3 weeks ago is not WWIII. We are at a point as dangerous as the Cuban Missile Crisis right now; leaders must tread carefully. I credit President Biden in this respect; he has wisely resisted this sort of rhetoric.

“Her words shame the West.”

Shame is a crappy reason for one nuclear power to start a war with another. Find me our existential interest in Ukrainian freedom.

“Global peace and freedom are at stake.”

BS. This is straight propaganda. Global peace and freedom are NOT at stake. Ukrainian peace and freedom are, and Ukrainians are doing a valiant job at defending them. But there are dozens of places in the world at least as violent as Ukraine right now: Yemen, Ethiopia, Mali, Sudan all come to mind. While I despise identity politics, our does press seem far more interested in dead white people than dead brown and black people.

What Russia needs right now is not more pressure; they need an off-ramp. We need to give Putin a way to declare victory and go home. Because the author is right: without a way to declare victory, Putin’s reign is over. He telegraphed yesterday in the peace talks how to do it (no NATO, Donbass and Crimea ceded to Russia). Was anyone listening? While it may be a hard pill to swallow, President Zelensky would be wise to take it.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago

I think everyone was listening; but the majority were also wondering what the signal these concessions would mean, in a situation where each concession seems to lead to a further demand.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago

The concessions only lead to further demands if the West continues to encroach eastward and puts their noses in places they have no business to be. Wherever the US interferes leads to disaster. Doesn’t matter whether it’s in Ukraine with a CIA instigated coup in 2014 with Victoria Nuland proudly at the helm directed it, or the Arab Spring which left Libya in a far more dangerous state, than before and Syria with a still on-going civil war.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

You’ve never explained why sovereign countries shouldn’t be able to join NATO if they wish. Why is it you clearly believe that Russia should be able to dictate the foreign policy of their less powerful neighbours? Would the UK be justified in invading the Republic of Ireland to solve the problems with the Northern Ireland protocol that appeared after Brexit, or should the Americans be able to occupy Mexico to prevent drugs from South America entering it’s southern border?
You constantly complain about the west being in the wrong for allowing the ex Soviet republics for joining despite there being no written agreement preventing this, yet at the same time completely ignore the fact that Russia have broken a written agreement to respect Ukrainian sovereignty and territory in exchange for giving up their nuclear weapons.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Because we don’t want war
. That’s why. Russia needs a non NATO country as a buffer – fact. Take NATO off the table for Ukraine. As things stand, it is likely that Ukraine will cut a deal with Russia. What other options do they have.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago

So we’re back to the days of colonialism, where the smaller countries have no sovereignty? They exist solely to further the causes of their more powerful neighbours?
Most of the civilised world left this thinking behind after the carnage of two world wars, yet many people seem keen to defend Putins might has right way of conducting foreign affairs.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Unpleasant as it is, it is called realism and very clearly the ‘civilised world’ as you pompously out it, has NOT left this thinking behind. As an aside, do you include the US in this ‘civilised’ world? Would you rather see ongoing war in Europe, or would you try and broker a deal?
In the magical world of unicorns which you seem to inhabit, everyone should have their sovereignty – I too would like to see this.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

An aside, do you consider members of the EU as sovereign countries?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago

Of course they’re sovereign countries, as they’re free to leave the EU if they wish. I’m no fan of the EU, and voted to leave it in the Brexit referendum because in my personal opinion it had too much power and control to interfere in domestic politics, but it’s completely different those countries being members of a voluntary union and Russia imposing its will on Ukraine by force

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago

You’re saying that because the world isn’t perfect we should simply accept abhorrent behaviour by despots such as Putin?

Last edited 2 years ago by Billy Bob
Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Welcome to the real world.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
2 years ago
Reply to  Warren T

Rubbish – the ‘real’ world is actually the one that we create. You seem happy to leave it in a crappy state – did they not call that ‘lack of moral fibre’ in other times of strife ?? yeah I know am getting a bit grumpy.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Does the Republic of Ireland represent a security threat to the UK. Answer: NO. Do NATO forces in Ukraine represent a security threat to Russia: YES especially given the hostility to Russia from the US over the last 6 plus years. You need to have some common sense, a sense of realpolitik, a sense of history as opposed to post-history or post-modernism.
Finally, you also have to have some realism regarding Ukraine. They are in a hopeless position, Ukrainian propaganda notwithstanding. That’s evident by just looking at the maps everyday and seeing the Russian forces slowly but surely advance and encircling both cities and the Ukrainian army.
Now, do I think what Putin did was right. No. But one has to always see both sides of a dispute.
Incidentally, the bioweapons labs funded the US that only a couple of days ago were dismissed as nonsense, conspiracy theories and Russian propaganda, turn out to be real and were fully divulged by Victoria Nuland, the under-secretary of state, under oath in a Senate testimony earlier in the week. Who would have guessed. And clearly one could argue that one way or another the US was up to no good in this regard.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Seeing two sides to a debate doesn’t mean both sides are of equal value. Putin has invaded a neighbour completely unprovoked simply because he doesn’t approve of their choice of friends, that’s it. Stop trying to excuse his paranoia

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

In principle, what would Billy Bob do to prevent invasions of other countries and as an example to end this war? Please do tell.

Kevin Casey
Kevin Casey
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Funding of bio weapons labs in Ukraine
 another Fauci moment?

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
2 years ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

agreed agreed agreed

Jem Barnett
Jem Barnett
2 years ago

Looked at another way: Russia has been pretty clear in their position actually… for 30 years, and then again in December, and then again prior to the invasion.

Now it’s also possible that this was a giant bluff and Putin actually wants to start WW3 in Europe by taking on the whole of NATO, but I haven’t seen anyone provide evidence of that? …at the moment Russia are asking for the things we perfectly well expected them to ask for?

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Jem Barnett

Yes


chris sullivan
chris sullivan
2 years ago
Reply to  Jem Barnett

that makes it ok then ?? – and the Ukraine loses its

sovereignity to determine its own direction. see my comment above . etc etc etc So in your terms then it is fine for a powerful country to take over a weaker just on their lying historical say so – tibet, taiwan, germany – europe, japan-south asia/china/korea etc etc US-mexico etc etc . You have no interest in the world actually becoming a better place it seems… sad

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago

Andrew, I think that’s a fair criticism. Trust is earned, and Russia certainly hasn’t earned any. But the West’s technocratic elite — supposedly the “smartest people in the room” — completely miscalculated here.

We could have engaged Putin over his desire for Ukraine to not join NATO. Instead, we kept pounding the “open door policy” ad-nauseum despite it being obvious that NATO wasn’t going to truly let “any country” join and Ukraine wasn’t in a position to join anyway. Over 3 administrations of both parties, we repeatedly choose the “don’t give an inch” method of diplomacy. As recently as January this was probably salvageable without violence. The bloodshed is Russia’s fault, but that it got to this point at all is a catastrophic failure of the “smartest people in the room”.

Which makes me wonder about many of the rest of their foreign policy prescriptions. If you could miss Russia having an existential interest in keeping Ukraine out of NATO, what else have you missed?

Jem Barnett
Jem Barnett
2 years ago

Completely agree Brian. See my post further down — essentially, if the US/NATO power base want to maintain their status as ‘top dog’ and go roaming around the place performing ‘regime changes’ etc., then the minimum expectation is that in the role of the ‘bully boys’, they are at least ruthlessly competent.

We now have the absurd (and dangerous; destabilising) situation where they seem to want to continue in this role, but are unable to demonstrate any power or competence. It’s astonishing to witness. Very scary. The current superpower, the US, is openly signalling weakness, corruption and an amateurish lack of realpolitik or understanding of hard power.
The very fact that they’re led by a decrepit sock puppet, whose deputy is a cackling hyena who commands no respect domestically, let alone abroad …this is very dangerous for the entire global order. It’s fun to laugh at the incompetence and gaffes here, but once the laughing stops we are talking about people dying in Ukraine, due to weakness, corruption and incompetence being openly telegraphed by the world’s leading power, the USA.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Jem Barnett

Mind-boggling is no longer a descriptive for me. The fact that a semi-corpse and a proven public moron represent the United States on “the world stage” while there are people – in my family! – who refuse to see it, well, in the vernacular, I just can’t.

Jem Barnett
Jem Barnett
2 years ago

Scary, isn’t it?

We’ve lived through a period of peace and prosperity, and deluded ourselves that this is the natural way… because… progress.. or something.

We have lived in a period of unprecedented safety and prosperity because that liberal world order was backed by the (credible) threat of hard power. Now that is gone, and challengers are on the rise. We are in for a rough time, due to the unbelievable weakness of our current leadership classes, which is being telegraphed around the globe, and will be exploited by our enemies. Bad times ahead.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  Jem Barnett

Correct. And too many people think the world began on the day they were born. They completely ignore 5,000+ years of recorded history.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

Amen.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Jem Barnett

I couldn’t have said that better myself.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago
Reply to  Jem Barnett

Jem, I like that. If you’re going to be a bully, at least be a competent bully. 🙂 The cackling hyena line is pretty funny too.

Last edited 2 years ago by Brian Villanueva
Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago

Your analysis is spot on. It’s a tragedy that our credentialed leaders in the West with educations at Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, etc…. simply can’t grasp the obvious. They are clueless and they are dangerous and they are repeating exactly the same mistake that our stupid leaders made in 1914 when they knew exactly what was coming but they just couldn’t get themselves to pull back from the brink.
If all Putin wants is Crimea and the Donbass, Ukraine should take that offer in a heartbeat. Otherwise they are just causing suffering to their own people for absolutely nothing. After all, Crimea already voted overwhelmingly in a Referendum in favor of rejoining Russia and it is clear than the Donbass would do the same.
And listening to armchair generals who couldn’t place Ukraine, Moldova (who knew that was a real country rather than some make-belief one out Disney’s Prince and the Bride!), or any of the baltic states on a map, is very annoying.

Last edited 2 years ago by Johann Strauss
JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

“And listening to armchair generals who couldn’t place Ukraine, Moldova (who knew that was a real country rather than some make-belief one out Disney’s Prince and the Bride!), or any of the baltic states on a map, is very annoying.”
The people who live in those countries know where they are: and they know who is next door. They can guess what might happen next. Western Europe and and the USA are a long way off, but Mr Putin might soon be getting closer.
What would you have done in 1914 incidentally? Let the Kaiser take a few bites out of his neighbours?

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
2 years ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Is russsia bogged down in Ukraine or a major threat to Europe? Can’t be both.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 years ago

I don’t see why not. But I did not mention Russia being “bogged down”.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago

Of course it can. It can be finding Ukraine much harder than anticipated to conquer while having its nuclear weapons pointed at other major European cities

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
2 years ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

The nuclear option was always there. I can’t see why Russia would want to launch a nuclear war to win territory in a nuclear devastated Europe. There was less hysteria about the USSR, a genuine conventional threat to Europe.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

“What would you have done in 1914 incidentally? Let the Kaiser take a few bites out of his neighbours?”

In light of what happened in WWI, frankly, yes.
Were a few provinces in Poland and France really worth 20M dead? Is Kiev worth a nuclear holocaust?
Moral stands feel good, but lead to bad (and sometimes disastrous) foreign policy. We sleepwalked into WWI. Let us not do the same with WWIII.

Last edited 2 years ago by Brian Villanueva
Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

So clearly you must think that WWI was a good move on the part of the UK. But unfortunately it led to the fall of the British Empire and the relegation of the UK to minor status having been the world’s superpower. We should have left well alone in continental disputes that had nothing to do with us and did not impact our security.
As for thinking that Putin might go into other countries that is just completely naive. He has never indicated any interest in doing so. What he has said and the Russian leaders have said before him is that any NATO presence in Ukraine would be considered an existential threat. The US kept pushing, and eventually the bear had had enough. In addition, the relationship between Ukraine and Russian is quite different from that between other eastern European countries and Russia. The Russians regard Ukraine as an integral part of Russia, just as the Chinese regard Taiwan and Honk Kong as integral parts of China. And that’s why at some point, mainland China will go into to Taiwan and it will have the full support of the people in Mainland China.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

In fairness the British did consider the Germany an existential threat to their interests

Andrew F
Andrew F
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Still spreading Russian propaganda.
Why don’t you look at actual results of independence referendum in 1991.
Even Crimea voted 54% for that.
Donbass and Luhansk voted 80% for it.
Russians constitute 17% of Ukraine population.
Many people by ignorance or deliberately confuse Russian language speakers with Russians.
I have Scottish friend who voted for independence and Irish one who wants United Ireland.
They both speak only English.
Following your logic they are both English.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew F

Your analogy is completely false. And I’m not spreading Russian propaganda. And incidentally, it would seem like many people on this forum actually agree with me.
And by the way how many Ukrainian Russians do you know. And it’s not simply a question of Russian speakers. It’s that many don’t even speak Ukrainian at all.
I might also add that neither Northern Ireland nor Scotland are buffer states. But if Scotland were to become independent and then sign a pact with a hostile power with missiles directed towards England, I suspect that the Government in Westminster might react not too differently from Russia.

Dominic A
Dominic A
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

they are repeating exactly the same mistake that our stupid leaders made in 1914

Perhaps they are trying to avoid the mistake our leader made in 1938 – “I have in my hand a piece of paper…..I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep”

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Reducto-ad-Hitler-am leads to terrible policy.

Most leaders aren’t Adolph Hitler. Most regimes aren’t the 3rd Reich.
We traded with Stalin. We trade with the Saudis despite their invading Yemen and being horribly repressive at home. We trade with Turkey even though they forcibly annexed part of Azerbajan last year (literally exactly what Putin is doing in Donbass).
Our reaction has been completely over the top absurd. We’re backing an autocratic leader of a nuclear country into a corner.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Dominic A

The situation in 1938 was entirely different from 1914. In 1914 there were no good and bad sides. They were all equally bad (or equally good, depending on how you look at it). Hitler, however, was absolute evil and was bent on world domination (you know the thousand year Reich, etc…, extermination of all the jews, etc. etc…). That’s a whole different ballgame. And equating Putin to Hitler is both disingenuous and ignorant because there is absolutely no comparison. Is Putin an autocrat and a thug? Yes. Is he pure evil? No.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Dominic A

In fairness to Chamberlin that was not a mistake. He calculated that we were not strong enough to make against Germany. He knew war was coming and wanted to time.
The mistake, if there was one, was that we were slow to prepare. Although given that WW1ended less than 20 yens earlier you can see why there was no appetite for rearmament or for any measure that looked like a move towards war.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

“…Moldova (who knew that was a real country rather than some make-belief one out Disney’s Prince and the Bride!)”
That is hilarious, and so accurate. When my wife was watching that movie I noticed the name and figured it was made up too. On a lark I Googled it on a map and viola — wow, it’s a real place.

Jean Nutley
Jean Nutley
2 years ago

Why shouldn’t Ukraine be a part of NATO if it so wishes?

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago
Reply to  Jean Nutley

The reality of geopolitics means that every country must consider the red-lines of its neighbors. Especially when your neighbor is the 800 lb gorilla of Eastern Europe.
In a perfect world, Ukraine could absolutely join NATO if they (and NATO) so chose.
In a perfect world, my 3 teenage daughters could walk down any urban street at 11 PM in miniskirts if they so chose.
However, we don’t live in that world. So Ukraine must learn how to not attract the unwanted attention of its belligerent neighbor, and I need to teach my daughters how to not attract attention that might get them hurt.
Neither is fair. But as most of us learn early on: reality isn’t always fair.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago

Exactly. What is surprising is how so few people grasp that very simple principle. But believe it or not, there are so many completely naive people who are so devoid of any street smarts or common sense that they feel there is no issue going around in dark streets at night in ultra mini-skirts and expect nothing to happen. Similarly, that’s why if one leaves a bike unattended in central London, even in super tony areas such as the King’s Rd, that bike will be gone within 30 seconds unless it has a locked chain around it. Is that fair? No. But it’s the way things are in the real world.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
2 years ago

Excellent post. The kind of thing we used to see in newspapers. People are arguing at cross purposes here, that Russia is bogged down in the Ukraine and also a huge threat to Europe. It’s a regional war. We should try push him back by helping the Ukrainians but it’s not WWIII. Not even as intense as Syria, or Yemen. Yemen where child starvation is rife because of blockades.

Robert Kaye
Robert Kaye
2 years ago

“Global peace and freedom are NOT at stake. Ukrainian peace and freedom are…”

And Hitler would stop at Czechoslovakia.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago
Reply to  Robert Kaye

Sorry, but I don’t engage with reducto-ad-Hitleram arguments. See above.

John Wilkes
John Wilkes
2 years ago

In the words of Sun Tso, the defeated enemy needs to be given a golden bridge to retreat across (apologies if I have misquoted, I haven’t read this for a while).
At present Putin is to be stripped of power and wealth and imprisoned at the Hague for the rest of his life. If we persist with these terms, why would he ever stop. To him, maybe even nuclear war sounds preferable.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago
Reply to  John Wilkes

Sun Tzu can put into a single sentence what takes me 2 paragraphs.
This is 100% my point. We need to give Putin a way to declare victory, go home, and be relatively confident he won’t end up with polonium in his vodka.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago

And he must be allowed, on the other hand, the freedom to dish out his own special cocktails as and where he pleases, in the name of the Realpolitik so suddenly popular here among fellow commentators. It’s hard to fathom.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago

I didn’t say I liked it Andrew. Just that I thought it was the least bad option.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago

Fair point.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

What would your solution to this be if we take realpolitik off the table?

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
2 years ago

very fair comment

Josie Bowen
Josie Bowen
2 years ago
Reply to  John Wilkes

Yes John. A golden bridge must be built for him.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

Brian, your observations are intelligent, nuanced and very interesting. I suggest that you do a piece for Unherd!
It seems the commentary here is divided into two camps.
The realists who are searching for a solution that will avoid more bloodshed and displacement of people. These people generally criticise both Russia and the West. They criticise the actions of Russia, but understand that humans (and very especially leaders) are imperfect and that there are and always have been constant tensions within countries and between countries. At the heart of this there is a great deal of complexity at play.
Then there are the idealists who are more (or is that ‘mere’) virtue signallers. Russia bad. They don’t really seem to have any solutions beyond some suggestions that might trigger much worse conflict and obviously more bloodshed and upheaval.

Jason Highley
Jason Highley
2 years ago

This is what war looks like. It was foolish and naiive for anyone to think that it would turn out any other way. The problem – apart from the actual armed conflict – is the rhetoric and propaganda on both sides that have given leaders precious few off ramps to save face. Absent that (and given what’s on the line for Russia here) this will likely continue to escalate.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Jason Highley

Saving face is important, especially for a man like Mr. Putin who has made a thing of macho posturing, and, like you, I can’t see a way for him to do that as he is “in blood /Stepped in so far, that, should [he] wade no more,/Returning were as tedious as go o’er”

Last edited 2 years ago by Linda Hutchinson
Jean Nutley
Jean Nutley
2 years ago

And that surely is the danger? Putin cannot easily save face, so he becomes a man with nothing to lose, which makes him and his actions unpredictable. As for punishing Putin, easier said than done. As members of the U.N, Russia can veto any proposal made by that institution.
Once again, I thank Heavens I am not a politician.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
2 years ago

what about the responsibilities of other ‘senior’ russians here ?? they know all this and should have removed him asap- what a bunch of either nasty or cowardly so-called leaders !!

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
2 years ago
Reply to  Jason Highley

It’s hard to allow someone to save face after he’s just bashed in yours.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago

I agree. In a perfect world I would rather see Mr Putin out of Ukraine and power, but it would be better for Ukrainians to avoid having their faces bashed in even more. If it were possible to find a negotiated way out, it would be a better way forward, I just don’t see how this can be done; all I can hope and pray for is that Mr Putin is removed from power somehow before he causes even more mayhem.

Jean Nutley
Jean Nutley
2 years ago

Better Red than dead, do you mean? I think Ukrainians might beg to differ.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Jean Nutley

Nope, I didn’t say or imply that – I said “a negotiated way out”, this implies that it is satisfactory to both sides, and I am pretty sure that being under Mr Putin’s thumb would not be acceptable to the Ukrainians.

Jim R
Jim R
2 years ago

Unless you are Ukrainian, I suspect your face is just fine. For now. As the escalations mount – you can reasonably expect the bashing to get closer to your face.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim R

I’m in agreement. I think you you may have misunderstood my post.

Jim R
Jim R
2 years ago

A misunderstanding on social media – what a rarity! 🙂

Jason Highley
Jason Highley
2 years ago

But, I mean, hey, nothing says de-escalate like making them PAY, right?

Kiran Kumari
Kiran Kumari
2 years ago
Reply to  Jason Highley

@jason – true that #irony

Janko M
Janko M
2 years ago
Reply to  Jason Highley

This. What has truly stunned me is the speed with which those who thought themselves as peace-loving and pacifist have been calling for all-out war with Russia, with a sort of zeal that I find terrifying. It really makes one think of 1914, and the public collective madness. I think the existing sanctions are severe and unprecedented, Russia’s economy will struggle to survive, but to eagerly and zealously chant for more pain is what gives me concern – particularly this call for peace by killing those who have disturbed our comfort.

Last edited 2 years ago by Janko M
Kevin Dee
Kevin Dee
2 years ago
Reply to  Janko M

There were people on twitter clamoring for drone strikes on a Russian convoy the other day. It can’t possibly get more detached from the reality of war and human suffering then that. History definitely repeats and it seems we have to learn the hard way, 1914 seems apt.

Rob Mcneill-wilson
Rob Mcneill-wilson
2 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Dee

Perhaps the tweeters had seen the films of women and children and hospitals being shelled and bombed by the owners of that convoy.

Kevin Dee
Kevin Dee
2 years ago

I understand why they feel that way but a US drone strike means WW3 and possible nuclear conflict. Seeing war through a screen and calling for a drone strike on twitter is very detached from the reality of WW3 where your whole city could get wiped out. The “madness” of 1914 Janko alludes to is that nobody saw a 4 year war that would kill millions of people coming. If they had known the consequences I’m sure both sides would have deescalated and tried to make a deal.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
2 years ago

I still remember our last prominent drone strike blowing up an aid worker, several children, and a bunch of water bottles. “Don’t worry” we were reassured. It followed our “high intelligence standards” so no one bears any responsibility and no procedures are going to change.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

So true, and so amazing how quickly we forget. But then the victims were afghans and the woke and their coterie of elites who love to virtue signal really don’t care about the Afghanis as they do about white Ukrainians. Sort of amazing really.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Janko M

Interesting that you conflate peace-loving and pacifist; I would call myself peace-loving, but I have never been a pacifist. I would never hurt someone intentionally, I would probably run away if threatened, but if I had no option but to defend myself with violence I would do so, and in the same vein, I understand (reluctantly) that sometimes, on rare occasions, war can be the lesser evil. It’s like defending yourself. None of this means that one is eager or zealous to kill or harm others.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 years ago

Very well put

Jean Nutley
Jean Nutley
2 years ago
Reply to  Jason Highley

Rather reminiscent of the situation after WWI and Germany? The West insisted that Germany pay, and fulsomely, thus, unwittingly perhaps, planting the seeds for WWII.

Jim R
Jim R
2 years ago
Reply to  Jean Nutley

The idea that reparations led to WW2 is a bit simplistic – but of course it is the narrative everyone accepts and repeats. France quite legitimately pointed out in the negotiations at the end of WW1 that the French had suffered substantially more than Germany because the front lines ran through France and the devastation and destruction was all on their soil. And of course, the Germans never paid any of the reparations that were imposed. Their humiliation had a lot more to do with the defeat and the public perception created by Hitler that Germany was betrayed by its rulers when they accepted defeat and should have kept fighting. I find it interesting that France so quickly surrendered in WW2 instead of fighting on – striking a deal with the Germans to retain control of much of their country and their entire navy in the process. They were not prepared to watch their country get bombed into the stone age again. I suppose that’s the choice that Ukranians have. If you measure the decision in terms of the quantum of human suffering, like the French in WW2, you might conclude that surrender is a better option.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim R

Well put.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim R

thanks for the clarifications – important ones!

John Hilton
John Hilton
2 years ago

The West has made three mistakes.

First, it allowed itself to be drawn into a treaty that guaranteed Ukrainian borders, and arguably made a client state on Russia’s borders. It should have been obvious that Russia could not let this stand: perhaps we should not have created so easy of a casus belli.

Second, we ignored the Gerasimov doctrine. We allowed foreign-funded groups to practice environmental terrorism at the most, and jurisprudential maneuvering at the least, to shut down Western pipelines and energy production – and never looked to closely at their funding sources. We allowed foreigners to launder money in Western countries, giving access and influence at every level.

Finally, we gave empty words to Ukraine. We deluded ourselves that “soft power” would do the trick. We let our armies go soft for years. Soft power didn’t deter Putin at all. Soft power is meaningless unless it is backed by blood and iron – and we may be learning that too late for Ukraine.

Last edited 2 years ago by John Hilton
Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  John Hilton

Well said. I would add a fourth mistake and that is the West has continued to treat Russia as an enemy since the end of the Cold War rather than bring Russia into the Western family of nations. And by this I don’t mean regime change but rather stop treating Russia as the bogey man.

Last edited 2 years ago by Johann Strauss
Jem Barnett
Jem Barnett
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

And the colour revolution escapades, maybe we could take a brief coffee break from the relentless global cascade of ‘regime changes’, because when they go wrong it can turn out to be more of a “you break it, you bought it” kind of a situation?

If we could rewind time I would prefer that the US had not meddled in overthrowing other countries’ governments and installing “more amenable” ones, and that includes Ukraine.

Jean Nutley
Jean Nutley
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

But there you have it, it suits America to treat Russia as the bogeyman.

Andrew F
Andrew F
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Because Russia was and is the enemy and it was never Western politically and culturally.
So it could not be brought into Western family of nations.
You have this weird idea that Russia should be part of the West regardless of its actions.
Sensible approach is to wait for Russia to modernize and civilize before being admitted.
Personally, I don’t see it happening any time soon.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew F

Russia was never western culturally. Interesting given that the greatest contributors to the western literary cannon after Shakespeare just happen to be Russian (Tolstoy and Dostoevsky); never mind that classical ballet is predominantly Russian; never mind that some of the greatest composers of the western musical cannon just happen to be Russian. So what exactly are you talking about culturally?
And as for Russian being the enemy politically, exactly what planet are you living on. The USSR was our enemy but Russia is NOT the USSR. And further Russians are Europeans.
Incidentally, going back to culture, you might have forgotten that the originators of communism were German (Marx and Engels), and Marx wrote Das Kapital in the library of the British Museum.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

The question which is not answered is how much power has the Cheka/KGB/FSB over Russia? Communism may have have collapsed but the Cheka and Communist Party Officials did vanish.
Have we failed to realise that anti-Western FSB and Communist Party Officials still run Russia as demonstrated by Putin as president for life?

Nell Clover
Nell Clover
2 years ago

“In 2001 and 2003, we promised to liberate Iraqis and Afghans from tyranny and instead eventually abandoned them to it”.

From the off, in both conflicts there was no majority popular support in those countries for our “liberation”. We were widely viewed as imperialists or crusaders. If they offer any analogy, they were Ukraine and we were Russia.

It’s also untrue that we abandoned them to tyranny. Our occupations were almost uninterrupted periods of civil war of such intensity that the rates of civilian deaths due to violence were *higher* than the tyrannies we replaced. The much vaunted elections were shams; the power of newly elected governments constrained by our political impositions. Measured in civilian deaths, displaced persons, ethnic conflict, and the rule of law, our interventions were just another tyranny.

The unlearned lesson from Iraq and Afghanistan (and Libya, Vietnam, etc) is that doing *something* can often be worse than doing nothing. I see no evaluation in the author’s writing that shows any effort to analyse the unintended consequences and quantify the negative effects of the action called for. “What could go wrong with my plan?” is a question not asked once by the writer. That’s why our engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan descended into chaos and if we were to listen to the author the same result will follow in both Ukraine and Russia.

Last edited 2 years ago by Nell Clover
Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

The unlearned lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan are very telling. I recall just prior to the 2003 invasion having a long discussion with a distinguished British diplomat/ambassador who had served a number of tours in the Middle East. At the time I was all gung-ho about going into Iraq, overthrowing Saddam Hussein and installing democracy. I figured that surely everybody would welcome democracy and once countries are democratic they would be peace loving. The diplomat pointed out to me that I was clueless about Arab culture and this was simply not going to happen, and that any invasion/occupation of Iraq would end up in disaster. I didn’t believe him at the time but of course he was absolutely correct. Unfortunately, so many of our leaders and elites are making exactly the same mistakes as they made in 1914 and in Iraq/Afghanistan.

Last edited 2 years ago by Johann Strauss
Jem Barnett
Jem Barnett
2 years ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

By the 1980s the CIA had brought about ‘regime change’ in so many countries that the agency was deeply mistrusted and a portion of it’s activities were sanitised by rebranding under the agency NED (National Endowment for Democracy). They didn’t learn any lessons about the cascade of consequences that can arise when you destabilise foreign countries with complex histories and cultures you don’t fully grasp, they just rebranded and carried on with the colour revolutions, including in Ukraine. The arrogance of the US security state apparatus is truly astounding, but what I find more horrifying is that they don’t even project any competence.

Take the example of the bio weapons lab issue that has unfurled this week… Following the overthrow of the Ukrainian govt, and the installation of a ‘friendly’ one in 2014, the US has used Ukraine for money laundering and carrying out illegal bio research/development. These accusations are both well supported by evidence. So, the bio labs issue comes up and the first move by the State Department is to deny any such labs even exist, and make the claim that this is Russian disinformation.
Meanwhile they’re furiously deleting evidence and mentions of the labs and the funding from various websites including the DoD, embassy and DTRA. That alone is so amateurish — do they not understand that the links and content is cached?? ….then, when that lie becomes untenable they pivot to a statement that the US does not “own” any bio labs in Ukraine. Ah, right, so now there are labs, but we don’t own them? …gotcha. Wink wink.
Then Victoria Nuland makes the astonishing (and awkward, squirmy) admission that there are a number of bio labs which we are actually very concerned about because the Russians could target them. Wait, what? …in the space of a week they’ve gone from “THERE ARE NO LABS, FAKE NEWS!” …to “erm, ok maybe we have a few labs, but it’s not like we own them” … to “yeah we might have a really big problem with our bio labs actually, because the Russians know about them. Oopsie!”.

I mean, really. C’mon. How is behaviour this amateurish even possible? — how could they not have a decent lie ready?; how could they fail to secure the labs when there was an armed conflict imminent??
If you want to run the world, and go around replacing other people’s governments etc, then at least a minimum standard of competence should surely be required. They seem to want to run the world, but are running it like Fawlty Towers. I despair!

Last edited 2 years ago by Jem Barnett
Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Jem Barnett

Brilliant – Faulty Towers indeed.

Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
2 years ago

“The actions we take now will be worth any short-term cost. Global peace and freedom are at stake.”

Global peace and freedom are at stake but the greater threat to these seems to be coming from those calling for further escalation. Instead of de-escalating the war, the west seems to be intent on ensuring it leads to a total rupture of east-west relations, with daily accusations of a myriad of war crimes, some credible but many not, apocalyptic predictions and endless jingoistic propaganda. Putin’s Russia is a threat, and the stuffing cause by the war is appalling, but it is not by any stretch of the imagination, Hitler’s German; in either military potential or genocidal intent and by pretending it is, we are wrecking any chance for peace.

The scale of economic sanctions being employed will hurt Russia but my not defeat it and if this the case, it will only accelerate formation of an Eurasian economic system to rival that of the west. And having seen the fury of the western financial sanctions and wishing to avoid the same fate in the future, one which many nations in the developing world will now look to, incase they should run foul of the western interests.

Even worse, the card the west has played is potentially one it can only play once and once only. Rather than saving such an economic onslaught for a potential major challenge to the world order from China, it has used it to hit a lesser opponent, over a smaller geo-strategic threat. It will now be unlikely to be able to do the same again if world security really is threatened.

The Eurasian powers will be more, not less dangerous if they are disengaged from western economic systems at the moment of weakness we are currently in. For all the damage globalisation has done, cries now for western autarky throw the baby out of the bath water, simultaneously harming fragile western economies whilst consolidating a powerful anti-western coalition against it, all for a battle, which will in all likely hood, still, sadly be lost.

By the time the tanks were on the border it was already far too late. The time to take effective action had long since passed us by. Now the moral imperative to “do something”, no matter the cost, may only be taking us further from global security with each passing day.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Again a spot on analysis. It’s sad that our leaders simply haven’t learnt over the last 2 years of COVID that the desire to be seen to do something is often highly counterproductive. The same goes for our current reaction to the Russian invasion into Ukraine. Something that could have been entirely avoided had we taken into account the Russian perspective regarding their perception of their own security.

Jem Barnett
Jem Barnett
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

This article heavily relies on the opinion of Natalie Jaresko. Arguably, it’s our meddling in Ukraine’s government, and stuffing it full of US puppet persons such as Jaresko, that has contributed to the horrific situation we are in. Perhaps less opinion and ‘directing’ of matters from the CIA and it’s mouthpieces would be better at this time.

Frankly I think talks and a compromise deal between Ukraine and Russia should be the priority, and they should not be hosted or interfered with by the US or the NATO grouping. It’s Russia and Ukraine that need to come to an agreement; western ‘direction’ of Ukrainian policy and affairs has only made things worse. If they again participate and try to make themselves party to the matter the Russians will take it as confirmation that the US intends to keep operating Ukraine as a client state on it’s border, so the matter will not be settled.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Jem Barnett

Much violence by young men including murder is because they considered someone had ” Dissed ” them; are we to agree with their actions? Recently a 53 years old man was stabbed to death in Birmingham because he bumped into some youths. Putin is behaving as a teenage thug who commits murder because someone ” Dissed” him.

Jem Barnett
Jem Barnett
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Hi Charles, thanks for your comment.

If I understand your point correctly, you are implying that Putin is a bully with imagined problems (not real ones), and that I may potentially support those actions…?

Let me clarify if so:

  1. I think Putin is a bully
  2. I don’t think all Russia’s concerns are imagined
  3. I condemn the invasion of sovereign nations, and all the horror that has ensued. I condemn it when Putin does it, I condemned it when the West did it, and I condemn regimes like the Chinese when they use strength to victimise other groups. That’s a fixed principle; abusing your power against others is wrong, always.

In the real world more than one thing is usually true at the same time. I believe it can be (and is) simultaneously true that Putin’s actions are monstrous and have created enormous suffering and death. Also that the reasons we have arrived here are well documented, and we did not take steps to avoid them. Also that even now, whilst people die, power bases jostle for advantage as the landscape of vested interests reshapes.

If anything, the only fixed lesson from all these conflicts is this: the true victims are the ordinary people, who always suffer while various powers play Game of Thrones. I would like to be in a position to be robustly and righteously condemning this total disgrace of a situation. It deeply upsets me that my own country hasn’t lived up to it’s professed principles to the degree that such condemnation would have any credibility at this point. What a mess.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Jem Barnett

Cardinal Wolsey developed the policy of always supporting the underdog in Europe, that way no country could threaten England. What appeared to be naivety was actually sagacity. Those leaders who followed the Cardinals advice served Britain well. The question which needs to be asked is why Britain is no longer producing the leaders of the quality of Elizabeth 1, William Cecil, Francis Walsingham, Pitt the Younger, Churchill, etc .
Wolsey’s policy is the opposite of power worship which has given rise to Communism, Nazism and Islamic Terrorism. Putin is a Chekist( as was his Father and Grandfather ) and it is the mass murder undertaken by the Cheka which won the Russian Revolution for The Bolsheviks. Putin and the “Siloviki” are in power in Russia: the he question is whether the Russian people can remove them.
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, as shown by Putin.
This is why we should support Ukraine against Russia.

Jem Barnett
Jem Barnett
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

You’re certainly correct in your observation that we have a crisis of leadership, which has led a cascade of economic, social and geopolitical problems. There’s almost nobody of principle and fortitude left anywhere near the political sphere.

There are myriad reasons for this no doubt, but one of those is surely the centralisation and consolidation of power. The creation and strengthening of supra-national organisations, and the enormous expansion of the ‘permanent state’ (all the people and departments that taxes pay for, but are impenetrable to the feedback mechanism of voter ire).

Since human beings are flawed, and as you noted we are very much partial to corruption when given unchecked power, I think maybe the problem to attack is the one of centralisation of power (and of ‘hidden’ power), if we want improved governance, and principled leadership to return?
What do you think?

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Jem Barnett

I agree with about centralisations but it is the type of people and their qualities.
The creation of a self serving effete ineffectual bureaucratic oligarchy based upon high taxes is part of the problem. A country run by feudal nobility trained to fight and die for their country are neither effete nor ineffectual. Britain could be said to have largely been run by landowners who trained to fight and die for their country and Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt, The Armada, Cromwell, Marlborough , Nelson, Wellington, Palmerston, Churchill show they were competent. What made Britain different was the landowners allowed taken to flourish. During the Middle ages men born into the yeoman class who became archers died Knights Banneret( Sir Thomas Knollys) equivalent a general.
Historians which have pointed this out are Arnold Toynbee – A Study of History, Charles Northcote Parkinson -East West, and Sir John Glubb Rise and Fall of Empires.
Where we are lacking

  1. A physically tough upper middle class with a knowledge of the Classics and The Bible combined with a knowledge of trade and technology. The rise and fall of the Greek Cities and Rome and in particular the nature of humans, are no longer taught. If one says to people Nemesis follows Hubris, few understand.
  2. Experience of command in the teens and early twenties. The standard of education has declined and and time spent in university has increased. Toynbee gained a double first in Greats after four years and this was the end of his formal education.
  3. Northcote Parkinson has pointed out that a massive increase in taxation to pay for a bureaucracy led to the collapse of the Roman, Mughal and Chinese Empires.
  4. John Glubb – Glubb Pasha also points out the unwillingness of the middle and upper classes to die defending the country but instead pay foreigners leads to decline.
  5. Ibn Khaldun in 1400 AD comparing to town Arabs to Beduin say those defended by walls and garrisons lose their manliness and uprightness. Toynbee, Parkinson and Glubb all quote Ibn Khaldun.
  6. The failure of the upper middle classes to understand that toughness, technology and trade are needed to create and sustain a civilisation.
Jem Barnett
Jem Barnett
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Interesting points Charles, thanks for taking the time to reply so thoughtfully.
Have a lovely weekend, J.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 years ago

The author exclaims repeatedly that “we” allowed this to happen, that “we” avert our gaze, that “we” must never look away again. But “we” didn’t do dirty back room deals with foreign governments, nor did “we” get unimaginably rich by installing our degenerate drug-addicted children on shady energy boards, nor do “we” personally profit from war, and “we” certainly have no say in which of the world’s horrors our country involves itself while giving others a good leaving alone. That “we” is actually “They”, and we know who They are.

Last edited 2 years ago by Allison Barrows
Andrzej Wasniewski
Andrzej Wasniewski
2 years ago

The West it means who?
Consider the events in the last few days:
What Europe needs is to replace the fossil fuel supply from Russia, help in resettling Ukrainian refugees, and Patriot missiles.
What it gets are two pathetic morons sent to Poland, Harris and Trudeau, who are busy destroying their own countries economy, freedom and independence.
Given a chance they destroy Europe.
During their visit in Poland both delivered idiotic, meaningless virtue signaling sermons.
Polish media consider the Trudeau and Harris visit to be an insult to serious people involved in a serious situation.

Kevin Dee
Kevin Dee
2 years ago

I’m a little bit skeptical of these articles when there is no mention of the 2014 western sponsored regime change in Ukraine. Have I read some Russian sponsored misinformation or do we just think that wasn’t a significant moment?

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Dee

You have.
The “change” occurred when Russia’s stooge Yanukovich ordered a bloodbath at Maidan, and fled the country when he lost all support and feared for his life.
The only way to avoid that would have been to send in US and NATO troops to prop him up–rather unlikely.

Jem Barnett
Jem Barnett
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

Martin, have you watched the Oliver Stone documentary ‘Ukraine on Fire’ (from 2016)? …it covers some of the players in the 2014 situation.

Assuming that the truth may lie somewhere between the two extremes, I wonder if it might be most honest to state it in terms of:
Ukraine had a corrupt, inept pro-Kremlin puppet government, which we overthrew in order to install a corrupt, inept pro-Western puppet government…

A lot of the same players (oligarchs) are still in the picture and just change which side they’re funding based on preferential interests. So we hardly liberated the country from corruption, it’s more that we installed our preferred corrupt guys?

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago

This writer tries to shame the west when we’ve done about as much as we can short of provoking WW3.
No. It’s time for Zelensky to save lives by surrendering, before Ukraine is turned into a vast Aleppo. He did his best, and Putin will be made to suffer economically for decades.
But I have a question
.if we hadn’t had the Covid pandemic which upended our economies, made us change behaviours, and got us used to government intervention globally on the scale of trillions
.
Would we in the comfortable west have been prepared to make the cost of living sacrifices and provide the military support risking escalation for Ukraine?
I don’t think we would, and our response would have been rather more selfish, probably watching Putin like we watched Hungary’s revolution back in 56.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ian Stewart
Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Somehow I can’t see us giving a “like” to Aleppo.
We’ve got a quarter of a trillion in Russian reserves to rebuild Ukraine.
Use them.

Jim R
Jim R
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

You also have to wonder at our ability to calculate risk. The risk of a virus with an infection fatality rate of 0.2% (and falling fast) versus the risk of WW3 – an extinction level event for all humanity – which I would venture is considerably higher than 0.2% – maybe by a factor of 100 or more. Why does the former send us all whimpering under our beds and the latter turn everyone into Churchill?

Jim R
Jim R
2 years ago

This author suffers from the belief (now officially the religion of the west) that effort is all that matters. Having a thought-out plan where our actions are calculated to bring about realistic achievable objectives is not even discussed. All our actions are merely performative – demonstrations of our disapproval that we hope, like a child having a temper tantrum, will result in us getting our way. Because like children, we really don’t understand the world around us or what the effects of our actions will be – we only know what we want.

Adam Bacon
Adam Bacon
2 years ago

“Promised to liberate Iraqis and Afghans” or did we actually just make an unprovoked attack on a sovereign state, and flagrantly break international law?
You can argue that the circumstances are different, but that’s a matter of interpretation. Crazed dictator he may be, but Putin can argue that he is liberating Ukraine from tyrants, and he does.
Unfortunately, the West doesn’t really have the moral high ground, due our own previous incursions.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Bacon

Liberating Afghanistan was never the original point of the invasion, it was to get Bin Laden who was being shielded by the Taliban after the attack on the twin towers that killed thousands of American civilians. Unfortunately it did morph into a long occupation with no clear aim or strategy and ultimately a humiliating withdrawal.
Iraq was just wrong, even if Saddam was a tyrant

Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
2 years ago

Whatever happens, the results were not improved by having a brain-dead president in the White House, who crippled American energy production (while pleading for Russia, Saudi Arabia, and now negotiating with Venezuela for more oil) stopped the Trump sanctions on Nordstream II, stopped and slow-walked Trump’s military aid to Ukraine, butchered the withdrawal from Afghanistan and spent 14 months ranting about trans-rights and labeled American’s who wouldn’t by his Federal takeover of State voting rights as Southern Racists from 1950s.

No wonder Putin thought he had nothing to fear from the US and NATO

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
2 years ago

I keep reading from several ‘expert’ commentators that Putin expected his tanks would be welcomed with open arms or even garlands in one article. It seems unlikely to me. Is it true?

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve Elliott

Read his long rambling article a few months ago about Ukraine. He did think that, it’s pretty clear.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve Elliott

The Eastern half of Ukraine has (had?) a high proportion of ethnic Russians who have close links of culture and family with Russia. He would have expected them to be cheering in the streets like the Germans in the Sudetenland.
But the violence of his actions have appalled them – Hitler walked into Sudetenland without a shot fired – so there is no cheering for that.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

Football, the soccer World Cup that is, might have saved the day. Russia was awarded the 2018 finals and Qatar the 2022 finals. If my memory serves me well, the announcement of these two venues by FIFA to stage these finals took place at the same gathering prior to 2018. Now if only they had swapped the years 
. if Russia were staging the World Cup this year, I doubt Ukraine would have got the Kremlin so worked up.

Kerie Receveur
Kerie Receveur
2 years ago

Oikball isn’t an obsession with everyone, you know.

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago

Oh dear! The Russian army is stalled, and has lost hundreds of tanks and aircraft, and thousands of troops. NO major city has been captured.
And what I hear below is:
“Time for Zelensky to surrender!”
One always rewards a thief when he bungles a robbery.
Sorry, many Putin fanboys (and fangirls) are going to see Putin fail–and likely destroy Russia in the process.

Ian Burns
Ian Burns
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

He has already won in the East, where the real battle has been from the start, the ‘cauldron-ing’ has been immensely effective.
He never expected open arms welcoming him.
He knows exactly what he is doing militarily..
I am no fan Putin, what has been done is tragedy but the shopping list of jingoistic talking points and Churchillian interpretations of Ukrainian bravery filling the mainstream narrative isn’t helping them or us or Russia.
What is going Ukraine is ridiculous as it is sad.
Russia is prepared to loose it all for Ukraine.
For them it is existential. And though the cost be impracticably high, Putin and Russia are willing to pay it.
Sad fact is, by the time all this is done, Russia and West will be divorced from each others worlds, the new iron curtain is here. And we will be the poorer for it.
But it is not the end of Russia, they will adapt to internal payment systems, Chinese markets. Pakistani contract. Mexican standoffs.
America will adapt too. But Europe, is finished after this.

Neven Curlin
Neven Curlin
2 years ago

The West is entirely to blame for this situation, and you want to dig even deeper? Are you really willing to sacrifice the entire Ukrainian people (including the Russian minority), to uphold your Hollywood fairytales?

You need to stop with your pathetic, war-mongering propaganda! You’re not a journalist, you’re an activist! You’re a child, with a childish vision of the world! Stop pushing for more war, you’ve done enough!

Last edited 2 years ago by Neven Curlin
Dominic A
Dominic A
2 years ago
Reply to  Neven Curlin

Are you talking to the man in the mirror?

Nicholas Rowe
Nicholas Rowe
2 years ago

Russia could indeed be brought to as ruinous a state as Syria or Libya, while keeping all the buildings standing.
The popular outrage will, as in in the Great War, never be satisfied but with the harshest punishment.
Does Mr Blair have an opinion. Or has he joined the Trappist order?

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago

Russians supported Putin because he delivered a better quality of life. It is possible Russians will turn against Putin if he produces a worse quality of life. If the Russian military continues to be humiliated by Ukraine and the economy declines, hopefully sufficient numbers of the military, FSB, Oligarchs and middle classes will remove Putin from power. The West needs to use military, economic and political measures which help those prepared to remove Putin from power. The carrot is the removal of economic sanctions.
The biggest threat to Russia economically would be full scale development of Shale oil and gas and bringing the price of a barrel of crude down to Russian production cost which is about $18/barrel. Most Gulf CC countries have oil production costs must lower than$18/ barrel.
We do not know what the Russian speaking people in Ukraine want. The Russian speaking people in the Ukraine do not appear to have welcomed the Russians which is part of Putin’s miscalculations .I expect that many Russian people have been intimidated into supporting Putin. Therefore giving the Russian speaking parts of the Ukraine to Putin is rewarding his use of violence.

William MacDougall
William MacDougall
2 years ago

Sanctions failed to improve matters with Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, and Syria, and with Iran under Trump. They almost never work, especially with large countries. And they’ve failed to work with Russia. Why do you think yet more sanctions would succeed?

Jem Barnett
Jem Barnett
2 years ago

That’s a good point, and one that’s not well understood. There’s some evidence that sanctions work as a deterrent; there’s really no evidence they work as punishment… in fact there’s decent evidence that they can consolidate support internally, because prolonged sanctions have lost the power to prevent bad behaviour, but then at some point they become mainly, in real world terms, a method of punishing the average citizen for something they have no control over.

Sanctions used in this manner don’t chiefly punish the regime you’re targeting, they punish and impoverish normal people. The result can be to cultivate a deep sense of injustice, and of being persecuted, that galvanises support around existing power structures (the state, or the leaders, even if the people weren’t happy with them prior to sanctions). I don’t know what the answer is FYI, but sanctions are a very imperfect instrument, and used in this context they may even be counterproductive :/

Last edited 2 years ago by Jem Barnett
Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
2 years ago

“Imagine women ran the world,” a comedian instructed.
Some number of women in the audience cheered, “Woo-hoo!”
Our country is not talking to your country!”
Everyone laughed… Almost everyone.
How about this?: Get the “West” to press the parties to cut a deal.
We already know what a deal would look like. Russia has already posed a settlement offer. It was both predicted and predictable: Allow the two oblasti on the Don to secede; recognize the Crimea as Russia; commit to not joining NATO–remain neutral. We might then press the Russians for Russia to commit to leaving Ukraine alone going forward. One can imagine that such a commitment would be credible.
Credible Commitments End Wars.

Ian Moore
Ian Moore
2 years ago

Open question to all those proposing to just accept what Putin/Russia is doing now; do you genuinely think this stops at Ukraine? At some point the “West” has to find a way to deal with him/it and kicking the cam down the road is not the way.

Based on the actions of Putin/Russia in several other eastern bloc countries already, plus the things he has committed in writing regarding his beliefs on the old Soviet Union, I’d suggest hoping he stops with Ukraine is wishful thinking at best.

Appeasement never has, nor never will work. Whether we deal with this financially, socially, militarily or some other way is up for debate, but deal with it we must.

Zorro Tomorrow
Zorro Tomorrow
2 years ago

.

Last edited 2 years ago by Zorro Tomorrow
Zorro Tomorrow
Zorro Tomorrow
2 years ago

I’ve always thought we’d be better off cooperating with the new Russia but our own propaganda, reds under the bed, 007, Stalin, John le CarrĂ©, Len Deighton, is hard to forget and now highlighted in Ukraine.
Saving face? He’s gone too far, Sun Tzu’s Golden Bridge is burned. We’re near the bitter end already, Putin thinks ‘what do I have to lose?’. Hopefully he will decide on the Red Button and, seeing this, his upper echelon will bring him down.
A lot of people like to opine on what went wrong in the past here. Rarely a solution offered. “No Fly’ Zone? NATO to move in and keep going until Donetsk and Crimea are back in neutral hands? It’s sounding like Kuwait and post 9/11 already.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Zorro Tomorrow

How new was Russia ? Or did Putin and the “Siloviki” remain in power and keep their anti-western views ?

Kiat Huang
Kiat Huang
2 years ago

Which countries will step in to help Ukraine, as Belorussia and Chenya have done for Russia? This is the political Achilles heel of the Russian Invasion. Putin can not prevent nations accepting Ukraine’s invitation to help on the ground. He can threaten, but he can’t stop it. Especially if that military involvement is solely to maintain humanitarian corridors, as the UN should have done from Day 1.

The message should be made clearly and directly to Russia: if your forces attack the forces of countries A, B, C who are taking care of the civilians in Ukraine then you are committing an act of war against those countries.

Kiat Huang
Kiat Huang
2 years ago

Graham, a friend of mine, today suggested all the confiscated assets and dirty money be allocated for reparations to the Ukrainian people to rebuild their ravaged country.

It is an inconvenience for Putin and his Oligarchs to have their assets frozen to be returned later, but it is an entirely different matter to have them confiscated for good.

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
2 years ago

Doing a deal with Putin won’t work because he cannot be trusted.
Unfortunately, this means that we will have to destroy the man himself, while attempting not to precipitate the simultaneous destruction of Russia, and the rest of the world.
It is a nightmare situation, but on which Western politicians are going to have to face.

Jonathan Seymour
Jonathan Seymour
2 years ago

This article promotes an escalation of the war in Ukraine, risks WW3 breaking out and the decline of the Dollar as the world’s reserve currency (and you won’t like what replaces it!). The West whose finger prints are all over the root causes of this conflict needs to start to de-escalate the conflict. Promote, encourage and facilitate the negotiations, not fast-track EU membership that pours gasoline on the conflict.
This conflict is most likely to end in a negotiated peace deal. It can be in a matter of weeks or in a year. Why increase the death and destruction ten-fold to reach the same end point?

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

It has been said, “The first casualty of war is truth.” This article certainly proves that!

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago

We are helping – yes, by encouraging the Ukrainians to believe they can win. The result is death and destruction of their country.