17 Mar 2014

Why we still need Vladimir Putin on our side

So Crimea has voted. And the west whines. It was messy, ugly, but it is also undeniably true that the majority will of the people in Crimea has prevailed.


Of course the west has to drone on about the “illegality” of the referendum. The Americans say they will never recognise it. And the day after the result, the west decides what sanctions to impose. Or doesn’t. Or can’t. Or won’t. Or something.

Frankly – none of this really matters all that much and I strongly suspect that deep down in Berlin, London and Washington even as well, they know it.

Those in the UK who are concerned about events in the peninsular should perhaps consider the wider horizons of all this which are what the great game really should be about.

Russia President Vladimir Putin gets Crimea and walks even taller at home where he is already a very popular figure. A thug? Yes, A semi-dictator? Certainly.

Read more: inside the mind of Vladimir Putin

But he is a contented man right now and most importantly of all the pressure is therefore off him. Particularly the pressure to do more.

To do more in eastern Ukraine. That is to say Ukraine proper, not something donated to that country by Soviet fiat: the Crimean peninsula.

And that really matters. Do we really want President Putin under serious pressure to act in the east of Ukraine-proper where it would be far more serious, and far more difficult for the west to stop at a few footling sanctions? Is that what we really want?

As it is, Mr Putin is content. Chilled even. And the pressure to bring military force or intimidatory incursions and all the rest of it into the streets of the eastern Ukraine is surely reduced and for that we must all be grateful.

This may look like appeasement, but in the post Bush/Blair world the public appetite for anything more is a rock solid zero.

Stuck in their boxes and inflexible positions, few think tanks, politicians or diplomats in the west can give voice to this obvious truth. But it is the best deal in town for all of us.

The horizons are wider still however. What kind of a President Putin does the west really want to deal with over the running sore that is Syria? A military stalemate means diplomacy is the only discernible solution to the awful, attritional mess.

Read more: time to see the world through Russian eyes?

Russia remains pivotal and that will not change. So is the search for a political solution aided by having a more relaxed and confident Mr Putin in Moscow or a man enraged and caged in by the west as some here seen keen to achieve whilst having no clue as to how they might do it.

It’s a nice question in Syria as it is in Ukraine but having a relaxed and confident leader at the helm of a Russia which has not been so diplomatically resurgent since the colder periods of the cold war, might not be that bad a thing.

What better thing for Russia, for us, but most of all for the Syrians, than to have a Russia ready, willing and capable of exercising the leadership and credibility it obviously has in Syria to bring the bloodshed to some kind of end? What triumph could be in play there for Moscow?

Truly, rather bigger things in play than whining pointlessly about how rapid and shoddy a ballot it was this weekend in Crimea.

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10 reader comments

  1. geoff says:

    But the vote was ONLY to agree that you think Crimea should re-incorporate into Russia, there was no option to vote to remain within the Ukraine – so of course, all those who really wanted to vote said ‘Yes’.

  2. Matthew Forbes says:

    If the West wasn’t so scared to induce another recession, they would impose financial sanctions on Russians using the banking systems to store their billions. These businessmen would then apply pressure on Mr Putin to stop the reformation of the Soviet Union (there is nothing else that this really is) and more probable to switch financial support to an opposition of Mr Putin.

    1. SR says:

      See it from the Russians point of view. There western borders being encroached upon by NATO that has been openly aggressive towards Russia (some Cold War dinosaurs are still with us).

      We saw what happened when Russia tried to put missiles in Cuba in the early 1960’s. If the US/NATO thinks it can do the same to Russia by placing missiles in areas such as Poland, and potentially Ukraine, then how does one expect Russia to re-act?

      Diplomacy works when one is able to see both sides of an argument.

    2. Mark says:

      I am not a supporter of Mr. Putin, however when I read ”apply pressure on Mr Putin to stop the reformation of the Soviet Union”, this is a clear indicator to me that you know little about the history of the Crimean region, as well as about where certain Russians hide their stolen billions (ie. not in western europe- the only ones who invested in western europe are exactly the ones who cannot be pressured- imagine taking chelsea away from abramovich or monaco away from rybolovyev- everything is legal by western standards). And Crimea was a gift from Soviet leader Khrushev to ukraine (then part of Soviet Union) in the 50’s. Its just that now is the time when Russia is quite strong internationally (low foreign debt, high foreign currency and gold reserves, not to mention unbreakable ties with europe (40% oil and 30% gas EU import from russia as well as russia being a lucrative market- 140mil people- for eu produce) allowing Putin to reclaim what is (at least to the majority of russians, and lets be honest, most Russians don’t care what the outside world thinks) in his view, historically russian. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/03/17/vladimir-putin-economist/

  3. Philip Edwards says:


    I agree with most of that. It is sound common sense in the face of tragic war-mongering nonsense.

    But the blog could have done with a slightly better balance; If Putin is a thug – and he IS – then what of the mass murderers from the USA and Europe, the drone strikers, the destabilisers, the corrupt, the destroyers of communities, the supporters of neoNazis, the thieves of national wealth? In other words, Putin is a thug in the same gang as Obama, Bush, Blair, Cameron, the same disgusting motley crew who should be – but won’t – arraigned in front of the International Criminal Court to answer charges of crimes against humanity.

    The last people on the face of the Earth to preach democracy and peace are those imperialists who have deliberately instigated so much misery and poverty. Until those madmen are dumped in the dustbin of history there will be no peace for anyone.

    1. Philip says:

      I think Alex can rely on your to cover that angle, Philip.

  4. Pauline says:

    The trouble with the leadership in the west is that they are only in it for the short time
    and are beholden to the corporate bankers.
    Mr Putin takes the long view also he sorted out Russia after the Yeltzen years and
    the people respect him for that.
    Consider Russia is part of the Brics club of nations and the world today is not just
    the americans v the russians.
    Change is afoot in South America, African and Asia.
    With regard to Putin I think that Napoleon, Ceaser and the great Tsars would approve
    of him.
    The west tripped over its feet meddling in Russias back yard.

  5. SR says:

    In pursuit of knowledge could you elucidate on the statement that Putin is a thug?

    I stress I ask that without any emotion, just a wont to understand the reasons.


  6. DavidP says:

    “it is also undeniably true that the majority will of the people has prevailed.” But we will never know that, seeing that Ukrainian TV channels into Crimea were blocked, the campaign was so one-sided, dominated by relentless, lying propaganda.

    BBC Monitoring: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26552066

    And all you can say is that it was “messy”. How you can say what you say, Alex, is beyond me.

  7. StuartM says:

    If President Putin is a thug and a semi-dictator, I’m all for thugs and semi-dictators.
    We’ve had to live with full-blown dictators in the US and UK for many a year.

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