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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