2 Mar 2014

Will a Russian invasion of Ukraine push the west into an economic war?

I came home on a London bus last night.

Everybody was engrossed in the normal: the plays they’d seen, the football results.

Few people betrayed any grasp of the odds that they were living through the last days of globalisation and multilateral order – but they are high.


Here’s why. Russia has resolved to use military power, and if necessary force, in Ukraine.

Its likely goals are to occupy Crimea and to bolster the possibility of an eastern Ukraine secession towards the Russian Federation itself.

The west – morally bankrupted by the Iraq war, Guantanamo and serial human rights violations – in August 2013 gave a major signal to Vladimir Putin that it would not intervene in Syria.

Leave aside military action, the west would not even pursue its own objectives by diplomatic force.   He took it as a signal that it would not intervene anywhere.

Implicitly, from that moment on, the idea of America as a superpower enforcing international law was over.   If Russia now invades Ukraine the west will protest about territorial integrity.

But the Ukraine government was overthrown by armed force. In reality everything is about practicality, not principle.

There are dangers, on both sides, of emotion and principle forcing events beyond the control of the main players – Putin, Obama, and an EU so disunited that it has to rely on the Polish foreign minister to display any kind of leadership.

Where we are right now is the result of a huge failure of diplomacy.

If we attribute that failure to the west – Nato, the UN, the EU – it is because Putin’s diplomacy is transparently based on force and injustice.

The jailing and later tactical pardoning of political opponents; the use of polonium to poison dissidents; the assassination of troublesome journalists – Putin has made no pretense of observing the rule of law.

The west – run by a generation that believes the market is the solution to everything – suddenly found you cannot outsource strategy; that there are situations in which the boss of JP Morgan cannot help you; and that the pursuit of legally dubious wars of conquest, by legally indefensible means, flattens the public appetite for force for a generation.

If Russia invades Ukraine its likely aim will be to partition it; its longer term aim will be to get the west to accept that partition and carry on as normal.

The epoch making nature of this crisis lies, then, in the west’s response.   Few in the west beyond Poland will have the appetite for a military confrontation with Russia.

The two big armies in Europe are Polish and German.

But Germany, Europe’s dominant power, has an aversion to diplomatic responsibility matched only by its addiction to fiscal parsimony.

So the likely response of the west will be economic: the sudden end to toleration of of the dodgy Russian money that has flooded into its finance, football and energy systems.

The seizure of certain mansions in north London. The closure of bank accounts in Cyprus and the Caymans.

Then the ball is not in Russia’s court but China’s.  China has played the role of sleeping partner in global diplomacy during its economic rise. Generally it has worked to limit and disrupt the west’s political and economic power.

If an economic proxy war breaks out between the EU, USA and Russia, and China backs the latter, then you can kiss globalisation goodbye.

That is why, as we wake up, come out of the theatre, or the shower, and pick up our smartphones, the sensible thing to check for is not the outbreak of world war three, but the end of the global order.

Its fragmentation – and the slow realisation that everything from wages, to production networks, to energy policy has to change on the morrow of Russian troops arriving in Lugansk or Kharkov.

The Russian people have been living in a world that oscillates between dream and nightmare since 1991.

Putin offered them a dream: a revived economy and the kind of macho power that tramples on gay rights, makes America look powerless in Syria, jails a punk band, convicts a dead attorney, jails every political opposition leader.

It was not subtextual. Every second of the Sochi opening ceremony spelled it out, just as every meeting Putin has had with football hooligan groups, or every bare chested media stunt, also spelled it out.

Large numbers of Russian people reject this vision, bury their noses in their iPads on the metro and make money, hoping the worst will go away and that their savings will be safe in London, or Switzerland.

That is another dream that will die if shots are fired between Ukraine and Russia.

Our political leaders are having to pinch themselves; the country they thought they’d brought into the fold by making themselves dependent on its energy and merely scolding its human rights violations is on the verge of making their entire strategy look foolish.

But that’s only their secondary problem. Their biggest problem is that China, the country they exported 250 million industrial jobs to, and whose human rights violations they have ignored, and whose strange, incommunicative elite they have cheered on, does not care.

If the worst does happen, and this crisis becomes a war, the only positives lie in ordinary people’s revulsion to war; their determination to live by, and assert, the principles of human rights.

That’s ultimately what made people take tin shields up against .50 cal sniper rifles in Kiev, and what made hundreds of thousands of Russians go on the streets against Putin in late 2011.

In 2012 I wrote that Putin’s fate is intertwined with those of mass movements:

“To lose Syria and Iran would be the diplomatic equivalent of the (1905) battle of Tsushima… Revolution in Syria and Iran would leave Russia’s power in the world severely curtailed.

“But with every speech, every veto, every attack helicopter shipped to his failing allies, Putin seems determined to prepare this diplomatic Tsushima thus are the global revolutions and the Russian struggle for democracy linked.

The White Ribbon revolution is not just a local reflection of uprisings elsewhere: its fate is intertwined with them.” (Why It’s Still Kicking Off Everywhere, London 2013)

Having reported from Ukraine, seen the venality of its pro-western politicians and the atomization of democratic forces, I did not even consider the possibility that it would be revolution in Ukraine that triggered a diplomatic Tsushima for Vladimir Vladimirovich.

I was short sighted. Whatever the military and political outcome in Ukraine, the diplomatic Tsushima is under way.

Follow @paulmasonnews on Twitter

80 reader comments

  1. David Preston says:

    Great article; but why oh why does this type of commentary not go out on TV? Globalisation has never been highlighted on TV as the reason this country lost its industrial strength; and has never been shown as the tool of the Elite, through its puppet politicians and ownership of the banking system, to put more money in their pockets at the cost of their slave workers. The feudal system never went away, it simply changed its format to wage slaves with apparent freedom. As for Putin and Co, they’ve simply bided their time, waiting for the West’s addiction for corrupt practices to turn the screw.

    1. Andrew says:

      Totally agree this is a great analysis.

      This should be the basis of a prime-time piece, not an obscure blog.

    2. matt lovell says:

      because they need images to support the words…..and this is opinion not ‘fact’

    3. dreens says:

      Yes the article is thought provoking and disturbing – all those connections that have been pointed out which I was vaguely aware of but could not put the damning and daunting jig-saw together. Now I can. Uncomfortable reading but the truth often is.Get your gist that why aren’t these links made not just in a blog but on the news programmes to a wider audience. Rhetorical question really but needs to be put.

    4. Martin says:

      Because it would scare people that wernt interested enough to have found this article…

      We have lived with Human Rights.. in a bubble of protection.. imagen telling the nation that all that is going to hell

    5. James Oldroyd says:

      Corrupt practices?? Are you serious? Russia and the Middle East are probably the most corrupt places on earth.

  2. squiggle says:

    Don’t France and the UK have larger armies than Germany? Certainly richer armies.

    1. louis says:

      the german army is slightly smaller than the french but gets slightly more funding, the polish army is much smaller and gets only about 25% of the funding. The British army is the largest of the four and has the most funding by a margin of about 20%

    2. dan williams says:

      Dont know if uk and france army’s are better but i can garentee the germans haqve better hardware.

  3. Andrew Thacker says:

    This is such an insightful, yet chilling piece of analysis.

    The West does not have the economic resource, the political unity or the popular support to support Ukraine militarily … due respectively to the financial crisis of 2008, the disunity at the hearts of US and EU politics and the fiascoes of Iraq and Afghanistan.

    My own view is that World War 3 is not about to start, but Cold War 2 has started.

    Mr Mason’s piece brilliantly touches upon the consequences, that many of us have not even started to imagine.

    When will the calls for the 2018 World Cup to be boycotted or re-located start?

    1. Stan M says:

      I think we will see the eventual marginalisation of Russia and those under its sway, over time. Economic, as well as diplomatic, and certainly through sport such as moving sporting events away from them, will be similar to the marginalisation of South Africa during apartheid

      It will cost us too, but the danger is that by marginalising Putin (as he will perceive it personally because he’s a narcissistic psychopath), we may then have a wounded Russian bear on our hands …

      1. tom says:

        yea right. like south africa? when mandela abandond his office for so called pension ex terrorist became the law makers and the most mentally financialy and corrupt goverment took power. i hope everybody have something to learn from this. rather interestingly stupid how it all worked out when specialist the world over predicted this long before the apartheid goverment caved in to sanctions. so what will sancsions help the ukrain? more corruption? most probabibly yes? sad though isnt it? all of it worldwide?

  4. Stephen C says:

    Good conclusion drawn from a poor analysis. “Wars of conquest”? What exactly were the assets seized in post 9/11 Afghanistan and Iraq (and if one says “oil” one only betrays their ignorance of facts). “Morally bankrupt” from Iraq, Guantanamo, etc? Putin doesn’t give a fig about one’s moral credit balance. He and his thugs already own all the wealthy bits of London.

    Rather, he sees the abandonment of Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanomo (which strangely enough now seems to have actually harboured quite a few baddies), as the triumph of a weak-willed, terminally-disorganized Left, and a green light for aggression. Think Sudetenland, and more recently, Jimmy Carter and Afghanistan…

    As in the 1930s, the self-obsession and self-harming of the Western left has sent a message to the thugs and thieves of the world, and brought us to this pass– and the author is right that everything has now changed.

    1. Ram says:

      Good conclusion drawn from a poor analysis. “Wars of conquest”? What exactly were the assets seized in post 9/11 Afghanistan and Iraq (and if one says “oil” one only betrays their ignorance of facts). “Morally bankrupt” from Iraq, Guantanamo, etc? Putin doesn’t give a fig about one’s moral credit balance. He and his thugs already own all the wealthy bits of London.

      Rather, he sees the abandonment of Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanomo (which strangely enough now seems to have actually harboured quite a few baddies), as the triumph of a weak-willed, terminally-disorganized Left, and a green light for aggression. Think Sudetenland, and more recently, Jimmy Carter and Afghanistan…

      As in the 1930s, the self-obsession and self-harming of the Western left has sent a message to the thugs and thieves of the world, and brought us to this pass– and the author is right that everything has now changed.

      Well, now the U.S. military has bases in Iraq and Afghanistan to keep an bigger eye on the region, that’s one big asset and also a headache because it requires a bigger defense budget. Now Iran has U.S. troops on both sides and then you wonder why they are arming themselves. Think of it as what if Iran has occupied Canada and Mexico, wouldn’t we start arming ourselves here in the U.S.
      Another asset is that the U.S. rewrote Iraq’s oil law.

    2. Harvey busby says:

      Excellent comment. One only has to look back at Woodrow Wilson and chamberlain to recognize the disastrous effects of the weak and gullible left.

  5. Andrew Thacker says:

    This is a chillingly, brilliant piece of analysis.

  6. Gordon Jackson says:

    I think we have to see these events as symbolic of Russian weakness, rather than as part of some global power struggle involving China and a challenge to the existing global order. Russia has always regarded Ukraine as “little Russia” and it’s politically impossible for Putin to accept that it could go over to the EU. This isn’t, however, the last throes of the post-Cold War era, it’s the last roll of the dice by a Russia that has systematically failed to maintain influence in Eastern Europe.

    Ukraine was drifting toward an association agreement, so the Russians intervened. When their intervention caused civil disorder, they offered aid to Yanukovych on condition that he restored order. When the attempts to restore order simply inflamed the situation and resulted in Yanukovych’s demise, they moved troops in. Every effort Russia has made to exercise influence in this sense has failed, yet the conclusion in many commentaries seems to be about a “strong Russia” reasserting itself in global affairs. The opposite is true: Russia is in Crimea because at every turn its policies have failed.

    So I think you’re perfectly correct that the date to draw a parallel with isn’t 1914, it’s 1905. The western half of Ukraine is now lost to Europe for good – the people of Kyiv have watched their fellow citizens gunned down in the streets and their country invaded by a foreign power. The diplomatic Tsushima has already happened – Russia is in Crimea because, much like the Romanovs in 1905, Putin is facing a failure in foreign waters so severe that his own authority is now at stake in Moscow.

  7. Robert Cox says:

    One of the most insightful pieces of journalism I have read in years. If more reporting was of this standard, and read by more people, ‘we in the west’ would have a better informed citizenry who might not have elected neoliberal governments. The idea that the former Soviet Union’s eastern satellites could be enticed into the EU without Mr Putin objecting was naive at best and dangerous at worst. You are absolutely correct in pointing out that JP Morgan et al are of no help in this situation and that the western public have no appetite for war after a series of invasions of dubious merit and legality in the Middle East. A peaceful partitioning of Ukraine is probably the least worst scenario. The threat of confiscation of rich people’s assets in the West whilst poorly paid Russian soldiers confront impoverished Ukrainians would serve only to confirm the moral bankruptcy of all of our societies. Perhaps, if the globalised economic system does break down and those 250 million jobs return to the West some good will come from this madness.

  8. mark finlay says:

    The best way to hurt the Russians is for the West to flood the market with cheap oil and gas, and while the CEO’s and the wealthy that own shares in these companies will not like to see their profits fall after the Ukraine it will be the Baltic States turn to see Russian tanks in their streets.

    The West, and in particular Obama and Merkel must stand up to Putin and tell him to remove his forces from the Ukraine and that he is fooling nobody saying they are there to protect Russians just as his puppet Dmitry Medvedev did against Georgia occupying South Ossetia in August 2008.

  9. Kevin Ryan says:

    Russian money reaches deep into modern British society, especially in London. The property market, private education, luxury spending, and above all the asset management and private banking industries – they all rely heavily on Russian money. Billions parked offshore in the Caribbean flows back to London, to be managed in the City. From start up funding to the gilts market, there will be a lot of hurt for influential Britons if Russia is truly sent into the cold and financial sanctions imposed.
    So of all the actors in Europe, I don’t expect HM Government to lead the charge against rich Russians.

  10. Sean T says:

    This is the stupidest article in history.

    Paul, you are a decent journalist, but your Marxist-socialist slip is showing. I mean…. you are genuinely claming that Ukraine/Putin can be blamed on banks, capitalism, J P Morgan, and “outsourcing”? Honestly? Are you serious?

    I bet you were itching to pin responsibility for the Crimean stand-off, in particular, on Thatcher’s sale of council houses, right?

    Just embarrassing.

    1. Andrew says:

      I think you might want to re-read the article.

      Mr Mason doesn’t blame the banks, capitalism and outsourcing … he makes the point that they cannot help West in this situation, and that the West has weakened its principals and capabilities by worshiping ‘the market’ for too long and too much.

    2. Joe Thorpe says:

      His lefty politics couldn’t be cloaked on the BBC so he’s gone to his natural home C4!

  11. PT says:

    By using the term “diplomatic Tsushima”, this article implies that Russia has over-extended itself and that Putin has made a major mistake, which would reault in a victory for the west.

    The west will accept partition of the Ukraine ( after referenda ). As the western half of Ukraine becomes steadily more prosperous, the flaws in Putin’s Russia’s economy will become even more obvious to ordinary Russians. Putin wins the battle, but he is losing the war.

  12. claudio says:

    Dear Paul,
    it is a good idea to put this conflict into perspective and relate it to wider economic processes, i.e. no-liberal globalization. not so sure about the scenario you paint though. first, the type of globalization you present, when US was the only superpower, has long gone and in any case it never thrived on market forces alone. Indeed, it restored war as the usual means of foreign policy – remember Iraq, Somalia, Yugoslavia, the middle east, Kosovo, Afghanistan…Disorganized capitalism? maybe; US attempt at destabilizing EU neighborhood? why not. As for the Russians, important research says that few subscribe to conservatism and surely most have no i-pads, let alone mansions in London. these conflicts are very useful to keep austerity stricken populations under check (a game both sides know very well!). sure, things can get out of hand locally but i doubt anyone will say no to his/her bank accounts. The Chinese so far has not backed the Russian and though claiming no expertise on that side of the world, it will really surprise me if they question territorial integrity. they always supported Russia precisely on thee grounds.
    ….maybe be you could come again to Middlesex to talk about this all….

  13. Philip Edwards says:


    The West isn’t being “pushed” anywhere. If it declares economic war it is because it wants to, and for no reasons other than……..well, profiteering economics, actually.

    That is and always has been the motivation of The Great Game.

    As for morals, the USA won’t comply with the demands of the International Criminal Court. If it did, every one of their presidents back to and including Dwight Eisenhower would be arraigned for invasion and mass murder of many millions of innocent human beings. The last thing we need is to be read the gospel according to their destructions of Vietnam, Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, El Salvador, Colombia and any number of others in their American Empire, to say nothing of their economic blockades of Cuba and Venezuela. The Yanks simply won’t leave anyone alone to pursue their own lives. They even kidnap and torture to suit themselves.


  14. Yearzero says:

    Paul, what are you doing working at C4 news on `culture`?

  15. Martin A. Hay says:

    Nationalism rises whenever the flaws inherent in the fiat money-based financial system are exposed: unsustainable indebtedness, rising inequality, trade imbalances, etc. Peace and prosperity depend upon finding an equitable means of exchange that enables all people to engage in trade on a level playing field. When people find that they are prevented from freely exchanging goods and services, whether this is through unemployment within their country or obstacles to trade between countries, then nationalist tensions rise. The foreigner and not the fiat-based monetary system takes the blame, and men with guns take the streets.

  16. Cyril Wheat says:

    What an excellent article and analysis. This will not get air time as it exposes the failings of our leaders. Their reactions to Syria and the initial Ukraine uprisings were examples of their impotency. Thanks Paul.

  17. Robbie Burns says:

    I think Putin/Cameron* will send troops into Crimera/Scotland* to protect the strategic naval bases at Sevastipol/Faslane* and then use economic pressure on the assembles in Kiev/Edinburgh* to discredit their leadership and sow fear and discontent. * = delete as applicable

    1. Andrew says:

      Scotland has a referendum to determine its own future.
      Go and debate with your countrymen … just stop trying to foster hate with rUK.

    2. Robin Hawdon says:

      What nonsense! Delete everything as applicable. Stick to writing bad poetry Mr Burns.

  18. Chrysoprase says:

    Interesting analysis and I am usually not one to look to the Chinese leadership for reason, but I can’t see how they would have any upside in siding with Russia. Upsetting global trade would result in empty factories, .25 bn unemployed and China holding worthless pieces of paper forerly valed at oner $3trillion. More likely than not that would spell the end of the Communist Party.

  19. Mal Function says:

    Interesting article but it misses an important point : The Russians are desperate to hang on to Sevastopol Naval base and other bases in the Crimea. Under a previous (nationalist) Ukrainian Govt the lease was going to expire in 2017. Then the pro-Russian govt in Ukraine was voted in, and agreed to extend the lease to 2042 – on condition that the Russians continued to supply the (financially) bankrupt Ukraine with natural gas. Now a new anti-Russian govt has taken power in the Ukraine. With every likelihood that it will try and scrap the extension of the lease of the bases in Crimea beyond 2017. Putin’s solution is simple – get a pro-Russian govt installed in Crimea and make it fully independent, backed by Russia by force if necessary. Putin can then turn the gas on and off in Ukraine without worrying about his bases. If the result is a western Ukraine with substantial neo-fascist involvement in govt, (and despite the current rhetoric about Russian intervention being to stop the neo-fascists) Putin will not too bothered. That Russian aggression actually fuels such forces is proof of that. As for China – who knows what they will do.

  20. Rhys Needham says:

    The debacle at Tsushima and the loss of that war to the ‘upstart’ Japanese led also to the first of the Russian Revolutions in 1905.

  21. muggwhump says:

    I’m obviously no expert in this but isn’t it possible that Russia are doing this in order to prevent growing unrest and anger in east Ukraine leading to civil war?
    After all it is pretty clear that many in the east feel angry about the new government and have no enthusiasm for closer ties with Europe. No-one appears to represent these people in Ukraine’s new system, yet they exist in quite large numbers.
    We seem to think that the story always just ends when the bad guy gets deposed but it never does.
    If the anger had built over the coming weeks then how long before Ukrainian started killing Ukrainian, and how easy would it be to control that once it started?
    What would the Ukrainian security forces and army have done then?
    In fact where are they in those clips of angry demonstrations and beatings of young people in east Ukraine?
    Maybe by moving in and providing a bit of reassurance to otherwise volatile and angry people Russia is doing us all a favour.
    I accept it could all turn very nasty very quickly if the shooting starts but that hasn’t happened so far.

  22. Paul Antill says:

    At first I thought this was a well researched piece…. But the largest armies in Europe are German and Polish!!…what world do you live in!

  23. ranmul says:

    there will be no war. putin has over reached and he must be realizing it. he needs the west far more than the west needs him. economic sanctions would topple his regime in a couple of years. his people have no love for him. you cant KGB trick a weak parisitic economy. you cant poison your way to prosperity. he thinks obama is weak because he backed down on syria. but obama is simply prudent. syria matters little in the grand scheme. but crushing putin will pay huge dividends for the world and all obama needs is exactly whats happening, for the international community to gel to his leadership here. putin’s regime has gone too far.

  24. Robert Walker says:

    Putins actions are both predictable and in the context of Russo-Western relations over the past 20 years understandable. The whole reason for the existence of NATO was to keep the Soviet Union out of western europe, so when the soviet bloc fell and we normalised relations with the Russian federation did we disband NATO?, nope we expanded it from 16 Western European countries to 28 countries including all of the former Warsaw Pact nations taking the alliance to the borders of Russia herself. Not content with that NATO would like Ukraine in the club too removing a buffer zone for the Russians. I would ask this question, if you were faced with an alliance that humiliated your country in Kosovo, has expanded to your doorstep in the north, has a military strength roughly 4 times that of your own, whose main member has invaded two states, bombed two more and funded opposition movements in your country and that of your allies over the last 15 years would you want them controlling Ukraine?, would you allow a western backed coup that removed your ally to go unanswered?. If you back someone into a corner then they have nowhere to go except forward right towards you I’m afraid and I’m amazed at hubris of the US and EU in thinking that their interference would lead anywhere other than where it has. With regards to economic war, Germany especially but also Europe as a whole are far too reliant on Russian gas supplies to support any kind of real sanctions short to medium term. 30 per cent of Europes gas comes from Russia at a time when there is no plan b which would do anything other than cause bills to skyrocket.

    1. Vladimir says:

      Why not simply have all European nations invade Russia under a false pretext of an escalating war that begins in Ukraine and secure the gas resources, install a other leader who is willing to work on the big picture?

  25. Jafo says:

    This post makes no sense. It has Anti West writen all over it. And it’s more pro Putin hot garbage. The West can’t do anything, because it would spark WW3. Anything other than diplomacy, is a bona fide act of war. I love how the poster places the USA and the West as the sleeping giant and Russia as the victor. The simple fact is: Putin pulled this crap, when Bush was in office and he was a fearful war President, next to Ronald Reagan. Putin knows he can get away with this, because he knows the West wouldn’t start WW3 over Ukraine, a country less economacally powerful than the US city of Atlanta, Georgia.

    1. J Sweeney says:

      I am not anti- or pro- any side, which does not serve any purpose
      other than sensationalism.

      As an American, I am expressing frankly in a rather understated manner
      our ignorance of, disrespect for and consummate arrogance towards other
      nations and cultures. This is nothing to be proud of. The resulting ineptitude
      and failures in foreign policy cost us dearly as a leader in the world.

      The world is in many ways getting smaller and more interconnected. The US
      is defecating and trashing up its own neighborhood.

      Bravado, hot air, tough talk and ignorance won’t do. We need better American
      leadership all around.

  26. J Sweeney says:

    Typical American blaming on everybody else but themselves> American feces do not stink and is good for all these “lesser countries”. The fact of the matter is that the West, under US leadership” has played too many games and acted too irresponsibly to create the problems in Middle East, Asia and Eastern Europe, to the extent events are backfiring on the West.

    Playing with fire so whimsically one invariably gets burned. Western media is populated by a bunch of childish, idiotic and narcissistic bigmouth thrill seekers. The problems is that Western politicians and decision makers are spending too much time on Internet and TV contents, and cannot think worth sh**. One thing for sure, what goes around comes around.
    Good luck to the wishful thinkers and enjoy playing with yourself in your fantasy world.

  27. Cássio says:

    I wouldn’t say France, UK nor US have poor armies. What matters in a war is not quantity but technology. US wouldn’t show all of its strengh in Middle East war, of course, did you consider the things they have been developing in the last 60 years?

  28. WWIII says:

    Don’t forget Egypt, didn’t Napoleon Putin give his allegiance to their military government recently? Watching all these goings on in the Ukraine, with Russia or should I say the USSR is like watching a game of RISK, in which Napoleon Putin is trying to create his new world order. Internally he is not in a strong position, so this is partly a distraction technique, just like Argentina’s distraction from its economic crisis and with nationalistic rhetoric about the Falklands. If I were the Americans, I would rescind on the Syrian offer of no direct intervention and bomb the little Hitler Assad into the ground. Also ban all traffic into and out of Russia over European Airspace, waters or roads and that of our allies around the globe. Obama is a nice guy but he needs to stand up against bullies like Putin. The ‘West; needs a multi-strategy of direct interventions, but probably financial ones will have the most impact on Russia/USSR which could cause unrest with the Russian masses. Well thats my two penneth for what its worth!

  29. Marko Golob says:

    Interesting, plus refreshingly high level of comments. Though something is missing. That is, for the russian side already too much has been invested and russian bear has been too seriously poked in the eye. It is not about costs, it is of vital geostrategic position. Putin cannot back-off from taking Crimea into his control anymore, maybe, maybe the east of Ukraine is still open.

    For the Russian response to economic sanctions, it s not only oil and gas and Russian investments in the West. The West had already invested hundreds of billions in Russia and this investment are now at stake. If the West freezes Russian investments, Russia could freeze western in Russia. In a looming banking crisis in Europe could you imagine writing-off additionally few hundred billion euros.
    If BRICs do not cooperate with the West, what is likely, the sanctions would turn against those which initiated them.

    Plus they would initiated a massive russian domestic industrial import substitution, something that had been happening in South America during WW1&2. That might mean the revival of Russia as an industrial state. Plus 20 years of marketing efforts into building market share of western companies would be lost. Do not think the Russians cannot do it. Just look and the technology level of their 13 billion europlus defence exports. Technological they cought up completely. It is a market economy now and their private companies are much more able than the communist ones. Without western competition, they would retake market share quickly. For the western companies to come back would be very hard and costly.
    One can only wonder at extent of EU arrogance and stupidity by pushing its trade agreement in expense of Russia. Wouldn’t it been better for EU to let Russia finance the bankrupt Ukrainian state and to retain itself the chance to pick up cherries? That would mean much higher overextension for Russia than the current military deployment.

    This stick has two ends.

  30. Andrew says:

    Just one small point! France and the Uk have by far the largest and most capable military forces in Europe, where do you get this information about Germany and even more ridiculously Poland being the largest Armies? My suggestion is to do your research properly. Russia is also not as powerful as people seem to make out it is a mere shadow of what it used to be.

  31. Alan Cranston says:

    Interesting article. Two points though.

    First the scary one, that this is in part driven by one man’s emotions. Much commentary has made the point – which seems essentially correct – that the Ukraine crisis was triggered by Putin overplaying hs hand. Major loss of face. But then the consequence is that rational diplomacy may not prevail. There have been lots of people saying Russia will do this, will not do that. It would be good to believe them. But Putin may behave irrationally, not in Russia’s best interests, because he perceives himself slighted.

    Second, even if there has been a failure of diplomacy, better diplomacy would not obviously have made a difference. The Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968 because they knew they could. In 2014 Russia could invade Ukraine on the same basis – the West would not declare war. What difference would diplomacy make? Well, perhaps in making it clearer, earlier to Russia that there would be consequences. But is their Foreign Ministery not acutely aware of that?

    Long run, as I think Paul is suggesting, this will play out as the end of Russian imperialism. But that is the very thing that makes this current crisis so frightening. Putin has nowhere to go except by raising the stakes.

  32. Paul Simmons says:

    I think the article is missing the central points that have brought us to this situation. First, Western Europe does nothing meaningful in world politics without the approval of the USA. The Ukraine has been a democratic country for years and been dealt with by all the western powers as such for years. Ukraine wanted to join the EU but the EU did not like many of the things they were doing so offered them association with many strings attached. The changes that Ukraine would have had to make would have crippled much of the industrial base in the east, who is generally pro-Russian. Russia offered them a much better deal, so many in the west of the country protested. The usual western countries supported the protesters to the point they brought down the elected government. It is true there is much corruption in Ukrainian politics, but that applies to both sides. The west is not supporting the good guys against the bad, just the bad guys that are against Russia. The problem is that the USA and its allies have been treating Russia (which is a democratic capitalist country) as if it is still communist for years. Always trying to diminish their influence and put military hardware on its borders ever closer. Russia is not a perfect democracy and nor is the Ukraine. Just imagine if you will. Protesters (backed by Labour, UKIP and the BNP) against the benefit cuts hit the streets of London. Senior Politians from other nations come to London and publicly support them in their efforts to bring down our government. The protestors occupy Trafalgar Square for months and it gets increasingly violent. The police are internationally condemned for trying to break up the protests. The government falls and labour, UKIP and the BNP form a temporary government. Within days the Welsh and other languages are banned. Wales, asks France for help and protection and France sends troops to help Wales keep its culture and free Welsh speech. How united do you think our Kingdom would be? Which side would you support?
    The issue about gay rights is really just another way of getting at Russia. How often do the Western leaders talk about gay and women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, etc? How often do they boycott them and threaten the political leaders with sanctions? Arizona, USA is trying to enact a law which allows discrimination against gays, based on religious grounds. What have the European leaders said about that?

  33. Mark says:

    What if Putin decides to invade Poland, Germany, France or Great Britain to protect “Russian citizens and the whole Russian-speaking population” from so called “ultranationalist forces”? There are lots of the Russians there and here. Just give it time and watch this space…

  34. Disgusters says:

    The Crimea is a Russian strategic asset which has been secured by Russia. It’s of similar strategic importance to the British fleet, taking and holding Aden. So far that’s all. The rest of this analysis is based largely on events which have yet to occur, which is prefaced with “if the worst were to happen..” and so far the worst has not happened. The West is unlikely to do a great deal about it, so long as most of Ukraine remains intact. Much is overlooked, the nature of the Ukrainian opposition, the removal of a democratically elected government by force, the partisan role of the E.U. I remember Putin writing a rather persuasive letter in the New York Times appealing to the USA to refrain from military intervention in Syria on very reasonable grounds. The perception put forward here of Putin and his government is based on highly selective facts – and the omission of the role played by Ukrainian far right groups, and their historical connections to Europe – accurately described as fascist by Russia – makes for a lop sided, inaccurate narrative. I’d hoped for better from Channel 4, and their impeccable journalism.

  35. squiggle says:

    According to books.sipri.org/product_info?c_product_id=458# , last year’s leading European military budgets (including Russian and Turkish) in billions of US dollars were:

    Russia 90.7
    UK 60.8
    France 58.9
    Germany 45.8
    Italy 34.0
    Turkey 18.2

    According to Wikipedia (I haven’t had time to go through the citations),

    Russia has 766 000 active military personnel, 2 035,000 reserve, and 449 000 paramilitary.

    France has 222 215 active military personnel, 93 099 reserve, and 98 155 paramilitary.

    The UK has 205 850 active, 181 720 reserve, and no paramilitary.

    Germany has 182 927 active, 144 000 reserve, and no paramilitary.

    Italy has 180 270 active, no reserve, and 167 397 paramilitary.

    Ukraine has 1 130 000 active and 84,900 paramilitary (but the link classes the 1 130 000 as 130 000 and 1000 000 reserve).

    Poland has 120 000 active, 515 000 reserve and 28 000 paramilitary.

  36. DavidP says:


    “The west – morally bankrupted by the Iraq war, Guantanamo and serial human rights violations” That last phrase is a bit vague.

    “But the Ukraine government was overthrown by armed force.” What are you talking about?

  37. Tom M says:

    Great article!

    Agree with Gordon Jackson’s comment that this represents weakness in Russia – a failure to achieve ends through soft power, leading to coercion, leading to the (more costly) use of force.

    Weakness is dangerous, as more desperate and distasteful measures become more viable. The inevitable lack of a strong response from the other ‘guarantors’ of Ukraine’s security exacerbates this drift. This really does feel like the beginning of a new epoch.

  38. JC says:

    China may back Russia politically (although probably disagrees behind closed doors), but will never back Russia at the cost of losing Western markets. The Chinese are well aware how fragile there national unity is and economic instability would tip it over the breaking point. The Chinese and Russians are not real friends of any sort – they simply tolerate each other out of necessity. The Russians are terrified of the billion and a half Chinese across the border from thinly populated Siberia and know they have to keep the Chinese relatively happy. The Chinese, for their part, don’t want any sort of political instability in Russia. Russia is simply a huge primary producer and potential market for China. The Chinese recognize how weak Russia is and a weak state is a dangerous state – just look at North Korea. North Korea is much smaller and weaker than Russia. The Chinese certainly don’t approve of North Korean policies but also don’t want a collapse of authority in a state so close to their borders. I am willing to bet the Chinese are very annoyed at Russian aggression in Ukraine, and behind closed doors the Chinese are probably making their views well known to Putin and his cronies.

    1. Robin Hawdon says:
    2. K says:

      I disagree with JC. I believe the Chinese have made it clear they are in agreement with Putin and that he has their full support. Furthermore, I expect that when China makes her move to invade Taiwan the United States will have to respond & Russia will attack the United States. They have their troops in Alaska, China has their troops down in Mexico, they have their tanks, trucks, weapons, all there and many of their soldiers walking around as civilians inside the USA right now. We are getting very close to all out war. Americans need to prepare themselves for that.

      1. JC says:

        What a silly analysis K. The Chinese don’t have troops anywhere but China. With the exception of immediately neighbouring countries who share a common border, China doesn’t currently have the capability of invading any country, not even Taiwan – let alone one thousands of miles away. Russia certainly doesn’t have troops in Alaska. Alaska is a US state. You need to be realistic. Taking nuclear weapons out of the equation, Russia (and China) are no match for western military capabilities. Russia and China certainly won’t fight a war for each other. They would probably relish each other becoming weaker. Chinese military abilities are relatively weak. Certainly no match currently even for Japan. Just remember if Japan wanted to, it could become a nuclear power within a matter of months, if not weeks. The Russians need to accept there place within the order of nations rather than acting like a silly child bent on causing mischief on neighbouring states because they don’t get their own way. A great power, yes, a superpower, no. Nobody thinks Russia is a superpower for taking advantage of weaker nations. It would be like the UK invading Ireland and Iceland. It would be done relatively easily, but nobody would be fooled that the UK has suddenly become a superpower again. Invading economically poor countries during the height of political turmoil smacks of weakness and desperation.

      2. Gareth Jones says:

        Don’t forget the tunnel that the Chinese are building. Millions of Chinese troops will emerge from the basement of Macy’s in New York, during the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Don’t forget you heard it here first.

  39. jim says:

    Russia and the USA have never confronted each other directly, and there never was a possibility they would here. All their battles have been through proxies, and for the most part each has respected each other’s empires, though they jousted a bit here and there.

    After the end of the cold war, it was America that sought to expand its power by force or diplomacy. The Russian advance into Crimea is a fairly minimal aggression in the grand scheme of things.

    The blowback will likely be most felt in Israel, America has to explain why it is threatening Russia for occupying a neighbouring country, while funding Israel to do the same.

  40. Gareth Jones says:

    The end of globalisation? I don’t think so. China is the engine of globalisation and China will do what is in the best interests of China. They know that their economy needs the consumers of the West to thrive. But don’t expect them to condemn Putin. As far as Trouble in Ukraine is concerned, to them it’s just a little local difficulty that will pass. It’s just business as usual.
    As far as the EU is concerned, this is a wake up call. They need to redouble efforts in the field of renewable energy, so that they don’t have to rely on the whims of a Russian mafia state, any longer, for vital energy supplies.

  41. Klienanvila says:

    Y do u guys keep on Criticizing Russia . what was the U.S doing in Iraq ? Libya? Pakistan , Afghanistan .etc . France and the United Kingdom keep-on supporting the U.S like a sheep .The U.S should stop policing the world .The Obama Administration should stop thinking they are always right.nobody owns the world and its nations.if u wanna be a good father then show Ur kids some good example . Russia also feels it got the Right to defend its interest anywhere in the world when necessary , and to also manifest its strength a world super power. The U.S is gently reducing Russian influence on many countries in the world ( it is their Plan ) ,by destabilizing countries who have alliance with Russia such as : Venezuela ,Syria , Iran,Ukraine,Libya,Egypt,Afghanistan, Pakistan,etc . They’ve tried and fail several times in North Korea .Cos the Korean Government do not Spare .

  42. Robert Reynolds says:

    Paul, you see a threat to our happy chatter, on plays seen and football results.

    We might be seeing “the last days of globalisation and multilateral order”, due you assert to “a huge failure of diplomacy”, not just in the face of “Putin’s… force and injustice”, not just from loss of public confidence and support, but from faith above all in markets the neglect and loss of strategic capacity on the part of government in the West, even of the US Administration.

    What I wonder did you see, in 2012, as “Russia’s power in the world”; and what was the gamble in Iran and Syria to be compared with the hazard and loss of Russia’s Baltic Fleet back in 1905, in Japan’s Tsushima Strait? Is it possible that our too often being “short-sighted” is due to the need of readers, and perhaps of journalists, to piece-together narratives from the familiar, whatever lingers from headline news-tides?

    The power of Russia – in fact of all states – over “the ordinary people’s revulsion to war”, and over “their determination to assert (and live by) human rights”, arguably is in the extent and depth of public ignorance, perhaps in youth as to the nature of war, perhaps even in adulthood as to the origin of human rights amongst those of democratic spirit, and most certainly as to the essence of real democracy, the rule of conscience in secure equal partnership.

    We have globalised the wrong commodities, fear and greed, bringing ourselves and even ‘democracy’ into contempt and even loathing.

    To win all, for all, against any material odds, we have only to follow the unwitting advice of our Foreign Minister, William Hague: “to act in a way that unites… to deal with the pervasive corruption and creates a new political culture… a truly free and democratic country”.

  43. Robin Hawdon says:

    As ever the debate seems to have polarised between ‘left’ and ‘right’ minded personalities – which ultimately is an emotional reaction, not a rational one. Staying objective on the face of such large developments is hard, but in the end one has to ask oneself, ‘Ignoring all the economic/military/political issues, which side ultimately has the most civilised attitude to human affairs?’ There is little doubt in my mind as to the answer.
    F.E. Smith’s famous statement as ever comes to mind. ‘All that is necessary for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing.’

  44. tom keatings says:

    Russia will do as it pleases and suffer the financial pain ,its pain will have a ripple effect that will impact the City of London ,the European central bank and could cripple Germany,the impact on the EU economies will be disastrous,and Putin can simply turn off the Oil taps and cripple the major players in Europe while rallying the motherland against Western aggression.The simple fact is this ,the 2008 banking collapse has the EU ,the UK and the USA skint,barrasic lint skint.Do we know what Russia is worth and how much of its wealth underwrites European financial centres and can the Russians survive and outrun these economies of Europe ,effectively watch them die before they even catch cold.They have been proactive in Africa,South America and China in developing new markets,could they kill us off economically in a short space of time?Seems to me Putin holds all the aces at the card table and the Chinese own the casino.Many replies and posts blame the weakness of the left in the West for this ,the left never caused the banking debacle in 2008 and its that singular act of financial criminality that is at the root of the West`s demise with regard to power and influence and economic strength.The two biggest communist powers in the world now rule the world,look no further than the UK,the EU and the USA`s monetary deficits,the ball is well and truly burst.

    1. Robin Hawdon says:

      This is a naive assessment. The very fact that Russia and Russians are so heavily invested in the West is in fact a strong deterrent to their rocking the boat too far. They cannot just return all that investment back to Russia at the drop of a hat and shove it in new armaments. It binds them inescapably to Western economics and eventually to Western politics. Long may it continue. World peace will eventually arrive via world integration.

  45. bunduru says:

    FYI, the UK army / navy / airforce are commanded by a bunch of opinionated idiots, more concerned with status quo than getting anything done.

    If a 20yo can troll the navy commander and chief at the dinner table over an issue as trivial as the role of women in the army, then I guess their “might” is comparable to that of a bunch of orangutans armed with bananas they can’t even aim…

  46. sassyphus says:

    Really Paul? You seem even more paranoid than usual. I’m thinking maybe you want an Oscar for your new role as the “Cassandra of Globalisation”. If this situation does actually kill *globalisation and multilateral order* then maybe that’s a good thing (in the long run). When did we all start to pine over the death of globalisation?

    1. Robin Hawdon says:

      As I say above we ultimately NEED globalisation, as the way to harmonise all interests. The problem is it can’t be brought about by force, either economic or military, but by evolution. And the wider it spreads its wings the greater will grow the need for individual sections of the community to feel they have autonomy and control over their own local affairs. As is already being demonstrated all over the West.

  47. iandick says:

    Nice fantasy with a sprinkling of truth to make it palatable(the West is morally bankrupt). Europe and U.S. have continued to destabillise Syria and Ukraine. Putin has been forced to protect Russians in Ukraine and Crimea. What would the US do if it was Texas?

    1. Robin Hawdon says:

      This is so naive it doesn’t merit a response.

    2. squiggle says:

      @ iandick

      Are you asking what the US would do if Mexico invaded Texas to ‘protect’ Spanish speakers there? Because I don’t think it would be any happier than Ukraine is.

  48. Pete Vernon says:

    Dare I ask Paul, or indeed any one of you readers who have posted over 60 separate, and often well thought out and expressed comments on Paul Mason’s article, to visit that excellent blog on the same subject by Lyndsey Hilsum of the Channel 4 news, as published on Fri 28th. Feb.

    There you will find a comment, number 6, I think, the last as was, on 02 March, which is mine, admittedly, but wherein lies what must be the quickest and least violent of all fthe potential alternatives.

    In the simplest terms, ”Let the People in the Crimea Decide”.. In the simplest of referrendums ask them to elect to become of Russian Nationality, or to remain as now, of Ukraine Citizenship.

    The Ukraine leaders and their Russian counterparts can quickly meet to draw up what may become the new border, which should be a simple task, given the local geography.
    A single issue referrendum of all those adults within that potential new border, would be simple to organize and could be rapidly put in motion.

    Its been done before in other parts of the world, and needs to be done again here A.S.A.P………..PLEASE !!
    Please do read my earlier posting. Who knows, maybe the editor over these comments might bring it forward for us. A Peaceful and Easy Settlement is within all of our reaches, if we will only champion this Solution…………..

  49. walt s. says:

    Bill of Sale Contract for Province of Crimea
    By: Ukraine

    Sold To: Russia
    For the sum of 250,000,000,000 Euro’s payable to Ukraine

    This contact is binding if Russia annexes Crimea and Russia in perpetuity agrees to pay by the act of annexing Crimea.

  50. Robert Reynolds says:

    Which century are we in?

    In New York’s ‘YIVO’, originally the Polish ‘yidisher’ institute, now renamed the Institute for Jewish Research, there rests an old book saved from the ashes of Nazi Europe, the property – by its stamp – of a society For the Study of Mishna. 

    Now in the New World, where the spirit is sought and found and proclaimed of democracy, this old book is taken to reveal the pervasiveness of Mishna study (of law codified from the oral Torah; with subsequent learned commentaries – Palestinian then Babylonian – going to make-up successive Talmuds), in even a small Jewish Community.

    The old book’s ownership was of the Society of Woodchoppers, thus in the YIVO’s presumption of people whose work ‘required no literacy’. However, recovery of the book was from (transliterative) Berditchev, a Ukrainian town with a history such as might suggest the ‘Society of Woodchoppers’ akin more probably to the learned societies founded by towns and guilds in Western Europe, or even to the Skull and Bones high amongst US ‘upper echelon fraternities’.


Berdychev, situated in Northern Ukraine to the west of Kiev, today has a population of around 80,000. It was first made a settlement in 1430 (re-founded after its destruction in 1483 by Crimean Tatars), originally under Lithuanian authority and so under the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth formalised in 1569 by the Union of Lublin (from 1386 only a personal union of thrones). From the 17th to the 19th centuries Berdychev was the site of a Carmelite monastery, but in the 18th century its fame became in finance.

    The monastery was plundered in 1647 by Cossacks under Bohdan Khmelnytsky, aligned in wrath against oppressive Polish magnates and the Jewish traders who ran their estates for them. Unable to rely on Crimean Tatars holding the balance of power, Khmelnytsky’s overtures to the Ottoman sultan won him – with a reluctance mutual – a protective overlordship of eastern Ukraine from his less democratic co-religionist, the anti-Catholic (Orthodox) Tsar of Russia. The Tatars then aligned with the Polish, their raids depopulating ‘whole areas of Ukraine’.


A century was to follow of great confusion and hardship from complex diplomatic struggles and war-making, eventually to see partition of Poland between Russia, Prussia and Austria, with complete incorporation of Ukraine into the Russian Empire. Berdychev in western Ukraine survived to become under first the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth then the Russian Empire, for a while a centre of great importance in trade and banking, and of a dominant Jewish culture eroded then destroyed by the long sequence of persecutions and 1919 pogrom, 1920 city bombardment by Russia, more persecutions then murder of all under Nazi Germany in 1941.


Having in 1764 been the last refuge before exile of Kazimierz Pulaski (a Bar Confederation rebel who – with Benjamin Franklin’s letter of commendation – went on to reform the cavalry of America and to save the life of George Washington), the town was promoted by the powerful Radziwil family, of the royal party, to gain the privilege of holding ‘ten fairs a year’. Berdychev would return to poverty with – after 1850 – the transfer of banking to Odessa on the Black Sea.

    The moral and intellectual strengths, and also the weaknesses, of all of Judaism along with all of the rest of ‘our’ accumulated culture, are reflected: constructs not yet tested against the ethical yield of equal partnership democracy.


  51. боярышник says:

    Вы говорите что Путин тиран, а мы русские не имеем прав и свобод? Не думаю что смогу объяснить вам все словами. Легко ли говорить о России стуча по клавишам сидя у монитора где то в Европе или США. Я скажу просто – приезжайте и посмотрите своими глазами как живет Россия, потом стучите по клавишам. Съездите в Ливию, Ирак, Афганистан, Сирию. Съездите в Крым и сравните.

    You say that Putin is a tyrant, and we do not have a Russian human rights and freedoms? I do not think I can explain to you all the words. Is it easy to talk about Russia banging on the keyboard sitting at the computer screen somewhere in Europe or the United States. I’ll just – come and see for yourselves how to live Russia, then tap on the keys. Take a trip to Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria. Take a trip to the Crimea and compare.

    1. Joe Thorpe says:

      I did, I was in Russia (admitted only Moscow) in February for 2 weeks, I can tell you it is no Narnia some of the people are as brainwashed as some of the Islamic nutjobs because they only feed off state controlled media.

      1. Aleks says:

        This is true but there is a lot of rhetoric going around with a negative slant towards Russia, might remind people we actually only legalised gay marriage last year here, and there is new speculation to say that the actual reason they can’t give blood is the christian morals of policy makers at British Heart Foundation (granted not nearly the same persecution)
        I’m not sure 2 weeks in one particular city, in a country 70x larger than us (in a physical sense). Particularly a city like Moscow would give you the best slice of Russian mentality, ask any northerner in Britain whether he sees eye to eye with London Politics, most of my colleagues feel more in alignment with Edinburgh’s policies than Westminster’s.
        To say that some of the people are as brainwashed as islamic nut jobs because they only feed off state media outlets, is naive and frankly strange, coming from an obviously educated, well-read, person, who apparently hails from the UK, a country littered with brainwashed idiots stuffed on state television network (the BBC) propaganda. Look at the recent stories surrounding Snowden.

  52. боярышник says:

    still a good idea to visit the eastern Ukraine and see with your own eyes

  53. David Murphy says:

    Great article considering what has happened.

    Russia are now playing ‘gas games’ with Ukraine, leaving Slovakia, Hungary and Poland to re export gas.

    And just two days ago, Lithuania got themselves properly involved by putting LNG on their shores.


    Seems bit by bit all of Europe wants to free itself from Russia in some form.

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