Russia’s Interests in the Ukraine are Reasonable and Need to be Accommodated

The ‘West’ (US, UK and EU) has made many grave mistakes in handling the Ukraine crisis which is one largely of its making – first belittling President Putin’s ‘frank’ but conciliatory speech complaining about ‘hyper use of power’ by the US at the 2007 Munich security conference.

Then following this with G W Bush’s proposal in 2008 that both Georgia and the Ukraine should join NATO – breaking the US word to Gorbachev that NATO would not go further East in return for Soviet acceptance of East Germany’s membership of NATO.

So this confrontation has been brewing since then and no one has bothered to see this coming, let alone do anything about it once G W Bush was gone. ‘The West’ didn’t even learn from the Georgia/Russia war that the same thing could happen over the Ukraine!

Surely the ‘West’ must now very urgently make a proposal that takes into account Russia’s interests in its ‘Near West’ with a deal Russia can accept and would appear most unreasonable if it did not.

President Putin may be unreasonable but Russia’s very real interests in the Ukraine are reasonable and need to be accommodated. But equally the Ukraine is the EU’s ‘Near East’. The EU does not want Russia on its borders. Putin is striking fear into the Poles and others next to the Ukraine. The EU too, has very real and reasonable interests in the Ukraine.

If ‘the West’ wants to resolve this crisis satisfactorily, it must make an offer that Russia cannot reasonably refuse. When making any such offer it is essential that the EU as a whole make clear that it will apply truly stiff sanctions without regard to its financial interests.

At present Putin calculates that the ‘West’ will do nothing that significantly harms these.

Here, I suggest, are the essentials for a deal:- Sebastopol Black Sea naval base and facilities to Russia in perpetuity (not leased); the Ukraine to have no military alliances with anyone; both Russia (renewing its offer) and EU to give $15bn each to Ukraine (the 30bn needed for immediate debts and for a joint plan for Ukrainian development); any preferential economic treatment for the Ukraine to be granted to both Russia and the EU; set up a joint EU/Russia commission for the Ukraine to signal any breach of the agreement and to coordinate joint aid.

Obviously this needs to be fleshed out, but something like this skeleton should suffice. The aim is not simply to defuse this crisis in possible, but to lay the foundations for a much closer relationship between the EU and Russia – the west and the east of Europe – in accord with the true national interests of both parties.

This involves no formal agreement with the US (only its approval) because this is primarily a matter for Ukraine’s two principal neighbours. Security Council approval will be required – but there should be no difficulty about that.

Obviously there must be no recognition for the Crimea ‘government’s’ so-called referendum – clearly a sham. But there needs to be an all Ukraine referendum for any EU/Russia agreement, followed by the election of an all Ukraine government. These two votes to be internationally monitored and certified ‘free and fair’.

We still do not know what Putin wants – just a better position in the Crimea; annexing the Crimea; annexing more of the eastern Ukraine (stopping where?); or the return of all Ukraine to Russian control?

The threat of truly painful sanctions now could bring results: even the czars had to bend to powerful interests.

The present self-imposed ‘Autocrat of all the Russia’s cannot act without taking some account of Russia’s longer term interests: if really forceful sanctions are threatened, many of today’s powerful will be gravely concerned, including a great many of Russia’s very large well-educated citizens.


John Pedler, is a former British diplomat much involved with the USSR during the ‘Cold War’. – dipconsult @

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