Thursday 14 November 2019

Key to ending crisis is knowing what drives Putin

Demonstrators protest against the referendum in Crimea
Demonstrators protest against the referendum in Crimea

Anthony Brenton

CRIMEA'S referendum was hasty, biased, and conducted in the menacing presence of Russian troops – and is expected to produce an overwhelming vote to join Russia.

If Russia agrees, this would be the first seizure of European territory at gunpoint since 1945.

And it may not end with Crimea. Russian troops are even now conducting "exercises" on the borders of other parts of east Ukraine. European ministers will, accordingly, be looking at imposing economic sanctions on Moscow.

They should put off the decision. I say this not out of sympathy for Vladimir Putin. I have no illusions about his determination to rebuild Russian power, by whatever means. But if we are to find a safe way out of this crisis, we need to understand what is driving him.

His occupation of Crimea has been provoked by a real, if exaggerated, fear of Western expansionism.

With February's revolution in Kiev, he saw Ukraine slipping ineluctably into the Western camp. Ukraine would end up a NATO member and part of the Western "encirclement" of Russia.

Putin has now gone out on a long limb to stop this.

The vast majority of Russians support his policy and are expecting Crimea (which only joined Ukraine in 1954) to return to the arms of Mother Russia.

Should he back down now in the face of Western pressure, he would be a humiliated figure, and his position would be under real threat. So he won't.

Diplomacy has been defined as the art of building ladders for the other man to climb down.

We still have a few days for diplomacy. The referendum has to be counted. Putin needs a ladder – something which he can take back to his generals and his people, which he can claim justifies withdrawal from Crimea.

That something is obvious. Ukraine is not, for the foreseeable future, going to move towards NATO or EU membership. We should promise that in exchange for the Russians quitting Crimea.

Appeasement? No more so than Kennedy's agreement to withdraw US missiles from Turkey in exchange for the USSR's withdrawal from Cuba in the 1962 missile crisis.

The alternative, a full-scale breakdown in European security, perhaps war, is much worse. © Daily Telegraph, London

SIR ANTHONY BRENTON WAS BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO MOSCOW FROM 2004-2008

Irish Independent

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