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Thursday, 22 October 2015

Ukraine: Punished for pursuing a European future

Demo immediately after President Yanukovych cancelled EU Association Agreement, November 2013

Reblogged with permission from Progress. Jamie Milne is a Labour Councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and the founder of Labour Friends of Ukraine. He tweets @j_m_milne.

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By Jamie Milne

The report by the Dutch Safety Board into the Russian BUK missile that brought down flight MH17 provided a brief revival of interest in Ukraine this week. But for those who know and care about this embattled but optimistic country the trend is clear – the Russian annexation of Crimea and attack on eastern Ukraine is being forgotten.

Ukraine has suffered extraordinary hardship in the last 18 months and, while Ukrainians hold their future in their own hands, western support is vital. The European Union and United States must not allow their response to Russian aggression to become frozen along with the conflict.

If they can manage to rouse themselves for the first rewriting of European borders by force since the second world war, Angela Merkel, Barack Obama and David Cameron should consider three approaches that would discourage future aggression and eventually roll back past misdemeanours.

First, the west should undergo a fundamental rethink of policy towards Russia which persistently sees differences between Vladimir Putin and the west as artificial and born of mistrust rather than a reflection of completely incompatible visions of the future. It must, of course, continue to isolate Russia in light of its intervention in Syria. Obama blundered by rewarding Putin with a meeting straight after his visit to the United Nations. The message on Russian state media was clear – diplomatic isolation over Crimea and the Donbas was over. Since then American policy appears to have changed with the growing realisation that Russia’s intervention is explicitly pro-Assad and entirely unconcerned with Islamic State. Freezing out Russia is both a moral and prudential approach that deepens Putin’s pariah status for his support of one of the world’s worst regimes and denies him the diplomatic showboating he desires.

Punishing Russian eschewal of international norms is vital but little thought has been given to support for Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko and the new Ukraine. For a young nation of 45 million people that has put lives on the line to pursue a European future this is an unforgivable omission. For the west, the wisest Ukraine policy is also the best Russia policy – assist in the creation of an enterprising, successful country shorn of corruption that Russians are envious of and wish to emulate. A flourishing Ukraine solves the Donbas problem and ultimately addresses the Putin problem. The current approach – a mean trickle of cash that keeps Ukraine on life-support coupled with credulous diplomatic agreements – is an unwitting pro-Putin policy.

Finally, western leaders must stop acting as moderators and start behaving like an ally. The Minsk II agreement signed by France and Germany legitimised the Kremlin-backed rebels and left Poroshenko a mendicant in his own country – requiring permission to secure his own borders and to hold elections in the Donbas.

The politically ‘wised-up’ speak knowingly of Putin’s strategic cunning but the truth is his assault on Ukraine has been a disaster. Only through a pitiful lack of willpower and turning our back on our values have we made it possible to lose an easy fight. In putting right their mistakes, Obama, Merkel and Cameron would be doing a better day’s work than they have done for a long time on the international stage and would go a long way to silencing a man who has become the world’s principal cause of instability.

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