THIS is the week Western foreign policy was finally exposed as a sham. Russia has started to invade Ukraine, an independent nation supposedly backed by the West, in what could be the most significant geopolitical crisis since 9/11, and what is anybody going to do about it? Nothing. Pax Americana had been on its death bed for years; but now is the time for the final rites.
In fact, it’s worse than that. William Hague, the foreign secretary, said that the UK will suspend its participation in preparations for a G8 meeting in Sochi, which will have Vladimir Putin quaking in his boots. The fact that we think that this is the way that one responds to a brutal, armed and well planned invasion – by suspending, not even cancelling, the paperwork for another worthless junket – will have confirmed to Putin just how pusillanimous, unserious, cowardly and rudderless we have become. Platitudes are no match for an ex-KGB agent desperate to buttress his authoritarian regime, use what is left of Russia’s power to maintain a sphere of influence and call the West’s bluff.
The UK, the US and the West should not even be thinking of responding militarily to Russia. Outright war would be cataclysmic. Total trade war would be equally catastrophic. Ukraine itself is in deep trouble: its army would be no match for Russia’s, if hostilities break out properly. But what bothers me is that much of this could have been avoided if the West had pursued a more sensible foreign policy in recent years. Most of the European welfare states have long been debilitated when it comes to foreign policy; but now America is too, and the vacuum will guarantee a new era of extreme geopolitical instability.
US foreign policy under Barack Obama has been a disaster. Iran’s appeasement won’t work. Libya is a mess. US policy towards Egypt has been all over the place. In Syria, Russia is selling arms to Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime. Obama’s so-called reset saw him ditch missile defence plans for Eastern Europe.
David Cameron and Obama agree that there must be “significant costs” to Russia if nothing changes – but these sorts of “threats” are no longer taken seriously. It is true that John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, will travel to Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, tomorrow. But apart from the fact that the new leadership is pretty unstable, it is just another case of gesture politics from the Obama administration.
What exactly is Kerry going to tell the Ukrainian people? That he stands by them, but won’t do anything to help? Many liberals in the Middle East thought that the Arab Spring would be supported by the West and now feel terribly left down. Countries should never promise what they cannot deliver.
Realism is in order. Europe needs Russia. No less than 58 per cent of Ukraine’s gas consumption is imported from Russia; the country would soon collapse if Putin decided to turn off the taps or hike prices too much. Paradoxically, any Western handouts from the West to Ukraine will end up being pocketed by Russia.
Around 36 per cent of German gas, 23 per cent of France’s and 27 per cent of Italy’s is Russian. Just like the Opec countries used to wield energy as a weapon, Putin could inflict immense damage if he sought to withhold supplies. Two-thirds of Russia’s gas exports to the EU go through Ukraine. Of course, waging economic war in this way would also be very costly for Russia. Both sides would be crippled.
As to London, it is hugely dependent on Russian money – FTSE companies, football, energy, property, wealth management and all sorts of other business. Proper sanctions, visa restrictions, confiscations, travel bans and the like would be extremely painful.
So what could realistically be done? Obama should start with a u-turn and announce a new missile defence system for Europe, covering Poland and as much of the continent as possible. Dealing and integrating economically with tyrants is hardly new: the West has bought oil from despotic nations for years, and China is at the heart of the world economy.
The benefits are greater than the costs – but only if the rogues know where the red lines lie. It is the fact that they no longer do that is at the heart of all of today’s problems.