The silver-bullet solution to the Crimean crisis is clear: work together with Moscow, for our benefit and for that of Ukraine

The Western objection will be that Russia should not be rewarded for bad behaviour


The diplomatic fence is an uncomfortable place to sit, even when you are accompanied by an entourage numbering 700 and the streets of central Brussels have been closed for your safety. But it was where President Barack Obama found himself yesterday, and where much of the Western world has been since Russia moved into Crimea and proceeded to annex the territory.

On the one hand, they want to make their disapproval clear (Russia must be isolated and be made to understand that what it has done is unacceptable). On the other, they fear leaving President Putin with nothing to lose (diplomatic channels, as Mr Obama has stressed on his Europe visit, remain open).

The idea that Vladimir Putin will come slinking back to say “sorry”, bearing the title deeds to Crimea on a tray, is not realistic. He knows that Crimea will be an economic burden, as he knows that annexation will incur a diplomatic – and probably material – cost. He also knows that the Russian economy is not in the best shape. The awkward truth is that, to him, and to Russia, Crimea is worth it.

The West can put him in the doghouse for a while – how long is already the subject of quarrelling – but it does not help anyone to leave him there for ever. So the question  has to be not just how to punish Russia, but how the West might obtain some of what it wants from this totally unheralded and unsought situation.

The temptation, as always, will be to err on the side of gradualism and caution. A symbolic signing of a very small part of the EU’s association agreement with Ukraine to signal the West’s friendly intentions towards Kiev. The partial lifting of an ineffective sanction or two, if Russia stays out of eastern Ukraine and does not meddle in preparations for new presidential elections. Oh yes, and no gas shut-off, either to Ukraine or to the EU, please.

None of that takes anyone much further, though; it rather cements an ill-tempered status quo. So why not show greater ambition? In his Kremlin speech last week, Putin listed all the slights Russia feels it has suffered since the Soviet collapse, starting with the expansion of Nato up to its borders.

There is no chance of reversing most of them – nor should they be reversed. The new EU states of the Baltic and East and Central Europe will cling to their membership of Nato even more tightly now, given Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and who is to blame them? But the West has to ask itself what sort of a Russia it wants on its borders – a Russia that feels insecure and is liable to lash out, or a Russia that can concentrate on finally modernising its Soviet infrastructure, secure in its post-Soviet borders?


And then it should invite Russia to help to work out how we get there. What should be on the table? Let’s start from where, essentially, we left off, with Ukraine. Putin has to honour what appeared to be a  pledge in his Kremlin speech to stay out  of the rest of Ukraine, and if necessar  this should be set out in writing and guaranteed by observers or even peacekeepers on the ground.

But the West, in the shape of the European Union, must stop trying to fast-track Ukraine into a Western camp. Its economic dependence on Russia, at least for a while yet, must be recognised and accepted into the mix. Inspiring though the tenacity of Kiev’s Euromaidan protesters has been, EU membership is not a realistic proposition for Ukraine for a very long time.

This is not just because the EU’s appetite for expansion is limited after the backsliding of Romania and Bulgaria, but because – in standards of governance and per capita GDP – Ukraine lags far behind both of these. It is poorer, and this is saying something, than Russia. Can there not be a joint aid package agreed between Moscow, Brussels and the IMF, designed to foster the sort of changes that are needed?

Crimea, as the West cannot quite bring itself to recognise, is lost. But the parallel that Putin drew with Kosovo should be exploited. Maybe Crimea can be persuaded to rerun its referendum for decency’s sake, but why should Russia not recognise the independence of Kosovo in return for the acceptance of Russia’s new border? The so-called frozen conflict between Moldova and Transnistria could be brought into the equation, and even the pro-Russian enclaves in Georgia.

Or how about a lease arrangement for Crimea, as once pertained in Hong Kong, to run for, say, 20 years – or the same time as Russia’s lease on its base at Sevastopol was to run? And all to be subsumed under a grand European security agreement under which there would be no new territorial push from Nato or Russia for the duration?

The Western objection will be that Russia should not be rewarded for bad behaviour. But a Ukraine that, without Crimea, will be more likely to look west is no reward. Russia feels that, for 20 years, its legitimate interests have been ignored. As Obama noted, its lunge for Crimea reflected weakness, not strength. There has to be a way of preventing Russia’s sense of vulnerability from becoming  more dangerous.

A hint of Essex in the music of Rome’s Santa Cecilia

It is several years now since I alighted by chance on the BBC Proms debut of the chorus and orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, under their director, Antonio Pappano. In his nearly 10 years in Rome, Pappano – who was concurrently musical director at Covent Garden – has forged an ensemble with a truly remarkable combination of musicality and nanosecond accuracy that now plays in the big international league. Once heard, the Accademia di Santa Cecilia cannot be mistaken for anyone else.  

The achievement of Pappano, and the history of what must surely now be known as his orchestra, has now been captured in a film, The Italian Character, directed by Angelo Bozzolini. There are three things I want to say about it. First, it told me something I should have known, but didn’t: Pappano – or rather Sir Antonio after he was knighted in 2012 – has Italian roots, but was born and spent much of his childhood in London. His English betrays the barest hint of Essex, but his manner is pure Italian (give or take a touch of very British self-deprecation). In lauding the work ethic of his father and the preciseness of the English, he is an exemplary poster-child for migration. 

Second, Bozzolini’s film is a masterpiece in conveying the essence of music also in pictures and words. The eloquence of Pappano himself and the star soloists when they talk about their conductor and their playing affords a privileged insight into a very special time and place. Third, if you get the chance, go to see it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
One 200ml bottle of codeine linctus contains three times the equivalent level of morphine you'd get in casualty if you broke your wrist  

The ‘war on drugs’ consistently ignores its greatest enemy: over-the-counter painkillers

Janet Street-Porter
The author contemplating what could have been  

I was a timid, kind, gentle-natured child, later to be spurned and humiliated – in short, the perfect terrorist-in-waiting

Howard Jacobson
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable