As Ukraine’s agony intensifies, the temptation to walk away from an insoluble-looking conflict must be resisted

Sanctions and shrill denunciations of Putin are no substitute for proactive policy

 

Share

However reluctant everyone must be to admit it, the fighting in Ukraine appears to have passed the point of no return. Following the shocking incineration of more than 30 people in Odessa in the south, and an unknown number of deaths at various flashpoints in the east, it is no longer hyperbole to talk of war on Europe’s eastern frontier. This is the new reality. The West’s Ukrainian strategy – based on gently drawing the country into the orbit of the European Union, and hoping Moscow wouldn’t notice – lies in ruins. Ukraine is now divided into east and west, though the frontier between the two is shifting, and too much blood has been shed for either side now to contemplate laying down arms easily.

Whatever happens with the Ukrainian army’s ongoing offensive, next Sunday will see another Crimea-style referendum in the east, which the pro-Russian separatists will win hands down. They already control most levers of power there – the town halls, the regional headquarters and the police. Even if the Ukrainian army recaptures the odd town between now and then, it is unlikely to be able to reconquer an entire region in which the population is overwhelmingly hostile to them.

The question, therefore, is not whether the referendum will go ahead but what will happen afterwards: whether the separatists will simply establish an autonomous region, or go further and proclaim outright union with Russia. After the carnage in Odessa, where those burnt alive were all supporters of the Russian cause, the mood in the separatist camp may have hardened to the point where they will not consider anything short of the Russian option. That will compel the US and Europe to impose new, tougher sanctions on Moscow, which won’t damage only Russia. Fresh sanctions will also strain the internal unity of the EU, as several member states, including Hungary, Bulgaria and Cyprus, oppose them.

As the strategic choices disappear one by one, and hopes of peace recede, policymakers in Washington and European capitals will be tempted to throw up their hands, blame everything on the Kremlin and walk away. The West has form in this regard, for that is what it did in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, when the Americans and Europeans rightly blamed Serbia for stirring up conflict there but did nothing about it. Instead, they wrung their hands and traded accusations as a low-level war sputtered on until 1995, when concerted action suddenly ended it.

It would be catastrophic if a similar sequence of events were allowed to unfold in Ukraine, with sanctions and shrill denunciations of Vladimir Putin substituting a more proactive policy. Sanctions may give Americans and Europeans the luxury of imagining that they are “doing something”, but to imagine that they will stop more lives from being lost in Ukraine is ludicrous. Much though it would pain Washington and its partners to adjust course, they should abandon the comforting but futile notion that absolutely everything going on in eastern Ukraine is the work of Kremlin wire pullers. They must open up some form of direct communication with the people who have taken up arms there.

At the same time, it is extraordinary that Western governments are making so little effort to find out what Russia’s own agenda actually is. They all seem content to work with the assumption that the Kremlin’s plan is to slice off another part of Ukraine around the city of Donetsk – even though a second annexation of Ukraine’s territory would deprive Moscow of all influence over the other three-quarters of the country for good, which cannot possibly be in Russia’s interest. Possibly, President Putin is now too maddened to care about Russia’s long-term interest. But it is tragic that our leaders seem reluctant to explore whether any common ground – however slender – still exists with Russia over Ukraine’s future. We owe it to the people of Ukraine, both east and west, not to walk away, and to try a lot harder.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The UCAS clearing house call centre in Cheltenham, England  

Ucas should share its data on students from poor backgrounds so we can get a clearer picture of social mobility

Conor Ryan
A study of 16 young women performing light office work showed that they were at risk of being over-chilled by air conditioning in summer  

It's not just air conditioning that's guilty of camouflage sexism

Mollie Goodfellow
Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks