Don't add to President Putin's catastrophe

Surely it is time for EU leaders to take stock and to try to see the situation through the other side's eyes


One thing the European Union lacks is a united foreign policy, as has been all too evident in its response to the crisis in Ukraine. Although it was the desire of a majority of Ukrainians to join the EU – not now, but eventually – that triggered the crisis in the first place, the EU itself has failed to decide how it should respond to the awkward consequences of its popularity.

When Russia annexed Crimea after a rushed referendum, the EU condemned it strongly but could not agree on actions to back up its words – not least because so many of its members, including Germany, depend in varying degrees on Russian gas. Since then, each step in worsening the situation has prompted a repeat of the same response.

As it became obvious that Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, was fomenting separatism in eastern Ukraine and arming the separatists, the EU's reaction was to condemn it and to discuss sanctions. Now the downing of the Malaysia Airlines plane over Donetsk by a missile almost certainly supplied by Russia has been condemned and sanctions are being discussed, even as arms sales from Britain and France go ahead.

This incoherence may have led to the worst of both worlds. It means that the EU has struck a high moral tone while being unwilling to follow it through. We thus appear to be both weak and hypocritical.

Still, perhaps this is better than one option, which would be a united posture of confrontation. The centenary of the First World War has served as a reminder of the dangers of European conflict arising from the leaders of nations misreading each others' intentions. There are fewer excuses in these days of instant communications for the West's failure to understand how the world looks to Russian eyes. Yet there is still too little recognition here of Russian national feeling. That means that Western policy often fails to take into account the extent to which Russians see Ukraine as part of their historic motherland. We find President Putin's popularity in Russia puzzling, being so used to regarding our own leaders with contempt. And generally we have little idea of the way in which Russians see Nato – and to a lesser extent the EU – as trying to weaken, encroach upon and encircle them.

Because a majority of Ukrainians themselves were eager to leave the Russian sphere of influence, the EU failed to appreciate the sensitivities of those whose sphere was being rejected. Thus it was that when the crisis began, David Cameron's first instincts were to protect the interests of the City of London by avoiding financial sanctions (as revealed by a briefing paper caught on camera as an official carried it into No 10) and to keep the Government's focus on domestic policies for next year's election.

Surely it is time now for EU leaders to take stock, and to engage in the intelligent negotiating tactic of trying to see the situation through the other side's eyes. Were they to do that, they might see that Mr Putin's approach has been disastrous for Russia's long-term interest. His actions have strengthened Ukrainian opinion against Russia. As a matter of arithmetic, detaching Crimea from Ukraine has reduced the number of Russian-oriented people in Ukraine. As a matter of military strategy, Mr Putin risks being dragged into a local war he cannot win easily in eastern Ukraine. For him, the shooting down of a civilian aircraft has been a catastrophe: it has rallied world opinion against him and his separatist stooges.

For all our horror at the downing of MH17, the policy of the EU and its allies ought to be one of understanding Russian pride and of giving Mr Putin the space to pull back with dignity from a Ukrainian civil war in which he has nothing to gain.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam