We don’t want a war with Russia

 

Share

The response of Western leaders to the attempt by Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, to annex Crimea and threaten the rest of Ukraine has been hesitant and feeble. This is probably just as well. The supposedly muscular issuing of imprecise and ill-considered threats and ultimatums is how wars start.

If David Cameron has learned from his unwise statements as opposition leader in 2008, so much the better. That was when he suggested, after the Russian invasion of Georgia, that Nato should invite the former Soviet republic to join. That would have put all members of Nato, including the UK, under an obligation to come to Georgia’s aid militarily. That would not have been a good idea, to put it mildly.

Mr Cameron’s words six years ago make surprising reading today. They are at once prophetic and naive. “Russia says it is fighting in defence of Russian citizens in South Ossetia,” he said, referring to the part of Georgia that Russian forces occupy to this day. “Who will they claim to be defending tomorrow? Russians in the Ukraine, Russians in the Baltic states who are already members of the EU and Nato?”

Fortunately, the PM is not so bellicose today. If anything, he has gone too far the other way. Conspicuous in his silence as the crisis in Ukraine escalated, he spoke to Mr Putin on Friday but the public talking was left to Barack Obama, who warned vaguely that there “will be costs” if Russia violated Ukrainian sovereignty – even as Mr Putin’s forces were doing precisely that.

As Rodric Braithwaite, ex-UK ambassador to Moscow, writes in The Independent on Sunday, the burden of a diplomatic response “will probably fall on the Germans, the Poles and the French, since the Americans are being ineffective on the sidelines, and the British seem to have given up doing foreign policy altogether”.

Read more: Ukraine vows to fight after Russia says yes to invasion
Moscow catches the world off guard
How far will president Putin go to keep his hands on Crimea?
Comment: No wonder Putin says Crimea is Russian
Cameron warns that ‘the world is watching’
Election monitors will be under extreme pressure

So far, the British contribution has been to be the first to call for yesterday’s meeting of the United Nations Security Council. This was not an insignificant session of jaw-jaw: it will have embarrassed Mr Putin for Russia to have to rely on its veto to avoid a resolution of condemnation.

Such diplomatic pressure is the only weapon the international community should use for now. It may not sound particularly forceful or brave of William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, to summon the Russian ambassador and to urge on him the “de-escalation of tensions in Ukraine”. But these are the only sensible measures that can be taken. Over time, they will put meaningful pressure on Mr Putin. There can be no question, for example, of the G8 meeting going ahead in Sochi in June if Russian troops are still in Ukraine then.

The temptation for leaders is always to avoid being accused of “standing idly by”; to suggest that there are lines that should not be crossed or actions that would be in some way “unacceptable”. Deterrence can be the right policy, but it requires real, sustained thought  first. President Obama’s hasty “red lines” in Syria were just one example of non-credible (and therefore ignored) deterrence. He got away with that because agreement was reached on Syria’s chemical weapons, but enough wars have been started by accident for the lesson to merit constant repetition.

The Independent on Sunday is not opposed to all wars, regardless of fashionable talk of living in a “post-interventionist” world. We, like President Obama, are opposed to dumb wars. War with Russia would be a dumb war to end all dumb wars.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Why it won’t be the i wot won it – our promise to you

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
A relative of dead Bangladeshi blogger Washiqur Rahman reacts after seeing his body at Dhaka Medical College in Dhaka on March 30,  

Atheists are being hacked to death in Bangladesh, and soon there will be none left

Rory Fenton
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor