Heads up: Top comment and controversy

Ukraine crisis comment: How can Europe respond?

The situation in the Crimea hovers on less of a knife-edge today than earlier in the week, when Russian troops fired a number of warning shots to divert Ukrainian soldiers marching on an airbase.

Diplomatic measures are being tried by Western powers to further cool the conflict. But as today’s masterful cartoon by Dave Brown illustrates (above) European leaders find themselves in a bind. Push Putin too hard and the Russian President may choose to switch off the gas tap that provides a third of Europe’s total supply.

Today’s papers envision a number of possible solutions to – or escalations of – the dispute William Hague called the “biggest crisis" in Europe this century.

Gas war

Writing in the Telegraph, Fraser Nelson argues that America should consider using its newly abundant reserves of shale gas as a “weapon in a new cold war.”

“If Barack Obama were to export more of this gas”, says the editor of the Spectator, “he could send world prices to the floor – hurting not just the Kremlin, but the oligarchs who support Putin”.

Kick Russia out

The self-serving sources for much of Europe’s current wariness of upsetting Putin are caustically outlined in a column by Philip Stephens, published in today’s Financial Times.

In Britain it’s Russia’s “reliable multi-billion-dollar supply of dirty money, [which] is a much cherished customer in the capital’s booming property market.”

Europe’s response was supposed to eschew firm sanctions in order to “de-escalate the conflict”, but, says Stephens, “caution has been the handmaiden of pusillanimity”. Now Putin has no reason to step back.

A reset is needed, Stephens continues. Russia has no interest in abiding by international law, and will use force safe in the knowledge that Western powers are deeply averse to meeting such a move in kind. Basically, it’s time to kick Russia out of the international club. Moscow feels no need to honour accords, so why should EU leaders bother entering into them?

 

Stop the money

Anne Applebaum – the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist – writes in Slate that the West’s habit of blindly accepting Russian money from corrupt sources has contributed to the Russian elite’s feeling of impunity: “Putin and his colleagues can do what they want, whether in Ukraine, Georgia, or London, because everyone knows that whatever the Westerners say, they are all for sale in the end.”

Applebaum calls for a sterner approach. “It shouldn't require a Russian invasion of Crimea to persuade Western governments to band together and deny visas to someone whose wealth comes from corrupt practices.

"It shouldn't require a threatened Russian attack on eastern Ukraine for us to shut down the loopholes and tax havens we've created in the British Virgin Islands or the Swiss Alps. After all, this is money that corrupts our societies, too.”

Misreading Putin

Finally, read Mary Dejevsky today in Independent Voices, whose vital commentary over the past few days has promoted a more nuanced, less wildly antagonistic understanding of the Kremlin’s manoeuvres.

READ MORE: EU LEADERS RACE IN VAIN TO FIND DIPLOMATIC SOLUTION 
WEST HAS LET RUSSIAN CORRUPTION DESTABILISE EUROPE 
COULD RUSSIA TODAY TURN YOU INTO A PUTIN PROPAGANDIST? 
CRIMEA MPS VOTE TO BECOME PART OF RUSSIA 
FEMEN PROTESTERS HOLD TOPLESS PROTEST IN CRIMEA

 

React Now

Read Next
 

Up Ankara, for a tour of great crapital cities

Dom Joly
 

Rebekah Brooks to return? We all get those new-job jitters

John Mullin
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future