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? 
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