Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

What happens in Ukraine will not stay in Ukraine

For the first time in my life, I would like nothing more than for Seamus Milne and Owen Jones to be right.

A fortnight ago, Russia invaded Ukraine. This may be that Vladimir Putin is a revanchist autocrat. Or it may be the fault of the United States. It could well be that, as long as Putin remains in office, the European Union will have to deal with an aggressive and expansionist neighbour. Or it could be that Putin’s Russia is no worse than Barack Obama’s America. And, honestly, I would like nothing better than for Jones and Milne to be right: because it seems to me that one of the best things about being born in 1990 is that you do not have to worry very much about nuclear catastrophe.

The problem is, I cannot quite convince myself. It might be that you can successfully apply the Milne thesis to Russia’s incursion into the Crimea, but it is something of a stretch to extend it to South Ossetia and Chechnya. There is a glimmer of truth to the Jones argument: the nations of the west have intervened in countless countries during the past two decades. But the similarities between Russia and the west are outweighed by one important difference, and it is this: Mitt Romney is not under house arrest, Tea party activists do not go missing in the night, and the Scottish referendum will not be rigged.

It is easy to list things about the US or the UK that we do not like, but it is more important to remember that in 2016, after Scotland votes to remain part of the union, the Scottish people will have the opportunity to re-elect a separatist government; if you think that the Crimeans will have a similar opportunity under Putin, I have a bridge to sell you in Volgograd.

The trouble, though, is what happens once we accept that what we are seeing in Crimea is not something we can simply blame on America, or wish away as the whims of a powerful nation? Perhaps, if Jones and Milne are not right, we might simply pretend that they are: perhaps Crimea is a price we are willing to pay for some peace of mind.

The consequences of western reaction – or lack thereof – will not remain in Ukraine, however. Douglas Alexander has spelt out out the consequences in stark terms:

Russia emboldened … a central Europe fearful of future political destabilisation and military insecurity; and a United States increasingly concerned about Europe’s willingness to act, even diplomatically and economically, in the face of such threats.

Russia is a resource giant led by a man who regards the loss of prestige experienced after 1991 as a global catastrophe. Whether it is over Crimea or the Baltics or simply whether or not the lights come on, sooner or later, Europe will have to find a solution to its Russian problem. When it comes, that solution is unlikely to involve blaming the US.


Stephen Bush is a contributing editor to Progress, writes a weekly column for Progress, the Tuesday review, and tweets @stephenkb


Photo: World Economic Forum

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Stephen Bush

is a contributing editor to Progress, formerly wrote a weekly column for Progress, the Tuesday review, and tweets @stephenkb


  • Has SB forgotten Lincoln’s bloodthirsty war against the secessionists? Not to mention the landgrabs against Mexico and Cuba …. why does Obama not vacate Guantanamo Bay, under US occupation after another unequal treaty…Grenada, Panama, the Bush-Obama doctrine that the president has the right to order the murder of anyone he dislikes, and with the double-click drone tactic, anyone nearby and/or who tries to bring medical aid to his victims…within the US, TeaParty activists may only be harassed by FBI provocateurs, but the internal repressin of dissidents left and right in the US dates back to the sedition act and continues ever since the destructin of civil liberties and elected state governments under Lincoln, the Palmer raids of 1917-21, McCarthyism repression of black and latterly Hispanic activists…..Georgia’s aggression against S Ossetia and Russian proportionate response was hardly pure Russian aggression; the worse it was, the less the expansion from agreed bases into the rest of Crimea may be regarded as escalation: de-escalation would be a better word. Russian persecution of -often nonnegotiable – Chechen resistance pales into insignificance by comparison Anglo-American aggression in Afghanistan – often promised to continue with indefinite support of a puppet regime….
    Moreover, AFghanistan is not exactly close to the North Atlantic, and NATO is an ongoing threat to Russian, as are indeed the military clauses of EU ‘assistance’ offers to Ukraine. There is no good reason for NATO to have survived the collapse of the USSR, The reduction of the status of the Russian language may have been temporary, though not as a result of good judgment- but how can Russophone Ukrainians tolerate a government including those who instigated in the first place, and cannot be trusted not to engineer a repetition of the repression of Russophones in the Baltic republics, now constituting a fer-de-lance for US planes to threaten Russian soil? And how can Russians in Russia be expected not to being pressure to defend their friends and relatives in Ukraine? If a secessionist Scotland were – implausibly perhaps – to move towards compulsory Gaelic for public positions in even one region, I suspect that English people would become pretty indignant…..
    As for giving up Crimea to ensure our peace of mind, WE DO NOT OWN CRIMEA. Even Godfrey Bloom of UKIP is more aware of the issues at stake in the Crimea and the heirarchy of legitimate interest than Stephen Bush in his vapourings…. Does Bush think the Transdniestrian Republic is a threat to Romania or even a serious threat to Moldova – unless indigenous sentiments agitating for a closer union with Russia were to arise? What are THESE THREATS Douglas Alexander in his warmongering mood is referring to? Such vague musings are no basis for any policy whatsoever….

  • Do you have a clue what this conflict is about ? Have you ever been to Ukraine ? More war as football where we support the most “attractive” side. Hasn’t really worked out so well in Syria like you thought it would.

  • … Douglas who? And comparing Scotland and Crimea in the same breath is stretching it a bit.
    “Rigged elections..House Arrests …People who go missing in the night..” Le Carre and 007 stuff which only ignites fears and animosity and stokes ill-feeling for me, the man in and on the street.
    Speak plain English, Comrade, so that we may understand the ‘PLOT’ – if indeed there is one.

    Practically speaking, there is no war in Ukraine or Crimea [yet], as there is nowt’ and nothing of any substance to fight over .. or is there? Well there’s lots of soil and lots of people – no oil or vast mineral deposits. The area is an economic wasteland which perplexes me as to why there is such a hullabaloo going down in hi-places and over the [Media] [?]. It couldn’t have anything to do with myriad sheaf-loads of hidden agendas emanating from the back-room boys [and girls] at Geo- Political Party HQs, who dream up strategies [over cafe lattes] for our untouchable Political Elitists, or could it?

  • I have been to Ukraine as recently as this summer and I’m afraid the looney left are completely wrong on this one.

    Stephen this is a good article, I’m left thinking that if Putin gets his way again then it will be Moldova who gets it next. A country that is trying to join the EU (oh heaven forbid any democratically elected Government ever tired to fulfil its mandate and do this against the will of Putin!), has already faced threats that the heating would be turned off if they tried to do so, and there’s the small matter of a few thousand Russian troops already stationed in the Transdneister region who might turn into “local volunteers” overnight (or whatever the hell Russian troops have been calling themselves in the Crimea).

    Contagion is precisely the word Stephen, progressives need to call out the dodgy and cynical political reasoning that attempts to smear our European brothers that just want real independence from Russia after centuries of murderous oppression.

  • The problem with the situation can’t be looked at as the perceived dictatorial and expansionist intentions of Russia as apposed to the perceived altruistic intent of the West. The problem is the uncertainty over the reasons and the legality in which the West has acted over many decades under the banner of Democracy and world security has given anyone with enough power in the world the ability to use the same uncertainty to act for whatever purposes they wish. If the West had a blanket policy which it applied with legal and moral backing then it could never be turned round. The next big situation to blow up in the face of Western powers is going to be the US’ s extraterratorial killings.

  • EU membership carries military protocols; application for EU membership is a slowish track to full NATO membership. Bush swindled Gorbachev in pretending that NATO would never move east of Berlin; NATO is now a thin cloak for (Anglo)-US aggression throught the entire world from Serbia to Afghanistan…not forgetting Latin America. The 14th Army of the USSR was stationed in Tiraspol/Transdniestrian Republic before 1990 and remained through popular demand. That area is not a nationally or ehtnic unity oppressed by ‘Russia’ – has RAS heard of Balkan history; mutual antagonisms have left the door open for imperial intervention. Russians were not over-represented in the CPSU/OGPU/NKVD/Smersh…Russia has legitimate interests in its ‘near abroad’; aren’t you sick of the pro-imperial WWI propaganda about ‘defending brave little Belgium’ – part of ‘our”near abroad’ (as Lord Landsowne and Morley pointed out in their 1914 Cabinet resignation statements, Anglo-French plans to take Belgium were in place; the Germans moved quicker.,. The US has made it plain in its NewAmerican Century proclamations that through the NED. OTPOR,CANVASS its plans to dominate the entire world, and any state not a willing puppet will be overthrown by heavily subsidized ‘civil society’ infiltrators ready to create mobs and in the case of Kiev vet parliamentary choice of a new government. The imperial spirit of Jack any price (imposing) “freedom” on any people not prepared to be puppets or in Lenin’s phrase ‘useful idiots’ subservient to the White House (not Congress or the Supreme Court)…Cartwright overlooks the world-wide repression arising from these ambitions, though he is correct in identifying the threat to all Ukrainians of the narrow nationalism spearheaded by Svoboda. But neo-Nazis are grist to the mill of the CIA since Arnold Gehlen left the Nazi spy system and was coopted/volunteered to join the new imperial superstate. Most Ukrainophones are as much at risk, and distrust as much the Svobodists/Banderists/(Petlyurists?) as do Russophones. But US/EU leverage is empowering a racist minority. Why? becaue they are enemies of states and nations targeted as ‘our enemies’…Washington and its EU partners increasingly behave like the wildmen who ran the French Revolution. Those miscreants took that revolution’s cant — liberty, equality, and fraternity — and sought to use it to change governments in Europe and the United States if they did not bow to the demands of the French revolutionaries. They fomented insurrection across Europe and did so with incendiary propaganda printed in all the appropriate languages, as well as with covert action operations — like that conducted by Citizen Genet, with Jefferson’s acquiescence, in the United States. In the end, the practice of revolutionary French interventionism ignited what can be seen as world war that lasted most of fifteen years.This French model — but today using the term “democracy” as its mantra — is now regularly applied by the United States and the EU around the world — Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Cuba, Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Iran, Sri Lanka, North Korea, and now Ukraine — and it amounts to throwing gasoline on smoldering fires which tend to leap into flames that destroy governments and often regional stability. Such intervention-to-promote democracy is an arrogant, reckless, sophomoric, and war-causing method of conducting international relations, and it is a Satan that has spawned two other war-promoting interventionist causes — human rights and women’s rights. The U.S. and the EU commitment to endless intervention for unobtainable abstract ideals that have nothing to do with their legitimate national security concerns are today the greatest motivation for much of hatred and violence directed by non-Westerners at American and European citizens and interests.

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