Melanie McDonagh Melanie McDonagh

Russia’s restraint over Ukraine thus far has been remarkable

Perhaps it’s premature to say this now that the Russian prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, has sounded off about Russian citizens in Ukraine being in danger, but it strikes me that Russia has behaved in the current crisis with a certain commendable restraint.

Judging from most pundits in most British papers, there is no redeeming element to the Putin regime – soup to nuts, gay rights to corruption – and if it hasn’t actually sent the tanks in, well, it probably wants to.

Yet, reading the statement from its foreign ministry that ‘a forced change of power is underway’, it’s hard to say that it’s not strictly correct. Mr Medvedev wasn’t actually being untruthful in saying that: ‘the legitimacy of a whole number of organs of power that function [in Kiev] raises great doubts. Some of our foreign, Western partners think otherwise. This is some kind of aberration of perception when people call legitimate what is essentially the result of armed mutiny. We do not understand what is going on there. There is a real threat to our interests and to the lives of our citizens.’

From the Russian perspective that’s a reasonable point of view. Viktor Yanukovych isn’t our kind of president and seems undeniably to have authorised the security services to use snipers against civilians, but when it comes to a description of what happened in Kiev in the last few days, armed mutiny is not an unreasonable way of putting it – though it must be said, there were more arms with the government than the opposition. Mr Yanukovytch was indeed a legitimately elected president; the opposition which is now running the show with the support of the EU is not, and won’t have the chance to be until elections take place in May.

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