David Blackburn

Would the word ‘NATO’ make Vladimir Putin think twice?

Russia, Ukraine, the European Union and the United States will meet in Geneva later today in order to find a solution to the confrontation in eastern Ukraine. There is not much hope of success. The Obama administration has been lowering expectations, so too the Foreign Office.

Kiev’s heavy-handedness in eastern Ukraine has embarrassed the western allies; not least because the military deployment yesterday exposed Ukraine’s inherent weakness: government forces were either incapable or reluctant to enforce Kiev’s writ in the east of the country. There were further violent clashes overnight. Kiev says that 3 ‘Russian separatists’ were killed and 13 wounded when trying to seize a military installation on the Sea of Azov. Anti-Russian demonstrations are expected in Donetsk province today, which is likely to antagonise ethnic Russians, whose rights Vladimir Putin has vowed to protect.

Russia continues to mix bellicosity with our own liberal pieties. Putin has stationed perhaps as many as 40,000 troops on the Ukrainian frontier, while proclaiming the rights of ethnic Russians to self-determine. Russia wants constitutional reform and devolution that would allow regional Ukrainian governors to move closer to Moscow, which is unacceptable to those who would maintain Ukraine’s administrative integrity as well as its territory.

The United States and the European Union want to de-escalate the crisis. They demand that both sides in Ukraine stand down, and that Russian forces withdraw from the frontier. A negotiated settlement can then begin. As to what this settlement would look like, particularly in its finer details, is not yet clear. The western powers cannot negotiate the sovereignty of Ukraine over the heads of Kiev, and Russia has given itself no space to negotiate.

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