Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Ukraine's not gone away

It looks like the middle way is winning. Barack Obama, criticised by the hawks for being too soft on Mr Putin, and by the doves for getting involved where the US has no business, seems to have quelled Russia's neo-imperialist ambitions for the loss of zero American lives. For the time being, anyway. Mr Obama's strategy, focused very tightly on financial and economic outcomes, is working much better than any show of strength by the Seventh Fleet in the Black Sea would have ever achieved.

Crimea might have been lost to Ukraine, but the cost of keeping it is beginning to hurt Russia. Unable to get water to Crimean fields or tourists to Crimean beaches, its economy is crumbling.

And finally Ukraine has shown it has the resolve and the muscle to oust the pro-Russian separatists from its eastern towns and cities. The separatists - who have been using Russian-supplied military hardware to wrest control of eastern Ukraine away from Kiev - have been pushed back to Donetsk and Luhansk.

What are the separatists' leaders after? Probably some kind of bandit quasi-state, recognised by no one, like Transdniestria, run by renegade Soviet officers as their own little mafia fiefdom, nevertheless desperately poor economically and with dismal human rights.

Petro Poroshenko, who won the Ukrainian presidential elections outright less than six weeks ago, has shown himself to be a statesman and nation-builder - although these are early days, and Ukraine has a track-record of electing leaders that turn out dodgy. But so far so good. The Ukrainian armed forces have got themselves together as a fighting force.

The separatists are on the run, a turning point has been reached. Voices in Russia are calling Mr Putin to step in and support the pro-Russian fighters; but Mr Putin is reluctant to do so. He may yet intervene militarily from across the border, but the likelihood diminishes with each passing week. Russia risks ostracism from the global economic system. The sanctions imposed on Mr Putin's wealthy associates by the US and (more reluctantly) by the EU have hit them where it hurts. Within weeks, their net worth was reduced by several billion dollars per head. Visa and Mastercard have shown that the US can turn off the life-blood of the Russian financial system at a single keystroke, and I'm sure Microsoft and Google have some nasty things they can infiltrate into Russian citizens' PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

A further defeat for Mr Putin is that the West has raised its guard against the Kremlin's disinformation warriors feeding lies and half-truths to gullible readers of comments sections of its online media. No longer are readers of the Guardian, Telegraph, Independent or Mail likely to come across dubious diatribes about Ukrainian Fascists conducting genocide on Russians in Donetsk.

And a victory for the balanced, intelligent approach. A defeat for those who say "sit back and do nothing", and a defeat for those who say "nuke the bastards to kingdom come".

The balanced way is hardest because its subject to attacks from all corners. In the case of Ukraine, it is shown to be working, despite the doubts from the West's left and right.

And all of this good news hiding below the headlines. Let's just hope Mr Putin skulks back to lick his wounds having learned his lesson - that all his nationalistic bluster and bare-chested bravado, does not get you far these days, especially when his mates' fortunes are at stake.

This time two years ago:
More about Modlin airport

This time five years ago:
Get on your bike and RIDE!

This time six years ago:
Moles in my own garden
[Before I discovered the Secret: Mr Dembo's special sauce]

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