Like everyone in the West, I of course abhor Russia’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine and the senseless loss of life unfolding there, for which Putin should ultimately be held accountable and tried for war crimes. However, I do believe there’s another side to the West’s absolute insistence on Ukraine’s right to self-determination and, while readily admitting that I’m no expert on geopolitics, I feel it’s a point of view that deserves to be raised.
Consider the following hypothetical. Imagine that in the next few years Scotland or Wales achieves independence from the UK and a few years further down the line the Scottish or Welsh people vote to enter into an alliance with Russia. Ridiculous, of course, but then who would have predicted back in the mid-1980s that just a few years later most of Eastern Europe and the Baltic republics would become democracies with an aspiration to join NATO and the EU?
Now imagine further that one of the consequences of this alliance with Russia was that Russian missiles, including nuclear missiles, might be sited on Scottish or Welsh soil. Do you think the English government would simply shrug its shoulders and say ‘Well, they have the right to self-determination, so if that’s what they choose to do…’? Of course not.
By the same token — and this time it’s not even hypothetical, it’s historical — why was it OK for the US to object to the possibility of Russian missiles in Cuba but it’s not OK for Russia to object to the possibility of NATO missiles in Ukraine? It’s hard not to detect a whiff of double standards, mixed with a lax complacency engendered by Western triumphalism after the fall of Communism.
Even before the invasion of Ukraine was launched, I saw no reason why a diplomatic solution could not be reached, according to which Ukraine would commit to becoming a neutral country – not the only neutral country in Europe after all and a solution which Putin actively favoured. Perhaps this neutral status could even be guaranteed for an initial, negotiable number of years, after which the situation would be reassessed. Surely this would be preferable to the terrible tragedy being played out in Ukraine today.
Any sympathy I once had for Putin’s security concerns has now vanished of course. But still I can’t help feeling that, if the West had shown at least a measure of understanding of those concerns rather than simply repeating the mantra of self-determination ad nauseam, the awful events currently being enacted on our TV screens might have been avoided.