A longer read for the weekend… Edward Lucas on the threat posed to peace by Russia and what the West should do about it

edward lucasEdward Lucas worked for Paddy Ashdown, has helped at by-elections, and was active in the National League of Young Liberals (NLYL) and the Union of Liberal Students (ULS). He’s better known, though, for being a senior editor at The Economist and an expert on energy, cyber-security, espionage, Russian foreign and security policy and the politics and economics of Eastern Europe. In 2008 he wrote The New Cold War, a prescient account of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In 2011 he wrote Deception, an investigative account of east-west espionage. And earlier this year, he published The Snowden Operation, in which he argues that any benefits to the public debate about issues such as meta-data and encryption achieved by Edward Snowden’s leaks are far outweighed by the damage done to the West’s security, diplomacy and economic interests.

This week, he delivered a speech to the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee (pictured), from which he’s kindly allowed us to publish excerpts below. However, I think it’s well worth reading the whole speech, which is available here.

Many people in Washington, Brussels, London and Berlin believe that Vladimir Putin’s Russia can be accommodated diplomatically. Money doesn’t smell. Energy is just a business. There is no need to take radical measures in response to the latest crisis in Ukraine. The danger is of a provocative over-reaction, not of appeasement.

I disagree profoundly. My views are based on my experiences over many years in in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Russia and other countries in the region. People there have been warning us for years of the dangerous direction of events. We have not listened to them. Instead, we have systematically patronised, belittled and ignored those who know the problem better than we do. Now they have been proved right. I hope that my voice may be heard, where theirs, still, is not.

My first point is that Russia is a revisionist power. The Kremlin not only regards the existing European security order as unfair but actively seeks to change it. It wants to weaken the Atlantic alliance, to divide NATO and to undermine the European Union’s role as a rule-setter, especially in energy policy. On issues such as the South Stream pipeline, access to gas storage, reverse flow and other issues the unsung bureaucrats of the EU Commission represent an existential threat to the Kremlin’s business model.

Russia begrudges the former captive nations of the Soviet empire their freedom, their prosperity, and particularly their independence. It maintains an old-fashioned idea of “legitimate interests” and “spheres of influence” in which the future geopolitical orientation of countries such as Ukraine and Georgia is not a matter of sovereign choice for the peoples of those nations, but a question in which Russia has, by right, a veto.

My second point is that Russia, a leading petrostate, now has the means to pursue its revisionist approach:

    • it ruthlessly uses its energy weapon against European countries, particularly in pipeline-delivered gas, where it has a substantial monopoly in the eastern half of the continent.
    • it uses money. It bolsters a self-interested commercial and financial lobby which profits from doing business with Russia and fears any cooling in political relations. Austrian banks, German industrial exporters, French defence contractors, and a slew of companies, banks and law firms in my own country, the United Kingdom, exemplify this. These energy and financial ties constrain the Western response to Russian revisionism.
    • it practises information warfare (propaganda) with a level of sophistication and intensity not seen even during the Cold War. This confuses and corrodes Western decision-making abilities.
    • it is prepared to threaten and use force.

My third point is that Russia is winning. Too much attention is paid to the ebb and flow of events in Ukraine. The big picture is bleak: Russia has successfully challenged the European security order. It has seized another country’s territory, fomented insurrection, and engaged in repeated acts of military saber-rattling, subversion and economic coercion. The response from the West has been weak and disunited. The United States is distracted by multiple urgent problems elsewhere. You rightly wonder why you should be bearing the cost of increasing European security. For their part many European countries have no appetite for confrontation with Russia.

My fourth point is that greater dangers lie ahead. Russia has mounted a bold defence of its market-abusing South Stream pipeline, signing up Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Greece in support of a direct challenge to the EU’s rules on pipeline construction and third party access. The Ukrainian adventure has given a big boost to the Putin regime in Russia, which had previously shown some signs of declining popularity, amid economic failure and growing discontent about corruption and poor public services. The big danger is that as the effect of seizing Crimea wears off (and as the costs of doing so bear more heavily on Russia’s sagging finances), the regime is tempted to try something else.

Our weakness over Ukraine makes that more likely. We have set the stage for another, probably more serious challenge to European security, most likely in the Baltic states. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are loyal American allies and NATO members. If any one of them is successfully attacked or humiliated, NATO will lose its credibility overnight, permanently and irreversibly. These are our frontline states: the safety and security that we have taken for granted since the end of the Cold War now hangs on their fate.

But geography is against them: the Baltic states form a thin, flat strip of land, lightly populated and with no natural frontier and little strategic depth. Russia knows that. NATO has only a token presence in the region. We have no hardened infrastructure, no pre-positioned military forces, weapons or munitions. Russia knows that too. Their economies are liable to Russian pressure (especially in natural gas, where they are 100% dependent on Russian supplies). Estonia and Latvia are also vulnerable to Russian interference because of their ethnic make-up (between a quarter and a third of their populations self-identify as “Russian” in some sense).

What can we do?

The first task is to see clearly what has happened. European security will not be fixed with a few deft diplomatic touches. To cope with a revisionist Russia it needs a fundamental overhaul. American and European policymakers need to explain to the public that the war in Ukraine was a game-changer.

We need to rebut the phoney Realpolitik arguments, which advise us to make the best of a bad job. We should accept the loss of Crimea, so the argument goes, do a deal with Russia over the future of Ukraine, and get used to the new realities, of a Russian droit de regard in neighbouring countries.

Such an approach would be morally wrong and strategically stupid.

Securing a Europe whole and free after 1991 has been a magnificent achievement in which the United States has played a huge part. True: we made mistakes. We declared “job done” in 2004, when 10 ex-communist countries joined NATO. That was far too early. We overlooked Russian resentment at the way Europe was evolving, and our vulnerability to Russian pushback. We neglected Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and the countries of the Caucasus. But having made these mistakes is no reason to compound them now, by retreating into a grubby defeatism. To go back
to business as usual would send a message that the kleptocratic regime in the Kremlin would understand all too well: crime pays. .. Instead, we should make it clear that we will boost our allies and weaken our opponents. We do not want to be enemies with Russia. But if the Putin regime treats us as an enemy, we help nobody by pretending otherwise.

The most immediate priority is military. A security crisis in the Baltic region is the single most
dangerous threat facing the Atlantic alliance. Reckless behaviour by Russia could face us with a choice between a full-scale military confrontation (including the potential use of nuclear weapons) or surrender, with the collapse of our most fundamental security arrangements. We must make every effort to ensure that this does not happen.

That means American and other allies prepositioning military equipment and supplies in the Baltic states. It means NATO creating a standing defence plan—one which assumes that there is a real and present danger of attack. We need to put a major NATO base in Poland, to reassure that country that it can safely deploy its forces to the Baltics as reinforcements in the event of a crisis. We need to boost the NATO presence in the Baltic states with rotating visits by naval vessels, extended air-policing, and ground forces—initially on persistent rotation, but as soon as possible on permanent deployment.

Russia will complain vigorously about this. But the fact that the Kremlin is unhappy when its neighbours are secure is telling. We should explain to the Russian authorities that when NATO expanded in 2004, we did not even draw up contingency plans for the military defence of the new members, because we assumed that Russia was a friend, not a threat. It is Russia’s behaviour which has changed that. Russia attacked Georgia in 2008. It rehearsed the invasion
and occupation of the Baltic states a year later, in the Zapad-09 exercise (which concluded with a dummy nuclear strike on Warsaw). It has continued to menace the Baltic states ever since, with air-space violations, propaganda and economic warfare, and state-sponsored subversion. We take the step of securing our most vulnerable allies belatedly and reluctantly, and solely as a result of Russian policy directed towards them. …

Having shored up our most vulnerable allies, the next task is stabilising Ukraine. It is hard to
overstate how parlous the situation is. How much more Ukrainian territory ends up under direct or indirect Russian control is of secondary importance. Ukraine is going to be in the political and economic emergency room for years to come. That is Russia’s doing. Ukraine is suffering a world-class economic and financial crisis, which even in a stable and secure country would be far worse than anything experienced elsewhere in Europe. The economy is fundamentally uncompetitive. The main export market, Russia, is at risk of closure at any moment. Public finances are in ruins. The government subsists on a hand-to-mouth basis, relying on ad-hoc donations from wealthy oligarchs for even core spending requirements such as national defence. Even if everything else goes well, simply fixing Ukraine’s economy will take five years.

The outside world must respond generously and imaginatively. A new Marshall Plan for Ukraine should involve not only direct financial support, but the widest possible relaxation of tariffs and quotas on Ukrainian products such as steel, grain, textiles and agricultural products. The European Union has led the way with the newly signed deep and comprehensive free trade agreement, but much more remains to be done. In particular, European countries should accelerate efforts to supply Ukraine with natural gas by reversing the flow of existing pipelines. Russia has already threatened unspecified sanctions against countries which re-export Russian gas – a sign of how seriously the Kremlin treats the issue. …

Deterring Russia, not only in Ukraine but elsewhere, is the hardest part of the task ahead. Russia is an integrated part of the world economy and of world decision-making on everything from space to sub-sea minerals. It cannot be simply isolated and ignored. But that does not mean that we cannot raise the cost of doing business for the Putin regime. In particular, we should greatly extend the use of sanctions against individuals. … This would send a direct and powerful message to the Russian elite that their own personal business in the West – where they and their families shop, study, save and socialise – will not continue as usual. …

Europe can do much more. It can build more gas storage, and liberalise the rules governing it, so that all parties have access to the facilities. It can complete the north-south gas grid, making it impossible for Russia to use supply interruptions on its four east-west export pipelines as a political weapon. Most of all, the European Commission should proceed with its complaint against Gazprom for systematic market-abuse and law-breaking. This move – in effect a prosecution – is based on the seizure of huge numbers of documents following raids on Gazprom
offices and affiliates. The Commission had expected to release this complaint — in effect a charge sheet –in March. Then it was postponed until June. Many now wonder if it has been We also need to improve the West’s resilience and solidarity in the face of Russian pressure. …

Next, we need to revive our information-warfare capability. We won the Cold War partly because Soviet media lied as a matter of course, and ours did not. They tried to close off their societies from the free flow of information. We did not. In the end, their tactics backfired. Just as we have underestimated the potential effect of Russian energy, money and military firepower, so too have we neglected the information front. Russian propaganda channels such as the multilingual RT channel are well-financed and have made powerful inroads into our media space. They create a subtle and effective parallel narrative of world events, in which the West are the villains, mainstream thinking is inherently untrustworthy, and Russia is a victim of injustice and aggression, not its perpetrator.

Combatting this will require a major effort of time, money and willpower, involving existing media outlets, government, non-profit organisations and campaigning groups. We need to play both defense and offense. We need to begin to rebut Russian myths, lies and slanders, highlighting the factual inconsistences and elisions of the Kremlin narrative, and its dependence on fringe commentators and conspiracy theorists. We also need to start rebuilding the trust and attention we once enjoyed inside Russia. The collapse of respect and affection for the West inside Russia over the past 25 years has been a catastrophic strategic reverse, all but unnoticed in Western capitals. After the fall of communism, Russians believed we stood for freedom, justice, honesty and prosperity. Now they believe that we are hypocritical, greedy, aggressive custodians of a failing economic system.

Finally, we need to reboot the Atlantic Alliance. As memories fade of the Normandy beaches, of the Berlin Wall’s rise and fall, and the sacrifice and loyalty of past generations, we are running on empty. Without a shared sense of economic, political and cultural commonality, the Kremlin’s games of divide and rule will succeed. This will require renewed and extraordinary efforts on both sides of the Atlantic. The revelations surrounding the secret material stolen by Edward Snowden have stoked fears in Europe that America is an unaccountable and intrusive global hegemon. This year I wrote a book – ‘The Snowden Operation’ attacking the “Snowdenistas” as I termed the NSA renegade’s unthinking defenders. I believe that our intelligence agencies as a rule function well, within the law, and to the great benefit of our nations. But much damage has been done. At a time when we need to be restoring transatlantic ties, they are withering before our eyes, especially in the vital strategic relationship with Germany. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) offers a rare chance of a big-picture, positive project which could help revive what sometimes looks like a failing marriage.

A final footnote: whereas Russia once regarded the collapse of the Soviet Union as a liberation from communism, the regime there now pushes the line, with increasing success, that it was a humiliating geopolitical defeat. That is not only factually false; it is also a tragedy for the Russian people. They overthrew the Soviet Union, under which they had suffered more than anyone else. But they have had the fruits of victory snatched away by the kleptocratic ex-KGB regime. The bread and circuses it offers are little consolation for the prize that Russians have lost: a country governed by law, freed from the shadows of empire and totalitarianism, and at peace with itself and its neighbours.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International, News and Op-eds.


  • Richard Coe 13th Jul '14 - 9:36am

    This is a fantastic piece, however it provides a direct challenge to Liberal Democrat, UK and European defence policies. Over the past 20 years we have seriously weakened our defence posture and cut defence spending across Europe. Yet faced by a more militant Russia, the UK has been cutting back its defence capabilities in pursuit of Mr Osborne’s false dawn on balancing budgets. History repeats and we are reminded of the British position between the two world wars when the 10 year rule (no major war within 10 years) saw massive cuts in defence capabilities, leading in turn to appeasement rather than resolution.

  • Brilliant piece.

  • I think the risk of a military crisis is in the Arctic but not the Baltic. This is a sensational intervention though. Blows apart the image of Lib Dems as a bunch of peaceniks. I think naval military spend combined with cyber-warfare techniques will be the key to our defence strategy

  • I agree this is an excellent article but I don’t necessarily think that a big expansion of our military capacity is required. Economic and diplomatic sanctions can prove effective if they are applied robustly, not in the half-hearted way we are doing at present. And the point about propaganda is a good one – one of the things fuelling the Ukraine crisis has been a relentless campaign in the Russian media to convince Eastern Ukrainians that “fascists” from the west of the country were intent on wiping them out.

  • Steve Coltman 13th Jul '14 - 12:37pm

    This is a valuable contribution. Even if it does not progress to an actual clash or arms, it is worth remembering that military force exerts a political and diplomatic influence even when it is not being used. One of the first things we in the west need to get clear in our heads is -“just how powerful are the Russian Armed Forces?” If western perception is that they possess overwhelming force, this will affect our response in a particular way. If we think they are weak, a ‘paper tiger’, this will encourage us to be bolder. It is important to get this right and it’s not an easy thing to establish. The Russian Army has 22 divisions, plus other units. In terms of numbers this is quite formidable by current western standards – the British Army would be hard-pressed to field one division, the Germans little more than two, but the quality of the Russian Forces has been seriously questioned. There is, in the public domain, widespread ignorance of the facts. Political decisions have to be based on reliable information, and it seems to me our politicians lack the necessary information.

  • Paul Reynolds 13th Jul '14 - 1:48pm

    Lucas is right about the West’s shameful neglect of democracy and freedom in Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus and other former Soviet republics. However does he forget what emphasis was being made in place of these concerns ? Lucas might also consider the other features of Soviet rule… an unsustainable economic system built on external debt (a bigger contributor to Soviet collapse than public dissent), and a top-down system of political control based on mass surveillance. We might be better equipped to deal with Russian aggression and mafia behavior, and the dangers of Xi Jumping in China, if we understood better Soviet failure and how we are emulating their methods whilst focusing on less important geopolitical issues.

  • Richard Dean 13th Jul '14 - 4:45pm

    Mr Lucas may or may not be correct, but his article gives little evidence in support of his claims about Russian intentions. Nor does he seem to recognize that Russia does have elections, the people do have intelligence and humanity, and Putin won’t be there for ever.

    Take Ukraine. We can see that Russia is “prepared to use force”, although “force” in Crimea did not end up with many lives lost. But what about Mr.Lucas’s “ruthlessly uses its energy weapon … in pipeline-delivered gas”. What Russia is actually doing is just being a capitalist!

    I think Mr.Lucas is correctly recognizing that the liberation of Russia from communism has strengthened that country, and that some in Russia don’t understand this well. A strengthened Russia provides opportunities as well as threats. Some of Mr.Lucas’ recommendations may be good ones, but maybe not for the reasons he suggests.

  • A Social Liberal 13th Jul '14 - 7:47pm

    Excellent article and a very good analysis of Russian capability by Steve Coltman.

  • Michael Carre 13th Jul '14 - 7:59pm

    This is one of the best articles I’ve read on Russia and the threat it poses.

    We see much talk about Ukraine, but as Mr Lucas noted, we can also look a little further west to Moldova. Russia is currently actively engaged in various ways to pressure the current pro-European government, especially in the run-up to the November elections. Ethnic division is being fomented in autonomous Gagauzia while ties with the breakaway separatists in Transnistria are being strengthened. The signing of the Association Agreement has been met with farcical bans on Moldovan agricultural produce, in addition to the existing ban on the import of Moldovan wine. Various attempts have been made to boost the Communists (whose current infighting we can only hope long may continue). The energy sector is controlled by a monopoly 50% owned by Gazprom and 15% by the Transnistrians, while the Russian DPM stands in Chișinău and openly states “I hope you don’t freeze.”

    Russia is not defending legitimate interests. It is an aggressive state which in fact defends a worldview which should have died in 1945 and 1991.

  • Richard Norris 13th Jul '14 - 8:42pm

    Is this man a CIA stooge?

    Richard Norris.

  • Energy independence from Russia for the whole of Europe including Ukraine is the way to stop our dependence on Russia.

  • Richard Dean 13th Jul '14 - 10:21pm

    Trade dependencies, including energy, is a way to prevent war! At least, that was one of the ideas that led to the EU.

  • Tsar Nicholas 13th Jul '14 - 11:19pm

    Since 1991 it has been the West that has embarked on a load of military adventures in places it has no business – like Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria etc

  • @Richard Dean

    Trade *inter*dependency creates stability and prevents conflict. Dependency only entrenches division and fuels instability, particularly when wielded as a blunt instrument by the resource holder.

  • Carol Weaver (Dr) 14th Jul '14 - 9:38am

    Ukraine and Russia are now at war. I know Edward and agree with what he says. Those of us who know the region have been giving warnings for quite some time. See what I wrote in April: http://euromove.blogactiv.eu/2014/04/06/ukraines-movement-towards-europe/

  • “Ukraine and Russia are now at war.”
    Utter rubbish.
    The war is internal in Ukraine and was caused by the interference of the EU and Washington, opening up a rift between Kiev and those that want to join the EU, (which will never happen!), and those in the East Ukraine, who want to maintain their cultural ties with Russia.
    In short, the West dabbling in Ukraine affairs caused this emerging civil war.

  • The scariest bit of warmongering hate speech I’ve ever heard come from the Liberal Democrats. I’m truly horrified that my co-members feel that this is a brilliant article.

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Jul '14 - 11:56am

    I must say I agree with Dan Ellis. I can’t stand neo-cons like Edward Lucas trying to make us panic and resort to violence.

    Putin is not going to start coming for us, but he will do if we start coming for him. We should show a firm line to him, but a firm line is not an aggressive line.

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Jul '14 - 12:04pm

    At the end of the day, a lot of these people want to join Russia, so what’s the big panic? We allow the Falkland Islanders and the Gibraltarians to be British, so why can’t the Crimeans be Russian?

    I understand the argument that those who want to be Russian should just go to Russia, but we don’t say that to people who live in our overseas territories do we?

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Jul '14 - 12:34pm

    Tim Oliver, your argument would be a good one if the west didn’t invade Iraq and failed to prosecute anyone for it. We can’t just follow international law when it suits us and not when it doesn’t.

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Jul '14 - 12:56pm

    The west does not have the right to unilaterally enforce international law. If we use the genocide argument then I don’t see how Putin’s actions in eastern Europe are worse than the west’s in Iraq. The only thing that would give us the right to enforce the law on Putin would be if we enforced it on Blair and Bush.

    The people calling for military action are not international law activists, they are just looking after the west’s perceived interests and seem to be using the same arguments that led to things such as the scramble for Africa and the Napoleonic Wars, using things such as enlightenment and moral superiority to expand their own power.

    I respect those who generally disagree, but some harsh words are nothing for people who are willing to kill and injure others with less than strong justifications.

  • I am with Dan Ellis and Eddie Sammon. Edward Lucas has much experience in this field but so do many others who do not take the distopian view which he has consistently put forward. I do not often find myself in sympathy with the opinions of Peter Hitchens but find little to disagree with the statement he made in debate with Edward Lucas in March of this year as reported in the Daily Mail –

    “We have been rubbing Russia up the wrong way for nearly 25 years. It is hard to see why. Moscow could have been our friend if we had wanted that.
    We rightly viewed the old Soviet Union as a global menace to freedom. But Russia is no such thing, just a major regional power sick of being humiliated and pushed around by ignorant outsiders.
    I watched the old Soviet menace vanish on the streets of Moscow in August 1991 when a KGB putsch failed, the Communist Party was shattered in pieces, and the USSR collapsed in a cloud of rust. Russians always believed there was an unspoken agreement that, in return for this, they would be allowed their dignity. They now believe that agreement has been broken.
    What was left after 1991 was Russia, a proud and courageous people living amid the wreckage left by 74 years of Marxism and hoping to revive their ravaged country. We could have helped them. By indulging Boris Yeltsin’s debauched reign (during which he shelled his own parliament while the West looked on complacently), we made Russian voters see Vladimir Putin as an attractive alternative.
    The Putin government is squalid, but nothing like as bad as that of China, with whom we are on good terms.
    Rather than recognising that the Cold War was over, we re-started it for no good reason, encouraging Russia’s neighbours to join the EU or Nato as if the USSR still existed.
    In recent months, the EU and the United States have been willing to wound but afraid to strike. They have aggressively sought to detach Ukraine from Russia and draw her into the EU orbit, knowing very well that this would infuriate Moscow.
    Rather than recognising that the Cold War was over, we re-started it for no good reason, encouraging Russia’s neighbours to join the EU or Nato as if the USSR still existed. We have awakened the ancient passions of this cruel part of the world, who knows where it will lead?”

  • Eddie Sammon writes: “I can’t stand neo-cons like Edward Lucas trying to make us panic and resort to violence. Putin is not going to start coming for us, but he will do if we start coming for him.”

    I don’t think Edward Lucas is trying to make us panic or promote violence – rather he is pointing out some hard facts about the current behaviour and attitudes of Russia’s authoritarian leaders. Putin is already seeking to destabilise Ukraine, a sovereign state which borders the EU. The Baltic States (EU and NATO members) are concerned they will be next. The weakness of our response to date can only encourage further adventurism.

    As for your comparisons with Iraq, Tim Oliver is correct – in international law or domestic law, two wrongs don’t make a right. US/UK actions in Iraq don’t give carte blanche to Putin or any other leader to invade sovereign states. You imply that Western leaders are seeking to “expand their own power” – on the contrary, it is Russia which is seeking to expand its power by dictating to independent neighbouring countries (who used to be part of the USSR) how they should run their affairs.

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Jul '14 - 2:43pm

    John, what’s going on here is some people think they are so morally superior that they have the right to start wars and then get an economic reward for saving the world. It’s ridiculous and shouldn’t be tolerated.

    The economic reward is in the form of keeping Russia down. I’m not a pacifist, but throughout history we’ve had plenty of powerful people develop the same complex and think they have an excuse to take out rivals and save the world. WW2 was an exception, but plenty of other wars have been questionable and a result of the same sort of thinking.

  • Edward Lucas 14th Jul '14 - 2:44pm

    I am delighted to have stirred up such a debate. Even in the full version of the testimony I couldn’t get into everything, I completely agree that the West has made a lot of mistakes over the past 25 years (and indeed even before that). We have repeatedly sacrificed friends and principles for business interests. Sometimes foreign policy does demand difficult choices, but I am certainly not defending our record on principle.

    Geoffrey Payne 1 is quite wrong to say that Russia merely wants to defend its compatriots. The whole idea of foreign policy based on defending “kith and kin” as we would say in English is quite abhorrent. There is no difference between Putin’s view of Russia’s right & duty to defend the “sootchestvenniki” (compatriots) in neighbouring countries and Hitler’s similar rhetoric about the “Volksgenossen”. As LibDems we should be the fiercest defenders of a rules-based international order, which stops the strong and ruthless countries pushing around the weaker ones.

    I am not saying we need a big increase in defence spending. We spend plenty. We just spend it on the wrong things (whopping great aircraft carriers with no planes, and unusable strategic nuclear subs).

    I am not a neo-con and I wish people wouldn’t throw around these labels so ignorantly. My view is based on Gladstone’s Midlothian campaign (try rereading his speeches). He was the finest exponent of what would now be called R2P.

    My old friend Peter Hitchens is wrong on this. We have not rubbed Russia up the wrong way> We have consistently failed to stand up to the worst elements in Russia, and we have disillusioned and disheartened the people in Russia who believe in our values.

    Here’s Gladstone, who says it all better than I can

    Inspired by the Love of Freedom – Extract from the third Midlothian Speech, Tuesday 27th November 1879 at West Calder

    I first give you, gentlemen, what I think the right principles of foreign policy. The first thing is to foster the strength of the Empire by just legislation and economy at home, thereby producing two of the great elements of national power namely, wealth, which is a physical element, and union and contentment, which are moral elements and to reserve the strength of the Empire, to reserve the expenditure of that strength, for great and worthy occasions abroad. Here is my first principle of foreign policy: good government at home. My second principle of foreign policy is this that its aim ought to be to preserve to the nations of the world and especially, were it but for shame, when we recollect the sacred name we bear as Christians, especially to the Christian nations of the world the blessings of peace. That is my second principle.

    Cultivate And Maintain The Concert Of Europe

    My third principle is this. Even, gentlemen, when you do a good thing, you may do it in so bad a way that you may entirely spoil the beneficial effect; and if we were to make ourselves the apostles of peace in the sense of conveying to the minds of other nations that we thought ourselves more entitled to an opinion on that subject than they are, or to deny their rights-well, very likely we should destroy the whole value of our doctrines. In my opinion the third sound principle is this – to strive to cultivate and maintain, ay, to the very uttermost, what is called the concert of Europe; to keep the Powers of Europe in union together. And why? Because by keeping all in union together you neutralize and fetter and bind up the selfish aims of each. I am not here to flatter either England or any of them. They have selfish aims, as, unfortunately, we in late years have too sadly shown that we too have had selfish aims; but then common action is fatal to selfish aims. Common action means common objects; and the only objects for which you can unite together the Powers of Europe are objects connected with the common good of them all. That, gentlemen, is my third principle of foreign policy.

    My fourth principle is – that you should avoid needless and entangling engagements. You may boast about them; you may brag about them. You may say you are procuring consideration for the country. You may say that an Englishman can now hold up his head among the nations. You may say that he is now not in the hands of a Liberal Ministry, who thought of nothing but pounds, shillings, and pence. But what does all this come to, gentlemen? It comes to this, that you are increasing your engagements without increasing your strength; and if you increase engagements without increasing strength, you diminish strength, you abolish strength; you really reduce the Empire and do not increase it. You render it less capable of performing its duties; you render it an inheritance less precious to hand on to future generations.

    My fifth principle is this, gentlemen, to acknowledge the equal rights of all nations. You may sympathize with one nation more than another. Nay, you must sympathize in certain circumstances with one nation more than another. You sympathize most with those nations, as a rule, with which you have the closest connection in language, in blood, and in religion, or whose circumstances at the time seem to give the strongest claim to sympathy. But in point of right all are equal, and you have no right to set up a system under which one of them is to be placed under moral suspicion or espionage, or to be made the constant subject of invective. If you do that, but especially if you claim for yourself a superiority, a pharisaical superiority over the whole of them, then I say you may talk about your patriotism if you please, but you are a misjudging friend of your country, and in undermining the basis of the esteem and respect of other people for your country you are in reality inflicting the severest injury upon it. I have now given you, gentlemen, five principles of foreign policy. Let me give you a sixth, and then I have done.

    In Freedom You Lay The Firmest Foundations Of Loyalty And Order

    And that sixth is, that in my opinion foreign policy, subject to all the limitations that I have described, the foreign policy of England should always be inspired by the love of freedom. There should be a sympathy with freedom, a desire to give it scope, founded not upon visionary ideas, but upon the long experience of many generations within the shores of this happy isle, that in freedom you lay the firmest foundations both of loyalty and order; the firmest foundations for the development of individual character, and the best provision for the happiness of the nation at large.

  • Richard Dean 14th Jul '14 - 3:09pm

    T-J. 14th July 3.07pm

    I agree. You are very wise.

    However, a few months back I seem to remember discussions about whether Russia would cut off gas supplies to Europe if Europe got tough over Crimea. The general consensus seemed to be that Russia needed the gas payments as much as Europe needed the gas.

    Also, cutting off gas would have had the effect of making Russian gas workers redundant, and so is not good for internal politics. However, this will all change once Russia diversifies its customer base (a typical capitalist strategy), which it is now doing with China and South America.

    The lessons are that politics is complicated and that politics is an ever-changing game!

  • Richard Dean 14th Jul '14 - 3:20pm

    @Edward Lucas

    All really that is happening is that Russia is reaping the benefits of becoming gradually free from its communist past. Of course it still has many remnants of that totalitarian state of being, but those will fade away, painfully in some cases, as Russians reap the material rewards that greater freedoms bring.

    Russia and its allies have enormous mineral wealth, and a population commensurate with the EU and quite willing to work. Much better for the West to adjust to this new commercial reality, which can undoubtedly be beneficial globally, as well as bringing improved chances of peace.

    Of course the new commercial reality also brings implications for “power” on a global stage, and no doubt Putin understands that well. The experience of the West is that democracy thrives when a population is well off, and is able to control government excesses, but democracy fails when the population is poor and stressed.

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Jul '14 - 3:33pm

    Edward Lucas, I’ll try to keep it short and restore some empathy. I don’t think we have the right to use the military to spread our ideas around the world, unless in extreme situations such as a genocide.

    Going by the same reasoning if in the future Russia and China develop direct democracy then they would have a right to attack us based on perceived enlightenment and fighting for those in our country that want what they want.

    Best wishes

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Jul '14 - 3:53pm

    Tim, I just think calling for international law to be enforced on Putin but not George W. Bush is unfair.

    My disagreements with you are only partial, I’ll try to stop coming down so hard on people I only have partial disagreements with.


  • Michael Carre 14th Jul '14 - 4:27pm

    The desire to enter the EU of independent, sovereign states in Eastern Europe is what characterises them as ‘European’ rather than ‘post-Soviet’. Of course, Russia doesn’t see, or want to treat, these states in this way. The fact that people actually think that decisions in Ukraine should be subservient to Moscow due to some anachronistic ‘sphere of influence’ contradicts the fundamental values of modern liberal democracy. As Tim Oliver points out, it’s the geopolitical form of rape apologism.

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Jul '14 - 4:53pm

    We shouldn’t speak to any arm-chair war-hawks unless they join the Armed Forces Reserve:


    Then they will gain my respect.

  • Michael Carre 14th Jul '14 - 5:18pm

    Luckily one doesn’t need anyone’s respect or approval to have an opinion on Russia and its foreign policy. One can just read the Russian sources helpfully published by their Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

  • @Richard Dean

    ‘ The general consensus seemed to be that Russia needed the gas payments as much as Europe needed the gas. ‘

    That consensus was quite correct, in principle, but missed the point. The Russian people need the gas payments more than Europe needs the gas, really. But the Russian regime does not need the payments, nor anything else from Europe. Not when it can successfully portray misfortune and mistakes as the result of Western conspiracy, and not when the prizes available by endangering the payments are worth more to the regime than that risk costs.

    The point that the Russians need the payments and are thus interdependent only works if they consider the possibility of losing the payments to be realistic. At present, I do not think this is the case. Time will tell if Europe can find the political will to make it credible, and we shall have a good indication shortly as the new Commission starts to take shape.

    Still, if you are right and Russia is only being a good capitalist, then I wish them all the luck in the world diversifying their markets, and the very best fortune in trying to run a gas pipeline across the Pacific to South America. But even in the benign Russia scenario, Europe should be a place of renewable energy backed up by nuclear technologies, not a backward fossil fuel economy dependent on the random happenstance of geology for its day-to-day operation.

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Jul '14 - 5:50pm

    Tim, that is not my position, my position is to come to an international agreement about international law and then start enforcing it.

    If you care so much about international law then why don’t you call for Bush and Blair to be tried at the Hague? The path of trying to selectively enforce international law will lead to global chaos and millions of deaths and disabilities.

    I’m asking a genuine question – will you call for Blair and Bush to be at least tried in an international court? You cannot be against trials on the west but for military enforcement on Russia.

  • Eddie, while your attention to the Bush and Blair debacle has its place, in a debate about Russia’s current behaviour, it smacks of ‘whataboutery’, where criticism of Russia’s attitude to European Union member states, NATO allies and neutral parties seeking independent policies in their neighbourhood is countered with an irrelevant point about how the United States behaved ten years ago in a different part of the world.

    It is perhaps interesting to note that Vladimir Putin was part of the circle of ‘neocon’ hawks using the rhetoric of the War on Terror during the early 2000s, back when he was busy squashing internal problems in Chechnya. You can’t oppose the Bush/Blair antics without also coming down against Putin, and the key point is that Bush and Blair are out of office, yesterday’s men and irrelevant, while Putin remains very much in power and very much active in exercising it.

  • Richard Dean 14th Jul '14 - 6:14pm

    Technically, you don’t need a gas pipeline to transport gas. You can do it by liquefying the gas and transporting it by ship, then re-gasifying it at the receiving end. Several South American countries are presently building re-gasification plants, see for example the following link. While the initial gas purchases may be from the US or the Caribbean, the buyers are also likely to diversify over time.

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Jul '14 - 6:26pm

    T-J it’s not whataboutery because Blair and Bush are part of the negotiations. Russia feels that people are trying to enforce international law on them but not to themselves. Russia would have considered pulling out of Crimea if Americans were held accountable for Iraq. The way they see it as it stands is that international law does not exist. Saddam was a big oil buyer from Russia and they think the US just trampled on their national interest and pursued their own interests.

    So seeing if people want Bush and Blair to be held to account is not whatabouttery, it is whether they are willing to pursue the diplomatic path of enforcing international law on everyone, or simply going to war on a sense of what is basically American exceptionalism.

    I think Putin was wrong to invade Crimea, but it would also be wrong to resort to a military solution when diplomatic options are available. The diplomatic solution might not necessarily be to put Blair on trial, but it is certainly a better option than WW3.

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Jul '14 - 6:40pm

    Sorry, I’m not sure what the exact business interests between Saddam and Russia were, but I read or heard Russia lost billions on it.

    The basic point remains, which I’m trying to get across politely, is that international law should apply to everyone or no one, so people calling to enforce it on Russia should also call to enforce it on ourselves and the US. I feel this is the diplomatic route.

  • @Richard Dean

    As I say, good luck to them. The Chinese will need it, although I expect the South Americans will be able to find in Russia a fairly reasonable partner with no conflicting interests.

    Still, in the short term it is more beneficial for these new partners of Russia’s to use up Russian gas reserves, and avoid running down their own fossil fuel stocks. For Europe, the calculation is different – our interests conflict, energy supply has become a political tool and in any case we need to be stepping out of the fossil fuel game before too long for sustainability reasons.

    @Eddie Sammon

    I’m obviously not cc’d into the discussions, but I didn’t hear anything about trials for Blair or Bush being a Russian objective to secure their withdrawal from Crimea, and honestly the idea strikes me as less than credible. Russian intransigence on Crimea owes more to their failure to prop up a Serbian satellite in the Balkans than to Iraq, although of course that is down in part to Tony Blair as well.

    Also, I wouldn’t get too hung up on the American aspect. This is a conflict driven primarily by whether or not countries that neighbour Russia are allowed to align with the European Union. I’m very well aware of what the American diplomats said about the EU in the runup to this crisis, and please don’t mistake me for an American exceptionalist, but in this instance they are at least not actively seeking to prop up ‘spheres of influence’ among states that want to express a democratic preference for Europe over Putin’s Eurasian Customs Union thing.

  • Rob Parsons 14th Jul '14 - 6:53pm

    “We need to begin to rebut Russian myths, lies and slanders, highlighting the factual inconsistences and elisions of the Kremlin narrative, and its dependence on fringe commentators and conspiracy theorists.” With Fox News?

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Jul '14 - 6:58pm

    T-J, I like your post, no I don’t have any private information either, but from the rhetoric coming from Putin in his media activities he keeps banging on about double standards and I can see he has a point in some of these.

    I thought invading Crimea was a PR disaster for him and I think he basically did it out of anger, but I think we can talk about the double standards and if we go to war without addressing these contradictions it will be a PR disaster for the west and that would probably lead to eventual defeat.

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Jul '14 - 7:26pm

    Tim, my position is that we should give the people in Crimea a proper referendum, like the Scottish one and then there can be no complaints.

    This is not a big chip to ask for and we could deliver it. We could do the same with the people along eastern Ukraine and make the discussion about the people in Ukraine and what they want, rather than what the world leaders want.

    I haven’t thought through the specifics, all I know is that coming across as an aggressor is not the route to peace and prosperity. Russia wants its own version of the EU, it isn’t interested in large scale military expansion.

  • Eddie – you are a cold war throwback. The right wing thugsin Ukraine who only a couple of years ago were raising alarm bells fomented an armed overthrow of the democratically elected government in Ukraine. They were on the verge of spreading their violence to Crimea with the backing of the hawks within NATO, and to my mind Putin acted extremely pragmatically. He acted in accordance with the populace of Crimea, and desisted from any further military action in Ukraine.

    His violation of international law was far more lawful (in a greater sense) than any violations that the west have carried out in recent times!

    I find it despicable that the LibDem international twitter feed was encouraging this uncalled for revolution.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Jul '14 - 2:45am

    Dan, I don’t agree with the Russia Today line that right wing thugs instigated an armed revolution and Putin had to step in to save the day. Ukraine’s internal politics have been broken for a long time and there was widespread anti corruption protests.

    There should have been international talks, but it is hard to make progress when we have hawks on either side who have painted the other side as evil and think they have a right to take the territory. For what it is worth, I do prefer the western model of society, but there is much that we get wrong.

  • That Gladstone chap is pretty good. Can we get him onto one of our policy committees?

  • Edward Lucas 15th Jul '14 - 8:34pm

    We have to throw off this idea that because the West (whatever that is) did something bad in Iraq/Afghanistan/Vietnam/whereever we therefore have no moral weight anywhere

  • The fact that Lucas appeals to Gladstone to support his view, tells me all I need to know.

    It is like advocates of a laissez-faire approach to economics appealing to Hayek

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Jul '14 - 9:23pm

    Edward, thanks for engaging. I didn’t really expect you to read my comments, so I was a bit reckless in my criticism.

    War is a horrible thing, but sometimes necessary for self-defence. However, any war with Russia would be very serious business indeed.

    It is good to keep researching things and spotting problems before others do, as you have done with Russia. I also broadly agreed with you on the lines of Edward Snowden not being a hero.


  • “damage done to the West’s security”

    What damage? This is the claim after every revelation, a claim without merit.
    Indeed we learned from Snowden that Clapper was lying, that Alexander lied.

    Is there any evidence that security was damaged to any significant degree? Can you quantify it? Or are you just blindly believing those in the security establishment who have no idea how to tell the truth

  • Carol Weaver (Dr) 16th Jul '14 - 11:43am

    The situation is deteriorating. This article can be backed up by other sources. http://www.kyivpost.com/opinion/op-ed/james-rupert-putin-tanks-and-missiles-escalate-the-war-on-ukraine-356044.html
    I do not understand why so many of you think that because the West behaves badly, it’s ok for my friends in Ukraine (from west and east) to be subjected to Putin’s orders. Don’t they deserve democracy and European values too?

  • @Geoffrey Payne
    “The example of Iraq is a classic case of biting off more than we can chew”

    A lot of the problems in Iraq were due to incompetence and corruption. This seems to have led to a loss of confidence in the system. It is hard for Iraqis to believe that the government is working for them, when the oil money goes to western companies

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