Is there a deal to be done with Putin?

Russia was ejected from the G8 this week and the West united to threaten tougher sanctions. This was deserved, says William Hague in The Daily Telegraph. “Russia has invaded a fellow European nation and used force to change its borders.”

All nations depend on a rules-based international system and for those rules to remain credible there must be a price to pay for breaking them. We must be prepared to contemplate a different relationship with Russia, one that involves her “being outside some international organisations, facing lasting restrictions on military cooperation and arms sales and having less influence over the rest of Europe”.

The US and Europe need “red lines”, agrees Tony Barber in the FT. If the situation deteriorates, Russia could annexe the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well as the separatist Transnistria region of Moldova.

With troops massing on the border, a Russian move on eastern Ukraine cannot be ruled out. However, unless our “basic interests” are at stake, we will have to play a long game.

Putin is seething with resentment at what he perceives as the West’s disregard for Moscow’s status as a leading power since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Western leaders must realise that Putin is prepared to pay a “very heavy diplomatic and economic price” to uphold Russian interests.

We need to find a deal “in which everyone can claim victory”, says Tony Brenton, former ambassador to Russia, in The Independent. Even if Putin did back down, we would be left with an “embittered Russia” who could obstruct our energy supplies and a host of crucial international business. Russia would also be driven further into the orbit of “that other troublesome power, China”.

There’s nothing to be done about Crimea, but “there is a deal to be done in Ukraine”. Russia’s real fear is Ukraine being swallowed up by the West. It would cost us nothing to offer assurance of Ukraine’s political and economic neutrality, as Russia has sought, and work with Moscow to protect the rights of Ukraine’s Russian-speaking population.

This would give Putin the political space to back off and Ukraine the stability it needs to “develop into the prosperous democracy we all want to see”.


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