The silent invasion: A test for Europe

The silent invasion: A test for Europe

Nathan Jones

Nathan Jones (@n_b_jones) takes a look at the situation in the Ukraine and suggests if the West is to act, it must be soon…


The people of Ukraine had little time in which to celebrate a successful revolution before trouble reached their doorstep again. The new Ukraine has been cast straight back into shadow by Russia’s occupation of the Crimean peninsula.

Western publics, their support of liberalising movements dampened by the many failed revolutions of the Arab Spring, have been surprised by the success of the Ukrainian protestors, and have been quick to condemn Russia’s incursion. Yet their governments, however critical in public, have remained remarkably static given the precedent that un-challenged Russian aggression could set in Europe.

From a realist perspective, there are arguable justifications for Russia’s actions. The Crimea, a Russian province until 1954, has an ethnic Russian majority. This was the credo of Milosevic’s Serbia in its blood-soaked invasion of Croatia however, and history has judged it harshly. Moscow’s other dog in this fight is the strategic utility of their military bases in Crimea, on land currently leased to Russia until 2042. A geostrategic lens also reveals advantages for Russia in terms of challenging European power in its backyard.

Of the G8 nations, only the United States has promoted action. Stringent economic sanctions have been suggested, as well as the potential expulsion of Russia from the G8. European leaders however, have watched silently as a European state has had its sovereignty turned into a punch line.

The disclosure of a classified No. 10 document has given us an idea of the Government’s strategic ideas and they are underwhelming in the extreme. Trade sanctions are not to be supported ‘for now’, and any action which jeopardises the operations of the City of London and its many Oligarch investors is to be avoided.

The Prime Minister has been clear in his condemnation of Russia’s actions, but it rings hollow if money is perceived to take precedence over principle. European leaders have seen their international power and reputations damaged in recent years, and a clear-cut case of international malfeasance presents opportunities. Europe could seize the moment to re-assert its credentials as a world leader in principled foreign policy, and reveal Putin’s posturing for what it is – an attempt to secure his shaky domestic position with an international win. There is also an opportunity for Russia, which senses weakness in western capitals, and is therefore pressing its advantage.

If Western leaders want to retain their prized place in the international hierarchy, they cannot let this challenge go unanswered. While those calling for kinetic responses are too quick to forget the Cold War’s zero-sum game, policy-makers have options: sanctions, pressure through international bodies and focused diplomacy on the ground in Ukraine. If the West is to act, it must be soon, before Putin has the chance to cement his gains and reveal Europe’s weakness on its own doorstep.