EU Referendum

Ukraine: on the edges of failure


000a Briebart-020 Ukraine.jpg

Apart from anything else, what the current Ukrainian crisis illustrates is the power of the so-called "information society". The motivated citizen can gain access to many of the same sources on which the legacy media relies and can also cultivate sources which are not available to most journalists.

What then matters is the quality of the analysis. On the one hand, we've seen major British newspapers stoke up the war fever yet, from an office in deepest West Yorkshire, it is possible to carry out a series of evaluations which completely contradict the media view, most recently here, here and here. And then, through the modern miracle of the internet, we can broadcast that message to a wider audience, challenging the monopoly of the legacy media.

And, when it comes to the analysis, I think we have the edge. There has been no serious military intervention by the Russians, no "hot war" conflict between the Ukrainians and, as the crisis matures, the prospect of armed conflict is receding. The legacy media has been getting it consistently wrong.

But, while the focus has most recently been on Crimea, eastern Ukraine is expected to be the next hotspot, with the action centring on Donetsk, the regional capital of the industrial heartlands. Pro-Russian activists say they are ready to fight against Kiev and its "fascist" backers in the West. And upon the outcome of this struggle will depend on whether the country splits between east and west.

Typically the media is stoking up the tension, giving plenty of exposure to the invasion meme. Last week, for instance, Estonian defence minister Urmas Reinsalu spoke of his "fear" of a Russian invasion, stating, "a clear message needs to be sent that an attack will cost the aggressor dearly".

The point here, of course, is that painting Russia as the aggressor is all part of the propaganda war. But, in its own way, the EU and its "Eastern Partnership" has been as much the aggressor as Russia, albeit exploiting the "soft power" which amounts to passive aggression.

Elsewhere, I noted that, "The EU was blundering into a situation with all the finesse of a ballet dancer in size 12 boots", a point that is being increasingly recognised - except by the EU players themselves.

But what is also being recognised is that the EU is losing the propaganda war, with the danger that EU-Russia relations are returning to something similar to that which prevailed during the Cold War. And, if that happens, that can only bring the break-up of the Ukraine closer.

The test, according to Timothy Garton Ash, will be the presidential election on 25 May. If the whole of the country, including the east, participates in peaceful, free and fair elections, he thinks it can survive as one independent country (minus Crimea). In Garton Ash's view, the event will also put the country "back on an unambiguously democratic, constitutional path".

But if this simplistic view prevails, it will be increasingly hard to keep the country together long enough for the elections to take place. And it is not only Ukraine that risks break-up. Coming under increasing strain are multilateral structures such as G8. Angela Merkel has been reported as saying that the organisation, of which Russia has been a part since 1998, "is dead". 

Russia currently holds the G8 presidency and had been scheduled to host a summit in Sochi in June. Now, there will be no meetings until the situation in Ukraine has been resolved. Says Mrs Merkel: "As long as the political environment is not in place for such an important format as the G8, the G8 is no longer there, neither the summit nor the G8 in itself".

But, with regard to that other construct,  the EU, Merkel tells her own parliament, "It is now clear how valuable the European integration project is". On the other hand, FAZ reports that the crisis is strengthening the German government coalition. It actually seems to be bolstering nationalism.

This is evident in Handelsblatt, where the Germans are considering options for resolving the crisis - which don't include the EU. Reuters is reporting that Berlin is rethinking its bilateral relations with Moscow, now that its policy of Wandel durch Annaeherung (changing Russia by getting closer to it) is effectively dead.

But, with the Spring European Council in session, the focus moves back to Brussels. The talk is of sanctions and matching the measures taken by the United States - the patient, peace-loving west against the "defiant", warmongering Putin. Yet this is a narrative that is going nowhere.  Even the New York Times suggests that the Council is unlikely to deliver on anything of significance.  

What comes over most of all from the NYT  piece, though, is that the commentators do not have the first idea of where the EU went wrong. For instance, Fiona Hill, a Russia "expert" at the Brookings Institution in Washington, thinks the Eastern Partnership was an effort "to extend democratic values and free trade to Ukraine and five other countries in the former Soviet Union".

There, we're back where we started. What matters is the quality of the analysis, and anyone who thinks the EU is spreading "democratic values" needs to broaden their education. This is not a straightforward clash between the forces of light and darkness. It is much more complex and nuanced than that. 

And if you get the basics like this wrong, all the rest will be wrong. Crucially, as long as the EU and its cohorts in the "west" believe they are in the right, and blameless with it, and then want to position Putin as the aggressor, all the signals will be misleading and their reactions will be wrong.

As a result, instead of making things better, they are making them worse. The way the crisis is developing, it looks very likely that Ukraine will split. And the longer this crisis is mishandled, the more likely this will be. Furthermore, such an event will sink the European Union's aspirations of a coherent foreign policy, and cause irreparable damage to the Ukrainian economy. 

By far the best option for us all is to put the maximum effort into calming down the situation, and coming to an amicable resolution with Russia - if that is possible. But still the media is stoking up the tension. Having learned nothing from previous claims, Channel 4 is once again running the invasion meme, as is the Daily Mail, on the basis of no evidence at all.

Then, to cap it all, David Cameron thinks the EU should send a clear message to Russia. That, more than anything, is the measure of the failure. All these months down the line and they're still trying to send messages?  Does it not occur to the likes of Mr Cameron that Russia has already got the message - and that might have something to do with why its is acting as it is doing?

What these silly people really need to do is send themselves a message.  It should include an accurate intelligence analysis and a grown-up political appreciation - one which doesn't borrow from the story line of The Lord of The Rings. Then, and only then, will they be in a position to contribute something positive to solving this crisis.As it stands, they are on the edges of failure, and will have only themselves to blame.