Tuesday, March 04, 2014

One Regime Change Too Many in Ukraine?

I love the way William Hague speaks, using the gravitas of his voice trying to make up for the empire Britain does not have. It is also intriguing what he says: Recently in Kiev, he was talking about 'costs and consequences' if Russia does not listen to the West's suggestion of withdrawing Russian troops from Crimea, but refused to talk about what these could be.

The other notable voice in this Ukraine affair (the worst crisis facing Europe in a hundred years, we are told) is that of Victoria Nuland, an Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at US State Department. It was on her phone call to Geoffrey Pyatt, the US Ambassador in Ukraine, which was leaked subsequently, the world heard first time about what was about to happen there (See the story in BBC): A few months later, 'Our Man Yats', the current Ukrainian PM Yatsenyuk, is duly in place (see the story in Forbes). Ms Nuland's call, however, gained infamy for a different reason: 'F**k the EU', she said. She has now done.

However, there is an oddity even with the high sounding Mr Hague. No one talks about democracy any more. They obviously can't, for practical reasons: In Egypt, elsewhere, and now in Ukraine, the Western policy has become one of regime change, drawing from the old cold-war playbook of fomenting street unrest as they did, with great success, in Teheran in 1953. Despite all the democratic rhetoric of the first decade of this century, the post-recession reality that democracy doesn't produce the desirable results has set in. Or may be, it is money: Street protests may be cheaper and faster to buy than democratic outcomes.

There is no denying that the situation in Ukraine is dangerous, but I shall not pack my bags and head for any nuclear shelter yet. It is clear from the rhetoric, on both sides of the Atlantic, that Ukrainians will be left to the wolves if the worst comes to pass. Mr Putin, a canny operator, may just sit on his hands for the country to go bankrupt: As they fail to pay their troops, they will perhaps automatically defect or go home. And, surely, taking on Ukraine right now does not mean, for the EU, sending troops: It would mean sending money. We now know that the latter is indeed more difficult.

In the end, Ukrainians will die. They always do, the Egyptians, the Turks, the Syrians, the lesser people. In the endless game of chess that is perhaps played on a James Bond-esque Smart Screen somewhere in Washington, millions of pawns are regularly sacrificed for a cold war-some entertainment. To be fair, it gives the citizens in these great and the good countries some stimulation when they are on a shopping break: Regime Changes are the modern Gladiator sport. It is, except for the people who have to die or lose their livelihood to keep the game going, good for everyone: There can be only so many abducted school girls for the Murdoch media to feast on, and therefore, it is fully understandable when the elected President of Ukraine was made to leave the country, The Sunday Times ran the headline 'The Dictatorship Has Fallen'.

But Ukraine may have been one regime change too many. One may notice a collective Freudian slip among the Western commentators when they talk of Putin taking it 'too far': Indeed, this is a game too far for the Regime Changers. While they were playing the old game, they forgot it is the old game that is being played everywhere. In fact, it seems they convinced themselves with their own rhetoric (which, at least, absolves them from being cynical). America may have overwhelming Military Power, but it may lack the democratic will to deploy them - particularly in those parts of the world where the other parties hold asymmetric superiority, and definitely for those people who could not be told apart from the Russians (it would be an interesting statistic to know how many Americans know where Ukraine is).

So, in conclusion, we have now played the great game for far too long - and indeed, there are costs and consequences of these, and those will not be for Mr Putin alone. Whichever way the tussle in Ukraine ends - and one would hope that this will come without any loss of life among those expendable Ukrainians or Russians - we may have allowed ourselves a return of history, which, Robert Kagan, rather ironically Ms Nuland's husband, writes about. This was not the day worth waiting for. 

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