theguardian.com, Tuesday 2 September 2014 09.37 BST
This week’s absurdly lavish Nato summit in Wales could not be worse timed. It will be a public display of the impotence of what preens itself as the world’s most powerful alliance. Vladimir Putin, its historic foe, has been allowed to engineer its humiliation. He lies, he bullies, he invades, he shrugs off sanctions. He knows Nato will not go to war. He can therefore gain a buffer zone of Russian interest along his borders with added domestic glory.
In the matter of detail, Putin is right. The Russian-speaking area of east Ukraine should have been granted internal autonomy after the coup that toppled the corrupt but elected Kiev regime backed by the east. The message is spreading across an ever-more integrated Europe, that dissident provinces are calmed only through greater self-government. Look at the Kosovans, the Basques, the Scots.
It is currently impossible to hear a speech or open a newspaper in which defence experts do not beat their breasts, bang their drums and demand “the west stand firm … show resolve … teach Russia a lesson … show Putin who is boss.” They call for more economic sanctions – which have never seemed more counterproductive. They demand backing for Ukraine, aid for Kiev, support for other border states, more spearhead battalions and seemingly endless rapid reaction forces. But they all end up asserting “we cannot mean war” and “a diplomatic solution is inevitable”.
All intelligence out of Moscow says the same, that this bombast merely emboldens Putin. He can do what he wants in eastern Ukraine, because he has an army there and it enjoys widespread support among the Russian-speaking population. There is no question Putin has infringed the integrity of Ukrainian sovereignty. But so did America in its Latin American “sphere of influence” during the cold war. Meanwhile, Britain kowtowed to China for economic gain and Olympic glory when Beijing was treating Tibet far worse.
Foreign policy always involves double standards. The best policy is to avoid one’s own weaknesses and instead test those of one’s opponents. Peace and trade were slowly eroding the juggernaut of Russian power across eastern Europe. Now Nato’s pseudo-support for Kiev has played to Putin’s one strength: his support among Russian peoples along his borders. Kiev, the EU and Nato have played a dangerous game with Russia over Ukraine for years. Putin has laid down a marker for an armistice, talks on autonomy, one that is bound to look like a victory for him. It is for Kiev to pick it up. Nato can go on swilling champagne in Wales.