The West’s Ukraine Policy is Furrowing British Brows

by Peter Jenkins

British people who take an interest in what is happening abroad are perplexed and worried by the recent turn of events in Ukraine. They have difficulty understanding why the US and EU have been showing so little sensitivity to Russia’s vital security interests in the Ukraine; and they are not convinced that adequate thought has been given to identifying where the West’s true interests lie.

Russia has good reason to care about the strategic alignment of its neighbour to the South. As a former British ambassador to NATO reminded an audience recently, Ukraine is to Russia a bit what Ireland is, or was, to Britain.

Western politicians talk as though Russia’s attachment to the “sphere of influence” concept is reprehensible. Yet the US has long seen Latin America as a US sphere of influence and has not hesitated to act to keep unwelcome intruders out. How many of those who have condemned the sending of Russian troops to the Crimea as unlawful, and a threat to peace, remember the US invasion of Grenada in 1983, which amused neither Grenada’s head of state, Her Majesty the Queen, nor her Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher? And that’s only one example of US unlawful acts in the Latin American sphere.

Similarly, for centuries British leaders not only regarded the island to the West as a potential back-door into Britain that must not be allowed to come under hostile influence, let alone occupation; they also held to the principle that the Channel ports opposite Britain must be kept out of the hands of potentially hostile powers.

Even that paragon of 21st century soft power, the EU, has a “neighbourhood policy”, which is a sphere of influence policy by another name.

Perhaps US and European leaders believe that the Kremlin is wrong to see NATO and the EU as potentially hostile. If so, they underestimate the effect on Russian strategic perceptions of the eastward expansion of NATO since the reunification of Germany, and of NATO plans to station on the Russian periphery missiles that could be targeted against Russian assets, not to mention the huge sums of money that the US continues to spend on renewing its weapons of mass destruction, and on modernizing delivery systems.

Whereas Russia’s interest in avoiding a strategic realignment of the Ukraine is obvious, the West’s interest in encouraging a realignment is not.

Have EU leaders asked themselves whether European electorates will thank them if the overthrow of a democratically elected Ukrainian government leads to the EU having to subsidize Ukrainian agricultural production, open up EU labour markets to millions of Ukrainians, and channel tens of billions of Euros from EU structural and regional funds into developing Ukrainian infrastructure? The idea of fast-track Ukrainian accession to the EU, which is now in play, will lead in precisely that direction, and sooner rather than later.

Are NATO leaders considering the wisdom of giving Ukrainian nationalists reason to expect a future in which a Ukrainian government is entitled to demand that British or French soldiers die in defence of Kiev?

And to what extent have Western leaders weighed the possible consequences of the provocations they have been offering to Russia? Do heavily-indebted European states want to have to start rebuilding their armed forces to guard against a renewal of Russian hostility towards the Western democracies? Are leaders confident that they can end the humanitarian crisis in Syria without Russian cooperation? Are they sure they can dispense with Russian influence in Tehran and Pyongyang? Do they want to bring to an end the era of multilateral cooperation at the UN and in other global institutions that the demise of Soviet communism ushered in?

The potential consequences of the West’s handling of this latest Ukrainian crisis are so serious that a change of course is a necessity. There is an alternative to multiplying provocations and threatening Russia with dire but still-to-be-determined “consequences” (“I shall do such things, I know not what” says Shakespeare’s King Lear before madness overwhelms him). Far more constructive would be for the EU and US to invite Russia and China, and representatives of all shades of Ukrainian opinion, to a conference to discuss long-term arrangements for the security, prosperity and neutrality of the Ukraine. (A guarantee of neutrality akin to that in the Austrian State Treaty of 1955 is, surely, a promising way forward.)

Such Great Power conferences have long been a feature of European diplomacy. On the whole, they have done more good than harm. A conference now can offer an opportunity not only to resolve the Ukrainian crisis but to do so within the wider context of East/West relations. It is time the West made an effort to understand the resentments that have been accumulating in Russia since 1990, and to address the trust deficit that has been growing where it should have been shrinking — as Russia’s actions in recent days demonstrate all too clearly.

Peter Jenkins

Peter Jenkins was a British career diplomat for 33 years, following studies at the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard. He served in Vienna (twice), Washington, Paris, Brasilia and Geneva. He specialized in global economic and security issues. His last assignment (2001-06) was that of UK Ambassador to the IAEA and UN (Vienna). Since 2006 he has represented the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership, advised the Director of IIASA and set up a partnership, The Ambassador Partnership llp, with former diplomatic colleagues, to offer the corporate sector dispute resolution and solutions to cross-border problems. He was an associate fellow of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy from 2010 to 2012. He writes and speaks on nuclear and trade policy issues.



  1. In the midst of a great deal of hysteria by Cold War warriors it is so refreshing to hear a voice of sanity by a seasoned diplomat. Having watched the events of the past few weeks in Ukraine it seems as though some Western leaders are itching to get into a fight with Russia and in doing so they do not hesitate to get in bed with some truly awful and nasty characters. It now emerges that not only a great deal of killing in Kiev was carried out by right-wing thugs but that even the snipers that killed a number of people from both sides were also hired by Maidan leaders

    Having watched President Putin’s press conference yesterday, he seems to be a model of moderation and reason compared to the likes of Secretary John Kerry with his remarks of all options are on the table, cancelling the G-8 summit, kicking Russia out of the G-8, economic punishments etc. for an action that pales into insignificance compared with illegal invasions of a number of countries, shock and awe, etc. for which Mr. Kerry voted. It really is time to stop the hypocrisy and listen to the voice of reason.

  2. The pot calling the kettle black, or so it seems by all the western P.R. I wouldn’t bet on this latest gambit by the neocons to come to any good resolution, that it might also usher in a blow back totally unexpected. Considering that the inmates of the asylum are now in control, you can take to the bank, that if/when this latest crime backfires, these same instigators will blame “O”, then hide back in their cells.

  3. Great piece. I should be shocked at the lack of regard for Russia’s strategic interests in the Crimeaq, shown by a number of American officials and politicians in the US Congress.

  4. Breaking news! YouTube has uploaded a phone conversation (Feb. 25th, 2014) between EU Foreign Affairs Chief Catherine Ashton and Estonian FA Minister Urmas Paets in which they say the snipers who were shooting at protestors and police on February 20th were actually from the same side and were part of the coalition that now makes up the new gov’t in Kiev.

  5. Perhaps the UK and the EU should not have gotten in bed with Washington’s Nazis in the Ukraine. OF course, Russia will move to protect its vital interests in Ukraine and OF COURSE, Washington, Brussels and London expect them to – perhaps spending “5 billion of over the past 5 years” (according the repugnant Victoria Nuland), to destabilize and overthrow the government of Ukraine was not a “peaceful” or “responsible” plan. Perhaps it did not show sufficient “respect for international borders” or “sovereignty”. But the EU certainly knew what kind of dirty politics were being played there, they are “neck deep” in them

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