X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

Please note: Previously subscribers used a 'WebID' to log into the website. Your subscriber number is not the same as the WebID. Please ensure you use the subscriber number when you link your subscription.

Coffee House

Ten fateful forks in the road to Crimea

25 March 2014

4:00 PM

25 March 2014

4:00 PM

Regret suffuses the post mortem on many a conflict, with hindsight recommending alternatives that were far less obvious at the time. Crimea is different. Rarely can the fateful choices — those critical forks in the road — have been so evident as those that have led Russia, Ukraine and the West into this conflict.

A different choice at any one of these 10 junctures could have averted immediate danger and indicated a route back to safety:

1. Last summer it became apparent that Russia and the EU were increasingly at loggerheads over Ukraine

It was Vladimir Putin’s Eurasian Union vs the association agreement on offer from Brussels. As November drew closer, the EU – in part, perhaps, because hawkish Lithuania held the presidency — treated Ukraine’s decision as a now or never choice between East and West, even though Ukraine’s disunity, and discomfort, were clear for all to see. The option was there to defer any signing or to explore – as the European elder statesman, Romano Prodi, among others, suggested – some interim arrangement. That was rejected by the EU.

2. At the Vilnius summit, Ukraine’s President Yanukovych said No to the Europe deal

A few days later he said Yes to a – very necessary – bail-out from Russia. If Brussels had offered real money, as Moscow did, he might have said Yes and we do not know what would have happened next. What did happen is that Brussels raged as though Ukraine was lost to the West forever and thousands of protesters descended on to the streets of Kiev, bolstering one of the more surprising developments of the recent past: an impassioned pro-EU demonstration.

3. As huge EU flags fluttered over the streets, Yanukovych was confronted with the choice all beleaguered governments must make

He could offer solid concessions, such as bringing forward the presidential election by a year, to early 2014, and serious consultations on reforms, but he did not. Piqued when his first proposals for a unity government were rejected, he resorted instead to the tool of panicked governments everywhere. On 17 January, he signed legislation against protests in central Kiev and called in the riot police to crack heads.

4. The protesters, many of them young, then had a choice about whether to go home or stay and fight

[Alt-Text]


Infuriated and emboldened by the repressive new laws and evidence of EU support for their cause, they stayed and turned their ire on the ruling elite. What had been a protest against one policy – Yanukovych’s rejection of the EU association agreement – became a protest against everything he stood for in their eyes, starting with rampant corruption and failing government. Violence escalates through mid-February.

5. At this point, the EU could have left the President and the protesters to fight it out

Instead, it sent a delegation, comprising the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland, to mediate between Yanukovych and the opposition. Russia also sent an envoy – the moderate, Vladimir Lukin. An agreement was hammered out, which was underwritten by the EU envoys and tacitly supported, so it seemed, by Moscow. The ball was now in the court of the protesters and the Ukrainian parliament. On 22 February, the day after it was signed, opposition leaders backed the deal, which included early elections and in the interim an emasculation of Yanukovych’s power, but they could not make it stick either on the Maidan or in Parliament. The scene was set for new confrontation.

6. Instead of backing the EU-sponsored agreement, Parliament voted to remove Yanukovych

He was indicted for the protesters’ deaths and subsequently fled. It is still not known who the snipers were who opened fire in Kiev on 21 February, and there were casualties among the police, too. But the deaths had served to discredit his leadership; in the eyes of many, he had forfeited any democratic legitimacy he might have had. His flight infuriated his reluctant patron, Vladimir Putin, who acknowledged at his first press conference on the crisis that – while still legally president – Yanukovych had no political future.

7. With Yanukovych gone, Moscow disinclined to fight his cause and no law enforcement evident on the streets of Kiev

Authority — such as it was — passed to the leaders of the Opposition and the rump of the Ukrainian Parliament. They cobbled together an interim government, which was a better result than anyone had a right to expect. But on 23 February they spoilt it all with the choice of their first legislative act: the repeal of the law that enshrined Russian as Ukraine’s official second language.

8. The legislation was rejected five days later by interim President Oleksandr Turchynov

Although it had only ever been a symbolic trophy for Ukrainian nationalists, Russian-speakers (and Russia) saw it as a threat of things to come. Ukraine’s Russian-speakers could have decided to wait and see. But this is not what happened in Crimea, where the Russian majority feared losing their autonomy and Russia feared the loss of its – legally leased – naval base at Sevastopol. On 6 March, Crimean legislators voted for independence and agreed to fast-track and reword a planned referendum, turn it into an endorsement for reunification with Russia. Had the original referendum timetable and question been kept, what happened next would not have happened.

9. Both Kiev and the West recognised that there was no preventing the new referendum

This duly took place on 16 March. There was, though, a choice for Russia about what happened next. Putin could have delayed a response until after presidential elections in Ukraine. He could approved a pseudo-independence for Crimea, on the model of the pro-Russian enclaves in Georgia. Whether because Russian domestic public opinion was by now so fired up or because he saw a historic opportunity, Putin agreed the very next day to annexation.

10. The dilemma for the West, and for Kiev, was whether to fight to keep Crimea within Ukraine

They chose not to, while imposing limited sanctions and huffing and puffing about illegality.

There are more searching questions, of course. One fork in the road that Ukraine may be tempted to revisit is Kiev’s decision, after independence, to dispense with its Soviet-era nuclear weapons. It did so in return for international guarantees of sovereignty (the Budapest Memorandum of 1994). We now know what those guarantees were worth.

But the events of the past six months might also cause the West to take a new look at a crucial decision of its own from that era. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the US and its allies had a choice of whether to declare victory, dismantle their military alliance and proclaim a new order, or to maintain the security structures of before. The states that had lived under Soviet domination, such as the Baltics, pleaded for the old structures to be kept and for the chance to join. That judgement might now appear vindicated.

But what if the West had chosen instead to dissolve Nato and negotiate new European security arrangements? For future historians, the preservation of an outdated alliance — which is now looking forward to a thoroughly unexpected revival of its fortunes — may be judged the most fateful choice of all.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
Close