We’re all journalists now, apparently, so when a major foreign policy crisis comes along it is important to be prepared. Everyone must learn the art of winging it as the big news breaks. That’s not easy these days. What with Wikipedia on every mobile phone, our understanding of international relations can be called into question at any moment.

So here, as a beginner’s guide, are ten handy phrases for bluffing your way through a conversation about the situation in Ukraine:

  1. ‘It’s simplistic to think in terms of east versus west in today’s global, multi-polar world.’ A classic this: the phrase can be adapted and used in just about any serious conversation about anything. Say it early in the discussion, before anyone else can.
  2. ‘Sevastopol is of great strategic importance for Putin, especially  given the ongoing situation in Syria.’ A useful ploy, this remark establishes you as a bigger-picture guy, who grasps the geopolitics of both eastern Europe and the Middle East — and that global, multi-polar world you were just talking about.
  3. ‘What we are seeing here is the return of geography.’Similar to the last, this one neatly lifts you away from the intricacies of Eastern European diplomacy and has the advantage of being almost completely meaningless
  4. ‘The similarities with Hitler and the Sudetenland/Anschluss/Peter the Great/ Stalin and the Tartars/Genghis Khan are striking.’ Historical analogies are invaluable to the experienced bluffer, but the amateur must tread carefully. It is terribly easy to become unstuck in the past. When in doubt, hedge: ‘I am not saying that Putin is Hitler, but …’ or ‘it’s easy to get carried away with these comparisons, but …’ Try to look pained, as if contemplating both the complexity and the imminent possibility of human suffering.
  5. ‘Ukraine literally means “borderland”, of course’ — easy one to remember, but a sentence that hints at real wisdom. It has the added benefit of not requiring any follow-up knowledge. Use in the context of ‘statelets’, ‘the great game’ and ‘annexation’.
  6. ‘Yes, but Putin is in danger of over-playing his hand.’ Especially effective as a foil: if the clever bloke at the other end of the table is discussing an article he’s read in Foreign Affairs, just wait for him to say anything about ‘the limits of western power’  and pounce. Replace the word ‘Putin’ with ‘Nato’ if he is going the other way.
  7. ‘One must always be wary about unleashing ethno-nationalist forces.’ This one sets you up to make quite racist generalisations without seeming explicitly racist. ‘The Slavs are at their most dangerous when national borders are in flux,’ you can add, having already dropped your ethnic sensitivity card.
  8. ‘The Orthodox have a different way of looking at these things.’ Religion never fails when you need to generalise; refer noddingly to the ‘Moscow Patriarchate’ as if you expected all your companions to know the various traditions within Eastern Christianity.
  9. ‘It all comes down to the energy markets.’ No one will dare contradict you here. Link the crisis to the ‘shale gas revolution’. Refer obliquely to deals between the oligarchs, the Kremlin and Gazprom, and throw in the words ‘Glasnost’ and ‘Perestroika’, ideally in an ironically proficient Russian accent, for good measure.
  10. ‘I am not sure we should be making light of the situation — we are talking about a potential World War III here.’ The Puritan’s gambit; this establishes you as a serious dude who cares and silences those who might have been enjoying themselves too much. Send it as a reply to anyone who shares this post with you online.

Tags: Moscow, NATO, Putin, Russia, Ukraine