Political realism and the Ukraine Crisis

22 May

For all I know Putin’s a nasty piece of work who eats cats and cheats at chess. And for all I know somebody in Washington really is sincere about bringing democracy to Ukraine. Fortunately, there’s a way of viewing the scary scenario now unfolding that hinges neither on the intentions of either power, nor on our wading through the treacle of on the ground accusation and counter accusation.

The doctrine of political realism, promisingly premised on a suitably bleak appraisal of the nature of power, just might offer a way back from the abyss …

1600 word PDF here

PS in that essay I include Stalin as a political realist but ought to have added he wasn’t a very good one, as shown by his ignoring clear signs of Hitler’s true intent. Only hours before the Barbarossa invasion German merchant ships were steaming full throttle from Black Sea ports only half laden with Ukrainian wheat. But Stalin chose to trust the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact over such signals, despite their tallying with corroborated reports of German forces amassing at borders further north.

Stalin’s ‘Munich moment’ remains highly relevant to understanding the current situation. Napoleon and Hitler attacked Russia through Ukraine. Why wouldn’t NATO? Putin, whatever else he may be, is nobody’s fool – which is what he would surely have to be to trust lofty sentiment (‘democratic values’ in today’s coinage) over realpolitik.


Follow up, June 1 – Labour leadership contender Andy Burnham wants England to boycott the 2018 world cup as “a stand against Fifa corruption and Russia’s military aggression”. Let’s set aside the fact that, since boycotts are meant to send an unequivocal message, such a mixed rationale would signal zilch.

Russian aggression? From Baltic down to the Black Sea, Germany to Georgia, NATO seems bent on cornering a nuclear power through a relentless eastward push: Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic in 1999; Bulgaria, Romania, the three Baltic States and Slovakia in 2004; Albania and Croatia in 2009. Add in Turkey’s membership, EU enlargement, and the fact Napoleon and Nazi Germany struck at Russia through Ukraine.

In a dangerous game, Burnham shows himself ignorant as well as opportunist.

See also Putin: an open letter to Owen Jones

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