During an election campaign, one can rely on one’s opponents to pick on any chance remark and blow it out of proportion. This seems to be happening with Nigel Farage’s comments on Russia, Putin and the Ukraine.
Nigel has remarked that in terms of the political and diplomatic (and potentially military) chess-game over Ukraine and the Crimea, Putin has played a blinder. He has totally out-smarted his opponents (particularly the EU). So naturally UKIP’s opposition, starting with Paddy Ashdown, has characterised UKIP as “apologists for Putin” and supporters of Russia against the West. One only has to write that down to see how absurd it is.
No one in UKIP has suggested for a moment that the Russian behaviour is anything less than reprehensible, and illegal. No one in UKIP supports the interference of great powers in the affairs of smaller nations – indeed we have criticised the Western propensity to intervene first, and fail to clear up the mess afterwards.
Nigel’s primary objective was to criticise the EU’s strategy (or indeed lack of strategy). Roosevelt’s advice was to tread softly and carry a big stick. The EU has taken the opposite course. It went trampling around in Ukraine, dangling the prospect of EU membership and funding, and failing to carry any sort of stick at all. It appears that Brussels simply didn’t bother to think through the possible Russian reaction, because if they had, it was entirely foreseeable that Russia would be very annoyed indeed. Direct interference in Russia’s “Near Abroad”, its traditional sphere of influence, was bound to cause ructions. Loss of the Ukraine would have been a major humiliation and a domestic set-back for President Putin personally, and he wasn’t going to let it happen.
So Brussels could have stood back and allowed the status quo to continue. Instead, it prodded the Bear. It provoked a quite unnecessary crisis, and now has no idea how to respond. With 30% of European gas supplies coming from Russia, it simply dare not apply serious sanctions. We’ve handed Putin a political opportunity that he could hardly have dreamed of or engineered himself, and he’s taken full advantage of it. Chances are the Western reaction will blow itself out, leaving Putin with the Crimea, and President Barosso with egg on his face.
So game, set and match to the Kraken in the Kremlin. Or at least the short game. Maybe Putin hasn’t thought carefully enough about the medium and long-term. The Russian economy has failed to reform and modernise. It remains a bandit economy based mainly on fossil fuel exports. But the one positive outcome of the Ukraine crisis is the sudden realisation in Europe that the EU urgently needs fuel resources that are more diverse, and as far as possible indigenous. It must cut its import-dependency, and especially it must rely less on unstable suppliers, especially those like Russia who have demonstrated their willingness to apply fossil-fuel blackmail. (We in UKIP have been arguing this point for a long time. It’s taken the Ukraine crisis to get through to the thick heads of the Eurocrats).
At a time when Europe is tentatively debating the plusses and minuses of shale gas, and is blinded by the negative anti-shale propaganda from green lobbyists who are (ironically) funded by the European Commission itself, there could hardly be a stronger impetus for drilling in Europe. We cannot sit on our hands and give in to Russian blackmail on gas when we are ourselves sitting on decades – maybe centuries – of gas supplies, but are too pusillanimous to exploit it.