What a gift for Boris this Ukraine business is! It gives him the ideal opportunity to look strong and resolute, climb into fighter jets for photo ops, talk with (or, rather, at) powerful autocrats, issue dire warnings, look Churchillian, speechify and sloganize, harness history to his purposes (‘Munich’), send in soldiers… and push all that trivial ‘partygate’ stuff aside. (‘I’m focussed on the real issues’.) And all without doing anything at all to help the situation; indeed, if anything rather the reverse, if it makes it more difficult for Putin to behave as reasonably as he’s insisting he’s already doing. If he (Putin) draws back his troops, Johnson will claim it as a victory for his Churchillian stand. If he invades regardless, it will still be said to have justified that stand. For Boris it’s a win-win situation. Not, of course, for the Ukrainians; for whom one suspects it can only be lose-lose.
Of course I have no reliable opinion on what is in Putin’s mind, let alone BJ’s; and no more knowledge of things on the ground than I read in the generally ignorant, and deeply partisan, British press. (Sweden’s is more reliable.) Putin’s case against the Ukraine’s shifting towards NATO and the EU looks fairly reasonable (or let’s say ‘rational’), in geo-strategic terms. But then I have no way of knowing how likely that scenario is. There’s a case to be made for Europe’s having ‘imperial’ ambitions that threaten Russia’s border-states. That’s what our British Brexiters claimed, after all, with respect to the EU’s ‘imperialist’ relations with the UK. This seems to lie at the root of Putin’s paranoia; if indeed that is what it is. On the other side, a case can be made for Russia’s wanting to revive the Russian Empire/USSR, especially in the Baltic States, which are – as it happens – very close to us. That may be why Kajsa tells me she’s recently spotted Swedish warships in the Stockholm Archipelago. The Russian-speaking population in the east of Ukraine also obviously poses a problem, just as the Germans in the Sudetenland did in 1938. That needs to be sorted, one way or another; but in any case diplomatically.
I have to say I find it difficult to get inside the minds of those who think in these rather simplistic geo-political terms, despite my having studied ‘great power rivalries’ and ‘empires’ all these years. (There are gradations of ‘sovereignty’, and of ‘subjection’.) Nonetheless they seem genuine on the part of many national leaders, especially the more authoritarian ones. Whether they will cause Putin to launch a ‘Sudetenland’ on the Ukraine, and then advance to confront the Swedish navy in the Baltic, I can’t possibly tell. But then neither can Boris, nor Biden, nor all those others who are predicting – or at least uttering dire warnings of – ‘the biggest war since 1945’ (that’s Johnson yesterday), in order to make our toes curl.
Let’s hope toe-curling is the end of it. And – more trivially – that the Ukraine doesn’t give the same boost to Johnson that the Falklands gave to Thatcher. He doesn’t deserve it.