But they have no trouble issuing endless warnings to prepare for the imminent Russian invasion, which for some reason never comes
On December 8, 2021, newly appointed British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told a Chatham House audience that the UK was trying to build a “network of liberty” around the world.
On January 30, 2022, Truss, talking on the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Sunday Morning show about measures to stop Russian “aggression,” said “we are supplying and offering extra support into our Baltic allies across the Black Sea.” At last count no Baltic nations could be found on the Black Sea.
Arriving in Moscow, she told her opposite number, the intelligent and highly experienced Sergey Lavrov, that the Ukrainian areas around Rostov and Voronezh were being threatened by Vladimir Putin’s armies.
Lavrov then had patiently to explain to her that those areas have long been Russian, and face no threat of invasion.
And so it goes on, with much of the brave talk about confronting Russia coming from people like Truss who probably have little idea even where Ukraine is, let alone how and where Russia has to be confronted.
But they have no trouble issuing endless warnings to prepare for the imminent Russian invasion, which for some reason never comes and which Moscow denies it has any intention of doing anyway.
Common sense suggests that Moscow has long had two other much more understandable reasons for sending troops close to Ukraine’s borders. One is to encourage Kiev to carry out the Minsk Protocol it signed in 2014 together with other European powers anxious to end a bloody civil war there that had forced pro-Russian elements into the small holdouts of Donetsk and Luhansk along the border with Russia.
The Protocol called for temporary self-government in Donetsk and Luhansk under a “special status” law, and the holding of local elections there. Granting autonomy to part of a country is no big deal. Many others do it for linguistic or other differences; Quebec in Canada is a good example. Some do it just for administrative convenience.
But Kiev says its extremist-dominated parliament will not approve the constitutional amendment said to be needed to approve that autonomy. So the war has to go on, forever.
Meanwhile the British and other hardliners are trying to say Minsk is now a dead letter anyway – not a great start to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s new era of rules-based international relations.
Another good reason for Moscow’s troop movements is the still-lingering possibility the Ukrainian government or extremist forces might, as in Georgia in 2008, try to attack and wipe out the two pro-Russian holdouts.
Such an attack would have given Moscow the excuse to go into eastern Ukraine temporarily and clean up the Donetsk, Luhansk and other problems in the Russian-speaking Donbas area, problems left over by Ukraine’s messy 1991 separation from the Soviet Union.
One particular problem is the fate of the many Russian speakers left inside Ukraine. Currently the Kiev government – the extremists especially – are trying to enforce a “Ukrainian language only” regime. Ukrainian is close to Russian, so the change would not be unbearable. But for many pro-Russians it not only means a forced change of identity; it means also submission to those extremists, some with ugly pro-Nazi, fascistic leanings.
Fortunately French President Emmanuel Macron realizes that observance of the Minsk Protocol is the key to solving the Ukrainian crisis. Moscow goes along with his efforts to move the debate in that direction.
Unfortunately there are others who have a vested interest in going the other direction. And there are far too many, like Liz Truss, who do not seem to have any idea what the crisis is about anyway let alone directions for a solution.
Between them they may well manage to create the war they say Russia wants to create.
Gregory Clark, emeritus president of Tama University, Tokyo, is a Russian-speaking former Australian diplomat, posted to Hong Kong and Moscow in the 1960s and currently active in Japanese academic circles. He can be contacted at www.gregoryclark.net.