Jim Sillars: An invasion was always on cards

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Ukraine has been a Russian invasion waiting to happen. It can be traced back to 1990, when James Baker, US Secretary of State, promised Mikhail Gorbachev that if the Soviets let East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and the three Baltic states go over the West, they would not be allowed to join Nato. Gorbachev believed him. It turned out to be a promise broken.

The importance for Russia of that pledge was that there would be no Western military alliance right up to its borders. For Russia, given the history of surprise attack upon it, and the devastation that followed in the Second World War, having a neutral buffer zone was vital to its security. You don’t have to be pro-Russian to understand that. More than 1700 towns, 70,000 villages and thousands of hospitals and schools were destroyed by the German army in Russia. The dead number more than 20 million, one million in the siege of Leningrad alone.

During the Cold War the West was afraid of a Russian invasion of Western Europe. It turns out when the archives opened up, that the Soviets were afraid of a Western invasion, hence the iron grip they exerted on their vassal states in Eastern Europe, who provided that crucial buffer zone. That need for such a protection was the reason Gorbachev extracted the “no Nato expansion” promise.

But Nato has expanded to the borders of Russia, and EU/Nato membership (they are the same thing for the Russians) has been on offer to what the Kremlin calls the “near abroad” – countries that used to form the Soviet Union. Remember the Russian invasion of Georgia? That arose directly out of an American promise to promote its membership of Nato. The Georgian president believed it, said it, and found himself with Russian tanks rolling in.

Georgia is small beer compared with Ukraine. The attempt to woo it towards the EU (and in Russian eyes Nato) was a provocation the Russians could not ignore. In statements issued in Moscow, the “broken promise” is brought up time and again. EU/Nato expansion is seen as a threat, with Russia surrounded by a military alliance headed by the United States, whose recent history is invading other countries. For us who know that Nato has no intention of attacking Russia, Vladimir Putin’s anxiety may seem over-dramatic, but we are dealing with a Russia of wounded pride, and security-conscious.

The Russians are still smarting from being downgraded from the world’s “other” superpower, and angry at being outsmarted by the West. A leading Moscow military writer with a readership of millions has fulminated about Nato having “pushed its way right up to our national borders with its guns”. Putin, before resuming the presidency, argued: “The West broke its word and short-changed Russia when it was weak.”

That the EU should seek to draw Ukraine into its economic orbit was bound to be seen in Russia as another Nato exercise in encirclement. Given the Crimea’s strategic importance as the home of the Russian Black Sea fleet, a Russian intervention was inevitable there. Putin’s regime is not a pleasant one. Its façade of democracy barely hides its authoritarian nature, where the judicial system does the bidding of the top boss, allowing him to intimidate opponents. But Russia holds all the aces on Ukraine, and a settlement there, if there is not to be a civil war, will have to be on Russian terms. If it does become a civil war, it will certainly be on Russian terms. If Obama, Cameron and EU leaders encourage the new Ukrainian government to ignore the vital strategic interests of Russia it will prove a colossal mistake.

Don’t be fooled by Labour vow of more power

Fear has failed. Love bombing didn’t work either. Osborne’s arrogant two-up to the Scots proved a disaster. Now it’s time for seduction. We are to get a new prize for voting No: a promise from Labour of more devolution, with the Scottish Parliament given control, through collecting income tax, of 40 per cent of its budget.

That’s no big deal. It leaves questions over the other 60 per cent, which would have to come in a bloc grant from Westminster – something decided down there, which could be cut. Given Westminster’s debt problem, growing by the day, cuts would be more likely than increases.

The other thing to remember about devolution, is that we don’t decide how much of it we are going to get. That is the decision of a parliament where Scots are in a minority.

As old Enoch Powell pointed out: Devolution is power retained.

Bullock’s got a business brain

Sandra Bullock: a fine actress, but also a shrewd businesswoman. Paid $20 million for acting in Gravity, taking a share in the film got her another $70m.

No sweat for david

THE Tories now claim to be ‘the workers party’. Didn’t know Cameron got his millions by the sweat of his brow!