Jim Sillars: European stance on Ukraine too risky

A pro-Russian separatist and a tank on the streets of Donetsk, in Ukraine. Picture: Reuters
A pro-Russian separatist and a tank on the streets of Donetsk, in Ukraine. Picture: Reuters
Have your say

Fancy going to war with Russia over Ukraine? Some of the so-called leaders of the European Union do, if we are to take seriously what they said at the summit in Brussels last week.

José Manuel Barroso, president of the EU Commission, would have us believe: “We may see a situation where we reach the point of no return.”

Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite put it this way: “Russia is in a state of war against Ukraine and that is against a country which wants to be part of Europe. Russia is practically in a state of war against Europe.”

That is crooked and dangerous language. That fatuous fool François Hollande, desperate to divert attention from his catastrophic French presidency, dropped these pearls of wisdom about Ukraine: “It’s close to Europe.” In case you didn’t get that, he added “It’s on the border of Europe.” He went on: “What is happening concerns Europe directly. Not just Europe, the whole world.” How could the France of de Gaulle sink to this level?

President Petro Poroshenko, of Ukraine, describes events as about not only the “fate of Ukraine, but tomorrow it could be the fate of security and stability of all Europe”. He wants Ukraine to join Nato now, because under Chapter 5 of the Nato charter, when one member is attacked, everyone joins in. Neither Barroso, the Lithuanian or the Ukrainian can point to any evidence that Russia is threatening any Nato member. But if Nato says yes to Ukraine, in we will all be.

You don’t need to be a fan of president Vladimir Putin, to understand Russia’s position on Ukraine. When Khrushchev in the days of the USSR put nuclear missiles in Cuba back in the 1960s, the US was prepared to go to the brink of a nuclear war to get them out. Cuba was too close for comfort. When the EU and Nato began to talk about bringing Ukraine into our orbit, that took it too close for comfort for Russia. I can find no rational reason that would justify the advance of Nato to the borders of Russia. The root of the tragedy unfolding for people in the Ukraine, lies in EU and Nato policy. Anyone knows that Russia is extremely sensitive about perceived threats.

Not only Putin, but all are aware of having been duped when the Cold War came to an end, with assurances that there would be no Nato expansion, when that is exactly what has taken place. Russia has solid grounds for distrusting the EU and Nato’s intentions. Russia was first provoked when the US invited Georgia to join Nato. The response was a Russian invasion to stop it happening. Did none of our leaders see that Ukraine, a giant country compared to Georgia, would be an even bigger provocation?

Russia’s foreign and defence policy cannot permit Nato to advance to its borders. It is as simple and profound as that. The more the Ukrainian president, Nato generals and EU go on about its future in the EU, the more obdurate the Russians become.

What is needed is statesmanship, not bellicose, foolish statements such as we had uttered in Brussels. To stop the violence in Ukraine requires a treaty between Ukraine, Russia, EU and Nato, that allows Ukraine to have associated status with the EU, but not membership; and that Nato membership is forbidden to Ukraine.

That, of course, restricts Ukraine sovereignty, but it would do no more than put in black and white what is the unwritten position of Finland and Sweden – both EU members, but not in Nato, because membership would be seen by Russia as a hostile act.

Spheres of interest and influence are a permanent factor in international relations, and when one group intrudes on the strategic interests of another, then there is trouble.