William Hague with US Secretary of State John Kerry at the State Department in Washington on February 25, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Hague denies Iraq war has undermined western stance over Ukraine

The Foreign Secretary says Ukraine "is an entirely different situation" after John Kerry criticises Russia for "invading another country on completely trumped up pretext".

Whatever one's view of recent western foreign policy, John Kerry's attack on Russia for "invading another country on completely trumped up pretext" showed a remarkable lack of self-awareness. By using such language, Kerry, who voted for the Iraq war, carelessly exposed the US to the charge of hypocrisy. But when William Hague (who also supported the war as Conservative leader) was asked on the Today programme this morning whether he believed that the 2003 invasion had undermined the west's moral standing, he unambiguously replied "No, I don't think so" and said he "wouldn't accept any parallels with Iraq". 

He added: 

This is an entirely different situation. Ukraine is not a danger to other nations in the region, Ukraine presents no threat to its neighbours. This is not something where there is any justification whatsoever for the action that has been taken. I won't accept any parallels with Iraq or any of the situations outside Europe in recent years.

Hague's reference to other "situations" presumably includes Syria, which Tory ministers so unwisely invoked over the weekend in an opportunistic attempt to damage Ed Miliband. Sajid Javid tweeted: "Direct link between Miliband's cynical vote against #Syria motion & Russia's actions on #Ukraine. Completely unfit to lead Britain", while Nick Boles wrote: "PM was right to urge Parliament to stand up to Putin and punish Assad's use of chemical weapons. Look where Miliband's weakness has led us." 

Earlier in the interview, Hague soberly stated that "they [Russia] have, in effect, taken control of the Crimea" and added that "there are things we can do and must do". He warned of "significant costs" if Russia failed to respect Ukrainian sovereignty and highlighted the diplomatic action already taken by the west, including the suspension of involvement in preparatory meetings for the Sochi G8. Kerry has threatened Russia with expulsion from the organisation "if this continues". Hague added that he "didn't want to anticipate" what other action the west could take, but the expectation is that economic sanctions, such as asset freezes on Russian businesses, will follow. The challenge for the west will be reconciling its desire to punish Russia with the need to maintain Europe's security of energy supply. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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