Russian forces look out at the Ukrainian navy ship Slavutich in the harbor of the Ukrainian city of Sevastopo. Photograph: Getty Images.
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How the west can match Putin's grand strategy

Ukrainian and Georgian NATO membership should be fast-tracked and energy security pursued with far greater vigour and speed.

Putin’s endgame is clear. As former US defence secretary Robert Gates noted, he "knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s trying to re-establish influence over the former states of the Soviet Union." The west desperately needs similar strategic clarity if it is to avoid losing not just the Crimea but more of the former Soviet Union back to a resurgent Russia with no respect for democracy, human rights or the rule of law.

That clarity needs to start with a stronger response by western powers to Russia’s aggression. The start of what would prove a stronger response could be seen at Prime Minister’s Questions today as Ed Miliband began outlining an alternative to surrender to Russia’s illegal invasion. He rejected the government’s own narrow list of options and offered a constructive alternative that would exact a measured toll from Putin. In contrast, Cameron’s own revealed Downing Street national security brief appeared to indicate that a greater concern for the British government than international peace and security was the wealth of the city of London.

Miliband quoted Cameron’s own 2008 remarks on Russia and Georgia that "Russian armies can’t march into other countries while Russian shoppers are marching into Selfridges"and used this as the hook for a call for serious consideration of trade sanctions. This is exactly the kind of response that is needed to show that Russia cannot invade with impunity. But for the approach to be effective it must be in concert with a series of other actions which pave the way for the West’s own endgame.

As Left Foot Forward argued earlier this week, short-term moves should include an asset freeze, trade sanctions and the suspension of Russia from the G8. In the medium-term, Ukrainian and Georgian NATO membership should be fast-tracked in a clear and unequivocal signal to Moscow that Putin’s territorial ambitions will be curtailed. Long-term, the EU should pursue energy independence from Russia. With Germany dependent to it for nearly 40 per cent of its oil and gas supply, EU energy security needs to be pursued with far greater vigour and speed.

Taken together, this approach would allow the west to develop its own endgame to counter that of Putin’s. The alternative is years and years of further meek reaction to Russia’s rising bellicosity.

Marcus Roberts is deputy general secretary of the Fabian Society

Marcus Roberts is an executive project director at YouGov. 

HEINZ BAUMANN/GALLERY STOCK
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With the BBC Food’s collection under threat, here's how to make the most of online recipes

Do a bit of digging, trust your instincts – and always read the comments.

I don’t think John Humphrys is much of a chef. Recently, as his Today co-presenter Mishal Husain was discussing the implications of the BBC’s decision to axe its Food website (since commuted to transportation to the Good Food platform, run by its commercial arm), sharp-eared listeners heard the Humph claim that fewer recipes on the web could only be a good thing. “It would make it easier!” he bellowed in the background. “We wouldn’t have to choose between so many!”

Husain also seemed puzzled as to why anyone would need more than one recipe for spaghetti bolognese – but, as any keen cook knows, you can never have too many different takes on a dish. Just as you wouldn’t want to get all your news from a single source, it would be a sad thing to eat the same bolognese for the rest of your life. Sometimes only a molto autentico version, as laid down by a fierce Italian donna, rich with tradition and chopped liver, will do – and sometimes, though you would never admit it in a national magazine, you crave the comfort of your mum’s spag bol with grated cheddar.

The world wouldn’t starve without BBC Food’s collection but, given that an online search for “spaghetti bolognese recipe” turns up about a million results, it would have been sad to have lost one of the internet’s more trustworthy sources of information. As someone who spends a large part of each week researching and testing recipes, I can assure you that genuinely reliable ones are rarer than decent chips after closing time. But although it is certainly the only place you’ll find the Most Haunted host Yvette Fielding’s kedgeree alongside Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge, the BBC website is not the only one that is worth your time.

The good thing about newspaper, magazine and other commercial platforms is that most still have just enough budget to ensure that their recipes will have been made at least twice – once by the writer and once for the accompanying photographs – though sadly the days when everyone employed an independent recipe tester are long gone. Such sites also often have sufficient traffic to generate a useful volume of comments. I never make a recipe without scrolling down to see what other people have said about it. Get past the “Can’t wait to make this!” brigade; ignore the annoying people who swap baked beans for lentils and then complain, “This is nothing like dhal”; and there’s usually some sensible advice in there, too.

But what about when you leave the safety of the big boys and venture into the no man’s land of the personal blog? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff and find a recipe that actually works? You can often tell how much work a writer has put in by the level of detail they go into: if they have indicated how many people it serves, or where to find unusual ingredients, suggested possible tweaks and credited their original sources, they have probably made the dish more than once. The photography is another handy clue. You don’t have to be Annie Leibovitz to provide a good idea of what the finished dish ought to look like.

Do a bit of digging as part of your prep. If you like the look of the rest of the site, the author’s tastes will probably chime with your own. And always, always, wherever the recipe is from, read it all the way through, even before you order the shopping. There is nothing more annoying than getting halfway through and then realising that you need a hand blender to finish the dish, just as the first guest arrives.

Above all, trust your instincts. If the cooking time seems far too short, or the salt content ridiculously high, it probably is, so keep an eye on that oven, check that casserole, keep tasting that sauce. As someone who once published a magic mince pie recipe without any sugar, I’m living proof that, occasionally, even the very best of us make mistakes. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad