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5 March 2014

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.

By Marcus Roberts

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.

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Marcus Roberts is deputy general secretary of the Fabian Society