The last few days have seen Parliament preoccupied by events in the Ukraine. Those of us fresh from telling the government to stay out of the Syrian civil war have been urging the government to avoid military commitment close to the Russian border.
Ukraine is a very split and divided country. The EU encouraged rebels to overthrow the elected President from the east of the country, to move policy away from Russian connections to a pro EU direction. When they succeeded their new interim government immediately pushed through legislation to ban Russian as an official language. The new government in so doing alienated parts of the east, especially the Crimea. Mr Putin claimed he was invited to protect the Russian majority in the Crimea, and sent in troops to take control without a shot being fired.
As far as the west is concerned the new interim unelected government is legitimate because the elected President fled the country and the elected parliament chose the new government. The west believes Mr Putin has violated Ukrainian sovereignty and should withdraw his troops. To the east, Mr Putin sent in troops at the legal request of the elected President and the local government in Crimea, and stands ready to protect the interests of the Russian majority in Crimea who are but a minority in Ukraine.
There is no way the west can put right the troubles of Ukraine by military intervention. The west has to negotiate with the Ukrainian government, the Crimean government and M r Putin to try to find a peaceful solution to the clash of interests and conflicting legal claims. The US is raising the issue of whether trade and economic sanctions should be used. The EU is correctly reluctant. One of the Ukraine’s biggest problems is a weak economy with too much debt. Russia and the west should seek to collaborate on solving that, rather than trying to wound each other by economic sanctions. If Russia makes further military moves that are illegal then there may need to be retaliation against named individuals in Russia, attacking their freedom to travel and their overseas assets.