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Fool's paradise is exposed...

The referendum in Crimea was a pivotal moment. The people of Crimea, by voting in the way their de facto leader Sergel Aksyonov said they will, have made sure the autonomous republic in Ukraine becomes part of Russia.

US President Barack Obama may dismiss it as a "slapdash" vote that is illegal, but what matters is what Vladimir Putin thinks.

Talks in London between Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, got nowhere. Russian forces have tightened their grip on Crimea. As violence spread elsewhere in Ukraine, the world witnessed the first annexation of another country's sovereign territory in Europe since 1945. Russian aggression has met Western complacency and incoherence.

The West, and in particular Europe, has been living in a fool's paradise since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It gladly accepted the peace dividend, running down its military spending in the 1990s, and then went further.

European powers handed over the role of global policeman to America, assuming it would always be willing to carry out that role.

Europe's military complacency - driven by an "end of history" view of the world, a view that Russia needs the West more than the West needs Russia, and a belief in the inevitability of long-term Russian decline - has played into the hands of Moscow. Force, or the threat of it, matters. It is one thing that we can be certain President Putin believes in.

Europe has also been living in a fool's paradise by allowing itself to become too dependent on Russia for energy. With the end of the Soviet Union, concerns about energy security went out of the window.

The European Union relies on Russia for at least a quarter of its oil and gas. Germany, particularly reliant on Russian energy, is increasing that dependency by phasing out its nuclear power stations.

It may be that the West is moving towards sanctions against Russia which will genuinely hurt. Angela Merkel's speech to the Bundestag a few days ago was tougher on Russia than any by a German chancellor for many years.

Putin's calculation that he could rely on Germany to temper moves towards significant sanctions may prove wrong. Reports suggest Russian billionaires are moving money out of Western bank accounts in anticipation of sanctions. In the end Russia is more economically vulnerable than Europe, although Moscow may be more willing to take the pain.

Nobody should pretend, however, that this is anything less than a failure for democratic diplomacy.

The West assumed Russia would go quietly to its diminished status.

That was never going to happen. The result is that we appear to be on the brink of a new Cold War. Much of the blame for that lies with a belligerent Putin but the West has also been culpably negligent of strategy.

While Crimea voted, it was hard to be anything other than gloomy. As Otto von Bismarck, Merkel's 19th-century predecessor, observed, blood and iron are decisive in international affairs.

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Publication:Gulf Daily News (Manama, Bahrain)
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Mar 20, 2014
Words:524
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