I place single inverted commas around my title because it is a precis of a question raised by Charles Crawford, a former senior FO-man who served for a considerable time in various East European countries. In a Comment thread down below somewhere, 'SoD' brought it to our attention and it is definitely worth reading, not so much for any immediate answers to the Ukranian imbroglio but as a reminder for us to raise our eyes and attempt to search for a long-term solution to the entire European problem. Mr. Crawford is too old a hand to suppose that it will be easy but unless we have a long-term aim we will simply flounder in the detritus of day-to-day "events, dear boy, events".
It is not difficult to see the myriad problems already arising and others looming over the horizon. They come about because of errors on all sides, the EU blundered into offering Ukraine tempting blandishments, Putin smacked his secret policeman's truncheon against the side of his leg (and perhaps on the head of his puppet in Kiev) and thereby upped the anti, and then, of course 'The People' (dread words!) erupted. In the haze of 'ifs, buts and maybes', one thing stands clear - Putin has several tons of egg on his face, or perhaps to put it better, he has lost his face! That is not good for a virtual dictator surrounded, no doubt, by ambitious men who will be quick to seize advantage if he stumbles. That may be the least of his problems, as Mr. Crawford reminds us in his Telegraph article:
Where is this going to end? Could Russia itself, a patchwork quilt of scores of ethnic communities and administrative units stretching over 11 time zones, start to disintegrate?
On the other hand, the EU appears to have stumble-bummed its way into a situation which is somewhat similar to being handed a red-hot potato at a bonfire party! Have they got what it takes? By which I mean, of course, have they got the necessary 'dosh' - and I do mean really big, serious amounts of the stuff! When Putin begins to turn the economic screws on his recalcitrant western 'province' and perhaps backs this up with military manouvres in the Crimea, will the EU have what it takes to play big-time poker? If they think President 'Big Ears' will rush to their rescue they should remind themselves of just how reliable he is as an ally, and if still in doubt, ask Israel!
Well, all that is "to be or not to be" but as Mr. Crawford urges, it is very necessary now to have a long-term objective to which, albeit with some ducking and diving en route, one drives the caravan of state - or states! He suggests, if I read him right, a sort of return to an EFTA (European Free Trade Area) arrangement from the Atlantic to the Pacific across the Urals. In other words, like Smiley used to do with his agents, we could bring Russia 'in from the cold'. I quite like that idea because Russia is huge, and proud, and will not be bound by many of the restrictions to national sovereignty that the EU imposes. Thus, a new treaty will be required which, as it happens, is exactly up Dave's strasse at the moment because it would provide an opportunity for us in the UK to ride on Putin's coat-tails. In fact, I would hope that in such an event we would ally ourselves to Russia against the EU apparat in Brussels.
I will leave Mr. Crawford to sum it up better than I can:
Such a project would be fiendishly complicated to set up. It would drag on for years. But it would have significant strategic advantages. After centuries of war and misery, all Europeans at long last would be sitting around a table to work out where and what Europe actually is. And all European governments would have a say in deciding the outcome, rather than letting violent events on the streets of Ukraine – and perhaps later in western or central Europe and up into Russia if this one is badly mishandled – take their course.