Thursday, 28 August 2008

Miliband's belligerence shows insensitivity to history

Over at Burke’s Corner, Brian highlights an extraordinary comment by Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Radio 4’s Today programme (I was starting the car as he said it and I nearly stalled), in which he reassured listeners, "there's no question of launching an all-out war against Russia". Brian was equally aghast, and he is right to contend that the fact Miliband thinks he has to make such a statement speaks volumes about his refusal to act as a Foreign Secretary should and ease tension between Britain and Russia.

The would be Labour leader chose Kiev in Ukraine as a location for an address which basically denies that Russia has legitimate foreign policy interests or a ‘sphere of influence’. Miliband’s language towards Russia is persistently the most strident from the major European governments.

In his remarks, not only does Miliband ignore the fact that Nato set the template (followed by Russia in the case of Georgia) of ignoring international law and undermining the territorial integrity of sovereign Serbia, but as David Hearst argues in Comment is Free, he is showing spectacular disregard for the complexities of Ukrainian history when he uses Kiev as a venue to denounce Russian interests in the ‘near abroad’.

The very name ‘Ukraine’ means borderland. It is composed of eastern and central regions in which the population are drawn culturally and linguistically toward Russia and a western portion in which its people are more inclined toward the rest of Europe.

As Hearst eloquently writes,



“Does Miliband not realise that Ukraine as a nation has historically been torn between east and west, and what does he think would happen to old wounds if he, among others, starts to tug a little bit harder?”


The relationship between Ukrainian and Russian identity is symbiotic. The Russian state has its roots in a precursor based in Kiev. The Ukrainian people are deeply divided as regards their attitudes to their neighbour and a relatively peaceful accommodation has only been reached because the fine balance of politics and identity has been recognised.

Russia retains a Black Sea port at Sevastopol in the Crimea. This is ostensibly the potential flashpoint over which Miliband is extending moral support to the Ukrainians. Crimea is an overwhelmingly Russian area which was an intrinsic part of the Russian SSR before Khrushchev chose arbitrarily to reward his acolytes in the Ukrainian SSR with the territory. Whilst arcane details of Soviet history might seem unimportant to David Miliband, it is complexities such as this which mean that this particular tinderbox should be left alone by western politicians.

Hearst warns,


“By going to Kiev to send Russia a signal that Moscow will not be allowed to have a veto over Ukraine joining Nato, Miliband is stepping blindly and foolishly into a minefield. Thus far Russians and Ukrainians of all political colours, blue and orange, and of all ethnicities have resolved their differences by negotiation and largely without bloodshed. The new map has been changed as much by western military and oil interests advancing eastwards into the Black Sea as it is by Russia's bullying of its neighbours. But one is a product of the other.”

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