Let wisdom prevail as all sides try to solve crisis in Ukraine

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 March, 2014, 4:12am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 March, 2014, 7:16am

Calming a crisis requires cool heads and reasoned discussion. The hysteria of Ukraine's new leaders in the wake of Russia's occupation of the Crimean peninsula offers heightened tension, not a solution. American and European threats of sanctions, expelling Moscow from the Group of Eight industrialised nations and military consequences have been countered with determination and resolve. It is for Ukrainians, not Western governments, to decide the country's fate, while Russia has to pull back its forces.

US Secretary of State John Kerry would have the world believe his country is in charge of negotiations. His provocative rhetoric and trip to Kiev in answer to a call for help from Ukraine's new leaders makes it seem the matter is between Washington and Moscow. US President Barack Obama was quick to contact his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and suspend military co-operation. Parts of eastern Europe, and Sweden, have sided with the US in seeking punitive measures, but the rest of Europe has understandably opted for talks and monitoring.

Divisions of language, politics and culture run deep in Ukrainian society, split between a Europe-supporting west and Russian-speaking east. Crimea has especially strong Russian links, with historic and cultural ties and being the home of Russia's Black Sea fleet. The country's eastern residents were understandably alarmed when weeks of bloody protests in Kiev ended with ultranationalists taking power from pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych and calling for new elections on May 25. Acting president Olexander Turchynov's government wrongly scrapped a law that made Russian an official language.

Russia's ordering in troops was ostensibly to protect its interests and has broad support in Crimea. But the legality is questionable under the terms of the peace and friendship treaty signed by Kiev and Moscow in 1997. While the value of the Russian rouble and stock market have fallen, the cost to Putin is small; he has won plaudits at home and Europe's reliance on Russian gas will stave off tough sanctions. There is no appetite for military action in the capitals of Western Europe or the US.

It is not for outside powers to intervene beyond encouraging Ukraine's new leaders and Russia to talk. The language law can be restored and firm action taken against anti-Russian nationalists. Russia's troop movements can be reversed. Wisdom can prevent the crisis from escalating dangerously.