Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Mostly I despair

Mostly but not always. Mostly I despair of the eurosceptic movement and all who sail in it, particularly when questions outside their tiny little world come up. Or, in other words, I do not think the overwhelming proportion of eurosceptics can or want to understand what is going on in various parts of the world. It is all too difficult and, therefore, they relate everything to what they think they know (but actually rarely do as nothing happens in isolation). So, just as the left has to relate everything to the evil American empire so a large proportion of eurosceptics has to relate everything to the EU, whether that benighted organization is of any relevance or not. As a consequence, the insanely anti-American left and right (a smidgeon more insane than the left), a number of Conservative politicians who have learnt nothing from the second half of the twentieth century and a very large proportion of self-accredited eurosceptics have been cheering for President Putin and his jolly Chekists as they invaded Ukraine, took away a part of it, Crimea and sent in more troops in funny clothes to link up with local separatists in order to destabilize parts of eastern Ukraine.

You'd think that people who are in favour of national sovereignty, especially based on an agreement that was created when a forcibly united multi-national state based on ideology fell apart, would actually support one of them when it is under attack. Well, you'd be wrong. A curious misreading of what happened in Ukraine has led a number of eurosceptics helter-skelter into the ranks of the Putinistas who appear to be in favour of the recreation of a new Soviet Union in the shape of the Eurasian Union. (Fortunately for many of us, not to mention the people of the former Soviet Union, Russia as led and destroyed by Vlad and his mates is not in a fit state to impose its rule on the others though it is quite capable of the aforementioned territorial invasion and destabilization.)

Why am I not in total despair? Well, it always cheers me when I read an article that clearly understand the issues and does not mince its language. Such an article is in July/August's issue of Standpoint and it is by my good friend (full disclosure) Michael Mosbacher.

He lambasts the insane and Stalinist left and insane right in equal measure but what is particularly painful from my point of view is his well-argued and fully justified attack on the Bruges Group that, in my absence from its counsels, seems to have gone slightly mad.
Whether intentionally or not, the Eurosceptic Bruges Group has become an apologist for Putin. The group was established in 1989 to support the views expounded by Margaret Thatcher in her Bruges speech of the previous year calling for an end to the federalist project and a more decentralised Europe. It has now produced Someone Had Blunder'd, a 30-minute film attacking UK and EU policy on Ukraine for provoking Russia, indeed for being the cause of the current crisis. It is fronted by Bruges Group director Robert Oulds and features Conservative MPs Peter Bone, Bernard Jenkin and John Redwood, twice a leadership candidate, as well as erstwhile party chairman Lord Tebbit. They are now exploring a follow-up film with Sir Bill Cash MP.

The argument of these critics is that, in the phrase of Bernard Jenkin, the Euro-neocons — surely as mythical a beast as any yet imagined — running the EU have pursued an aggressive policy of eastward expansion which has encroached on Russia's sphere of influence and thus made it feel threatened. In their view it is the EU's rather than Russia's expansionism which has provoked conflict. Jenkin argues that the EU has been "fomenting divisions in order to bring Ukraine into the European orbit". Redwood says: "It was EU action seeking to expand their empire to the West [sic] which first started the reaction of Russia."
To be honest none of the participants of the film are people to whom I would turn for elucidation of any question of foreign affairs, let alone those to do with the former Soviet Union. What the egregious John Redwood might have meant by his comment is anybody's guess as is Bernard Jenkin's invention of the mythical and meaningless Euro-neocons.

Mr Mosbacher explanation of what happened and what role the EU played at the very beginning of the crisis (after which it became irrelevant as I have mentioned a few times before) is accurate:
It is true that the demonstrations against Yanukovych began last November when he announced that he would not be signing an Association Agreement with the EU but would instead throw in his lot with Putin's Eurasian Customs Union.

The critics are right that the Association Agreement is much more than a free-trade agreement. In Article Seven it commits Ukraine to "promote gradual convergence in the area of foreign and security policy". Article Ten of the agreement provides for "increasing the participation of Ukraine in EU-led civilian and military crisis management operations" and exploring the potential of military-technological cooperation.

The agreement may indeed undermine Ukrainian sovereignty, but surely is nothing compared to the Russian-dominated Eurasian Customs Union. While the latter may on paper be nothing more than a customs union does anyone seriously believe that it will remain as such? Has Putin's aggression in Ukraine not rather proven the point that Ukrainian sovereignty is not high on his list of priorities?
Clearly, it is not high on the average eurosceptic's list of priorities either (that is, assuming, they know where Ukraine is, something I am doubtful of).

There is also a well deserved attack on the Conservatives and their allies in the Council of Europe and its preposterous Parliamentary Assembly.  Read the whole piece.  The title? Putin Has His Useful Idiots on the Left and the Right.


  1. Peter Hitchens would disagree with you and I have to admit that I do also. If it hadn't been for the EU's interference there wouldn't be a civil war.

    1. Which shows that neither you nor Peter Hitchens have been paying any attention to Russia or what has been going on there. I expect nothing else from Hitchens who is one of the daftest and most ignorant of our hacks and the competition is hot but I am not happy to think of any reader of this blog being in that category.

    2. I find the idea that Hitchens is among the "daftest and most ignorant of our hacks" hard to reconcile with the overwhelming majority of commentary in The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Mail and elsewhere. What sources of news and opinion make his ignorance plain? Thanks.

    3. Mostly Hitchens's writings. Read them and if they are about a subject you know, you will find that he is daft and ignorant. The assumption that he must be so on subjects you might not know about is thus reasonable.

  2. Helen you seem to be implying that I am not a worthy reader of your blog because I disagree with you on this one subject. I have probably misread your intention but I have to say that I'm not happy that you have adopted Richard's habit of insulting those who disagree with you. I have been a great admirer of Peter Hitchens for many years and trust his judgement on most matters (I could say the same about the admirable Dr North). You are obviously an expert on Eastern Europe and are entitled to great respect, but Hitchens is no novice on the subject either. Sorry if I sound terse but it depresses me when commenters, both humble and celebrated, who are on the same side of the major argument can hurl insults at each other on peripheral subjects.

  3. Actually, I did not say that you were not a worthy reader of my blog. Everyone who takes the trouble to read it is worthy. I said that I was not happy to think that any reader of my blog (worthy though they are) might be as daft and ignorant as Peter Hitchens, who, with all respect, knows zero about the former Soviet Union or Eastern Europe. I do not think our attitude to outrageous tyranny and the snatching of a sovereign country's land is a peripheral issue. If you think it is then, I am afraid, we are not on the same side. In fact, given that you seem to support Putin we probably are not on the same side, anyway. However, that does not make you or anyone else unworthy of this blog. Those are different issues. I hope I made myself clear.

  4. You are aware, I trust, that Hitchens lived for some years in the Soviet Union during the Gorbachev and Yeltsin eras and is certainly no admirer of Putin. He does, however, understand why the Russian people, having thrown off the tyranny of communism and seen many of it's client states gain not just independence but membership of NATO, now turn to a leader who reflects their dismay that the west has carried on as if the cold war is still the status quo. I might add that, with a democratically-elected government being overthrown in Kiev and with Russia's Black Sea fleet at anchor in Crimea it is not surprising that Putin acted as he did. I'm not suggesting that he should not have sought alternative means to secure his navy's protection, but it is nevertheless not surprising that he acted as he did. That does not make him a blood-thirsty tyrant.
    My point about being on the same side was with regards to the big picture. I believe we all want freedom from the EU and want to see an end to the dominance of the main three parties. In fact I'm sure we would be allies in many causes. A disagreement over Russia shouldn't change that.

    1. Utter bosh. The fleet in Crimea was never at risk and Russia had been manoeuvring around the Ukrainian border for years. Now. Crimea was part of Ukraine. Russia invaded it and forced a referendum at the point of many guns. Does that remind you of anything or not? No, I don't suppose it does. Really, I tried to be more or less courteous but there is no doubt in my mind that you and I do not see the big picture in the same way in that you are obsessed with the EU and have no idea of the big picture. No, we are not on the same side. Is that rude? Well, that is the down side of free discussion. Your feelings might get hurt. Sorry and all that but I am not about to change my opinions because you don't happen to like them.

      And Hitchens did not exactly live in the Soviet Union. He did a good deal of roving reporting from all over the world, which means he never really understood any of it very well. He did spend a few months in the not so dead Soviet Union towards its end. That's it. Hardly great understanding. Still, the market prefers his sort of superficial emotionalism to any real knowledge and as someone who supports the market, I support that. Of course, it prefers writers of celebrity gossip even more but that's too bad.

  5. Helen are you and Richard in agreement on this? His post on Saturday would suggest otherwise.
    I really don't mind you being rude if you want to. I however, whilst I'm sure I'm being irritating, will never be rude or discourteous. I'll leave it at that if you wish.

  6. On Saturday Richard wrote on his blog about the EU provoking Russia:
    "It is this reality that saw the Russians react so furiously to western encroachment up to its south western border - as the EU's expansionism sought to take in the home of the Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, a reality which the media continues to ignore."
    Admittedly his piece was really about the BBC and the rest of the media insisting that the Association Agreement was purely about trade, but it seems obvious that his view is similar to Peter Hitchens' view.
    Anyway, I'm happy for you to have the last word and feel free to be rude if you wish; I shall not reciprocate but simply thank you for taking the trouble to debate with me.

  7. Why exactly should I and Richard be in agreement on this or any other subject? On subjects I know about I don't take my opinions from other people unless they happen to know more than I do. Peter Hitchens is not one of them. You can go on telling me that your favourite hack is a genius and you can go on deluding yourself with the thought that we are on the same side. None of it of any importance.