'Vladimir Putin has more admirers around the world than you might expect for someone using a neo-Soviet combination of violence and the big lie to dismember a neighbouring sovereign state'.(Putin has more admirers than the west might think, Guardian, Thursday 17 April 2014 )By Putin's admirers, Garton Ash means India and China and their resentment of 'western imperialism'. Garton Ash's weakness is that he views rival powers and global diplomacy as though it were mostly only about pride, power and 'attitudes' towards the West. Never the hard realities of the race for resources.
For a historian and journalist of Timothy Garton's Ash's calibre, this is an appalling oversimplification. Events in Ukraine are far more complicated than Russia playing the part of an evil neo-imperial power manipulating pro-Russian separatists and the EuroMaidan protesters being mostly staunch liberal democrats.
For a start Russia is hardly the only power with a stake in diverting the course of events in Ukraine to its advantage. For over a decade, the EU and EU powers have been meddling and 'promoting democracy' by backing venal oligarchs such as Tymoshenko going back to the Orange Revolution of 2003.
Anatol Lieven, a historian and jounalist with similar talents to Mr Garton Ash, has produced a far more nuanced perspective on the geopolitical tug of war between west and east over Ukraine and how China stands to benefit from any conflict in this borderland territory.
Lieven mentions the facts that Garton Ash routinely omits with regards Western foreign policy and the far right in Western Ukraine and in the government in Kiev without succumbing to the mere propaganda line that what is happening in Ukraine is all Putin's fault.
'..while Moscow is lying in describing the overthrow of Yanukovych as a “neo-fascist coup” rather than a popular uprising (albeit against a democratically elected president), Washington is no less mendacious in claiming that “far-right ultranationalist groups are not represented in the Rada [the Ukrainian parliament]” and have no influence over the new government.
This is a grotesque claim, given that the ultra-nationalist and savagely Russophobe Svoboda (“Freedom” party) in fact has 38 seats in parliament and four ministers in the government including Minister of Justice and Deputy Prime Minister. Svoboda’s founder, Andriy Parubiy, has become secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, with his ally Dmytro Yarosh, leader of the neo-fascist Right Sector group, as his deputy'.Compare Garton Ash with Lieven here too,
'It should be clear therefore that while Moscow has grossly exaggerated the immediate physical threat to Russians in Ukraine as justification for its military moves in Crimea, Russians and Russian-speakers do have good reasons to fear for their rights under the new Ukrainian government; and the EU and its member states were premature in recognizing that government and promising it massive aid without first insisting on changes in its composition and firm guarantees of minority rights. Russia has violated international law. The West has violated its own principles and interests'.I recommend reading the rest of Lieven's article as it is the sort of balanced journalism informed by a deep historical perspective that Garton Ash used to write before he bought into the sort of simplistic propaganda tropes about a New Cold War pumped out by Edward Lucas.
'If war begins, Russia would almost certainly win it (since the USA and Britain, despite their attempts to bring Ukraine into Nato, have no intention of fighting to defend the country), but would suffer colossal damage in the process. In the short term there would be a shattering economic crisis. In the longer term, Russia would face a collapse of economic and cultural ties with the west that would drive it inexorably towards the status of a satellite of China—a prospect, by the way, that terrifies liberal and nationalist Russians alike'.Garton Ash does not even mention the EU and the economic impact that an economic conflict between Russia and Europe may have on the global economy. This is one reason China is concerned that events do not spin out of control in Ukraine, even if Western sanctions could be welcome in driving Russia towards it.
There is no mention by Garton Ash of the geopolitical importance of oil and gas pipelines and Ukraine's vital position in this regard or Western ambitions to put Ukraine on a course towards NATO despite the fact a great majority of Ukrainians never wanted to be forced to choose between east and west.
Garton Ash is still trapped in a Cold War mentality. Russia is not a 'neo-Soviet power'. It acts as a Great Power just as it did before the Russian Revolution, much shrunken from the empire of the Tsars but competiting with the EU and US for control over the oil and gas of Eurasia.
The fact that Garton Ash cannot bring himself to mention the strategic importance of resources and empire, preferring to view post Cold War politics in eastern Europe wholly through the lens of moral causes and imperatives, is reason enough to disregard much of what Garton Ash has to say.
What was appropriate during the Cold War and with the contest between the Free World and Soviet Communism and totalitarianism is simply not good enough when it comes to the twenty first century. Garton Ash needs to move on and grapple with a world no so dissimilar from that preceding 1914.
Lieven also mentions the consequences for the West in economic terms, one not dealt with Garton Ash who has a sort of mental bloc on mentioning resources ( oil and gas ) , perhaps because it would appear to tie in with a more cynical vision of realpolitik and economic conflict on a global scale predominating.
'The damage to the west would also be considerable. If the west introduced economic sanctions and Russia responded with a massive rise in its gas prices (or if gas supplies to western Europe across Ukraine were cut off by conflict), the result could very easily be a new European and global recession. China would benefit greatly from the acquisition of Russia as an unconditional ally, and from the sheer distraction of US attention that war would bring'.Garton Ash deals with China's benefitting from the US being diverted by the Ukrainian Crisis. Yet there is no mention of the geopolitics of oil and gas nor the extent to which the Western powers and NATO have become deeply concerned with energy security in the post Cold War period.
Indeed, Garton Ash's analysis seems as though footling prattle by comparison with Lieven when he writes about,
'...resistance to North Americans and Europeans telling them what is good for them, and a certain instinctive glee, or schadenfreude, at seeing Uncle Sam (not to mention little John Bull) being poked in the eye by that pugnacious Russian. Viva Putinismo!'Nowhere does Garton Ash consider the fact the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was essentially a failed and counter productive attempt to control Iraqi oil. As regards Syria and Venezuela, there is no mention of the geopolitics of pipeline routes or competition to control oil supplies.
That's odd as the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars ( of which Garton Ash was a fellow ) certainly think that the race to control Ukraine as a strategic transit route for oil and gas makes it vital for Europe's energy security and NATO.