Here is an interesting article by Sir Anthony Brenton, former British Ambassador to Russia, (like the Prime Minister he served he prefers to use the chummy cognomen, Tony) arguing that Western countries handled Ukraine very clumsily, sanctions against Russia won't work and that Russia is entitled to insist that Ukraine not join NATO. I agree with him on the first and third points and on the desirability of calming things down to a certain point, but some sort of sanctions are certainly needed.
He is right when he says
Negotiating an acceptable level of autonomy for East Ukraine will be much harder. The Russians are in possession, and will not let go until their concerns are met. Meanwhile Ukraine’s President Poroshenko has to deal with a nationalist Right whom every concession will enrage. Here, finally, sanctions could be of some use, with the offer to lift them helping to lubricate the way towards an agreement.I have given the view that Putin is a conservative more thought.
The whole affair raises serious questions about the competence of Western policymaking towards Russia. The one route out of this mess has been visible for months. But let us not recriminate. There are still big prizes to play for. A democratic, prosperous, Western-leaning (but not allied) Ukraine is bound to become an important exemplar for the Russians next door. And the reopening of Western economic ties with Russia is crucial to the process of pulling that country, however slowly and erratically, towards European normality too.
Marxism is inherently violent but the brutality of Lenin and Stalin is specifically Russian. So was the brutality of the Tsars and the far sighted Stolypin, who came close to making Russia a modern economy, with a constitutional monarchy and representative government. Stolypin, bloodstained as he was, was the only important Russian figure who does deserve to be called a conservative.
Clearly Mr Putin, who has a portrait of Czar Peter the Great in his room, is no more a conservative than the Czars were. They were reactionaries, which is something else, and very brutal, absolutist reactionaries, not nostalgic reactionary-aesthete-fogeys like me. Mr. Putin is a brutal reactionary too, if only because democracy threatens his regime as freedom threatened the Communists and the Tsars. Increasingly he has created an ideology of traditionalist social conservatism but, though no doubt his contempt for much of what in the West are called human rights is sincere, the former KGB do not become conservatives so easily.
I don't think it is useful to call him a fascist because he is not one, but he is as antidemocratic as a fascist or any communist.
The principle objection of conservatives to many of the misnamed human rights which nowadays obtain in the EU is that they restrict freedoms (the freedom to say what you like about various sensitive subjects, for example). Freedom of speech is not something that Vladimir Putin can credibly defend, though he did it when he sheltered Edward Snowden, nor are other freedoms.
Conservatives do not only believe in freedom, of course, or they would be (classical) liberals. Conservatives also believe in hierarchy and tradition and a divine order in the world - which is why most conservatives dislike, for example, single-sex marriage - but no Burkean or Disraelian can like the hierarchy of the former KGB, turned business leaders, or a tradition that includes Stalin as the hero of the Great Patriotic War. Owen Matthews finds Strelkov, the Russian who ran the Donetsk 'republic' more frightening than Putin and he probably is, but does, at least, seem genuinely to believe in a Christian, anti-Communist tradition and he knows Putin is a corrupt KGB man.
Mr Putin says that the Americans provoked war in Ukraine to revive NATO - an interesting idea that he may well really believe. Whether this was the intention, it is certainly the effect. Interestingly, unlike the Americans, the EU probably didn't really have much interest in Ukraine. The EU has its problems, including with Eastern European immigrants, especially Romanian gypsies, and doesn't want more enlargement for a long time to come.
Mr Putin does not understand that for America spreading democracy and spreading American influence come to much the same thing. Or rather he does.
The truth is that American attempts to help Ukraine be a free democratic society succeeded far better than anyone dared hope - at one point there were said to be a million people in the Maidan. They were people wanting the whole corrupt system to go, as people in Romania want the whole corrupt system to go, which is why I had demonstrators encamped near my flat for weeks in early 2012 and had to walk home through tear gas. I am with those people, who included some fascists, some leftists, some homosexual activists and a very wide spectrum of hopeful people, rather than with the Kremlin or the KGB or the foreigners who back the Kremlin - or, for that matter, with the American hawks or neo-cons either.
In the end, this is not 1938 all over again, as Edward Lucas, Anne Applebaum and Ben Judah think, but one thing does stand out - that Putin is a brutal and authoritarian leader, not any sort of democrat. Russia may never become a democracy, her tradition is autocracy, but if Eastern Europe prospers within the EU it will in the long term be hard for Russia to take another path. For Ukraine I think things look more hopeful.
There is a good chance that Ukraine will move towards Europe and away from Moscow, thanks partly to Putin's invasion, but the problem remains that a good outcome for Ukraine - some degree of prosperity, democracy and clean government - is a grave threat to Putin's own hold on power in Russia and he is in a position to do a lot to prevent this outcome.