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Linked by separation

14 March 2014

THINGS are moving so fast in the Ukraine, and so furiously, that only a fool would write about events there a week in advance of publication; so here goes, with the help of Simone Weil.

On the face of it, things are not propitious. In the Western corner, President Obama declares that Russia is "on the wrong side of history", and that its actions in entering Crimea violate international law. He says that the United States is considering economic and diplomatic options that will isolate the old enemy, and warns that continued military actions in Ukraine "will be a costly proposition for Russia".

Meanwhile, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is reported to have questioned whether President Putin "was still in touch with reality"; and Yulia Tymoshenko - former Ukrainian PM, dubious energy-billionaire and keen follower of horoscopes and psychics - says that if Russia is allowed to "take away" Crimea, life will change "practically everywhere in the world. Then we have to accept [that] an aggressor can violate all the international agreements, take away territories, whenever she likes."

In the Russian corner, they claim that they have merely entered Crimea in order to stop a civil war in Ukraine; they present themselves as peacekeepers, and many local people support them.

Peter Hitchens, in the Mail on Sunday, believes that the West has much to answer for. "We have been rubbing Russia up the wrong way for nearly 25 years. It is hard to see why. Moscow could have been our friend if we had wanted that.

"We rightly viewed the old Soviet Union as a global menace to freedom. But Russia is no such thing, just a major regional power sick of being humiliated and pushed around by ignorant outsiders. The Putin government is squalid, but nothing like as bad as that of China, with whom we are on good terms."

The forces of separation appear to have won again, which is where Weil can help. She writes about two prisoners; they are in adjoining cells. Over a long period of time, they learn to talk to each other by tapping on the wall. "The wall is the thing which separates them," she writes, "but it is also their means of communication. Each separation is a link."

The idea that that which separates becomes a place of meeting and, therefore, a point of union is intriguing. For Weil, the wall that separates is not the end of the story, simply the conduit for the start of another.

So, is Hitchens right - could we really be friends with Russia? The walls of suspicion are thick in Kiev and Sevastopol; East and West must start tapping on them soon.

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