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.