Government thinking has shifted toward countering the Russian propaganda war in Ukraineby / March 5, 2015 / Leave a comment
Government thinking on what to do about Ukraine has got much darker in just a few weeks, and not only because of the murder of dissident Boris Nemtsov in Moscow last Friday.
Three weeks ago, you could hear senior Foreign and Commonwealth types musing about how to give Putin an exit, “given that he doesn’t do reverse.” Promising that Ukraine would never join Nato was the favoured route, allowing the Russian president to achieve the objective he says he most wants, with no cost given that Ukraine isn’t about to join Nato in the foreseeable future—however far ahead you think you can look.
That’s gone, more or less. Now the new focus, driven by American concerns, is how to counter the “propaganda war” which officials feel Russia is winning in eastern Ukraine. Concern is rising about Russia’s tactics, in place for years, in giving Russian passports to Russian speaking populations in the Baltics and claiming the right to defend those people thereafter.
Read more on Nemtsov:
But the questions quickly become tricky for the European Union. Who’s going to tackle Russian money in Cyprus? In London? It’s fine to say that we’re in a “golden age of sanctions,” as you might put it, when the ability to crack down through the financial payments system means that their effectiveness is far higher than in the past. But Russia, Iran and China are clearly exploring ways to get around them. And the fall in the oil price has had at least five times the effect of sanctions, some analysts calculate, yet has not stopped Putin from what he is doing.
The question of Russian money passing through—or being stored in—London is one the UK has ducked. That is at the moment only a minor diplomatic embarrassment; it will become worse.
Whether or not Putin was behind Nemtsov’s killing, Russia is becoming an uglier place by the week. If the Russian president ordered the killing (the less likely of the explanations), or supports those who did, it would clearly mark a step change in the violence Putin’s team is prepared to use to stay in power. If he didn’t, then it is a message from those who challenge him that he cannot control them. Neither is good news.