Readers should applaud Aditya Chakrabortty’s article (Western values? They enthroned the monster who is shelling Ukrainians today, 17 March). The west’s failure to back Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms and advocacy of reality led to the cataclysmic implosion of the Soviet Union and prevented the more gradual constitutional changes that would have provided stability.
The US, supported by the UK government, rushed to push open the door into Russia and other Soviet republics to enable capitalists to feast on the Russian economy, and particularly its natural resources, when what was needed was a kind of Marshall plan to underpin the rouble and to assist the development of civil society.
The consequences of that failure were apparent as early as 1990, when I was being asked in Moscow to advise on the immediate setting up of companies to make hay while the sun shone. It was even more apparent in 1996, when the oligarchs showed great disdain for the presidential election taking place that year. They told me that to them the result was irrelevant, such was their financial influence.
This capitalist opportunism led to the collapse of the rouble in 1998, causing even more poverty among the Russian people. With Boris Yeltsin unable to stabilise the country, they inevitably looked for a strong nationalist leader. Ready in the wings was Vladimir Putin, and the rest is the sad history that has culminated in today’s Ukrainian horror.
It is vital that we separate Putin and his regime from the Russian people, who rightly have a great pride in their cultural heritage. The west needs to understand and to respect that heritage, and to make it clear that our future relationship after Putin can be very different.
• Gordon Brown and John Major have called for a Nuremberg-style tribunal to try Vladimir Putin and his associates for war crimes in Ukraine (19 March). The accused are not going to appear at such a tribunal voluntarily, and the west has no way of arresting them and compelling them to do so, therefore the call might be dismissed as futile. In fact, it is worse than that – it is positively counterproductive, since such arrests could be made only after the defeat and subjugation of Russia.
That enables Putin to argue that those are the real aims of western policy, and that support for Ukraine is merely the means to that end. Such an argument will rally support among patriotic Russians, even those with qualms about the war.
The call for a tribunal is yet another example of a western policy with what might appear to us to have laudable aims but with no attention paid to how it might be understood by the other side.
• Aditya Chakrabortty’s article brings to mind the sage response that Mahatma Gandhi is said to have given to a journalist when asked what he thought of western civilisation: “I think it would be a very good idea.”
Galle, Sri Lanka
• Many of your articles have marked 2014 as the beginning of Putin’s criminal campaign to re-vassalise Ukraine. Your readers should be reminded that presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin in September 2004.
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