Letter: Just look at the map to see Moscow’s point of view

Martin Wolf is right to say that Vladimir Putin has ignited an indefensible war against Ukraine (Opinion, March 2). That it is worse than a crime is a folly highlighted by your report about Kharkiv, described as “another Stalingrad” (March 3). You do not call Ukrainians your brothers, then bomb them into submission. Whatever the war’s immediate results, Putin has ensured that Russia’s western borders become “ungovernable”. Belarus will be next on the list for “brotherly” persuasion, once Alexander Lukashenko has gone. This is a dreadful legacy.

However, in our condemnation of Russia’s current actions, let’s not lose all sense of history. Russia’s desire to retain both Belarus and Ukraine as buffers between Russia and Nato’s military alliance is understandable and reasonable: one has only to look at the map to understand why. I have never been able to understand why the west — or Ukraine itself — has refused to give Russia the assurance that there would be no forward deployment of Nato forces on its borders. Had such promises been given at any time since the fall of communism, the dynamics of post-communist Russian politics would have been very different. As Yegor Gaidar, Russia’s first post-communist prime minister, once said to me: “The best hope for Russian liberals is the distance of Nato from our borders.” Wolf’s piece completely ignores the argument that Putin “the monster” is partly a creation of appalling western diplomacy.

Wolf also shows an unjustified faith in economic sanctions to secure regime change. What he does show is that the kind of sanctions being imposed on Russia today will be highly damaging to the world economy, not that it will change Russia’s behaviour.

I agree with Mikhail Fridman, one of the sanctioned Russian billionaires, who said this week sanctions “will not have any impact for political decisions in Russia” (Report, March 2) because he, Fridman, has no influence over Putin.

Letters in response to this letter:

Worth heeding Keynes and the German parallels / From William Dixon, London SE18, UK

Why Nato assurances on troops is missing the point / From Ali M El-Agraa, Emeritus Professor of International Economic Integration, Fukuoka University, Japan

A Kyiv refugee’s plea for solidarity in face of attack / From Alex Levak, Refugee from Kyiv, Ukraine

Letter: Just look at the map to see Moscow’s point of view

Martin Wolf is right to say that Vladimir Putin has ignited an indefensible war against Ukraine (Opinion, March 2). That it is worse than a crime is a folly highlighted by your report about Kharkiv, described as “another Stalingrad” (March 3). You do not call Ukrainians your brothers, then bomb them into submission. Whatever the war’s immediate results, Putin has ensured that Russia’s western borders become “ungovernable”. Belarus will be next on the list for “brotherly” persuasion, once Alexander Lukashenko has gone. This is a dreadful legacy.

However, in our condemnation of Russia’s current actions, let’s not lose all sense of history. Russia’s desire to retain both Belarus and Ukraine as buffers between Russia and Nato’s military alliance is understandable and reasonable: one has only to look at the map to understand why. I have never been able to understand why the west — or Ukraine itself — has refused to give Russia the assurance that there would be no forward deployment of Nato forces on its borders. Had such promises been given at any time since the fall of communism, the dynamics of post-communist Russian politics would have been very different. As Yegor Gaidar, Russia’s first post-communist prime minister, once said to me: “The best hope for Russian liberals is the distance of Nato from our borders.” Wolf’s piece completely ignores the argument that Putin “the monster” is partly a creation of appalling western diplomacy.

Wolf also shows an unjustified faith in economic sanctions to secure regime change. What he does show is that the kind of sanctions being imposed on Russia today will be highly damaging to the world economy, not that it will change Russia’s behaviour.

I agree with Mikhail Fridman, one of the sanctioned Russian billionaires, who said this week sanctions “will not have any impact for political decisions in Russia” (Report, March 2) because he, Fridman, has no influence over Putin.

Robert Skidelsky House of Lords, London SW1, UK

Letter: Remember Kissinger’s advice to the Ukrainians

Nato governments have rightly said they are willing to address Russia’s security concerns, but then say in the same breath that Russia has no legitimate security concerns because Nato is a purely defensive alliance. Whether we like it or not, a Nato that now borders Russia and could in future border even more of Russia is seen by Russia as a security concern.

In 2014 Henry Kissinger wrote in the Washington Post that “internationally [Ukraine] should pursue a posture comparable to that of Finland. That nation leaves no doubt about its fierce independence, co-operates with the west in most fields, but carefully avoids institutional hostility to Russia.”

A permanent “Finlandisation” of Ukraine would be unrealistic. But it should be possible for Nato, in close association with Ukraine, to put forward detailed proposals to negotiate a new treaty with Russia that engenders no institutional hostility. This would cover: the verifiable withdrawal of nuclear-capable missiles; detailed military confidence-building measures limiting numbers and demarcating deployment; and international agreement on presently contested borders between Russia and Ukraine.

Lord Owen
UK Foreign Secretary 1977-79

Lord Skidelsky
Historian, Fellow of British Academy

Sir Anthony Brenton
British Ambassador to Russia 2004-08

Christopher Granville
Former British Diplomat

Nina Krushcheva
Professor of International Affairs, The New School, New York, US

Letter in response to this letter:

Sovereignty also means freedom to change policy / From Helge Vindenes, Former Norwegian Diplomat (1958-1999), Padstow, Cornwall, UK

Letter: The UK’s failing economic model demands such bold ideas

Below is the text of a letter to the editor of the Financial Times, signed by Lord Skidelsky alongside 81 other signatories, and published on 6th September 2019.

Your series of articles exploring the Labour party’s economic agenda fails to appreciate the severity of the UK’s current economic condition, and reproduces a number of misconceptions.

Continue reading “Letter: The UK’s failing economic model demands such bold ideas”

Supply matters – but so does demand

Co-authored with Marcus Miller

At long last, the defenders of George Osborne’s deficit-reduction strategy have come up with a reasoned case.

The thoughtful argument in support of the UK chancellor is made by Ryan Bourne and Tim Knox, economists at the centre-right Centre for Policy Studies think-tank. They say that Britain suffered a huge supply shock following the recession of 2008. This left it not only with reduced output, but also – by undermining the banking system and by causing a big increase in state spending and the national debt – with less capacity to produce output.

Continue reading “Supply matters – but so does demand”

One more chance for Osborne to change course

On Wednesday in his Autumn Statement George Osborne, the chancellor, is expected to admit that it will take three more years of austerity than originally planned to bring borrowing under control. Extravagant hopes are being placed on Mark Carney, the newly appointed Bank of England governor. There will be talk of an incipient recovery meeting “headwinds from the eurozone” and comfort will be taken from the thought that things could be a lot worse.

Continue reading “One more chance for Osborne to change course”

Enough is enough of the age of consumption

Co-authored with Edward Skidelsky

Until fairly recently economists envisaged three stages of economic development.

First, there was the stage of capital accumulation started by the industrial revolution. The Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm called it the age of capital. Society saved a large part of its income to invest in capital equipment. The world gradually filled up with capital goods.

This stage, economists thought, would be followed by the age of consumption, in which people began realising the fruits of their previous frugality. They would save less and consume more, as the returns to new investment fell and the possibilities of consumption expanded.

Continue reading “Enough is enough of the age of consumption”

How Keynes would solve the eurozone crisis

Co-authored with Marcus Miller
Almost 100 years ago, a young official in the UK Treasury sought to advise European policy makers on how daunting external debts might best be managed. There was, he argued, a limit to the national capacity to service debts. Those expecting further payments were bound to be disappointed. More than that, efforts by creditors to insist on further debt payments would be politically dangerous. “If they do sign,” he wrote to a friend, “they can’t possibly keep some of the terms, and general disorder and unrest will result everywhere.” He recommended a round of debt cancellation among European countries, a plan that would – at the stroke of a pen – remove much of the problem. When he was ignored by creditor governments, John Maynard Keynes quit his post to write the Economic Consequences of the Peace.

Continue reading “How Keynes would solve the eurozone crisis”

Urgently needed: a plan C to save Britain’s economy

Co-authored with Felix Martin

The Office for Budget Responsibility forecast in March that the UK economy would grow by 1.7 per cent in 2011, and that the government could meet its target of eliminating the structural deficit by 2014-15. But the economy has underperformed these forecasts by so much that it now seems growth will be little more than 1 per cent, and the target not achieved until 2016-17. A recent speech by David Cameron showed he was preparing to announce what a report from Barclays Capital neatly called “two years’ slippage in eight months”.

Continue reading “Urgently needed: a plan C to save Britain’s economy”