The New Observer Uncategorized Even the intelligent ones are stupid!

Even the intelligent ones are stupid!

This is an interview with a former British Ambassador to the USSR/Russia, Sir Roderic Lyne. I like watching these interviews with slightly independent former players. They often talk a lot more sense than current incumbents.

Sir Roderick talks at length about how in the early years of his rule Putin was very “pro-West”, seeking integration with Europe and even NATO. For Sir Roderick the turning point came during the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine. In that event a candidate won the Presidential election who might have been more interested in maintaining relations with Russia – Victor Yanukovych. Under Western pressure and in response to street protests though the election result was nullified and rerun amidst claims of corruption. In the rerun a more “pro-Western” candidate won, Viktor Yushchenko. Interestingly, Victor Yanukovych stood again in the elections in 2010 and won, with that election being described as “free and fair” by the OSCE. I don’t know how to assess Sir Roderick’s view that the 2004 Orange Revolution was the key moment when Putin changed tack, but it is an interesting possibility. Most of the modern history I have read argues that Putin genuinely tried to form partnerships with the West in the first few years of his Presidency, but felt rebuffed and this was the reason why he started turning away from the path of Western integration. Still; in his recent interview with Tucker Carlson Putin specifically mentioned the 2004 Orange revolution and placed emphasis on it; describing it as some kind of a Western coup, which is evidence to support Sir Roderick’s contention.

So; much of this interview is interesting. I also find Sir Roderick’s putative account of how Russia might change post-Putin plausible.

But; there is some real stupidity here too. This occurs in the final segment, from [26.00]. Sir Roderick is asked whether there is anything the West could have done to “head this [the war and rupture with the West] off”. He argues that it would have been against our principles and against international law for the West to “sacrifice our support for Ukraine”. This is interesting. The idea that it would have “been against our principles” not to invite Ukraine to join NATO is in fact the standard NATO argument. The idea is that nations have the sovereign right to choose and who are we to interfere with this? But – all international law and our principles say is that Ukraine had the sovereign right to choose to ask to join NATO; there is nothing in either which says that we had to say yes! The other key point here is that joining NATO was not, at least until the present calamity, a massively popular desire on the part of the Ukrainian people. Even in 2021 only 54% of the population wanted this outcome. [1] A Gallup poll in 2014 found very little support for joining NATO in the Eastern and Southern regions of Ukraine – less than 20%. [2] So, the case that somehow our “Western values” meant that we had to accept Ukraine into NATO seems a little odd.

Sir Roderick then also suggests that possibly the EU could have moved more slowly on the Association Agreement with Ukraine. According to Richard Sakwa the problem was much worse than that. Apparently, prior to the 2014 crisis the EU Commission head José Barroso simply refused to discuss the process with Russia even though Russia’s economy would have been significantly impacted by the proposed EU-Ukraine free trade arrangements:

Barroso being quoted by news agencies as late as 29 November 2013 as saying: ‘Russia’s inclusion in the talks on setting up an Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine is wholly unacceptable.’ [3]

It was only after the crisis of 2014 broke out that the EU finally recognised that they had to talk to Russia.

Sir Roderick also does not mention that the coup in Kiev in 2014 was seen by the Kremlin as a blatant Western intervention to install an anti-Russia regime in Kiev. Perhaps if the West had not pushed that coup or had at least backed the document which France and Germany supported which allowed for orderly elections in Ukraine, an agreement which the Maidan protestors broke the very next day, “this could have been avoided”. The EU could also have pushed Kiev to implement Minsk and been open about the internal obstacles in Ukraine which made that difficult; the Azov battalion and other radical nationalist elements. In reality; there have been multiple steps along way which the West could have taken to avoid this crisis. And, at every step, they took the wrong decision; either because they wanted to provoke a conflict (possibly the US actually did, though I think it is more likely that they thought they could humiliate Russia without a war) or through sheer ineptness (the EU).


  1. Quoted from Sakwa. International Republican Institute, ‘IRI Ukraine Poll Shows Support for EU/NATO Membership, Concerns over Economy and Vaccines for Covid-19’, 17 December 2021,
  3. Sakwa, Richard. Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands (p. 76). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.