It's hard not to feel some sympathy for our old friend Volodya. Keen to be seen as a superpower. Doesn't want to be just a muscle-bound commodity-producer economy, though. Desperately envious of the Chinese, with their manufacturing prowess and Party-dictated politics. Beset by ethnic tensions on all flanks. Watching the price of oil teetering on the brink of three digits. Watching, more or less as a spectator (with large bets on), as the fickle West plays tunes on its flexible foreign policy instruments over the cacophony of the Arab / ME turmoil. So many problems ...
And - in the middle of his precious Olympics - Ukraine. (A rich irony here, given that he royally upset the Chinese during their games by invading Georgia.) Hadn't he bribed them with enough cheap gas, soft loans and outright cash ? Then, didn't he show the necessary pragmatism to get the parties around a table the West could also endorse ? Wasn't there an agreement reached ?
And yet 24 hours later his man has disappeared up his own eastern fastness, the security forces have downed tools, and the rebels hold Kiev as their own. What's a latter-day Tzar to do ?
This matters, of course, because he really is bound to do something. Domestically he will shore up the anti-revolutionary measures he so carefully and strategically put in place after the various other soft revolutions around his southern and western flanks. But he has to do something about Ukraine. Close the borders ? Turn off the gas ? (that much-loved standby policy.) Hardly likely to put a stop to the EU-leaning tendency. Troops (or proxies) on the ground ? He can probably afford this in direct military and cash terms (though the Georgia experience wasn't exactly encouraging), knowing that in this case the West really can't, and really won't. It might push up the price of oil - but equally, it might have other economic consequences that would be harder to bear.
Of course, all this invites us to think about what the West might do - large amounts of cash are the obvious, lazy default response; and no doubt the CIA has all manner of low-level mischief in mind. But the EU is hardly going to be unanimously welcoming to a renewed accession request, notwithstanding the unbridled enthusiasm of the expansionist tendency in Brussels. We will probably settle for a fairly arms-length approach that will annoy but not overly provoke Russia, fill the kleptocrats' pockets a bit more, but do little for the average Ukrainian.
It's all to do with the age-old questions of (a) the definition of 'Europe' and (b) introverted Russia's role in the world. Raedwald writes well on aspects of all this, and it would be nice if Hatfield Girl would take up her pen again. We shall be visiting the unhappy scene many times in the coming months.